Recovering from Burnout

blue butterfly

Thirty years is a long time for an empathic introvert to work in the field of addiction and mental health and in an environment of constantly expanding bureaucracy. Don’t get me wrong. I am thankful to have served. I learned a lot. Parts of it, I even miss. About 20%. But that job took a lot out of me.

A couple weeks ago, I was driving down the street near my old office. The same street I used to drive Monday through Friday. The same street I drove to get home at 9pm on Thursday nights – my late night when I did my group. I liked doing groups, but the paperwork had increased to overwhelming proportions. I often prayed for deliverance as I drove home in those last years when I was a single mom, especially on Thursday nights.  Deliverance came in January of 2017 when the love of my life made it possible for me to “retire.” It felt more like an escape to freedom after years of captivity.

I don’t go to that side of town much anymore. It had been months since I’d driven down that street. As I approached the turn to my old office, I felt tension in my gut. How many years had I just sucked it up with deep breaths? Then, I passed by the turn and felt relief, gratitude, and defiance wash over me as I realized, I don’t have to go there anymore.

Could it be that I’m still coming out of survival mode? When I started my career in the 80s, I was eager and excited to help. After about twenty years, when the bureaucracy mushroomed, survival mode and being a single mom,  kept me there for another ten years. I think I’m starting to come out of denial, starting to realize how burnt out I was.

I used to think burnt out people didn’t care. But I still cared the whole time I worked at that job. Maybe I cared too much sometimes. I still care now. But I’ve learned to care about myself, too.

Maybe burn out isn’t so much about not caring as running on empty.

I’m still drawn to articles and memes about self-care. I’m protective (sometimes defiantly) of my time and space. I’m learning to say no to things that drain me like committee meetings and anything with a hint of bureaucracy or supervision, so I can say yes to what energizes me like helping first graders read, painting community murals, and organizing books at the mission thrift store. Now, I have time to say yes to the creative work that nurtures me.

Maybe this is what it’s like to be an assertive person with a healthy sense of self worth.

glass of water being filled


Do I harbor resentment? Perhaps. In time, I hope to let it go. Wouldn’t it be nice if resentment just faded away? That would be easier than letting it go. But right now I’m still feeling the need to protect myself.

I’m still putting back what was lost.




18 thoughts on “Recovering from Burnout

  1. I can relate to burn out. I put in 35 years as a psych RN. I was getting mighty tired from the constant stress. I do not miss my work at all but I had to readjust to a so called normal life.

    I am happy that you were able to get away by having a caring husband. That speaks volumes about a man that allows his wife to retire.

    • Even when you like your work, the stress of working in the mental health field with crisis always a possibility does add up. I don’t miss that stress at all! I’m glad you made it to retirement, too. Thanks for the reminder of how blessed I am for this man in my life. He was the one who suggested I retire. He had worked 15 years as a fire fighter/EMT and understood the long term effects of stress. I never would have asked him. I hope you are able to enjoy life, Yvonne. ❤

  2. Bureaucracy is a killer for sure. It so often drives a wedge between our passion and its point of contact with the world. It makes the work twice as hard to satisfy people who can’t always see the real story. I’m sure you helped a ton of people, JoAnna, and that many are grateful for your persevering. At the same time, yes to knowing what moves you today, and giving your heart on your own terms… That makes all the difference, doesn’t it?


    • It makes a huge difference. I feel much healthier now all around. You insight and understanding mean a lot to me, Michael. Thank you so much for this affirmation. ❤

  3. Aw! Same here. Sometimes I tried to challenge myself and went to places which caged me for sometime and felt, I was finally free.

    The hardest was when to start. How to start anew yet when you put your mind into loving yourself more, you will realize that you could have done that a lot sooner than later but then what was important, you’ve fought for that freedom. Not easy, I know, I’ve been caged in various aspects yet there would always be escapes, you just have to love yourself more and that’s the very key to unlock that cell.

    Among other things, we just have to be grateful for every little thing.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Write some more.

  4. Providing care, in any capacity, is one of the most generous and exhausting things we do. The burn out is real.
    I have experienced a similar aversion to a few places, not even about work. It’s one of the drawbacks of being sensitive, the emotions are easily accessed, even by a drive down a road.
    I, too, am glad you served. Your service was invaluable, and considering your work was 30 years, some of it will literally be immortal — words of wisdom passed on, relationships healed, mindsets and hearts changed…

    • Thank you very much for this, Joey. Every now and then, I feel guilty, like I’m not doing enough. Been like that most of my life. I know it’s irrational. But I’m getting better. I think that’s where the defiance comes in. Your affirmation means a lot.

  5. I think dealing with resentment is kinda one of those peeling an onion things. Always another layer. But eventually, when it surfaces, you get enough distance to know it was your life, it’s not anymore. For me it was not an old job that I resented, but lots of other things. Keep down what you like doing, and I bet the old weights will begin to fall off your shoulders.

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