The burnout recovery elephant

This post was written by Megan on October 25, 2012
Posted Under: burnout and recovery

burnout recovery elephant cartoon

There has been an elephant in the room here on My Burnout Thing. A well-meaning elephant with poor table manners. The elephant is called ‘the clumsy recovery’. Frankly, I’m wondering if there is any other kind.

It was Hans Schoendorfer who called my attention to this elephant-of-inelegance in an email to My Burnout Thing. Hans wrote:

“Recovery is not a smooth process at all and I've had many ups and downs including some really good times. However, my habit is still trying to do too much healing too fast and I usually stumble and regress.”

But this is when I began wondering about the value of My Burnout Thing:

“I'm now at the point where reading advice is not very productive and I have to proceed more on my own road with patience. I have given up on forums as they almost all contain enough painful writing that I get discouraged.”

And here was the kicker:

“While there is endless information on recognizing and preventing burnout, it seems that recovery is so individual that little is written to document it.”


Is Hans right about the individual nature of recovery? Or do we all have more in common than we think? I, too, have ups and downs and stumble and regress. Hans and I decided to compare notes…


Megan: “Hans, perhaps we need to backtrack a moment. How did you become burnt out?”

Hans: “I was a Canadian petroleum geologist. My role was to grow our division within a multi-division resource company. I worked incredibly hard over a number of years to achieve this. Long hours, shortened vacations and a lot of stress. In 2011, I found out the company had no intention to grow our division despite statements of intent to invest; the work lost all meaning. Fatigue from all those years of hard work just sapped my energy. I was burnt out.” 

Megan: “It’s interesting how lack of job satisfaction – or life satisfaction – can be a part of burnout. A whole lot of energy going nowhere. I can definitely relate to that. What did you do to help yourself recover?”

Hans: “I took a month’s leave and returned to work. But then encountered a more serious burnout in 2012. So I took a vacation in July, then subsequently medical leave until mid-August. I then arranged to return to work part-time. However, anytime I thought about returning to working my anxiety would soar. Dropping into the office was fine, committing to it was something else. I studied burnout causes and found I excelled in all facets!”

Megan: “I relate to this work do-si-do, except I went part-time first. Then became practically catatonic (dribbling in the corner) so had to resign. Taking a few months off was not a choice. It was a necessity. Once ready to attempt work (sort of), I considered returning to my previous job. But the stress level was destined to put my health back in a hole. The idea of applying for jobs was such an anxiety-trigger I couldn’t do it. So I became a freelance writer. This meant low-cost to start-up and I could nap when I needed. But I still felt incredibly anxious. My first freelance job was so stressful it almost killed me. It was a small brochure for a sweet dog trainer. How tragic was I?! Anxiety is still something triggered by work. Do you work now, Hans?”

Hans: “I had not planned to retire, but could afford to. So there really was no reason to continue. I've made all kinds of changes since I burned out three months ago, including ‘retiring’ from my unsatisfying job.”

Megan: “What other things have you done to help your recovery from burnout? And what do you think has worked well for you?”

Hans:“I've been working with a psychologist. In my opinion, work was merely the situation I was in while burning out, albeit a bad one. She has helped me see where my beliefs and values tend to cost me energy and pleasure. I'm trying to focus more on the present moment of my life. I walk, I read, I rest. I make sure I go out somewhere every day. The best part for me has been taking time to enjoy the outdoors. Trees don't rush the winter looking for spring.”

Megan: “You mentioned in your email that you try to do too much healing and so you stumble and regress. I have fallen into this same trap many times. Is it that we aren’t good at setting reasonable expectations for ourselves?”

Hans: “Nobody wants to feel burned out, particularly the anxious or depressed part, so I think we try harder to be well soon. I keep looking for an answer to get well faster so, yes, I expect too much. Trying to get well faster is like the causes of burnout – if we only work hard enough we should be able to fix our feelings and exhaustion as well. It is like trying to heal a broken bone faster than it will knit. When listening to other's recovery stories, it's helpful to pay more attention to their progress, rather than the painful gaps in between.

Megan: Yes, it’s so easy to forget how far we’ve come. Thanks so much for the reminder, Hans.


Megan is a writer, marketing swashbuckler, and cartoonist who wonders if her inner elephant needs to break out of the room and roam free.  Find out more about Megan

Reader Comments

thanks for yet another lovely piece megan…. always uplifting to connect with people getting real :) If we had more real, there would probably be a lot less burnout…

Written By brie on October 25th, 2012 @ 10:04 am

Thanks for the lovely comment, Brie. You are right about being real. There probably would be less burnout, I agree. It can be challenging – particularly if those around us don’t like our ‘real’. But worth it for sure.

Written By Megan on October 25th, 2012 @ 5:01 pm

Thank you Megan for sharing some insight into burnout – it is certainly not something that is covered a lot in text books. I guess the elephant in the room is just too big. – I have no idea what your daily routine looks like but the creative work you are doing is fantastic!! Go Megan :)

Written By Anita on October 25th, 2012 @ 6:23 pm

Thanks so much, Anita. My daily routine would appear haphazard to many. This is because I can only ‘do’ when my health is up to it. Sometimes my brain fogs up, so I’m not much help to clients at those times – but I can clean up the kitchen or go for a walk. Sometimes it’s the opposite: physically knackered but I can think through a problem to a solution. Then sometimes the whole shop closes up. That’s when it’s time to get away from all stimulus and lie down. I can’t always nap, but lying down is still the best medicine. Needless to say, 9-5 working hours don’t work for me.

Written By Megan on October 26th, 2012 @ 8:13 am

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