Posted by: mumriken | October 14, 2011

Burnout…

I just thought I would copy this item from my (mainly) Swedish blog. If you have read it before, then it might be good to read it again, and I have added some afterthoughts in the end…


I suffer from a burnout syndrome and this has been a large part of my life since May 2008. I have decided to be personal in this blog, but I think it is necessary to be frank and honest with this. I have had problems being frank and honest to myself during this time, and there are many hours in therapy behind my own understanding of what has happened.

Then…

I was giving a course at the university in the middle of May, 2008. The course was new, and the subject one I had not taught before. At mid-lecture I just felt that I had to fold my laptop and walk away. I had never experienced anything like that before. I was literally shaking when I left the lectuere theater, and I could not stay at work. The next week I contacted the doctor, and was sent home from work. As soon as this happened I started sleeping. I slept for about a week, more than 18 hours a day. I didn’t think that you could sleep that much.

Now

A year has passed, and I am now back to work at 75%. What has happened since? Well, I can cope with the work I am doing, although I have realized that I have to compensate. The old person that I was before May, last year has changed, and the changes need to be accounted for. A constant tiredness, bad memory, difficulties to focus, difficulties to find words and names, and a sensitivity to stress are new properties that I need to learn how to handle.

I am a person who is almost allergic to planning, and one of the difficult things I have found out recently is that planning and making lists is going to be a new part of my life. Without lists, memory support (a.k.a. calendar) and writing down what I do, things will not work.

Thought

It is very easy to fall into the trap of viewing yourself as being almost chronically ill. I was very ill in the beginning. I could not do very many things, and just passing the building where I have my office gave me a panic attack. However, this has passed. I have been at the office, I have talked to my colleagues, etc. I have even started to work, although not with teaching.

Many people who suffer the same thing report a long time of recovery, lasting over years. If I try to think about my own situation, I even start to wonder whether you really recover, or if you rather learn how to manage the situation. And even if you slowly recover, it might be better to accept the situation, and learn to cope. If you live with a condition for several years, that condition becomes you, and not a defect within you. As soon as you start accepting that there are things that you need to compensate for, then it becomes your new identity, and that identity is not faulty, but different.

But is this just not a way to fool yourself? Is it better to incorporate the “defects” in your person, than to think that you could do better? I think it is, because when you have accepted who you are, then you will not constantly be disappointed. As long as you compare yourself with your “old” self, you will constantly think that “I used to be able to do this” and that is a depressing thought. If you accept who you are, any progress will be instead be a positive effect.

I still struggle with my acceptance, but I think that if I can manage to change perspective, this will be a very large help forward.

Afterthought…

Now it is 2011, and three and a half years have passed since it all started. Have I recovered? Well, not entirely. I manage to work full time, but I still have to be very careful with stress. I cannot keep more than one or two balls in the air at the same time, and I still don’t have a memory I can trust. I have started to challenge myself a bit more, which I think is good.

On the whole, I feel lucky, though. I have found a way to cope with the new self, and I have started to accept that the old person is not there anymore. Finding strategies to avoid or overcome all things that have happened in the last days has become part of my life. Essentially, I have now accepted a new life, which in the long run may be richer than the old, in that I have found new values that will complement the old ones. And I have become very sensitive to when other people run the risk of falling in the same trap as I did.

Hopefully this can be of use to someone else. I will write more on this topic later in this blog too.

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