I’ve heard about burnout and thought it could perhaps happen to me one day, I just didn’t expect it to be so soon.
From the beginning, I have been an obvious target for burnout's gripping hands. I am a sensitive introvert type being paid to interact with around twenty patients a day, not including my coworkers. I am justice driven, so I gravitate toward the highest need populations in society. Therefore for the first four years of my career, I found myself in geriatric medicine, caring for older individuals, and then in refugee medicine, serving severely traumatized and mistreated patients, pushing through cultural and language barriers just to treat a simple ailment.
My personality inclines me to choose environments of severe suffering and unique challenge. It also inclines me to predominantly see what is missing instead of what is present. And now I know, these environments alone are high risk for burnout due to secondary trauma, communication barriers, and low resources. Working in these environments, one needs strong support and tight boundaries to protect work life balance. If you add to these environments a sensitive and introverted health care provider and low support, burnout is bound to happen.
These are the facts, but what does it FEEL like to be in the middle of burnout? Well, as a enneagram type four feeler, let me tell you.
It feels like a dark cloud of sadness, bitterness, and mourning.
It feels like a prison of my own doing, one I payed nearly $90,000 to be in and gave seven years of my life to.
It feels like dread.
It feels like my friend, compassion, who once was so present, packed up his bags and left.
It feels like staring into the eyes of my passion and finding it cold.
It feels like a zombie has inhabited my waking hours in the workplace.
I hear the things I used to care about and act on, but they blow right past me, like sand that I can’t seem to grasp.
I can’t muster the strength to do anything helpful.
It feels like daydreaming about absolutely any other career but this one.
It feels like only seeing negatives, never positives.
I knew working with this population would be difficult. But I didn't realize how important it would be to take care of myself, to set proper boundaries, and to have a supportive and present boss. As I attempt to navigate this uncharted territory of burnout I am reading books, articles, and creating healthy habits. I am learning how to make this this career sustainable for me and whether or not I need to step away from it for a while.
In this process, I’m finding a lot of unknowns. In the unknowns, it’s important for me to use the gift of words to write out and meditate on what I DO KNOW in this season.
I know that there’s a lot of growing and learning to do smack dab in the middle of this dark cloud called burn out.
I know I'm not destined for a miserable career, despite what my gray tinted glasses tell me.
I know that with my specific personality I may always see what’s missing and struggle to find contentment where I am.
I know though that, in this, God is awakening a desire to write and to own my creative soul.
I know that absolutely none of this is wasted – not the time, not the money, not even the emotional energy that has been spent.
I know that I have grown stronger.
I know now a few red flags to look for in a job.
I know that the schooling for this career was one of the most treasured experiences I have had in my life thus far.
I know that I really love learning about science and the way the body works.
My heart has grown four sizes larger for the refugee population, and my brain has gained knowledge, soaked in compassion, about refugee backgrounds that I will never ever forget. I know that all of this will be used for good in the future. My capacity to burn out is different than my coworkers. Other personality types may thrive in this career, but if I choose to stay in it I may always have to fight for contentment, and that’s okay.
Like a cutting from an old plant placed into new soil, properly placed and cared for, I will survive. I will thrive. I will rise up. I will listen hard to what God has to say for me during this season and I will follow where He leads. Because I know what I want and it is this: I want to burn bright in this dark world, not burn out.