When you hit a rough patch, the only way out is through.
Sometimes the stories in this magazine are a little too relatable for comfort. Googling how a clinical diagnosis of burnout is made, I learned that the World Health Organization defines it as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and 3) reduced
It me, as the kids say. Those symptoms perfectly describe my mental state last spring. Granted, all of them were exacerbated by one of the defined causes of burnout: work-life imbalance. At the time, I was caring for my mother, who had dementia caused suddenly by a stroke. She was on hospice in the home we shared, requiring round-the-clock care. For months I tried to meet that level of caregiving while continuing to work and function as a parent and partner. Something had to give.
Like many of the physicians in Phoebe Hall’s burnout article, when I gave out, I found supportive colleagues and leaders ready to catch me. I took a leave of absence, and while it entailed caring for my mother at first, eventually it was spent grieving her death and recuperating physically from the toll of caregiving. But that time away was precious to me. It gave me space to quiet my mind, to connect with my family after this traumatic event, and to reset my attitude toward my professional life. I returned from leave reinvigorated, loving my work, and so grateful for the people who had stepped in to help while I was away.
I would advise anyone, physician or otherwise, struggling with any of the feelings described in the article to seek help. You may think you can’t, that your world will fall apart if you stop the wheel you’re running on, but you can and it won’t. You’ll find out you’re not the only one, that people want to help you, and you will emerge on the other side.