Burnout. It's a real and valid thing.
Quite a few of my friends and colleagues over the last 18 months have either experienced or are experiencing this thing called burnout.
And now I feel I'm one of them.
It's scary to put that in writing as a health professional because oftentimes we expect our health professionals to be positive, to be the fittest, healthiest, most well-adjusted people ever but the reality is...we're all human. And we're all going through this crazy thing called a Global Pandemic. And that's affecting each of us in different ways.
Burnout has a lot of definitions on the internet but the best one I liked was "a sate of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress".
So very accurate as to how it feels.
For the past year I have been trying to convince myself that I "don't have it as bad" as other people and the truth is I really don't feel I do. I have friends going through their 6th lockdown in Victoria, I have family who have been home more than they haven't in QLD, I have close friends who's children I haven't met yet because the restrictions change every two seconds, I have colleagues who are drained from working in quite scarily evolving situations overseas.
Just because someone has it "worse" doesn't mean what you're experiencing isn't completely valid. The past 18 months for me have been a long drawn out battle trying to keep a small business alive, trying to help patients whilst my energy cup was empty, and trying to keep an eye on my big goals even though the day-to-day felt like an enormous effort...all with a smile on my face.
Social media can be a blessing and a curse and you all know how much I have a love/hate relationship with it. The thing is, what you see on the surface often completely misses what is happening beneath. In the last 12 months I have posted many a picture to the gram of some fun activity or other but the reality is a lot of time has spent lying awake in bed at the small hours of the morning, I was barely exercising until Daisy came into my life and needed to go for walks and that physically forced me out of the house and I'd started having sick days and having to cancel things at the clinic which was very odd because I'm rarely ever sick.
There are a lot of factors that can contribute to burnout but for me the main ones were:
1) Lack of Control
A global pandemic truly throws a spanner in the works...or 15 spanners. Not only did it cause my income to be very inconsistent (and inadequate) but it was very difficult to manage a clinical roster around restrictions, changes, etc. And things would change at the drop of a hat causing very frequent bouts of acute stress.
2) Working as a healthcare professional
Whilst I love working in healthcare, part of being in this industry is that you are in a "helping" profession and therefore you do spend a large portion of your time helping others which can be very emotionally demanding and therefore exhausting. There are lots of strategies that health pro's can put in place to manage this but when you add global pandemic to the mix it can be a bit overwhelming.
3) Lack of social support
Last year this was the case, I was very isolated due to a multitude of factors including the pandemic restrictions but this year I have reconnected with so many friends, I have been able to spend more time with the people I care about and have a very supportive partner and family (which is perhaps why I am able to actually acknowledge the struggle and do something about it now when last year I felt I just couldn't).
What brought me to a place where I was able to acknowledge the feelings of burnout?
In July of this year, Adelaide was put into a snap 7-day lockdown to contain an outbreak (which was successful!) and whilst it's "only 7 days" - that was it for me. I'd been trying to keep the clinic alive but so much more was suffering including my income, my mental health, my physical health (as stress levels have been so high for such a long period at this point) and also my goals. Since last year I have wanted to start my research degree and its something I'm very passionate about but so much has gotten in the way and I've put it off and put it off even though its something that I know I'm excited about, something that makes my insides fill with butterflies and my eyes light up!
So, I made the very difficult decision to close my clinic to focus on my health, my family, my research degree and education / women's health advocacy because that is what is important to me.
I'm excited by my career possibilities and I'm excited for the break that I've decided to take from clinical work and for having the courage to give myself the space I need.
I was full of doubt and full of thoughts like "people will think you're pathetic for needing time off" and "you've failed Kate" and "it's scary to make such big changes" but...
I know that as soon as I made the decision I felt an immediate sense of relief and contentment which is how I knew I'd made the right choice for me.
For now I'm focusing on resting and restoring my energy, time with my partner and fur babies, time with friends and family and getting my Masters on the road!
If you or someone you know needs to speak to a health professional about their mental health, refer them to their GP or:
Beyond Blue | 1300 224 636 or