Burn-out in carersI read this whilst on retreat. I wasn't expecting to read something like this (I thought I was researching the healing ministry) but it was quite a revelation. I've highlighted the bits that apply. What really got me was the 'aching across the chest' part.
This is a syndrome of physical, spiritual and emotional exhaustion that is particularly likely where there is an experience of discrepancy between expectation and reality.
Three stages of burn-out have been described:
- In the first stage there is an imbalance between the demands of work and personal resources, which results in hurried meals, longer working hours, spending little time with the family, frequent lingering colds and sleep problems. This is the time to take stock, seek God and the advice of those around us.
- The second stage involves a short-term response to stress with angry outbursts, irritability, feeling tired all the time and anxiety about physical health. This stage highlights a real need to get away from it all.
- Terminal burn-out, stage three, creeps up insidiously. The carer cannot re-establish the balance between demands and personal resources. He or she goes into overdrive, works mechanically, by the book, lacking the fresh inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They tend to be late for appointments and to refer to those they are caring for in a derogatory manner, using superficial, stereotyped, authoritarian methods of communication.
On an emotional level, the carer becomes exhausted, incapable of empathy and overwhelmed by everyday problems. Emotional detachment becomes a form of rejection, which can develop into irritability and even aggression towards those nearby. Persons in this situation put themselves down, feel discouraged and wonder how they ever achieved in the past. Problems pile up and paralyse the mind. Disorganisation results in more precious energy being expended to make up for lost efficiency. Fatigue deepens and thought processes slow. Physically, an inner tension, an aching across the chest, weakness, headaches, indigestion and a lack of sleep are often experienced.
I knew something was wrong when I was putting on my socks one morning, I put one on and then stopped. I just couldn't continue.
The retreat has turned me around, but there is much work and sorting-out-of-my-life to be done.
In particular, that opening sentence is one I have been mulling on for the last several days. The "discrepancy between expectation and reality" is what I need to resolve, which will take the form of abandoning all desire for particular results, especially "success". I do believe that success is an illusion; unfortunately it is an illusion that has turned my head, fraying my relationship with God, and knocking my ministry off track (much of that can't be shared here, sorry).
The thing about going into overdrive applies. In my clergy support group a few months back I had feedback about being someone who gives the impression of high demands, ie being very demanding. I don't really demand much from others, I don't think - tho' I'm sure I do demand some things, loyalty mostly - but I am very demanding of myself. I have felt tremendously driven to be a 'good priest'. Hmm. Nothing I would wish to defend theologically, but that doesn't stop it being the human truth.
There's still a bit of me that is trying to justify myself before an angry God. I think that's why I find Alison et al so helpful. Reconciliation in the wink of a hippo.
Just as I am, without one plea - O Lamb of God, I come.