There Is No Cure For Burnout

In September, I quit my job.

There are many reasons why someone decides to leave a job they love, and I am no exception. I’d been there five years, I wanted to focus on my writing, my beloved mentor left for another company, blah blah. But my primary motivation—the one that finally overrode my aversion to risk and pushed me to give notice before I could line up another job—was the deep, undeniable truth that I was burned out.

Nothing puts your mental health in context quite like crying on your boyfriend’s bathroom floor on Sunday night for the third weekend in a row.

Burnout is a weird amalgam of feelings and forces. The word has become a catchall for anxiety, exhaustion, and the inability to focus or feel enthusiastic at work. It is putting off high-energy but low-reward tasks because the sheer concept of them is too overwhelming to imagine. It’s constantly “hustling” on social media to communicate your brand as employment shifts from full-time positions to unstable gig work. More than that, burnout is the daily dread of a generation saddled with student debt, rising healthcare costs, an increasingly piecemeal job market and the constant assault of social media on our ability to be alone with our thoughts.

When you’re burned out, it can be impossible to think beyond the shit next up on your to-do list. There is just so much to do, and doing those things is hard, and wanting to write the next great American novel or dig yourself out of debt or start a new business seems almost absurd.

Anne Helen Peterson’s article about millennials and burnout set the Internet—and my team’s slack channel—on fire for weeks. While I rushed to share burnout-related content on the company’s Facebook and Twitter channels to capitalize on the conversation, my own burnout continued to simmer and smart.

For me, burnout looked exactly as Peterson described: while I received promotion after promotion at work, I struggled to respond to personal emails for weeks and even months at a time. I burst into tears at jury duty. I didn’t do my laundry for four months and I ordered Wendy’s delivery twice a week for most of winter because I was psychologically unable to pick up groceries.

Meanwhile, I read everything I could about preventing burnout. I set boundaries about when I answered work emails and tried to read books before bed instead of staring at my cellphone. I underlined most of Cal Newport’s book The Digital Detox and downloaded apps to regulate my screen time. While I’ve never been able to meditate, I tagged along to my boyfriend’s church. I tried all the self-care shit that Brooklynites evangelize: face masks, SAD lamps, succulents, a Gravity Blanket, exercise, more time away from the city. I even bought a cheap record player to try to detach myself from Spotify.

And yet…

I lost my sense of humor. I stopped doing the creative hobbies that defined me, instead playing hours and hours of Rollercoaster Tycoon. I couldn’t go to the professional events that my boyfriend needed me to attend with him. I canceled plans I’d looked forward to for months. My only relief came when it was time to fall asleep, and even then I was plagued with stress nightmares about tweets.

For me, burnout also looked like rage. It looked like a boiling resentment of everything that asked for my energy: my job, my friends, my relationship, even my own body. My constant emotional state was annoyance, and my ability to compartmentalize that annoyance eroded until it seeped into my personality at work. I had no patience for anyone, becoming furious over the smallest slights and misunderstandings. While I’m no doubt being hard on myself, I know that it didn’t make me a perfect leader or manager.

It also made me a risk to myself. Burnout exacerbated my anxiety and depression, rendering it impossible to be optimistic or excited about pretty much anything, especially at work. When asked what my five-year plan was, I fought the urge to say that simply still being alive would be nice. Burnout traps you in the present, treading water as you just try to get the bare minimum done. It is impossible to future-plan when every day feels like you are pushing your way into a packed subway car during rush hour and no one is letting you through. As someone already predisposed to suicidal ideation, it wasn’t long before those old thoughts returned.

On a vacation day in late August, I sat at the end of a family friend’s dock, my feet skimming the smooth surface of his pond. I didn’t want to go back to work the next week. I not only didn’t want to go back to work—I couldn’t. I realized if I did, I might die. It was the kind of irrational but perfectly clear thought that arrives from somewhere outside of yourself, like divine intervention or the tough love of a best friend. I couldn’t work, and I was lucky enough to not have to push through that din of exhaustion and pain if I didn’t want to. Quitting a job with no plan wasn’t a responsible decision, and I knew I might regret it for the rest of my life. But I didn’t have much of a life beyond wondering what would happen if I just didn’t get off at my subway stop for work every morning.

I went over my finances with my parents and got their advice on how long I could go without working before I’d have to move back home. I looked at my savings and checking accounts, my 401k and the money my grandparents gave me when I graduated college. I had a solid nest egg of money and no loan payments to worry about, a rare level of financial security for my generation. I reread my lease agreement and researched healthcare options. I weighed the risk of a medical emergency for myself or a loved one and how it would eat through my savings. I contrasted that financial risk with the toll it would take on my health to stay in my job and power through my declining sanity.

Then I quit. I wore a bright yellow blazer and walked into that 10:30am meeting with the weird calm of someone about to willingly blow up her life. Once I made the decision to give notice and left that fateful meeting with my manager, I felt elated, almost manic. I spent a week in a fog of giddy delight, combative and hyper and utterly out of fucks. I brought McDonald’s to a meeting. I gloated. I made plans. My therapist warned me that I’d probably experience a rollercoaster of different emotions in the weeks and months to come, and I laughed like a deranged super villain. No shit!!

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With impeccable and characteristically inconsiderate timing, my grandfather passed away during the final week of my notice period. I drove up to Vermont with my mother to say goodbye and my frenzied bliss swung into gallows humor and annoyance. How fucking dare people continue to send me slack messages while I was on bereavement leave? How much more would they ask of me? I considered just not going back to the office and staying in Vermont to heal—after all, what else was there for me to do? Burnout and grief made a rude, apathetic cocktail.

But I did go back. My team ordered donuts and hosted a party. I shook a lot of hands and talked about the memoir I was leaving to write, at least in theory. I didn’t know how to tell people I’m leaving because I’m tired and I hate my life, and if I don’t have to come to work in the morning, I might have time to fix it. It didn’t seem appropriate to say I like and respect all of you, but if I stay here any longer, I will become a massive bitch. People signed a card for me. I packed up my desk and I went home.

That sweet relief of quitting ended abruptly the next week. I was walking down Fifth Avenue after a job interview and I started hyperventilating. My mind swirled with the catastrophizing thoughts any anxious depressive knows well: what have I done, who the fuck did I think I was to walk away from stability, what if I’m not good at anything, what am I going to do with my life. The panic attack morphed into a breakdown. I became self-destructive and selfish, and I fell apart for a while.

It’s been roughly two months since my last day at my old company, and I’ll be blunt: I am just as burned out today as I was in September. I’m back on my feet and working as a freelance writer and digital strategist, and I’ve read roughly two dozen regency-era romance novels from Brooklyn Library. On a whim, I started writing my own romance novel and I’m roughly two thirds through my first draft. I am sleeping a lot.

But I have petrifying nightmares about going back to the office during my notice period and discovering that my desk has already been reassigned. I fantasize about screaming at old office rivals. I am still burned out, angry, and overwhelmed by researching healthcare options and taxes and social commitments. I try to just focus on today: eat waffles, walk to the library to return books, get groceries at the hellish Stop & Shop in Atlantic Terminal, call my mom, read the news, answer text messages within a reasonable amount of time. I’m not able to do more than a few days of full-time work without crashing afterward and spiraling out, so I avoid over-committing.

All the same, I feel the pressure to post on social media and brag at parties about how well I’m doing now that I’ve quit my job. The same expectation to always be hustlin’ and perfect my brand hasn’t gone away—if anything that’s intensified now that I’m freelancing. I feel like I have to justify walking away from what many would consider a dream job by documenting all of my adventures and sharing my bylines (of which there are few, because again, burnout). Thus the burnout cycle continues, only now I have more free time that I could use to optimize myself and how my life appears.

I feel like a spoiled, lazy brat for not writing more, working more, publishing more. I feel like a privileged asshole complaining about her life being so hard, and then I try to pry apart this logical recognition of my privilege from the self-flagellation of depression.

I’m afraid that there is no cure for burnout. After all, you can’t untoast toast.

I love toast. As die-hard readers of my blog will know, toaster waffles make up a solid third of my nutritional intake. I speak as an EGGOs loyalist and not a scientist when I say that bread changes on a molecular level when it’s been introduced to intense heat. That isn’t necessarily bad: after all, toast is delicious. But there isn’t any going back to the plain, soft bread it was before—much like how trauma changes you into a slightly different version of yourself, forever.

burnout quote imageThis is only the beginning of month three of burnout recovery for me, but I’ve already decided not to make “healing” from burnout my goal. If the last year has taught me anything, it’s that burnout is, unfortunately, unavoidable for anyone who isn’t super rich. Sometimes when I tell people I quit my job because of burnout, my conversational partner will radiate smug serenity as they tell me about the time they took off work to heal: they traveled the world, or they cut off all digital contact for six months to read Eastern philosophy books. They cured their burnout. These people mean well, but they are inevitably childless, former c-suite employees, or lucky enough to have intergenerational wealth. They are often white men with the breezy confidence of Beto O’Rourke. I’m glad they had the time to opt out of capitalism and find themselves, but I resent their lack of self-awareness almost as much as I resent the seemingly “woke” companies they work for.

The hard truth is that burnout is part and parcel of an economy that tries to extract as much labor from an employee as it can without taking responsibility for that person’s humanity. The only way to cure burnout is to not get burned out in the first place, and if you have bills to pay, a career path to wrangle, and a family to support in an economic system that wasn’t built with you in mind, that’s just not possible. The people most at risk of burnout are the people who cannot just opt-out.

In frustrating Peak Capitalism irony, it’s become fashionable for companies to brag about their culture of work-life balance and offer gym membership reimbursement programs. Those same companies usually talk about how they’re a family while not offering parental leave policies and retaliating against workers who aren’t good at hiding their disabilities or mental health challenges. Despite the new pastel gloss of corporate America, the office succulents and the standing desks and the unlimited vacation time policies, we have a long way to go before everyone has access to workplaces truly structured with their wellbeing in mind.

Wellbeing looks like healthcare that isn’t tied to your employment. It looks like sick days and leave policies that cover mental health. It looks like a revolution in how we approach management and support at the office.

Like I said: we’re kind of fucked. The cure for burnout is dismantling our work lives and starting over from scratch. It’s structural, not individual.

I need to recognize that my mental health issues aside, I have more privilege than almost anyone as an upper-middle class white woman with no siblings and a solid safety net. And yet I still had to choose my mental health over my job. I was able to make that choice because of my privilege, and I know plenty of similarly drowning workers who don’t have that financial freedom. When a self-employed family member became ill during my first month not working, I came face to face with the financial risk I’d taken leaving my job when it came time to pay the hospital bill.

My burnout made me desperately angry and resentful. But I’ve come to see that burnout should make us angry. It’s a side effect of an economy that is rigged from the start, where work no longer ends at the end of the workday and our agony is used to sell us bath bombs and expensive yoga retreats that we can’t afford.

The World Health Organization considers burnout an “occupational phenomenon,” not a medical condition. They describe it as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Its symptoms are exhaustion, “increased mental distance from one’s job,” negative feelings and cynicism related to work; and “reduced professional efficacy.” In other words: burnout makes us shitty employees, unproductive and threatening to office culture. We are the ones who didn’t manage our stress. We are the ones who don’t care enough about work, when work has never cared about us.

If there is a cure for burnout, it’s voting, and unionizing, and redistributing wealth. It’s holding managers responsible for the wellbeing of their employees, not just their KPIs. It’s recognizing that burnout isn’t just a millennial problem, it’s a class problem. Divorcing burnout from the economic forces that cause it only perpetuates it. Self-help books and products that capitalize on mental health issues without addressing what causes them are a well-meaning but dangerous cash grab that put “managing” burnout back on the powerless individual.

Don’t talk to me about burnout without addressing universal healthcare and worker’s rights. I just don’t want to hear it (or read it, or listen to it, or buy it, or watch it).

If you’re burned out, please believe me when I say that you’re not lazy or crazy or difficult or selfish or weak. Don’t turn that exhaustion inward and blame yourself for not being strong enough—this isn’t your fault. I don’t care how much time you spend on Instagram or what loans you took out when you were too young to understand the consequences. You aren’t one vacation away from feeling better. You aren’t one new hire away from being able to handle your workload. You aren’t one promotion away from true financial stability. This system is broken. It was intentionally broken by people who profit off of how you’re feeling right now.

There is no cure for burnout. But there is a way to prevent it for others, and that responsibility falls to those of us who have the energy and the privilege to fight for it. It starts in our offices, in our ballot boxes, in our schools and in our homes. I’m not an economist, or a politician, or even a psychologist, so I won’t pretend to have all the answers. What I am is a millennial loudmouth with a liberal arts education who knows that a revolution often starts with asking the right questions. Questions like: Why doesn’t this company offer paid parental leave? What about paid medical leave that includes mental health disorders? Or paid overtime? Or salary transparency? Why don’t we offer flexible hours and remote working policies? At the bare minimum, what about shifts that are clearly communicated ahead of time and a livable minimum wage? How about collective bargaining, and benefits for part-time employees and contractors, and the elimination of forced arbitration?

I’m glad that I am still alive, and I am anxious but hydrated. To borrow a line from a woman I admire, it’s time for big structural change. So here’s your homework: Donate to a progressive candidate. Pay a visit to your HR representative. Share your salary with your coworkers. Meet with a union representative and see if your company can organize. Start an uncomfortable conversation about unfairness in your office, whatever form it may take.

And if you couldn’t relate to a single thing in this essay, you lucky rich fool, that means it’s your turn to listen and step up. Here’s your opportunity to align your progressive values with your behavior at work. Leverage your security for good by asking the dangerous questions that not everyone can afford to ask.

Let’s get to work unfucking our economy before we all go up in flames.

P.S. If I were less burned out, I might have pitched this essay to a publication, worked on it for a week with an editor, and then gotten paid a few hundred bucks for it. I’m not doing that because my burnout cannot handle that pitching process, and also because I wanted to navel-gaze as much as this topic deserves.

As a result, I’m going to ask you to consider leaving me a tip if you can afford it. Thank you for your attention and your support.

Help support my writing by leaving me a tip here.

Recommended reading:

How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation

This Is What Black Burnout Feels Like

Here’s What “Millennial Burnout” Is Like For 16 Different People

Emotions on Strike

(Photo by Bench Accounting on Unsplash)

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Ella Dawson is a sex and culture critic and a digital strategist. She drinks too much Diet Coke.

57 thoughts on “There Is No Cure For Burnout

  1. I feel this article is especially important in today’s world. Happy to report I called HR today. I have been struggling with my mental health and my manager decided not to send me to formal training, just to have my coworkers “show me the ropes”…its the medical field and I have no experience in it! I overheard my coworkers talking about how annoyed they are that they have to help me and my manger is only there 1 day a week…if that. Now I have to either go get fired or transfer…wish me luck. I hate office jobs anyways.

  2. Your description of burnout is exactly how I’ve felt for the past 6.5 years, however it was induced by school, not work. I’ve been dealing with this shit since 8th grade and obviously have not had the option to quit because it was illegal to leave school for most of that time. Now I’m stuck doing university because you can’t get a job without a degree. I don’t see how I’ll ever be able to hold a job when that involves having to work more hours with less time off. I’m terrified I’m just going to spend the rest of my life exhausted and desperately waiting for retirement by which time I’ll be too old and broken to even enjoy life.

  3. I relate to this one so badly. I had to leave my position at my company in early 2020 due to a reshuffle. I had to take on another unrelated role that I had no interest in, in order to keep my job. I tried to make it work and at least learn something from the experience while I waited for my 401k to vest. Then I could finally leave. Or course the pandemic hit, so the social isolation on top of the economic worries made it so much worse. Eventually I got to the point where every work cycle felt like a punishment. Even I worked through the tedium of my job and completed my tasks, I’d have to do it all over again and again and again. Needless to say, I felt that my career was going nowhere fast. Finally I had to tap out and take medical leave. It took me a long time to realize that I was burned out and even longer to realize I needed to take action immediately. I’m fortunate that I have the resources to take time off and at least separate myself from the situation. I wish everyone could have that option.

  4. I just found your article on burnout. I identified with so much of what you said. I was forced to leave the concert industry I loved and worked in my whole life because the pandemic got me furloughed and eventually let go. I’m actually grateful in a weird way because it did what I couldn’t bring myself to do—leave. Years of burnout and mental/psychological abuse and a toxic work environment. I’m still mourning the love that I had for my work but I know it’s the best thing for my mental health to not be “in it” any longer. Now i look forward to my first live concert experience post(Ish) pandemic and hope to experience the joy of live music without the stress and anxiety that used to come with it.

    1. Thank you It’s been 7 months since I temporarily left doing hair (my passion since middle school) and I’m laying in bed wondering when I will stop being tired every day. This helped me not feel “lazy”

  5. Wow. Just found your article on burnout. I left a job because of burnout and my body continually getting sick. I was finally brave enough to say yes to me and my health. Funny thing, here I am two weeks after leaving and I am completely exhausted. That’s how I found your article. It’s incredibly helpful. I thought I would feel full of energy, getting up to do yoga every morning, reading books and realigning my mental brain waves. Now I realize, I’ve got a ways to go. Thinking I probably need a therapist to help me navigate some healing.
    Thank you for sharing your journey!

  6. i read most of what you wrote. i could literally write a novel on burnout as i started really feeling so mentally tired that there were times i couldn’t even watch a tv show because my mind was so tired it was just words. ive always had alot of issues with stress and anxiety. know as ive aged i have become very cynical. still anxious and stressed but more defeated.. i have children that i love but they are so full of happiness and bliss obviously i cant relate but i really love to see them happy. i pray there lives never take a turn like mine ha. anyways.. im sure theres a million more things i could write to you but i don’t have to much time. i just wanted you to know i completely relate to how you feel. for me some days are better than others but definitely not as many as i would like. i also can not handle stress at all anymore. not sure how you handle it but i just get overwhelmed super easy these days. i don’t know. i just pray to whatever is out there and hope for the best. i really just want to be able to live a normal life and enjoy my wife and children but im always so lost in my own head.

  7. I agree with almost everything you said … except the part where you decide to turn this into a pitch for the democratic party. Not thank. Not now, not ever. Socialism is not the answer. Conservatives are not our enemy. I have all the same challenges that you do. I am not rich. I have zero inheritance. No place to save me if I fall. I had so much financial debt from college and other stupid decisions, that it’s taken me almost 2 decades to climb out to a financial black hole that could have easily swallowed the titanic. So much of what you write in this article deeply resonates with me. You speak much truth about a great many things. You have a good mind. But your conclusion is all wrong. We don’t need the government to save us. The government and the corporation are part of the problem. The answer is in the other direction. It has to do w/ minimalism. It has to do w/ breaking our dependency on our own addictions and desires. I don’t have a Netflix account. I cancelled my subscription. I don’t have a gym membership. I try not to eat out at fast food. I don’t go on expensive vacations to exotic locations. I basically declared war on financial debt. And the perseverance and determination have absolutely taken a great toll on me. Also, why are you so fixated on being a Millennial? Who gives a shit. You’re a human being wrestling and struggling in the same society that we all are. Why does it matter that you have a liberal arts degree? Again, who cares. It’s not about what you’ve done or didn’t do … it’s about what you’re doing now. I commend you for walking away. I’m about to do the same thing. I’m also about to take the same health care gamble. I will have enough to survive for several months, at which point … I will need to come with a new plan. I think so much in your article acknowledges the truths of burnout. I understand your anger and wanting to finger point at the “system”. However, Socialism DOES NOT WORK! Never has, never will. Please look at some history for god sakes. Don’t let frustration and grief drive you from the stove into the fireplace. I don’t know what the best way is regarding social structures and services. I do know that we don’t have any politicians worth anything. They all sell out to corporations … it’s just a matter of which ones. Maybe one day you’ll understand this. There is no perfect model yet in the world. It doesn’t exist. In every country there are people thriving and people struggling. It doesn’t matter which one. This is the nature of reality. A utopia is probably not reality. This is what socialism (and the Democratic Party) is trying to sell you. You seem very aware of the economics of belief … yet you’ve completely missed the ball on this one. The government should not ever be in a position to act as God or as our sugar daddy / mommy’s. You do this, and you’re literally trading freedom for security. Fuck that. We all have to die. The government cannot save us from our biology or our fear. In fact at this very moment, the governments of the world seem to be doing a pretty good job at legitimizing everyones fears. Orwells worst nightmares have come true. Anyways, the question of burnout. Ultimately, I know that I am responsible for reverse engineering the poor choices I’ve made in life if I want to get to true freedom. And my poor choices have certainly cost me. I could blame my piece of shit asshole managers over the years for being absolutely un-empathetic on a human level. I’ve worked for some really really terrible human beings. Most of us have worked for human robots at some point in time. And it really sucks and really is life / soul crushing. But the thing is, if we’re being really honest with ourselves, how did we ever become dependent on these monsters? How did we put ourselves into such a position that we can’t say NO to being overworked? To financial co-dependency on a paycheck. How did this happen? Well, I imagine the answer is slightly different for everyone. Why can’t it be enough that you just gained the courage to walk away from an unhealthy environment? Why do you want to destroy the country, and demonize people with conservative values as the enemy and the problem? You’ve got so much figured out, yet there is so much you’re completely lost on.

  8. Oh my goodness, what a remarkably candid and thoughtful article. So very true, burnout is an unfortunate scourge of our so called modern society. Wish there was more awareness and understanding going around to warrant at least some empathy towards someone silently suffering from it!

  9. I wanted to share so many passages from this post that I’ll probably end up sending everyone I know the entire thing. I wept multiple times because you’re the first person I’ve encountered who truly understands.

    I think I have severe burnout because of a chronic illness (fibromyalgia and/or chronic fatigue syndrome). I’ve been dragging my corpse along every day trying to be productive because I desperately need the money to pay my bills. Meanwhile, my battery is so empty I can barely keep my household running.

    I can’t remove either source of the burnout, the job or the illness. I feel like I need rescuing. Right now, I’m stuck with being severely burned out forever and I don’t know what to do.

    Guess I found this post at the right time in my life! Thanks for letting me share my situation. It helps, however minutely, to talk about it.

    Take care xx

    1. Oh hun, I’m so sorry to hear you’re suffering. It’s incredibly hard to get folks to empathize with burnout and chronic illness. I hope sharing this post helps your support network better understand what you’re going through and what you need.

  10. This brought me to literal tears, reading words that so accurately describe what I’m currently experiencing.

    Just wanted to say thank you. The internet is oversaturated with self-help articles about how to prevent burnout and “bounce back quick” by simply exercising more or taking a day off. It’s all so annoyingly awful and unhelpful.

    Your blog article has made me feel less alone and less insane. So thank you, so so much!

  11. My burnout realization moment came after months of working a retail job that expected everything of me (which I gave them) but delivered very little. I was in it for the money, but I played along with the “corporate family” nonsense so they wouldn’t have a reason to fire me. It was thankless, it wasn’t at all what I wanted for a career, but even that job had been so hard to find, so I hung on, hung on, hung on. One Sunday morning, I went into a scheduled meeting, reviewing our strategy and progress for the coming months, and when I got pushback from the other employees who thought I was pulling in higher sales in order to “show off,” which was completely false, I realized I would NEVER relate to capitalism and that there was no room for growth in this company. It was so petty, and not at all worth minimum wage. There was a lot more, but at the end, after I had screamed at the top of my lungs in my car, enraged at the time that I’d wasted here, I put in my two weeks notice the next day. I haven’t had stable income since, which I regret all the time, but even if the pandemic hadn’t happened and shuttered the store, I think staying there would have been very bad for me. I also think the self-help and “self care” industries capitalize off of people’s desperation, and I resent them too. I’m very glad you posted this, and even if you regret it too, I’m glad you quit. It’s incredibly hard to believe that there’s more to life than money, when the whole world is structured around convincing you otherwise. But those pondside moments are full of more truth and meaning than any seminar on betterment or essential oils or whatever. Thank you for writing this.

  12. When you say anything -well other employees are handling it. Well that makes me feel better.
    I need advice. I am a very young looking and acting 50 year old teacher looking for a new job. I have been a teacher for so long I can’t think what I can do. I am a reliable worker and professional but I am burnt out and burned up. I would consider almost any job. I am tired of school being out at 3:00 and still having to work 3 more hours.

  13. “Thank you” is not enough for this piece. I am now living in the space following what I feel was my burnout firestorm. Less than 2 years into a new career that offered stability and security, a new life for my son and I, I am living in burnout. Two promotions within a very short period of time, not having my footing but working to make it work for the sake of the business, because the business needed me, forcing me to be connected 24/7. Suddenly no child support coming in because his father lost his job and he’s in no rush to get back to work. My partner still out of work from an injury nearly two years prior. I was in my lowest place ever over the holidays. Colleagues remarking that I looked sick all the time— pale, not well, not myself…empty. I cried constantly, and I’m not an emotional person.

    I took a week and a half off at the end of 2019 to recover, and use my excess of PTO time so I wouldn’t lose it in the new year. I didn’t sleep, I didn’t rest. I went back even more depressed and angry. I released some of my , I felt a load off, but I still feel the effects. I’m still under pressure to provide, still empty, still can’t sleep. I secretly live with the idea that it’ll be easier if I’m let go.

    Maybe burnout wouldn’t have hit so hard if there wasn’t so much pressure to maintain for the sake of needs at home. Maybe if I had the support I was supposed to have from the beginning of this latest position. Maybe….

    But here I am, living it, and no list of maybe’s will change it. You are so right, there needs to be time off to take care of mental health. Remaining in the environment that is one of the main contributors to anxiety and depression while trying to manage the anxiety and depression is counterproductive. It does not allow for healing. When a bone is broken, they do not leave it exposed and vulnerable to be continuously exposed to the same threats that caused it to happen in the first place and expect it to heal properly; they create a barrier between the injured part and the elements in hopes that it has the protection it needs to heal to its fullest potential.

    Why aren’t we allowed to treat our mental health the same way?

  14. My burnout landed me in 8 weeks’ worth of outpatient therapy. Unlike you, I didn’t quit when I began to go downhill. I didn’t even have the sense to quit after my doctor had me committed. I waited for my manager to fire me when I returned to work. One of the doctors at the hospital told me it would probably take a full year to recover, and he was right. I hope you’re feeling healthier by this fall.

  15. I so understand this. I am 10 months into my leave from a toxic work environment. I held on, not sleeping, vomiting up everything I ate, while both my kids had catastrophic medical crises. I showed up physically everyday for work and then closed my door and sobbed for hours. I was on call for work while I was in the ER with my kids, wanting to yell at my staff who called, “You think this is a problem? Let me tell you what a real problem looks like”. I was always on call, 24/7/365. I cried on my way to work everyday, considering driving my car off a bridge during my commute. I almost did. I was completely dried up and didn’t have anything left to give to anyone or anything.
    10 months into my leave, highly medicated, and I’m still not functioning. My kids are still sick. I accept I may never work again. I am lucky that this is an option, however less than ideal it may be.

  16. i was in a very similar situation, right down to writing erotica, except i worked at a bank. first i went down to part-time so i could complete an MFA program, then i quit totally. my grandpa also passed away, so i sold my house and moved in with my grandma, and now i adjunct and freelance. healthcare is still an issue and probably always will be, and i have to keep a tight budget, but i’m happy for maybe the first time in my life. i tried getting a full-time job again (in the nonprofit sector this time) and i lasted about a month before i realized i couldn’t go back to that and i’ll probably never be able to. thanks so much for sharing your story — it definitely feels good not to be alone in the major risk of throwing away external stability for internal stability.

  17. We need to stop using the term “burnout” (which implies that workers are too weak to handle their jobs), and call it what it is – employer-induced depression.

  18. Thank you so much. I’ve never read anything that so deeply yet succinctly captured what I’ve been through. I feel like I just stumbled down and up nine levels of hell. Like you: no loans, no debts, just exhaustion and a long gray depression.

    I’ve been toast for more than two years. It was grad school that did me in; I’d write and write and just throw everything away. The darkest depth was when I stopped writing because I no longer felt joy in it. I’ve just now started feeling like I might want to create something again.

    You’re right; there’s no cure. We might never be quite like we were before. But you won’t always feel quite this burnt. It does get better. Promise.

    – another piece of toast

  19. Sobbing at my desk. It’s both comforting and terrifying to know that others feel like I do. Thank you for writing this.

  20. We are living the same life, so accept the positive vibes and solidarity coming your way. I left my dream job due to my mental health, skipping off to what became another toxic workplace that did NOT work out. So now I’m sitting in a coffee shop living off severance and unemployment, feeling empowered by your words. You have articulated so eloquently so many thoughts that I have been trying to form over the past months, and I’m so grateful to you for putting your heart and mind to this incredible challenge.
    Here is how the museum social media manager community is dealing with the same issue:
    I have been attempting to advocate for them, and hope to not do a poor job of it when I speak on a social media podcast on the topic next week.There are so many of us out there. Let’s stand together and kick some ass? Please let’s stay in touch!

  21. Loved loved loved this post. I reread and found many nuggets that identified things about myself I realized I hadn’t put into words. I’m the opposite of you– I actually got burned out owning my own business and cut it way down to about 25% and then started a full-time job doing exactly what I wanted to do at a very flexible workplace. I hadn’t realized how mentally unwell I was until I got into a healthier environment. For me, being alone (even though I am an introvert) and being expected to work and be productive was sending me down a darker hole. There were some other factors (family death, postpartum anxiety) but completely changing my job has been transformative for me. I appreciate the post and sent you a tip. Thank you so much for writing this!

  22. There is a cure for burnout. Time.
    Thanks for posting your story. My story if I tweak a few paragraphs here and there.

    Anyhow, after about 12 months, and a lot of budget travelling, my burnout faded away. Reinvigorated.

  23. I took seven months off work. My old white dude dad didn’t get it. I have your privilege – savings, safety nets. I took my career and turfed it in the wastepaper basket. Then I got a whole new piece of paper a few months ago, and started again in a new industry. On half the pay. And, I’m less burnt out. Less

    Thank you for this! Thank you for all you post. One post and I subscribed and I’ve never looked back

  24. Thanks for putting into words the feeling that has been sneaking up on me for years. When my own grandfather told us not to let the rat race get us down, he truly believed that it was possible to follow his advice. This post is a much-needed reality check for those of us who fall into the trap of thinking that the American Dream is ours for the taking… If we just pull them bootstraps a little tighter! The truth is: I can’t feel my feet. We need a new metaphor.

  25. Thank you so much for writing this. Your post was more relatable than anything I have read in a very long time.
    Thank you and take care,

  26. Dear Ella, I could tell you a lot about myself, but that’s not going to help you, so I will keep this short. I can completely relate to your burnout post. You haven’t asked for advice, but my life experiences humble me to write to you. Stay Away from technology as much as possible. Get out into nature. Choose a couple of things in life that you love and focus on them for as long as you can afford to. I chose going for long walks with my dog, sailing and playing my guitar. Spend quality time with the people you love. Keep it simple. Live your life every day as if it’s your last. As long as you treat others with kindness, there are no rights and wrongs. Regards, Diana Dawson

    Sent from my iPhone


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