Thursday, March 31, 2011

Seven Symptoms of the Burnout You Can Avoid

Warnings I ignored.

This post has sat in my computer's memory for days. I do not want to post it. The circumstances it describes are bleak, and thankfully long past for me. However, If I am able to frighten anyone into shifting gears and avoiding what I've experienced, it will be worth it.

Please, this is not a request for sympathy. It is a pathetic admission of an ego gone amuck. Five years ago I believed I had to be the answer to every problem my congregation, my family and my friends experienced. I had what some refer to as a "Messiah Complex." I am seeking to learn to trust in Christ's strength.

In the winter of 2005 and 2006 I was sprinting toward a health crisis which drastically altered my life. In February of 2006, the crash had begun, and by March it was a full-blown catastrophe.

Seven Symptoms of the Burnout I Experienced

1. Intensifying headaches were first symptom I ignored. Everyone has an occasional headache. But during the three years prior to my burnout, mine became more severe and more regular.

2.That winter my fatigue was pronounced. I felt weary and dragged myself through the days. And, unlike the the sleepy days and sleepless nights which accompanied my depression as the burnout kicked-in, I could sleep all night and still need naps throughout the day. I was always tired.

3. Another symptom I missed was the increased caffeine. In order to battle against my body's cries for rest, I self-medicated with coffee, shots of espresso and handfuls of chocolate chips.

4. I began giving myself strange new high-energy pep talks. Once, after finishing an eight mile run, in the middle of a forest I tensed my entire body and shouted a long "Yes!" I began noticing these strange self-urgings-on--more and more--as if I was pleading with myself to be strong and to keep going.

5. I began to lose my appetite for healthy food, and would re-stoke my energy fires with chocolate or yet another espresso. I alternated between forgetting to eat, and gorging on junk food.

6. The darkest part of the journey was when I began to experience the symptom I would later call "cotton head"--a sensation of intense dizziness and feeling faint. The first of these episodes happened in the middle of a sermon. I was teaching and enjoying the morning when it seemed that someone, somehow had pulled my power cord from the wall. It was so sudden, I almost fell to the floor. After sitting for a moment, I finished the message and spent an afternoon in the ER (which would be followed by months of being CAT-scanned and x-rayed and blood-tested and MRI'd).

7. In the two weeks following this first experience of cotton head, I lost twenty pounds and realized I could no longer walk twenty feet without stopping to rest and check my balance. I was experiencing blood sugar swings that would suddenly drop me to a 60 count and put me on my back. My doctor diagnosed stress. Two counselors spoke of a "major depression." A natural healer diagnosed stress induced adrenal burnout. I simply wanted to lay down and go to sleep and not wake up or face anyone anymore...and I am normally one of the most outgoing people you could meet.

Into the Darkness and Back
It was at this time that I sadly realized I had arrived in what became the dark and horrifying tunnel of depression.

Since that time, now five years ago, I have learned a great deal. My life is brighter and I'm less harsh with myself.

So in my next post, I will list symptoms of my recovery. It will be brighter and hopeful. This has been far too dark of a recollection for me. Please feel free to repost it, or to share it with anyone you think might benefit.


Mark said...

Well said and needed to be said for many, don't ever hold back when it could be a light for another.

Natashka said...

Dear David, I didn't know that... I am so sorry to read about it and I am so happy, that you are doing well now.