In 2010 there was an article published in LinuxFormat computer magazine on the 12 phases of the Burnout Cycle theorized by psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North. At the time I read the article, I didn’t recognize there were similarities to what the authors had written and what I was living.
Burnout is a mental illness that can affect all people in all professions. It appears as a chain of subtle changes in personality, perspective, values and behaviour. It is difficult to identify. An individual that is suffering from burnout, may be labeled as irrational, short tempered, lacks tolerance and exhibits unusual behaviour.
For some time I had been searching for an answer to the question,”Why did I hate the job I loved to do?”
In 2013, under the advice of medical professionals, I took a leave of absence from work to begin the exercise of trying to recover from clinical depression, the medical term for Burnout.
Restoring ones mental health is not a take one pill and call me in the morning treatment. I have returned to work which was one of the goals of my treatment. Using new skills I have learned but not yet mastered, I struggle on my journey of recovery.
Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871) is a novel by Lewis Carroll about a girl who wonders what the world is like on the other side of a mirror. If you picture the 12 phases of Burnout as reflections in a mirror, then this list is what I failed to see.
Reflection 1: The compulsion to prove oneself
I was an ambitious individual and continually wanted to prove that I was a good employee. Project deliverables, company goals and objectives, company values, performance appraisals, and professional opinions were measuring sticks. I pushed myself to meet or exceed the metrics. The forces of feeling insecure and being under valued were always in play.
Reflection 2: Working harder
To fulfill the desire to prove myself, I worked harder. I arrived early and left late most days. I took work home and spent many nights awake trying to resolve issues that the company chose to ignore. I rarely refused additional tasks. I tried to demonstrate what I felt the company wanted. I created this model from the company’s constant messages of need.
Reflection 3: Neglecting their needs
Focusing all my time and energy at work, left little for other activities. Pleasures like family, socializing or sleeping took up time. Investing the spare time in company work, I believed produced the greater return.
Reflection 4: Displacement of conflicts
I consciously believed there was nothing wrong. Everything I was doing was right, so everything must be right. I couldn’t shake the feeling I felt no peace. My reasoning for the feeling was, if everything is right then the feeling must be a flaw with me.
Reflection 5: Revision of values
The importance of investing in other activities was reduced. Friends and hobbies were pushed aside. I focused all energy to the job. I never realized for six months I hadn’t read a book. On average I read a novel a week.
Reflection 6: Denial of emerging problems
My three headed Cerberus was cynicism, intolerance and aggression. I dismissed colleagues’ opinions. I blamed problems on a lack of manpower, a lack of resources, a lack of money, unrealistic expectations and demanding workload. Insomnia and I were a constant bedfellow. Increasingly, I lashed out and found it difficult to see the other side of arguments. I assumed stress as a middle name.
Reflection 7: Withdrawal
I distanced myself from others. I desired to spend more time alone. I expanded my drinking selection from beer to hard liquor. A few “double double’s” while watching TV alone, took the edge off. I felt very little hope or a sense of direction. In the cloud of alcohol those feelings were suspended.
Reflection 8: Obvious behavioral changes
Feelings associated with depression became the norm. My spouse expressed concern about my behaviour. I was feeling exhausted all the time and made visits to my doctor to discuss it. At one point Canadian Blood Services rejected a donation of blood because of low iron.
Reflection 9: Depersonalization
I saw my contribution as having little or no value. My desire to put forth a full effort was diminishing. How do I care less and still get paid was my Sisyphean exercise. My personal hygiene started to suffer. My focus only became the present. Making it to and from work was a mechanical exercise.
Reflection 10: Inner emptiness
I carried a feeling that my contribution both at work and elsewhere was of little value. Nothing was worth anything. My feelings of depression were getting worse.
Reflection 11: Depression
Hopelessness, fighting a losing battle and exhaustion were feelings that became my perspective. I had little optimism that conditions were going to change. My life didn’t have meaning.
Reflection12: Burnout Syndrome
I felt physically and emotionally drained. Doing physical harm to myself became a random occurring thought.
The heading for this article, “A broken mirror scar” came from a clinic list. The comments are from personal experiences. Not until I was well into my recovery was I able to recognize the symptoms.
I share this writing in a hope that if someone recognizes the mirror’s reflections in this list, they will come to realize they are experiencing mental issues that can put their health at risk. They need to look to professionals for help.