Don’t let my silence fool you into thinking that I am deep into the busy ironman training season. I am not. Lately I have been doing a lot of sleeping. This post has been a long time in the making, but unfortunately, the subject is the prime reason that I can rarely get myself to sit down and focus on writing. The big bad B-word: Burnout.
Like many other professions, my particular career carries with it a very unique predisposition to causing burnout and compassion fatigue (see here and here). I thought I was burned out in 2010 and 2011. But it was nothing like I feel now. After the crash happened in February (and again in March) and I was forced to take a step back from training, I lost my primary stress outlet. I think that is when things started to unravel. My lack of training led to poor management of stress which just increased my stress and made me more tired so that when I could start training again I didn’t have the emotional/physical/psychological reserves to put in 14 hours of training per week. That made me feel guilty AND continued to mean that I was lacking in a stress outlet, which in turn compounded everything. By this spring, I was coming home to nap during my lunch hour and napping again when I got home from work. I was skipping workouts, key workouts, right and left.
Ultimately, in May, I found myself sitting on the curb during a number of runs with my head in my hands because I was so unhappy and tired. It was during a run on Memorial Day weekend, that I sat down on the curb and crafted an email to Jen saying that I just couldn’t do a full Ironman this year. 3 mile runs were difficult and I just did not feel like myself. And with that, I essentially wiped out all of my plans for the rest of the year. And I just didn’t even care.
I thought that I might be depressed. I thought that I might just be over triathlon. I thought that maybe I was just a lazy and apathetic person. But, it wasn’t until two weekends ago, though, that I figured out what was happening. For a while I just thought that I was dead inside because my attitude to almost everything in my life became one of callous indifference. I was becoming someone who is not me. But while at a PD conference, when everyone was talking about how inspired they were, I turned to a coworker and started to cry. And all I could do was say that I realized just how tired and numb I was. I realized that always taking home all the immense sadness in my job was making it so that I was too tired to do anything. I didn’t care about anything. Not a goddamn thing. And especially not training for an Ironman.
So, I got home and I looked up burnout. And every single symptom was me to a T. Chronic fatigue, but insomnia at night? Check. Increased Illness? Check (so many GD colds…). Anxiety? Check. Loss of Enjoyment and Pessimism? Check. Anger? Check. Feelings of Apathy, Helplessness, and Hopelessness? F yes. I started looking back at the last few months and I think other people noticed before I did. I had a number of people who I work with on a daily basis ask if I was ok because I had lost my sparkle. I struggle with being burned out because “why me?” And not in a plaintive “why god, why me?!” kind of way. But, in a “why am I the weak one that falls to burn out and not anybody else?” or “why am I the weak one?” And I feel incredibly guilty that I have ended up this way…because I should be working harder; I should be making a bigger difference.
I realize now, that I haven’t taken a legit vacay since October of 2011. I have taken time off to race but not taken time off from the world to relax. And I’m not good at relaxing, which is probably a big part of my problem. I’m also empathic to a fault, so I take home all the burdens of all of my clients. I honestly spend a lot of my free time thinking about the sadness associated with my clients’ lives and my job in general. It is difficult not to get burned out as a very sensitive person in a job that is only filled with sadness and where you so often feel absolutely impotent. I think I was self-medicating with all the triathlon hours I was putting in. And, to a degree it worked. But, I also believe that I was headed into burnout even before the crash, the crash just hastened it’s arrival.
And so, after work tomorrow, I start a two week impromptu vacation. I had two weeks leave of court for Ironman Coeur d’Alene that were not going to be used when I cancelled my IMCdA plans, so I just decided to up and take them. I have some sketchy plans, but mostly, I just want to find my, as one person called it, “bubble” again. That person said that when I’m happy and myself, I just bubble. And I apparently haven’t been that way for a few months. I know that is not the case now. I need to find that again, but I’m just not sure how.
But, that’s where I’ve been–in the middle of a burned out apathetic haze. I feel more out of shape than I have felt in my entire life. I attempted a sprint triathlon and DNF-ed yesterday because my HR was above 185 the entire time and I couldn’t get it below (another side effect of the revved up nervous system I’m dealing with). I’m just here. I would like to get back in shape so that I don’t feel so uncomfortable in my skin, but now, I’m in a mindset where I don’t know if it will ever be possible to train like I used to–to want to train like I used to, even. And I know it is the brain completely clouded over by burnout…but, still. Right now, it feels like my life will never return to its normal, like I will never be able to crawl out of this.
I am going to start doing the things that I know should help me, even though all I feel like doing ever is sit on the couch. Hopefully I will do more yoga, disconnect my work email from my phone, enjoy my runs, eat healthy, and get good sleep. And hopefully as I piece together these things that I used to love, I’ll start to love them again and I will start to crawl my way out of this hole. And then when I get done with vacation, I can return to work and take better care of myself.