Sunday, November 27, 2011

Depression and burn-out

I could not write this post, or open my heart when I really needed help.

I have been in the shadow-lands, my friends. Perhaps I still am, although I'm able to take some enjoyment in life again and most tellingly, I'm dancing again, a bit.

But those were some dark months. I often live by a saying: "fake it till you make it". The idea is that if I act happy, I'll be happy. If I act like I love my husband, I'll start to actually love him again. I also tend to live for my responsibilities. I'm needed, therefore I keep going.

But all that faking and focusing on responsibilities and duties started to have a very brittle feeling to it. My smile was getting strained, my resiliency was gone, and the "bend or break" aspect of my job and of parenting (of caregiving in general) was leaning toward me breaking. The more I pile on my plate, the more I focus on the needs of others, and set a highly ambitious agenda for EVERYTHING, the more I worry about achievement, the more I worry that I'm not good enough just as I am - the closer to burn-out I get.

The job of a religious educator is a giving and care-taking profession, and I'm also a care-giver to my family. People will take what you give. They will bring their problems to you. They will expect you to be present to them, in 100% authentic openness, no matter how many other people are standing there waiting in line for the same attention. You'll sometimes mess up, be less than perfect, and you'll beg forgiveness with a heartfelt and honestly self-reflective gesture. You'll sometimes be helped, and you'll give thoughtful thank-you's. You'll sometimes feel helpless, faced with the fact that people are people, the world is imperfect, and the best-laid plans fall prey to the unforeseen. People will be cranky with you, or fabulous, or hurt, but no matter what, you will find yourself saying these things over and over again: "I'm sorry", "It's OK", "you're fine", "thank you". You will pour love into others' cups, and hold their hands, and clap extravagantly. And, always, always, you will embody happiness, smile serenely, and never looked stressed out. Fake. It. Till. You. Make. It.

If that is what you expect from yourself all the time, you risk running dry.

It came to a head for me in a staff meeting at church. I brought up our bust-the-seams high attendance in religious education classes at our second service, and our minister responded by focusing on how low the first service attendance had gotten, and what was I going to do about that?

I had no resilience left. I had no bend left in me. I fought back tears, and just was quiet for the rest of the meeting. Then I walked into my office, shut the door, turned my back on my kids who were in there watching a DVD, and burst into tears.

And I called a counselor and made an appointment.

Really, when you feel like you just. cannot. deal. anymore - it's time to reach out for help.

More on what I'm doing to "press the sustain pedal on the piano of my soul" in my next post.


  1. I am glad you took the time to seek guidance and are working on caring for yourself.
    I like the phrase Fake it till you make it for things like diet and exercise changes. For emotional work, well, I don't think it's healthy, mainly because it's about ignoring feelings – maybe because sadness isn't valued in our society – and only allowing acceptable feelings to exist. It's kind of like eating sugar all the time, if we did that, we would miss out on the complexity and joy of a varied diet... and the sweet wouldn't seem sweet enough after a while.
    I hope you will continue to care for your soul and continue to dance and say "No" if you need to.

  2. I hope today is looking better! I am always amazed by all that you accomplish. You do deserve a break!

  3. I'm sorry you are going through this. My sister is too and we had a really rough weekend before Thanksgiving. She, too, is seeking counseling and I hope she finds the peace she deserves and I hope you do too. (hugs)

  4. Hugs!

    Fake it till you make it was my same exact phrase for awhile. I too had to make some big changes and am still in the process. It is all so layered, goals/emotions/needs/wants, so intertwined. I've found there is no linear fix. It is more like sculpting than traditional goal setting, and what I end up with isn't exactly what I planned on and yet it is working. Sometimes I don't realize how far I've come because of that, until I look around and realize how different things are from two years ago, a year ago, even six months ago. Better, more solid.

    Unfortunately, one of the things that got chopped from my list and hasn't found its way back on regularly is blogging and reading blogs. And I do miss it. I do what I can and it is mostly enough.

    Overall, I've found that I do less than I used to, but I do those things a lot better. It's like I've decluttered and reorganized my whole life in every aspect over the last couple years. I'm almost done with that phase and am starting to figure out what I can add back to the mix.

    I've read a ton of books on my own journey that have been very helpful. I can't really say if they'd apply to everyone, or if they just spoke to me at the time, but I'd be happy to share titles if you are ever interested. I don't mean to get so overly personal on your blog, I just mention it because you are always listing books and I relate to your reading style.

    Wishing you all my best in this journey.

  5. You can't pour out of a pitcher forever--eventually it runs dry and you have to refill it! I don't know why, but it seems like as women we tend to ignore this...we think we have infinite energy, love, enthusiasm, etc.

    Sorry you have been going through this...I have been there, too, and I hope you can find a balance that allows you to take care of yourself as well as you take care of others.