Let’s face it. That was a very long year.
And here we are in 2021. As John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
It’s been a humbling year realizing time cares little about our plans.
The other day I watched this show “A Million Little Things” and heard this quote about depression that I haven’t been able to get out of mind. The speaker in this instance was commenting on how John F. Kennedy Jr. lost sight of the horizon when he crashed his plane, and explained how this might also be seen as a metaphor for depression.
Maybe he just lost sight of the horizon. I was watching this documentary on JFK Jr. You remember when his plane went down? … Anyway, Kennedy was a novice pilot. He was flying at night, and the clouds came in, and his instruments were telling him which way was up, but he didn’t trust them. The truth was right in front of him, and he couldn’t see it. He lost sight of the horizon and nosedived, and by the time he realized what was happening, it was too late, and he couldn’t pull up. That's depression.
Depression is losing site of the horizon.
Another way of saying this, is that depression and suicide are highly correlated with feelings of hope, and to feel hope we need to have some belief that better things are ahead.
And with seemingly never-ending negative news stories, 2020
certainly put this idea to the test.
Many people I have seen have lost site of the horizon last year, as their ability to plan for the future was severely compromised. Small business owners not sure if they can hang on for much longer. People with immigration issues, praying for Visas that will allow them to stay in their new countries. People with relatives overseas they desperately wanted to reconnect with. These aren’t little worries, but real life and death uncertainties about what was going to happen next for them.
And they’ve lost sight of the horizon. Lost their sense of hope. Been swallowed up by constant worry about the future.
In considering this idea, I’ve delved deeply into the concept of burnout as it relates to this. Although most of us are familiar with the “traditional" definition of burnout, I recently discovered there were at least eight kinds of burnout that might affect effect someone. They are-
1. 1. Mental burnout: My mind cannot process any more; it’s fried.
- Emotional burnout: These heavy or anxious emotions are exhausting me.
- Compassion burnout: I cannot hold any more loving space for anyone else; I’m tapped.
- Relational burnout: I’ve been overgiving to others, my organization or my community/family, and I am over it.
- Survival burnout: I’m exhausted from trying to make ends meet and stay afloat.
- Superperson burnout: The weight of taking on so much is too much; I can’t hold it all anymore.
- Passion burnout: I love what I do, but I’ve given too much and pushed too hard.
- Physical burnout: My body is revolting; I have depleted my life force.
As I read through this list, I note that many of the people
that I see fit with these less traditional definitions of burnout. For
instance, people in the helping professions have certainly suffered from passion burnout this year, as a job and
career they love has become overwhelming.
For many people who have spent a lot more time with people indoors this year, they have suffered some relational burnout. They love the people in their lives, but perhaps are feeling the burdens of overexposure and overdependence.
And for others, they might be completely drained physically. When we deal with relentless stress, cortisol floods our nervous system and we begin running on this reserve, stress-induced fuel source. It was never meant to be a permanent source of energy, and when we lean on this source too much we can become dependent on it. Consider this quote from physician Gabor Maté-
“For those habituated to high levels of internal stress
since early childhood, it is the absence of stress that creates unease, evoking
boredom and a sense of meaninglessness. People may become addicted to their own
stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, Hans Selye observed.
To such persons stress feels desirable, while the absence of it feels like something to be avoided.”
In other words, we start depending on feeling stressed out to get us through the day!
I often tell people that tears release cortisol, so when they find themselves crying more than usual, it’s often the body purging itself of stress.
So if you have been feeling these symptoms of burnout, please listen to your body and recognize you need to slow down. It’s kind of like driving a car when the check engine light comes on. If you’re like me, you probably just ignore it for a while. But that light is a warning sign, and might prevent a little problem from becoming a much larger one. What are your “check engine” warning signs? Increased irritability? Impatience? Insomnia? We all have a few.
Returning to the opening quote in this vignette about losing
sight of the horizon, we can revisit the tragic story of John F. Kennedy Jr. and his
airplane. As it turns out, he might never have crashed that fateful evening if
he had just trusted his instrument panels. And that’s how our internal
intuition system works as well. Like a highly sophisticated instrument panel.
When your body sends you an external pain signal, it’s alerting you to the fact that something is in need of repair. Our emotional guidance systems work in a similar way. Increased crying, poor sleep, and irritability with our loved ones are all signs from our instrumental panels that we need to change course and find another way of doing something.
So if your system is telling you to slow down, please listen to it. It's there for your protection. Take some extra time for yourself. Get out in nature. Say "no" this week at least once no matter how hard that might be for you.
Get that check engine light turned off.
Because soon enough, we find our cruising altitudes again. All of the seasons of our lives come to an end and eventually give way to something else. New beginnings. New narratives. Changes.
And hope. That comes back as well.
God speed in 2021.