I wake to two of my favorite things: a cup of coffee on my nightstand and a sky warming for the sunrise. Gratitude should be first on my mind, but in the split second between sleep and awake, my mind rests on an unsettling word: depersonalized.
Indicators of burnout have been popping up for months—waking up to a sense of dread, going to bed defeated, pervasive sluggishness in between. There’s the constant drip of cynicism, even on the good days. The busyness of life is unrelenting, and I hover above work and writing projects with an aerial view of every overwhelming detail and little ability to narrow my focus.
The Red Flags of Burnout
There are the red flags of detachment, too. Forgetfulness, apathy, the inability to answer an acquaintance’s simple question, “What’s your favorite summer activity?” Dysregulation is overriding muscle memory and I’m running into door frames, getting turned around in familiar places, even forgetting to rinse the conditioner from my hair, as I discovered one hurried Saturday afternoon. My mind and body are out of sync with each other and their surroundings.
I call it burnout because it’s less cumbersome than calling it compassion fatigue, the very thing I’ve trained my team to avoid over the past few years of upheaval. We work with women in crisis and we know the statistics. We know abuse increased, addiction spiked, and the impoverished fell into deeper poverty. We know death has come too soon and too often. Our work puts faces to the numbers. Sara packed her two young children and left her violent husband yesterday. Jasmine was almost a year into her recovery, but we haven’t seen her in weeks. Maria is living in her car. Frances lost four family members in less than two months. I’ve continued the work by disconnecting.
But what do you do when crisis comes home? When the statistics say emergency department visits for attempted suicide rose 51% among adolescent girls in a year, and your daughter’s face and name make those numbers part of your story, what do you call it?