Who’s Heard of Burnout?

There’s a rumor going around (started by my therapist and substantiated by my friends and family) that I’m suffering from burnout.

Pish tosh, I said. Burnout is for people who have Big Important Jobs and work 60 hours a week, like doctors and social workers. It’s a mere run-of-the-mill bout of depression.

“Have you looked up what burnout is?” My therapist asked.

It turns out that “burnout” is basically depression, but instead of being caused by my brain hating me, it’s got an external cause. And while I may not hold a traditional job, I have been taking on a lot of new projects this year. I’m excited for them (teaching! moderating! fostering!) but it does also come with a workload that a normal person would find challenging, let alone a neurodivergent mentally ill nutter-butter like myself.

So what does burnout look like? Here’s what the Mayo Clinic told me:

  • Are you feeling particularly irritable? Like minor annoyances make you go RAH! and flip a table?
  • Are you tired and/or having crappy sleep?
  • Are you feeling unsatisfied with yourself/your achievements?
  • Is your body unhappy with you? (head- and stomach- aches)
  • Have your dietary habits tanked? (All the junk/nothing but potatoes?)
  • Do you feel like garbage?

Sounds a lot like depression, right? That’s because it basically is. The cause is just different. Depression is your brain wiring and/or goop not acting correctly. Burnout is your brain wiring and/or goop not acting correctly because your life is out of whack. It’s a fine but distinct difference.

So what am I supposed to do, knowing that I’m dealing with burnout-specific depression? It turns out, the management is very similar to that for a depressive episode.
In addition to being nice to yourself (exercise, rest, etc.), the Mayo Clinic’s first recommendation is figure out how to modify the Burnout-Causing Thing. Whether it’s by quitting the thing, changing your schedule, making a schedule, making someone else do some of the thing, or whatever. In my case, this means making a pretty, color-coded schedule so I can keep track of what I need to do. (No, I don’t use a BuJo. Why do you ask?) I also have Kevin splitting more of the chores with me until I get through the most time-sensitive projects.
And the rest, of course, is just hanging on until I can get through it. I know, it sucks that there isn’t a quick fix or perfect solution. (If only mental health worked that way.) But at least I have a name for it and having a name is a pretty huge step in the battle against any mental health issues.

Have you experienced burnout? How did you manage it? What’s your best tip? Let me know!

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