Tuesday, September 20, 2016

In the Middle of a Burnout

Candle burning at both ends
(Photo credit: Photodisc)
"And there I was...in the middle of a burnout."

No, not a wildland fire burnout. The burnout I found myself in was when an individual feels "overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands." (HelpGuide.org) I was burning the candle at both ends and didn't think I would get burned.

I am known for being a go-getter and high producer. If I'm not multi-tasking, organizing or leading something, or pumping out products, something is wrong. (Or is it?...read on.)

Over the past 30 years, I have been known to have multiple jobs, paid and volunteer, at the same time. About a year ago, I found myself in the middle of a "firestorm" in my personal life. There I was in the most awful ethical dilemma of my life. A very ugly non-profit clash caused me to walk away from a leadership position I had poured my heart and soul into for 8 years. This was a place I had intended to focus my efforts after retirement. Paths change!

I took it upon myself to provide leadership for the large flock of individuals who made the decision to join the exodus. In addition to that commitment, I poured myself into my day job. From November to January, I produced more than I had ever produced in such a short time period. I was on a writer/editor production high. My boss and coworkers were elated with my work. I got great reviews and kudos all around. And then...

Things started to change. I started to gain weight, depression set in, bouts of insomnia were replaced with a never-ending need for sleep, my joy for serving became a chore, writer's block set in, tears replaced smiles, and staying in my office in front of my computer became the norm. Sure, I performed my job, but I didn't want to be there. I didn't really want to be anywhere but the chair in my living room.

People had always warned me about prolonged stress and burnout--that I should take care of myself. But I was rock-solid! Burnout would never happen to me. I share all about stress and taking care of each other with you on this blog. I knew I would catch myself before it became a big deal. Sure, I saw the signs, but wrote them off to other things. In fact, I took measures to cut back on my engagements and duties and spoke with my doctor. I would be okay. I had stopped the progression. I was in "control."

Well, recently, I had a meltdown in my office. Yep, a full-blown panic attack. The stress and lack of self-care over the last year had caught up to me. While researching the Butte fire entrapment event of 1976 and talking with an emergency management response expert, I envisioned another event where an entire division deployed their shelters, only this time they didn't walk away. This was an event for which I cannot control, but the panic I felt was real. The threat is real, but I cannot control what happens on the fireline. My passion for wildland firefighter safety had become a weakness instead of a strength. I needed help.

Luckily, I have great co-workers and friends, a wonderful boss, and awesome doctor. They saw the signs and walked me through those dark moments. They didn't write me off or ignore my tears and cries for help. They knew something was very wrong and wanted to help.

I share my vulnerability with you because stress, depression, and burnout are real. This may be something you or someone you know is experiencing. Awareness and self-care are vital to your fitness for command.

I am on a better path now. My husband, friends, doctor, boss, and coworkers are by my side. I have stepped back from roles that don't bring me joy. I have joined an exercise and fitness group with friends and have lost more than 25 pounds. I am writing again and sharing my story with you in hopes that you reach out yourself or to others. My boss is aware of my situation and is very supportive and caring. I'm trying to live the Serenity Prayer and reading Resilience: Hard-won Wisdom for Living a Better Life by Eric Greitens. Awareness has replaced denial, and that is a big step in moving forward. I am choosing resilience over defeat.

Creator, grant me…  Serenity to accept the things I cannot change.  Courage to change the things I can.  Wisdom to know the difference.
(Photo credit: Kari Greer)
I am not an expert in the area of stress, depression or burnout (obviously). If you need professional help, seek it. There is and should never be shame for asking for help. We owe it to each other to look out for one another on and off the fireline or wherever we may be. As an introduction to the topic, I offer you a few resources I have found regarding burnout prevention and recovery and setting boundaries. Read them yourself, and share them throughout your spheres of influence. Look out for one another. Stress buildup to potential burnout affects the larger community. We all need you and yours fit for command.

Take care of yourself and build healthy relationships!


About the Author:
Pam McDonald is a writer/editor for BLM Wildland Fire Training and Workforce Development and member of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee. The expressions are those of the author.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing Pam. Lots of fire staff walk very close to that edge. Hope someone is there when they fall
Greg Harry