I don't know whether it is actually about perfectionism. I think my problem is a constant dark hum that's under the surface – a hum about whether I'm 'enough'. That is, not feeling valuable to others.
It would be nice not to worry about these things at all. Apparently there are people out there who not only don't worry about it, they don't even THINK about it.
While scrawling out my three pages of ramble this morning (a practice more respectfully known as Morning Pages: stream-of-conscious writing) the following words came out to greet me:
Breathe, stick to the plan until a better idea comes along, give yourself some compassion.
Sounded like good advice. I suppose it's easier to feel 'enough' for others if you:
- are breathing (rather than hyperventilating)
- focus on what you are doing, instead of worrying
- can give some compassion because you have a good slab for yourself
Not long after the morning pages stint, I opened up my computer to find a message from a friend. She had emailed me a quote from Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron:
Don’t worry about achieving. Don’t worry about perfection. Just be there each moment as best you can. When you realize you’ve wandered off again, simply very lightly acknowledge that. This light touch is the golden key to reuniting with our openness.
This post was written by Megan Hills. Megan is a writer and cartoonist who is conscious that she should have spent more time on this post. Find out more about Megan
Ever been accused of being 'too sensitive'?
I have, for a good slab of my life. When someone says 'You're too sensitive', I feel whacked across the face. Is this because I'm too sensitive?
Being a sensitive female in our society is bad enough. But being identified as a sensitive male is a whole lot worse. Possibly akin to testicular removal. Whatever your gender, it's a rare situation where being considered 'sensitive' is a bonus. And it can be the hand of death in many a workplace.
But I want to clear one point up:
Being sensitive doesn't mean you are an unprofessional and irrational drama queen (or king). I don't personally relate to people like that. And its not what I mean when I say 'sensitive'.
In the book
Making Work Work for the Highly Sensitive Person by Barrie Jaeger, PhD., is a nice list of characteristics for Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) that work well as a personal ego boost:
'Frequently, the HSPs I interviewed were gifted, multitalented, with strong imaginations, intense emotional awareness and range of emotional expression, and restless minds eager to learn and consume knowledge in huge gulps…'
But what has being sensitive got to do with burnout?
Barrie Jaeger makes the connection right from the start:
'Emotionally, they (HSPs) were frequently indignant with and frustrated by the roughness of the business world… abilities they usually couldn't channel into the workplace…Even those whose careers were rising and were promising stars in senior management positions felt out of place in the modern world of work. Often, the stresses and demands of the workplace took a considerable toll on their physical and emotional health.'
What do you expect?
According to Jaeger, Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) often suffer from high expectations of themselves and others. In short, we are strong on idealism. This is followed through with quotes from the big guns: authors
Ayala Pines and Elliot Aronson who wrote
Career Burnout: Causes & Cures way back in 1988:
‘They say that people with the highest ideals, unless they somehow manage to develop effective coping strategies on their own, “are likely to experience the most severe burnout”.’
Barrie Jaeger's Making Work Work book focuses on three states of work:
- Drudgery (we all know what that is)
- Craft (development of fine skills)
- Calling (what work you are really designed for)
The aim of the game is to get to Calling, if at all possible. Your Calling will give you lots more energy. As Jaeger describes it: 'It’s like tapping into an artesian well that constantly supplies us with vitality and health.’
Craft is doable as a second best. Drugery is hell. Drudgery will seriously bugger your physical health and your sanity. Its amazing how often we find ourselves there.
Are you in Drudgery?
Jaeger identifies three things that have a major influence on whether we’re in Drudgery, Craft or Calling:
- Control over what, when, where and how we work
- Work that means something to us
- Challenges that we like
Why we find ourselves in Drudgery
As HSPs, we make a lot of mistakes that can be a one-way ticket to Drudgery. And the book spells out our spectacular goofs in technicolour detail.
Here are a few doozies we are renowned for:
- taking low-paying jobs that we are over-qualified for, assuming it will be less emotionally demanding
- allowing our curiosity for the new and different be our undoing
- taking on more work than what is actually achievable
- believing the management motivation hype is actually sustainable
- working in a physically uncomfortable environment (because everyone else is okay with it)
- having trouble asking for what we need
Our biggest mistake
But big trap we tend to fall into is focusing on The Right Job. That is, what job we think we need to find our 'Calling'. This is NOT the answer. What we need to do is identify what values are really important to us and be open to opportunities that match those values.
Which sounds nice, but a bit wishy-washy.
Fortunately, the book is surprisingly pragmatic. Jaeger gives a range of practical approaches in which to actually achieve this – and recognises that we can bounce around all three categories on a regular basis, depending on what's going on. Jaeger is no purist.
How your financial income is affected by all this Drudgery-to-Calling strategy is addressed in great detail. She even admits that not everyone can make a decent income from their Calling. It just may not happen for you.
But you can still get the Calling injection into your life in other ways. And this is important, because it will help you can manage the Craft stuff better – and have a shot at great health and a sense of peace. Which is, in the end all we really need. Right?
This post was written by Megan Hills. Megan is a writer and cartoonist who is still in recovery from years in Drudgery. Find out more about Megan
My business email stopped working at the end of yesterday, just before I was about to send out my Christmas message. While the glitch was eventually resolved, I wondered about a potential philosophical meaning of this hair-tearing technical nightmare. And the following notion came to me:
This Christmas, try talking less.
Challenging advice for a blogger to embrace. But I'm going to give it a shot.
That's it from My Burnout Thing this year.
Have a blissful rest-filled break. And if rest is what you want and need, then it's imperative to tell everyone to bugger off (unless they are bringing you food – take the food, THEN tell them).
This post was written by Megan Hills. Megan is a writer and cartoonist who enjoys her version of Christmas for it's snooze factor. Find out more about Megan
I've just finished reading Tim Parks' Teach Us To Sit Still – A skeptic’s search for health and healing.
Tim Parks is known in literary circles as a reputable novelist and translator. This newish book (2010) is NOT 'Sitting Still for Dummies', nor is it a literary novel. Instead Tim took up the challenge to translate himself, laying his personal story on the table. And personal it is. At very the beginning we discover Tim pees a lot. Or at least has the urge to pee often. Plus he feels pain in the nether regions much of the time.
But the medicos can't find anything wrong with the poor guy. Tim's problem officially becomes a mystery. But this doesn't stop the white coats from recommending prostate surgery. Not just exploratory. More a "Let's cut this out and see what happens" approach.
Note: The mystery illness story is one I'm familiar with. CFS/ME also has the doctors scratching their heads. Fortunately, no surgery has been recommended.
How is Tim's peeing relevant to burnout?
When I read the line "How could I ever have let myself arrive at this state?" I sat bolt upright. He was talking about the tension he holds in his body. Tim continues:
"I brushed my teeth ferociously, as if I wanted to file them down. I yanked on my socks as if determined to thrust my toes right through them. I tied my shoes as if intent on snapping the laces….My grip on the steering wheel was set to crush it. My spine was hunched rigid. My stomach turned to rock…It was as though, as far as my body was concerned, I was forever accelerating and braking in first and second, when I might perfectly well have been relaxed in forth, or even cruising in fifth…"
My car is an automatic. This means driving like a maniac without worrying about changing gears. I just plant my foot on the floor and frown a lot. But I take his point.
So Tim guides us, with humility, through the process of sitting still – and the living hell that comes with this exercise. Once you've practiced it enough (so it's less hellish), you will then go about your daily business with a greater sense of tranquility. Well, that's the idea. Logic follows that, from this point, you are likely to experience more energy.
The problem with the 'meditation' word
The "sitting still" Tim talks about is essentially meditation. But if Tim had been introduced to it as 'meditation', he would have run a mile. Or crawled a mile while in pelvic pain. Instead, it was introduced to him as a 'relaxation exercise'. That seemed to get skeptic Tim over the line.
Note: This word problem with 'meditation' was discussed in Meditation Made Manageable – mmm…
The Indian thing
Explaining meditation practice inevitably involves some weird Indian words.Tim took the trouble of listing the following and their meanings: sammasana, udayabbaya, bangha, bhaya, adinava, nibbida, muncitukamyata, patisankha, sankarupekkha, anuloma.
I resisted reading the list at first. I’m tired. I’m not interested in learning another language right now. Turns out the definitions of these words were incredibly funny. For example:
- Bhaya, awareness that this existence is terrible;
- Adinava, awareness that this existence is full if misery;
- Nibbida, awareness that this existence is digusting…
And the joy goes on…
Stepping up to the plate
Throughout my recovery, I've been ear-bashed about positive affirmations. Dutifully, I've murmured "I feel great, I have boundless energy' through yawns and gritted teeth on many an occasion. It didn't make me feel better. So it's refreshing to hear from Tim that it's okay to acknowledge how crappy you feel. In fact, this acknowledgement is a vital step in genuinely moving through your symptoms to a healthier, happier life.
Acknowledgement is different to just being persistently negative – 'picking at the wound', as some might say. Tim did a good job of explaining the awareness, acknowledgement and acceptance (like AAA batteries from the East?) as footholds to pulling yourself out of the mire – whatever particular mire you have found yourself in
Who is 'us'?
Tim's title is 'Teach Us To Sit Still'. Who is the 'us' he is referring to? Of course, he means anyone – but particularly you and me.
This post was written by Megan Hills. Megan is a writer and cartoonist who enjoys sitting still – and waking up afterwards. Find out more about Megan
I've had two friends recently complain about symptoms that screamed 'adrenal fatigue'. Wired tired (i.e. feeling hepped up but absolutely exhausted at the same time) over a long period was an obvious one.
Taking magnesium calcium tables prior to sleeping, helped one. Eating smaller portions more often helped the other. Both improved the leafy green quality of their food and slept more.
Before long they were happily riding bicycles for fun on weekends and pitching for promotions at work. That's not to say they were 100% fabulous. But they were well enough to not only consider these things but also act upon them. If they had severe adrenal fatigue, I suspect this bounce back would be less likely to happen.
Please note: I am not a scientist, doctor or any kind of professional health practitioner. I just know about feeling tired.
Cutting to the chase:
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS/ME) and adrenal fatigue are NOT the same thing. But adrenal fatigue could be a welcome mat to CFS/ME.
In the eyes of the medical profession, to join the CFS/ME team you need to have profound fatigue for at least six months that does not improve with bed rest. Also, physical or mental activity tend to make the fatigue worse. You may also suffer from symptoms including: joint pain, impaired memory and/or concentration, insomnia, low libido, tender lymph nodes, sore throat and post-exertional fatigue lasting more than 24 hours (ref: MedicineNet.com). If you happen to have four of these symptoms: bingo! Your conventional doctor is likely to diagnose you with CFS/ME. In some cases (like mine) CFS can hang in there for years.
Note: I have had CFS/ME since 2002. This fact leads others wonder why I think I have anything useful to say about recovering from it. Well, you can learn from my mistakes. I have made so many…
Adrenal fatigue definition
Symptoms for adrenal fatigue range from dry skin, hair, feeling tired all day, low sex drive, weight loss, insomnia or poor sleep, depression, anxiety, etc. Sounds a bit like chronic fatigue syndrome, doesn't it? But for CFS/ME crew, joint and muscle pain, tender lymph nodes and sore throat are symptoms we call our own. (ref: HGH Talk)
Apparently, the big problem with adrenal fatigue is that adrenal glands are not producing enough quantities of the hormone cortisol. Saliva testing seems to be more accurate than bloody testing. But there still seem to be some lab testing problems with this. As a result, the condition isn't formally acknowledged by the medicos. On the other hand, the adrenal problem related to Addison's disease is getting 'lab love' big time.
Serious adrenal fatigue can completely bugger your career and personal relationships. Worse, make you look older than you actually are.
Just because you are tired doesn't mean you have either
There are plenty of conditions with 'fatigue' as a symptom, without it being adrenal fatigue or ME/CFS:
Thyroid disease, anemia, diabetes, autoimmune and inflammatory disorders, heart disease, melancholic depression and anxiety, restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea and cancer. And, yes, Addison's disease.
More on the hormone thing
Some say adrenal fatigue is glutathione depletion in the hypothalamus and pituitary gland (both in the brain). If you are having trouble sleeping, reading a report on this claim by Richard A. Van Konynenbury Ph.D. entitled Glutathione Depletion-Methylation Cycle Block: A Hypothesis For the Pathogenesis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome will have your lids dropping in no time.
More drought-dry information on scientific specifics can be found on Richard's Phoenix Rising forums.
I've been reading about adrenal fatiguers and CFSers taking hormone replacements in conjunction with endocrinologists (the dudes who know a bit about glands and hormones). However, I haven't yet come across one say 'Man, this rocked my world, I feel better than EVER. I am now off to climb Mount Everest to raise money for those with ME/CFS who can't afford this juice!'
Note: Looking forward to them commenting on this site to tell me how little I know, how much better they feel…and are packing their gear to kick-off at Base Camp.
The wrap up
Diagnosis for adrenal fatigue and CFS/ME tends to be a process of elimination – i.e. if you don't have this disease or that disease, then maybe you have adrenal fatigue or ME/CFS. Because nothing consistent is coming up on lab tests, the poor sods with adrenal fatigue or CFS/ME are in no man's land.
But they say the one thing that stays the same is change – including lab testing approaches.
This post was written by Megan Hills. Megan is a writer and cartoonist who will have a nap after publishing this post. Find out more about Megan
Clare Pyers has quite a reputation. She has her own spectacular history of fatigue, which led her to some pretty serious research on the matter.
Clare is now moving mountains (without getting too tired) as a Chinese Medicine practitioner, helping those who are trapped under the invisible piano.
You know what about her really got my attention? Clare admitting there was a time when Chinese Medicine (her 'Holy Grail') didn't deliver the goods for her health. Meet this refreshingly honest health practitioner…
Mind sharing where you are at now with your health, Clare?
For the most part, my health gets 4 out of 5 gold stars these days. I have a carefully juggled balance between getting enough R&R and doing the things that give me a sense of fulfilment, that make me happy, as well as making my contribution to the world.
I have undertaken a journey to explore the subtleties of my body, I now hear it long before it screams out for rest, or sleep or better nutrition. This "cheat sheet" to my own body allows me to now take an approach where I spend more time fortifying the fence at the top of the cliff rather than calling for an ambulance once I've hit the bottom.
What do you think led to your fatigue?
The background to my fatigue was a lifetime of antibiotic use from when I was a baby right through my teenage years. I had so many infections in my upper respiratory tract, tonsils, ears, etc. and the mainstream medical treatment for that is mainly a reactive treatment protocol with antibiotics.
Probiotics weren't spoken of back then. Well, certainly not as far as my parents were told. So more than 100 rounds of antibiotics during the formative years of my growing and development have left me somewhat behind the eight ball. Glandular fever, chronic fatigue (although back then it was a pooh-pooh diagnosis – more politically correct to call it 'post-viral syndrome').
When did things start getting better?
I found Chinese Medicine in my early 20s and it really turned things around for me with my health. I was so fascinated by this amazing form of medicine, that I left the world of Chemical Engineering to study Chinese Medicine. I had found the Holy Grail. Not only was I healthy, I was invincible!! In the process of setting up a new clinic I was working very long hours, 6 days a week most weeks. And while I was able to get away with it for a year or two, eventually the dream came to an end and I developed a serious problem with my thyroid – the type that wouldn't respond to normal medications.
This was typical for me, by the way. To get diseases that weren't in the text books and didn't respond to normal treatments. Hence my fascination with Chinese Medicine, because it could make sense of my body and it's weird ways.
How crushing for you. So what happened next?
Along with my thyroid deciding to go on holiday, my adrenals were also completely pounded. I felt a bit ripped off that my wonder medicine – Chinese Medicine – didn't actually give me super powers, and here I was sick as a dog.
Thankfully, my stubborn and inquisitive nature lent itself to me learning every possible angle about thyroid and adrenal problems and chronic fatigue syndrome and how they interact and how they differ. It's actually made a massive difference not only for my life, but also now for the hundreds of patients that I see who have one or more of these problems.
What do you see as the difference between adrenal fatigue and chronic fatigue syndrome?
Adrenal fatigue is the kind of diagnosis you get from a holistic health practitioner who is trained in looking for the symptoms of poorly functioning adrenals. There are varying stages of adrenal fatigue. People can actually function quite well until they've burnt out the majority of their adrenal glands by living a modern day stressful life.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is a bit more of a dark companion that has been with someone for a long time. To technically qualify for chronic fatigue syndrome, you need to have had at least 6 months straight of feeling pretty darned awful. Those with chronic fatigue syndrome inevitably have something resembling adrenal collapse – and it can take quite a bit to draw yourself out of the chasm of chronic fatigue.
By the time someone is so incredibly run down and exhausted that they are feeling it in every part of their being, it's affecting them physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
What do you think were the key things that helped you to improve your health so you could have an active life again?
Having a positive attitude is the foundation to any healing process, having faith that I was going to get better was really the key. It wasn't negotiable, it wasn't even a question that I wouldn't improve, it was a matter of when and how best to do it. I can't underestimate the power of the mind here. I knew already that my biggest hurdle would be my mind.
My body had to take me out of my life. I was working myself into the ground and was miserable. But I hadn't had the strength within myself to make the changes needed. The main understanding that I have from a clinicians point of view is that chronic fatigue syndrome is the body's last gasp attempt to pull you out from where you're not meant to be – and that the way out is to find out what really makes your heart sing and do that instead.
So there was a lot of navel gazing that went on, I found myself a good counsellor to talk it through, I found a good kinesiologist, I got back into meditation, I got back into yoga, I loaded myself with nutritious food, took lots of herbs and had regular acupuncture. I couldn't really say it was one thing that made the difference, the important thing was that I was addressing every aspect of myself from physical all the way through to my spiritual and karmic health – what am I here to do in this lifetime, and what is going to have me feeling more fulfilled. I'm so much happier and content now in my life than I was back in 2008.
Who inspired you the most while you were unwell?
I'd have to say my partner, Mark. One of my lessons that I needed to learn through this was to accept my victories and to acknowledge my success – something I had never done before. I was in a high-achieving pattern of reaching a goal and then immediately setting the next one without ever standing back to admire my achievements. Mark pointed this out to me on a number of occasions, and it was a concept that I had a lot of resistance to initially. So I knew there was something juicy underneath it all.
He really inspired me to challenge myself in the right ways, not by pounding my body or by draining my intellectual mind, but to question how I landed up getting so sick. He's a big supporter of my profession and he knew from my ramblings that illness is very infrequently only based in the physical plane – that there's always mental, emotional and spiritual disharmony as well. So he prompted me to reflect on that and really get it sorted out.
How have friends/family/colleagues helped you (or not…) through your recovery?
My family and friends have all known my sickly history, so they're not suprised to hear when I peel back the next layer of the mystery of my health to reveal the next demon that needs to be exorcised! We all have a very open dialog around my health woes and successes, and I am always very open about how glad I am that I am a health practitioner and that I can be very proactive about my health.
I did my battles long ago with my family and friends – they know now the difference it makes when I'm well compared to when I'm not – so they support whatever I'm doing to get myself back to 100%.
My colleagues were also very supportive – always taking time out of their weeks to ensure that they could give me an acupuncture treatment. We all take care of each other in terms of getting enough rest and having enough headspace. It's quite a common scenario for health practitioners to suffer some form of burnout. So we're very proactive from that point of view.
Can you give me in outline of how you would help a client with CFS?
The best way to get back to harmony is to be aware of the 'why' so that you can be really clear about the 'how'. Sometimes life gives out blessings in disguise, and many times people end up in a much better happier place once they can peel off the disguise from ME/CFS and work out what your body is really trying to say.
Normally clients can trace back to a lead up of months or years of feeling not quite right before the "straw that broke the camel's back" came along and changed their path. Being really aware that the body was probably trying to say "no" for a long time beforehand before is important. Ultimately there was no way of ignoring it anymore.
- About stress management
To me, 'stress management' is a term that doesn't even scrape the tip of what needs to happen for those with ME/CFS. It's a process of stripping life down to the things that actually work for you, removing everything that doesn't, and rebuilding it all again in the way that will serve you best. This is everything from career, hobbies, friends, relationships, personal development – it's a big job and a lot of space is required for it.
- About rest
REST is the dirty four letter word that no one wants to be told to do. Defining what rest actually is, it is either laying on the couch, or laying down in bed. It doesn't involve laptops, it doesn't involve conference calls, and it certainly doesn't involve cups of tea at other people's houses.
A lot of the time there can be some underlying anxiety around unfinished tasks, an impending sense of doom around what will happen if the ironing doesn't get done today, or what might happen if you don't reply to that email right this very moment etc. There is a lot of reframing of expectations that needs to go on, and lots of shifting of assumed responsibility that people have taken on.
- About diet
Eat plenty of good fats – lots of coconut oil, oily fish, grass fed organic meat is essential, and more leafy greens than people might think is possible becomes the mainstay of the dietary recommendations. 100% cooked foods, nothing raw, so that the digestion has nothing to do except extract nutrition So we change the entire diet to be soups and stews and casseroles, long, slow cooking processes – and we're eating it for breakfast lunch and dinner. Lots of fat and lots of veggies. Avoid simple and complex carbohydrates, so that the blood sugar remains constant and the adrenals don't get fired off at any stage of the day.
Caffeine is a big no – including: chocolate, coffee and tea. Again if the adrenals get pressed into producing too much adrenaline and cortisol then you unnecessarily use up your energy reserves.
- About supplements and Chinese herbs
Herbs are given according to a person's needs. Not everyone gets the same formulas but we use a lot of herbal formulas that help to boost energy levels whilst also supporting the underlying energy generating mechanisms. With all our treatment approaches we take the view that supplements are by and large an interim measure, and it should be the case that the more you take a particular formula, the less you will need it.Gradually dosages taper over a period of 6-12 months as improvements are cemented and energy levels and endurance return.
We also sometimes give some luggol's iodine to apply to the skin of the inner forearm, especially for women and where we think there might be thyroid playing part of the role. It can be useful from a diagnostic point of view to see how quickly the iodine is absorbed, if it's not visible in 24 hours time – we know there's a problem with iodine levels – an essential nutrient for proper thyroid function. Magnesium chloride oil is also a good one for achy or tight muscles and is applied directly. It can help to improve sleep quality, reduce stress and anxiety too.
The more research I do, the more I realise that there are many people who are finding that their research is taking them way off the page – away from blood tests, pathology reports and scans, and towards the subtleties of the mind, the emotions, and exploring what stress actually is, and the best ways to conquer it.
I am very 'off the page' compared even to many of my colleagues in Chinese Medicine, and it's very clearly built into our medicine that there's no separation between mind, body and spirit. It just doesn't work if you don't get it all sorted out at the same time.
Running a health clinic on your own is no mean feat. How have you organised your work life to prevent you going back into fatigue?
I have very specific hours that I work, and I don't work outside those hours. In the type of work that I do – being in natural medicine – often we are asking people to come and see us when they are well. And so there is a requirement to a certain extent that we are available outside of business hours. I work 3 days a week at the moment, I have one late night where I work from 12pm-7:30pm, and two early mornings where I work from 8am-4pm. This seems to work well for me, and there are two other practitioners who work part time, they each do one late night, one practitioner works Saturday morning as well.
We find that people can fit in with this schedule, and it's useful for them to prioritise their health and wellbeing, and start a little late, or finish a little early, or take a little longer on their lunch so they can fit in their appointments. That is the biggest problem that other colleagues in industry are faced with is that clients are wanting to come in the evenings and they feel pressure to offer those times. However we have found there is a happy medium that leaves us refreshed and enthusiastic about treating our clients.
I have implemented a metric into the clinic whereby if it's not possible for it to be sustained for the next 15 years, then it needs to change. The most profound change I made was the decision to start taking the laundry to the laundromat next door. They have a wash, dry and fold service for $15, and to be honest – it has changed my life not having to worry about it anymore. It's the little things that all add up, we have made lots of changes that make life easier for everyone – not just for me. It's a really great clinic to work in now – and it keeps getting better with the tweaks we make along the way.
What do you think is the most important advice to share with someone struggling with adrenal fatigue or chronic fatigue?
It's important to connect with your body, and to listen to what it's REALLY trying to tell you. Your body is not your enemy, it's a very intelligent part of you and you need to learn how to make it one of your biggest assets. Understanding yourself and all the things that drive you, what makes your heart sing, what do you want to achieve in your life – all the big, deep questions – those answers will guide you towards better health and a greater sense of inner harmony and wellness.
More about Clare Pyers
BHSc(TCM), Cert Adv Clin Prac (China)
Chinese Medicine Practitioner
Clinic: Discover Chinese Medicine
This post was written by Megan Hills. Megan is a writer and cartoonist who applauds Clare's ability to set her working hours AND stick to them. Megan sets them well but…. Find out more about Megan
Marney Perna of www.kinique.com is a kinesiologist (find out what that is here). She also gives talks to ‘carers’ (people whose job it is to care for the elderly and disabled) about how to care better for themselves.
The main reason why Marney got into kinesiology was to help her mother with ME/CFS and her son with glandular fever. Both grounded and compassionate, Marney has practical pointers for those who live with someone who is seriously burnt out (or with ME/CFS) and how best to care for themselves in the process.
- Marney, what are the biggest traps that spouses/partners of ‘burnees’ fall into when it comes to self-care?
Guilt about being happy is a big one. If the person they are living with is unable to join in on their happiness because of poor health, it’s easy to feel guilty for enjoying life.
Being constantly ‘on tap’ for the other person and not taking out time for themselves is a very common problem. It’s also easy to let the small stressors build up…and up…and up…. Which never ends well. You can get sick yourself, or angry and resentful.
- What are the best ways to prevent falling into those traps?
Here are four suggestions I offer to anyone living with a person who is seriously unwell:
Identify your own life goals
What’s important to you in your life?
Know what those areas are and be sure you attend to them in some way on a regular basis. Otherwise you are in danger of losing your life for another’s and becoming a martyr.
Be aware of your own wellbeing
It’s important to be conscious of how you are feeling, including how your body is feeling – and to organize time-out and/or extra support if you feel your health and happiness declining.
Have people resources
Have a ‘toolbox’ of practitioners to help you de-brief, de-stress and rejuvenate on a regular basis – for example: a psychologist, a natural therapist and hairdresser who’s a good listener! Make sure you benefit from a few people, rather than becoming reliant on just one.
Take time out
Schedule time to be with yourself and do things you enjoy. Whether it’s having a coffee with a friend, soaking in a bath, or even sitting on the toilet without being disturbed (!) you need time for you.
- What should a spouse/partner do if they become ill and are unable to help their beloved?
You’re not invincible. So it’s important to acknowledge that you’re not well at the moment. Don’t ignore the symptoms and ‘press on’ for the greater good. Do your best to build a network of friends, volunteers and professionals who can fill your shoes where possible for these situations.
- How does the ‘carer’ prevent feeling trapped and resentful?
As mentioned before, you need respite. It’s also worth exploring manageable ways for the other person to become more independent (within the realm of possibility). Illness can knock a person’s confidence, so they may need your encouragement to try doing things again – along with a slowly graded approach and careful testing. Of course, what is sensible and possible depends on each individual case.
I also recommend open, honest communication for both of you. If the situation is feeling particularly challenging, share what you are going through – and do this constructively. For example, you could say. “This is how I’m feeling. Is there anything we can do about it?”
Stress builds up, and one small thing can be the last straw – but it’s usually not the real problem. So don’t focus on the trigger. Instead work to identify the underlying cause. Kinesiology can be very helpful with identifying the real issue by using the meridians of the body – it’s been a great process for my mother.
- You have some interesting ideas about how particular words can affect the body, Marney. Care to share?
Sure! It’s good to be mindful of what words are used to communicate how you feel. For the burnt out person, they might say “I feel really tired today.” The body focuses on the word ‘tired’. If you say instead “I’m not feeling so well today” the body will focus on the word ‘well’.
A not-so-well person said to me recently: “I feel terrible. This is the worst day yet.” I replied, “Okay, let’s try to make it the best worst day you’ve had.” Even though this statement sounds a little strange, it allows the body to receive the word “best”. It also helps the other person feel less isolated and more hopeful.
My mother doesn’t refer to her ME/CFS. Instead she calls it her ‘gremlin’ because the word ‘gremlin’ makes her smile. So re-naming your condition with something more positive is well worth trying.
And even if you’re feeling positive and say “I’m dying to do that!” it is best to say instead “I’m looking forward to doing that!”.
- Jeff (as my partner and unofficial carer) has been pivotal in helping me to say ‘no’ to things and to people – even though I’d really look forward to doing them! People with gremlins do have a tendency to be over-ambitious…
You’re right there. Only recently my mother moved into a house on my property, turned 80 and celebrated her 50th anniversary as well. She was excited about three events but because they all happened around the same time, her health was seriously affected.
Whether you’re feeling stressed or excited the adrenal glands react the same, so the trick is to live as calmly as you can – which can mean saying ‘no’ to some things you’d like to do, but it also means saying ‘yes’ to ‘you’. Which also means saying ‘yes’ to the peace of mind of those who care for you.
Marney's Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/KiniqueKinesiology
Marney's website: www.kinique.com
This post was written by Megan Hills. Megan is a writer and cartoonist who wonders if her ME/CFS should be called Eric. Find out more about Megan
It's fine for us burnt out folk to be jabbering on about our challenges. But what about the poor sod who lives with us? How do they feel about it all? I asked my poor sod over breakfast this morning…
My partner, Jeff Shearer, also happens to be an acupuncturist who helps many of his clients with stress, burnout and ME/CFS. So he seemed a good interview subject. Mind you, I had no idea what he was going to say. Maybe I should have prepared myself better.
Find below 'Jeff's Moment of Truth':
- Jeff, what's the biggest hurdle for those living with someone struggling with burnout (or beyond: ME/CFS)?
"Well, Megan," Jeff pondered, "the difficulty with caring for those with burnout is that they are traditionally go-getting, high energy people. During burnout their mind still thinks that they 'can', but their body actually can't. It takes awhile to get to the stage where their mind and body are integrated."
- But aren't we nice to live with?
(Okay, possibly a loaded question)
"Those suffering burnout also tend to be people pleasers."
- I really like that shirt you've got on, by the way…
"Thanks," Jeff sighed. "Anyway…those with burnout have a habit of agreeing to a suggestion, thinking they can do it. And they're very convincing! So sometimes you are led to believe they can manage it. And then the task might even be achieved – but they can end up in a hole for days as a result."
- What do you think the role of a partner-carer is?
"The difficulty for a partner of someone with burnout is to learn the line between what is your responsibility and what is theirs. It's easy to become the burnee's watchdog. But this means your relationship changes from being an equal relationship to a parent-child relationship. Not a healthy dynamic at all."
(I nod enthusiastically, Jeff can be bossy on occasion)
"However, I believe the burnee's partner has a responsibility to expose the illusions for what they are – that is, voicing observations related to actions that result in my previously mentioned 'hole'. It's important not to feel responsible for the burnee's mistakes. Everyone needs to be accountable for their own actions."
(I'm not so enthusiastic about this bit…surely someone else should be blamed for turning me into Snoozy the Incompetent?)
- So have I believed (to myself and others) that I could do more than what was actually possible?
"Yes," Jeff says looking at me sideways.
(he knew that question was definitely loaded)
(note: I know I do over-estimate all the time, but I like to play with Jeff's head every once in awhile)
"When you were first sick," Jeff replies tactfully, "You were completely exhausted, not sleeping well at all, extremely anxious. You were diagnosed with ME/CFS and the doctor recommended that you take at least three months off work.
"Despite all this, you kept saying 'I've got to go to work! I've got to go to work!'. You believed that you would be seriously letting people down (including yourself) by not going to work. This belief overrode the obvious symptoms of a serious illness."
"You believed all these relationships heavily relied on you to be productive – that was the illusion."
- So you're saying I'm easily replaceable?
(Note: I know this already too. it took no time for my employer to find someone else to swivel in my office chair)
"We all are," Jeff replied with gentleness.
- How are we (the burnt out) supposed to know what's possible for us to achieve?
"I often say to people: Imagine what 100% of what you want to do looks like and then pull your expectations down to 70%. For burnout suffers, this second figure needs to be below 50%…sometimes as low as 5%."
(I gasp in horror, Jeff nods knowingly)
"I say to burnout sufferers," Jeff continues, "think about what you want to do. Then consider what is absolutely essential – i.e. what is required to sustain life and sanity. Only do things that are absolutely essential – bearing in mind that there's that tendency to often distort what is essential…like pleasing others."
- I think it's the green in the shirt that brings out the colour in your eyes
- What's an important tip for carers?
"Aim for clear and compassionate communication – from both sides. Then a better balance in the relationship is more likely to be achieved."
Nicely put, I thought. What did you think?
This post was written by Megan Hills. Megan is a writer and cartoonist who happens to have ME/CFS – and is also very lucky. Find out more about Megan
'How to be sick' is a wonderful title for a book – wonderfully confronting when we live in a society that is about avoiding it, denying it, moving on from it. 'Get well soon' cards say a lot.
The idea of accepting that you are sick – right here, right now – doesn't seem to get much support. And 'How to be sick' sounds like you're setting up camp there. To some, it may sound totally defeatist.
Maybe that's why, when taking this book out to read in a cafe, I caught myself hiding the cover from passer-bys. 'What would they think of me??' I found myself thinking. Which is more than a little sad.
The author of this book, Toni Bernhard, understands this inner turmoil well. In 2001, Toni became sick – in a hotel in Paris, of all places – and was eventually diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. Much to her surprise, she has not since recovered.
My note: 'Recovery' is an odd word, isn't it? Re-cover. What am I, a couch in need of upholstery? The path of feeling better after feeling worse perhaps should be called 'un-covery', because we uncover ourselves in the process. We see parts of ourselves that were hiding. Parts that could perhaps use some exposure to the sun…or buns.
The tagline to Toni's book is:
'A Buddhist-inspired guide for the chronically ill and their caregivers'.
Toni was a student of Buddhism before she became ill, so it made sense to apply some of the things she'd learnt to her new situation. However, it's okay if Buddhism is not your thing. The book is highly practical and you can take what resonates with you from it to apply to your situation.
Toni aims to assist us with the following:
- coping with symptoms that just won't go away
- coming to terms with a more isolated life
- weathering fear about the future
- facing the misunderstanding of others
- dealing with the healthcare system; and
- for spouses, partners, or other caregivers, adopting to so many unexpected and sometimes sudden life changes
"All I could tell them was that I had flu-like symptoms without the fever; an extremely hoarse voice; 18 pounds of weight loss; and a fatigue so devastating that, no matter how small the waiting room chair, I tried to turn it into a bed."
She lists her initial experiences with the health system:
- a multitude of blood tests
- 3 infectious disease doctors
- 2 ENT specialists
- a rheumatologist
- an endocrinologist
- a gastroenterologist
- a neurologist
- a cardiologist
- (on my own) two acupuncturists
Apparently, nothing was wrong with her. But, of course, there was plenty wrong.
"Each morning you expect to wake up not feeling sick even though for weeks and then months – and then years – that has never been the case."
Toni proceeds to explain Buddhism's Four Noble Truths which has a lot to do with accepting where you are in order to reach enlightenment.
'Enlightenment?!' you may exclaim (if you had the energy). 'I'm just focusing on getting out of bed!'
But I have found that burnout and ME/CFS has been an enforced 'grounding', a re-assessment of values and a heightened awareness of my relationships and my environment. I may be slower, less 'productive' and certainly less flush financially but I do feel…dare I say it…a little more advanced as a human being.
When you are bed bound, Toni explains, everything feels uncertain. However, the sooner you get used to feeling what you are feeling the better. The basic Buddhist premise is this: If you accept your death, your life will be easier. So if you accept your illness, your life is also likely to be easier.
About ending suffering
According to Toni's book, the end of suffering is not necessarily about feeling healthy again. This bit stopped me in my tracks (okay, admittedly I was lying down to begin with). The end of suffering is about stopping your mind wishing you were healthy. Panicked thoughts like "What if I'll never be able to work again?" don't help things. Toni replaces these thoughts with other thoughts like: "Be peaceful, sweet body, working so hard to support me."
But you can create lines that feel right to you.
Whatever you choose to say to yourself, be clear that it's not your body's fault you are feeling unwell. Stop bad-mouthing it. And stop bad mouthing yourself as well. While wallowing in frustration, we can call ourselves, stupid, dumb or clumsy. That's not fair. You deserve better treatment than that, Toni says.
So what are we supposed to do, exactly?
While we're busy beating ourselves up, Buddhism urges us to give the following a go:
- Loving kindness
for ourselves and others
for ourselves and others
- Sympathetic joy
joy in the joy of others
a mind that is at peace despite what's going on
Toni fleshes out these points beautifully with her own ME/CFS fits and starts.
I could go on and on about 'How to be Sick', but you might be better off reading it yourself and sharing with us your thoughts about it.
Here's Toni's website. But you can also buy her book on Amazon and The Book Depository.
This post was written by Megan Hills. Megan is a writer and cartoonist who is doing her best to put her inner-critic to bed. Find out more about Megan
In the business section of a newspaper recently was the headline: "Employee overload is bad for business".
The sub-head (just in case you didn't understand the headline): "Overworked staff can strip a company of its competitive edge".
Derek Parker wrote the article in the Weekend Australian (19-20 March 2011, Weekend Professional, Page 1). Not sure if Derek wrote the headline, but I appreciate that to reach the ears of panic-stricken, slave-driving CEO's and middle managers you need to talk in terms they understand. Like 'stripping your competitive edge' and the kindergarten version: 'bad for business'.
Derek comes into his own in the first paragraph:
"Every business wants its employees to put in a good day's work, but unthinking attempts to reach new levels of productivity can easily produce the opposite effect: poor results, disruption in the workplace, rising levels of sick leave and high staff turnover. In a word: burnout."
Apparently the stress-related leave in 2008 cost Australia $14.81 billion (as reported by Medibank Private) – a figure likely to have increased since, considering the GFC and recent natural disasters.
In the Weekend Australian article Tracy Noon, chief human resources officer of recruitment specialist Hudson Australia/New Zealand, says:
"Burnout happens when people feel overwhelmed by the amount of work they are given to do, or by increases in their responsibilities….Most people can deal with peaks in their workload, but problems start when people can't see an end to it."
Nicely put, Trace.
I've spent a good slab of my life feeling unsatisfied with the workplace. No siesta rooms, fear-riddled managers, in-trays that behave like thugs and crap communication all round.
I could have handled things differently. Campaigned for a OH&S 'sick bay' (with a bed and lots of pillows). More importantly, I could have figured out that I was on the road to burnout. Unfortunately, I wasn't that bright. I didn't see it coming. I just went to my place of employment with a rock in my stomach and worked. And worked. And worked. Thinking all along that was the deal. Thinking I just had to suck it up. Thinking that there was no choice.
In hindsight, I can't help but feel that a situation like this actually boils down to two (healthy) choices:
- Communicate what's going on calmly and articulately (which may involve quoting from Derek's article to anyone who will listen) and offer constructive solutions to your colleagues and manager(s)
- Leave your job
I became so sick I was found dribbling under my desk. Choice didn't really factor in here. It was time to leave.
Eventually, when I could manage it, I started my own writing business. My own siesta room was created and effective 'fear management' was put in place. I even learnt to communicate effectively to my cat on a regular basis.
There are times when my credit card debt belongs on The Biggest Loser. There are times when I can't get past foggy brain to properly attend to the urgent calls of my clients. Life can be less than perfect.
But it is for everyone else as well.
Have you noticed? No one else has it all together either. In fact, we're living in a society where the wheels are falling off on a regular basis – despite the "We're soooo reliable" marketing material.
Work, and life in general, is becoming a slapstick routine.
Juggling tasks as slippery as fish, trying to look dignified after skidding on yet another banana peel has a Charlie Chaplin feel to it. Maybe we need to see our 'to do' list as a series of running gags.
In short, maybe it's time to start laughing at our crazy routines. Because they are. Take a moment, grab some popcorn and watch our antics for what they really are.
Here's your ticket. Enjoy the show.
This post was written by Megan Hills. Megan is a writer and cartoonist who looks pretty good in a bowler hat and moustache. Find out more about Megan