A Time-Out For Burn-Out


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Exhaustion is a regular state of being for many of us.  It is often something that inspires irrational rage, pettiness, and our most egregious and telling mistakes.  So many people lack the ability to sleep soundly.  We torture ourselves, obsess as our minds race with swirling thoughts that hardly make any sense, or jump upon one another in terminal contradiction.  Usually we can hardly even remember these straggling ideas that torment us through the darkness.  I tend to stay up really late, trying to balance my mind, engaged in rigid intellectual exercises to keep my lingering anger at bay.


But who are we angry with?  We can justify it in any way we choose.  Sometimes our justifications even have merit; someone has wronged us, betrayed us.  Something someone promised has suddenly been withdrawn.  We have all sorts of valid reasons in this sometimes hateful world to be furious, and it is no surprise that so many people obsess over their resentments.  We seek things outside of ourselves to vent upon (and ‘venting’ is meant to be an expulsion of the toxic foulness, and yet often serves only to fuel our anxieties).  And the world goes on sinking into this noxious state of being that most of us seem to find ourselves trapped within (at least for some time and with increasing frequency).  We invent our own sort of quicksand and feel our gaping pants, our mouths wide open, desperate to keep our head above the waves.


Recently the World Health Organization labeled ‘Burn Out’ an actual disease. . . .as someone constantly on the verge of burn out I have a great problem with this.  It is not a disease, but an emotional and/or physical state.  It comes from overexertion or even–and far more frequently–dissatisfaction with our role in life.  We can easily subsume this recent classification into any number of broader psychological maladies without bothering to wonder if our state of utter exhaustion is something singular, some illness that needs to be seriously re-evaluated and some pharmaceutical company needs to develop a cure for (but of course this is what will happen).


I used to be a high school English teacher.  It is a hard job and one ripe for complete and utter emotional burn out.  And yet I cannot imagine a single person I ever worked with (nor any of the teachers I still know) ever trying to get away with this as an excuse.  Just think about it, in your day-to-day working life: “Sorry boss, I need to take two weeks off.  Doctor diagnosed me with burn out and, you know, it’s a pretty serious disease . . .”  What would you say if your child told you they can’t do their homework because they are simply too ‘burned out’ to dedicate themselves to hard work or thinking?  How have we come to this, a whole world of cowardly pussies declaring every discomfort they feel a disease?


Oh, there will be lawsuits.  “I was fired because I have Burn Out.  Doesn’t this violate some stature about wrongful termination?  Can they really fire me simply because I am ill?”  Are we really supposed to take this seriously?


Yes, people collapse, and they honestly can become physically and emotionally burned out.  I have certainly experienced this, and I am sure that most of you have as well, at least sometime in your lives.  Yet this is not really an option in our struggles to survive.  What would have happened to a depressed caveman who had spent their brief life hunting and gathering to help their tribe survive, what if he finally just laid down and grunted something resembling ‘burn out?’  The whole tribe might die, or easily be conquered by a nearby roving band seeking slaves.  And slaves who were burned out throughout history?  How long did they survive?


We all must go on (and on and on and on to the point of collapse) because that is the world we have made.  When we scan the world and see the so-called happiest places, the only things that really make a difference are the issues put into place to relieve some of the tension of everyday life.  If you do not have to worry about health care, or education, or some lunatic maybe shooting up your workplace, much of the stress is removed from your life.  You can get down to the serious business of working for survival (the opportunities to take a mid-morning break is also a great benefit, although sometimes that leads to different problems).  Ultimately the ranking systems about who or where is happiest has more to do with numbers, with the percentage of suicides or some blaringly mindless survey of people who are afraid to admit to themselves how unhappy they frequently are.


So quit trying to justify sadness and laziness as an illness.  Life is and always has been (and is even meant to be) a struggle.  It is that struggle, the effort to survive, that makes us who we are, that gives us meaning, a reason for living.  If you plead with a doctor to excuse you from your life, with a note and a script, this is not a disease.  This is the sad reality of giving up all hope.

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