Funny thing happened on the way to burnout…

This post was written by Megan on November 20, 2009
Posted Under: definition of burnout


‘The ambulance is on its way.’ 

She was looking hard at me as she said it, like the word ‘ambulance’ was going to make me feel better.  I lay there quietly, convinced I was about to become a waste of emergency services resources – one way or the other.

We had been talking about how incredible nature was.  About how much better life would be if we were closer to it.   The conversation stopped abruptly when an intense pain shot down my neck and arm. 

Before I passed out, I recall feeling a distinct sense of panic.  Understanding that death is a part nature, I intuitively grasped that perhaps I was closer to it than previously thought. When I came to, my eyes were already open.  This meant that waking up involved closing my eyes for a few seconds before looking out again.  I felt okay, a little groggy maybe.  But I did have some trouble understanding what was in front of me.  I blinked and stared harder at it. 

Eventually I realised It’s a person. I blinked again. A woman, yes, a woman

Then something in my brain snapped back into place.  The woman staring back at me was Julie, my housemate of ten months.  With blood red hair interrupted by a black shaved patch on the side, Julie was pretty easy to recognise.  Well, on normal days.

‘Are you okay?’ she asked. ‘Mmmmm,’ I replied, as if lying in a hammock with tequila.

This was not a normal day.  But I hadn’t had one of those in a quite awhile.

Is this burnout?

Most people don’t think of scenes like this when they think of burnout.  Burnout is more like a slow grind into the dirt. More commonly, the ‘burnee’ gradually loses starch in their posture.  They slowly start to curl inwards.  Dark circles may appear under the eyes, but not always.  The eyes themselves are likely to begin darting around, wired with anxiety before shutting down attention altogether. But other things can happen, too.  It all depends on the individual body’s particular penchant for trouble.  And mind for menace.

So what happened exactly?

Amongst other burnout symptoms, my body became partial to a particular kind of 'vasovagal episode' of which stress can be a trigger.  My pleb interpretation:  The heart reckons it's over you sitting and standing and things like that.  

'I need more blood!' it calls like Dracula. And gets it.  But, for some reason, no one's telling the brain what a horder the heart has become.  The brain suddenly discovers on its own that it has less blood – and freaks.  You feel dizzy and nauseous and pass out. Lying down is what your heart wanted all along.

Why Goths would like it

Vasovagal episodes would have Goths crazy with envy.  Passing out will your eyes open is stuff they can only dream about.  It’s not fatal though, and this loses its edge somewhat. Which is a bit like burnout generally.  It’s not fatal, but sometimes – while in the midst of it – we wish it was.  This makes it even harder to lever the desired understanding and compassion from others. ‘Hey we’re all stressed’ others might shrug, roll their eyes even.

But being burned out is not just being stressed

Being burned out has ridden off the cliff of stress.  I’ll be chatting more about the difference between burnout and stress in the next blog post – and about how you can use it like a baseball bat against those who roll their non-wired-tired eyes at you.

Until then, namaste.

Want to learn more about burnout via some playful musings and associated cartoons? Be entertained by my atrocious handling of the condition? Share your burnout stories so I don’t feel so lonely? Subscribe to your inbox or RSS feed.

Have you had something really odd happen to you during burnout?
Or to a ‘burnee’ you know?  Please drop me a comment below.

Reader Comments

nice post. thanks.

Written By forex robot on December 12th, 2009 @ 5:57 pm

Hi Megan, I'm subbing! I fell (very) ill with burnout 3 years ago, and am still recovering. I am far better than I was, but still far from where I would like to be (= 100% recovered, with energy to spare). We are definitely not alone out there. I was wondering- have you seen clear phases in your process of recovery? Anything you'd like to share about that? I notice that by now I have my personality back- I was so depleted, I felt like a flat character for 2 years- but my energy levels are still low. I also have more trouble with stimuli of any kind, but again, not as bad as things have been. So anyway, I appreciate you writing about this topic. Hope to enjoy many more posts to come! Amber 

Written By Amber on May 27th, 2010 @ 1:56 am

Lovely Amber – thanks for sharing how you’re going with burnout. Sooo glad to hear that your third dimension is emerging. Know that 2-D feeling for sure. Stripping back stimuli has been vital for my recovery. I’ve always been partial to the idea of living like a monk…now it’s kinda like that.

But life’s full of contradictions, just to keep it interesting for the gods. Going from healthcare practitioner to healthcare practitioner was stressful. So I stripped back on that (found one good one and stuck with her). Laughing has been pivotal, so I’ve created my blogs to inspire laughter for myself and whoever wants to join me. Instead of draining me, they’ve become therapy. I’ve created two writers groups to ‘talk creativity’, so meeting up with like-minded people has been an effort worthwhile. Worrying about money was REALLY stressful (and can still be). So I’ve tried to create a financial structure where I know the basics are covered. It helps.

I work as a writer from home so I can lie down when I need to. I’ve learned not to beat myself up for lying down ALOT. And lying down doesn’t have to mean sleeping. It’s been helpful to learn how to lie down without doing anything – not sleeping, not reading, not watching TV. Just lying down. At the end of every second day I drag my body down to the local brook where happy people run, skate, walk their dogs, mosey. I walk/run/crawl along the path and appreciate being connected with nature, people and my iPod.

I keep away from people who suck my energy, even if they don’t mean to.

How do I know that I’m getting better? More energy (of course) and greater ability to cope with life’s curve balls (no matter how much ‘monk’ you insert into your life, those bloody curve balls keep coming). And, yes, getting that third dimension back (but in an interesting new form that I like much better than my old third dimension).

Oh, dear. for a tired person I do go on. I guess I should write about this stuff in articles – ? Thanks for the prompt :) Hope this helps.

Written By Megan on May 27th, 2010 @ 8:25 am

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