Burn Out, Fight or Flight, and It’s Okay to Feel Down

What do you do when you’ve been in the midst of a burn out for the past 3 years? Well, first, you have to realize it, and that’s been the hardest part.

burn out

A couple of months ago I attended one of Sheri Guyse’s workshops with my friend, Mari. I hadn’t planned on going, because 1.) I don’t leave the house if I can help it, 2.) paper grading was really ramping up, and 3.) it was on a Saturday morning, which is a time I like to designate solely for drinking a full pot of coffee on the couch while I snuggle with the smelliest dog you can imagine. (Seriously, she goes from clean to swamp monster in a matter of minutes.)

The workshop was good. It made me think about things I haven’t really thought about ever, and it gave me some ideas for how I wanted to work on myself. Part of the workshop included a free clarity call with Sheri, and I scheduled mine for at the end of April.

Well, because the end of the semester is like my Thunderdome, I canceled the call and rescheduled for May.

thunderdome gif

But when May rolled around, it turned out I would be in training for my summer job. I didn’t reschedule, because I assumed that Sheri would be tired of dealing with me, and probably wouldn’t want to schedule me one more time only to get another cancelation. But that wasn’t the case. She reached out via email, and I scheduled the call for a day in the beginning of June.

(I’m actively trying to unclutter my schedule and make more time for things so I’m not constantly canceling. It’s hard though. Not everything can be flexible, especially when you’re a teacher and can’t just schedule a vacation day. Also I think people who tell you to opt out of “the cult of busy” are operating with an immense amount of privilege. But that’s not what this post is about. Or maybe it is. We’ll see.)

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(Sorry for the metacommentary. Not really. If you’ve been around these parts before, you know it’s my favorite.)

So, when we finally had our call, Sheri listened to me ramble on, and talk bad about myself, and complain about past employers, and talk about what I would like do full time. She brought up something pretty interesting that I hadn’t thought about before — fight or flight. She mentioned that when you hit that burn out stage, and your body is stressed, and your lizard brain puts you into fight or flight mode, so your body operates that way. That’s why people feel the physical manifestations of stress, like aches and pains or weight gain, or exhaustion.

That’s something that I had never really thought about before, but it really made sense. For the past who knows how many years, I’ve been really stressed out. I went from working full time in grad school to working for the company from hell to dropping everything and taking a the largest (and possibly inadvisable) pay cut in the history of pay cuts to where I am now — slowly getting all my shit together and figuring shit out.

All of this took place over the course of 3 years, and in some way or another, I’ve been stressed about something for the entire duration of those 3 years. And because of that stress, I know I haven’t been focused on my health or mental well-being. In fact, the only thing I can really remember feeling over that span of time is burn out. And Sheri definitely helped me see how strong that burn out was as a presence in my life, and how hard it made it to do any work at all, much less good work.

This blog has definitely been a source of release for me. I like writing here about whatever happens to cross my mind that day. And writing is something I have to do, if only because it’s the only way I feel like I can actually communicate. (If you’ve ever met me in person and wondered why I struggle with making eye contact or stutter for like the first 15 minutes of the conversation, just know that I’m not meant to do that whole face to face thing. Writing is my jam.)

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After our call, I started thinking about what Sheri said, and all the feelings it brought it. And it made me take stock of my actions.

I knew that I had been eating pretty badly lately, despite my month of intention, but I realized how I had been using food as kind of a filler to make me feel less hollow from burn out. Sometimes, food is the highlight of your day when you’ve got more work to do than you think you can. And it shouldn’t be that way.

I knew that I needed to get back into working out, but couldn’t muster the energy. This was definitely due to the burn out, but also due to the foods I was eating. Cheeseburgers and cake aren’t really the best fuel to keep you moving. And by not going to yoga class, I wasn’t taking time for me, even though I know how important yoga is to my physical and emotional health.

I knew that it may have been a little too much to take my summer job, even though it made financial sense. But I didn’t realize how much my burn out, famine mentality was guiding the choices I’ve been making. Should I have taken this summer off to get my head on straight and relax and “fill the well,” so to speak? Yep. Yep I should’ve.

All this is to say that lately I’ve felt so down and overwhelmed. When people text me and ask me to go out or send me a Facebook invitation, my immediate reaction is anger. It doesn’t make sense, because these people are my friends and they just want to hang out, which is a thing that friends tend to do. But I know that I’m in such a bad headspace right now that the idea of using my precious downtime to do something other than sitting in the dark while listening to the Drive soundtrack sounds terrible.

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So for now, I’m taking this time to feel bad. I can’t very well keep outrunning the burn out forever, especially since it’s caught up with me and has basically latched onto me like the facehugger, impregnating me with exhaustion and disenchantment. Important discovery: Burn out is a Xenomorph! Click To Tweet

facehugger gif

I’m writing more, I’m sleeping more, and I’m trying to eat better. And in my downtime, I’m trying to save it for me. Maybe I’ll get myself to the gym for a yoga class, but no promises.

And perhaps most importantly, I’m learning from all this. I’m taking notes so I recognize warning signs. I’m watching for behavior patterns so I know when I’m spiraling. And most importantly, I’m thinking of healthy ways to deal with burn out, because I don’t know if it’s possible to avoid it 100% and keep your day job. But if I can deal with it better, then maybe I won’t spend next summer giving birth to the larval chestbuster of depressed exhaustion.

chestbuster gif

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to turn off the Drive soundtrack long enough to watch Alien in the dark.

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6 comments

  1. I’m realizing two things: a: as I get older and b: now that I have a toddler, my stress tolerance levels are sooooooo much lower. I really miss being able to go-go-go and multitask the hell out of things but that is really just out the windows. So much gets cut from my life now.

    I hope you find the right balance for you this summer.

    • Thanks, Misti! And the older I get, the more I need to remember that I can’t go like I did when I was 21. I struggle with remembering to take some time to rest and recuperate. I’m trying to remember to do that more.

  2. I love it. You are so ahead of the game, I made many of these realizations much later in life. I protect my time and space fiercely, which I’ve always said was because I’m an introvert but it’s really because I’m a writer and that’s where the magic happens. If I don’t have space to think when I need it, I’m done. Good on you, friend.

  3. Stress plays hell with just about every aspect of living; I figure that anyone who isn’t burned out is a better man than I am, Gunga Din. (Even if it’s a woman.)

    Be strong. It’s good for you.

    • Thanks, man. I will. And I’m starting to believe that there isn’t a single person who isn’t burned out.

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