Four signs that indicated I was emerging from burnout
1. My creativity began re-emerging
Truth’s daily task
Truth is not clinging to a failed understanding,
Truth is the soul’s daily work,
The creative heart work of the true human.
Another line in this poem that I wrote was that “truth lived brings laughter and tears”. When in the midst of my burnout there wasn’t much laughter, tears were the more common expression of my state of being. Creativity requires both to be present in our life. The unhealthy imbalance was very evident in my daily lament about my lack of value to anyone.
James Altucher in his book, “Choose Yourself” recommends that we write down ten ideas a day. I would normally say such a task is too easy but my idea well was completely dry during this time.
Creativity re-emerging showed itself in a growing confidence to try something new. Each day as I took the next faltering step forward I was able to move to a new understanding of myself as a person. The old ways of seeing myself were lost in a finding of a new truth that touched the very core of my soul.
A reflection on Psalm 85
When love and faithfulness collided with my life,
The sparks shot to the heavens,
The light shower showed me the way forward,
The paralysis of despair healed completely,
I used the word paralysis to refer to the despairing state that I found myself in during my experience of burnout. The discovery of those who could meet me with love and faithfulness in the moments of darkness encouraged the smallest sparks of creativity that they saw in me and this allowed light to emerge on the next step forward. Being able to work creatively and to then have the confidence to share my work with a community that expressed love and faithfulness was a very clear sign that I was beginning to rediscover a balance in my life.
2. My sleep became restful
One of the clearest indicators of my state of being when in the midst of burnout was a poor sleep rhythm. Even when I did sleep it never felt like I woke refreshed. There were times when I questioned if I would ever have a proper night’s sleep again. I felt like I lived in a state of perpetual tiredness. Being able to have a good night’s sleep was a welcome relief that was a clear indicator that something was beginning to shift in me.
A reflection on Psalm 112
My heart’s deepest gladness has been found,
Living in the centre of God’s intention,
I sleep peacefully each night,
I dream of hope and belonging,
For me the tiredness hung around for a long time. I am normally a quite active person who approaches life with enthusiasm. My preferred rhythm is to wake early and it’s in that time that I can be quite creative. When I continually was waking up feeling tired there was little creativity left in me.
As I emerged from my continual tiredness I started looking forward to the mornings again. As creativity emerged I began looking forward to waking up so that I could engage in the creative activity of my work. Sleep was welcomed because it was a restful sleep that came from resolving some of the tension that I felt had emerged in understanding my sense of vocation and my response to that call.
3. I didn’t need to be the centre of my conversation
At the height of my burnout my conversation centred around me. Sometimes when I was saying the words about me I felt tired of hearing myself talk. Some good friends stayed with me during this period and continued to listen and I am thankful that they were able to do this.
A reflection on Psalm 104
Like a lost friend who is brought close,
Creation continually welcomes me with a huge hug,
I am safe again in his presence,
His Voice the centre of my conversations,
One of my burnout symptoms was a complete retreat into myself. This was very difficult with a wife and four children who were very used to me be very present in our family life. I still managed to be very self-focussed in my world of perpetual distraction. Even when I was with them I was never really there. I would be looking at them but thinking about a thousand things that could be going wrong, what I needed to do yet in that day, what mistakes I had made that day and a constant self-talk of failure. There wasn’t much room in my head to fit anyone else.
My centre had become all about me and this was creating fatal wounds in my life. Learning to discover other important voices that spoke into my life helped me to re-find my centre. I loved the growing sense of belonging that brought with it a healing voice into my life. The words that emerged brought a new understanding of my own voice that could transcend my immediate problems.
4. I began feeling more confident again
So many of us let others determine what we are worth. It’s our duty to make that determination ourselves.”
Dr Travis Bradberry in a recent article refers to research done by the University of California that shows the more difficulty you have saying no, the more likely you are to experience stress, burnout, and even depression. He also says that before we say “no” we need to have worked out what we are saying yes to.
A reflection on Psalm 203
My first word today is to say, “No”,
To a thousand different questions,
That seek to bring complexity,
To what is the simple choice,
Of first saying yes to God.
Being able to say no to someone means that there is something bigger at play in life. I have learned once again to find a bigger purpose in my life than some of the more material goals that dominated my life during my period of burnout. This gives more confidence to be able to make choices and to then live with those choices.
I notice myself saying no more and more lately. Sometimes saying no is often about choosing between good and best, this choice can be difficult especially when the creative juices are flowing and there are so many options to explore. But, saying no helps focus creativity and beds it into more fertile soil that is ultimately more productive.
No can sometimes bring with it some immediate pain but this is often better than the dull ache of a half hearted yes. No, changes the terms of a relationship because it makes the reality or impossibility of a situation clearer. Burnout can feel like living in a fog but with finding the capacity to say no confidently the fog recedes to give a clearer picture of reality.