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Burned Out: Memories and Moving Forward
I heard the whispers long before it became an issue. I was given admonishments and warnings for months. “If you keep working so hard, you’ll burn out”. And then I thought I’d done just that, that I’d reached a low below what I had thought had been my lowest. I discovered it wasn’t that at all.
After a series of struggles, I chose to leave my position working at a group home for children with behavioral problems resulting from the abuse in their young lives. Many things led up to that decision. Leaving was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but staying would have been harder. I had no strength left.
I can offer many explanations and excuses, justifications and reasons, but what it boils down to is really simple: I saw things that I could not stomach and could not change and I could not keep watching them. I was becoming a tool that aided a system I didn’t believe in.
It is hard to know where to set your own personal boundaries and even harder to know when the situation that you are in is outside of them. You know that there is a certain line you’ll never cross but you draw that line in the sands of “now” and then the winds of time come along and cause that line to weave around. The line becomes hard to see through the emotional storms. You usually know when you are approaching it but you rarely know if you’ve crossed it yet.
Many things happened that led up to me leaving a job that I loved. I worked too many hours in a row without a vacation. I got tired. I didn’t take care of myself properly. There were harsh confrontations and days filled with frustration. There was heartache and heartbreak. But mostly, in the end, I just didn’t have any fight left. The system is what it is and you can either work within it, making small changes here and there or you can’t. I couldn’t. The people that want to really change the system cannot last long within it.
The system perpetuates the system.
In the years after leaving this type of work behind, I often heard people say that the system needs people like me. I thought I understood the proclamation. I did fight hard for fairness for the kids, for a healthier way of living that was at least more right than what they were being dealt. I tried to be a human in a machinated world. I at least tried to bring a few good hours into some bad days. And yes, those kids need that, at least that.
I coped with a lot of guilt after leaving that job. I felt like I’d left the kids behind in a situation that wasn’t healthy or right or fair. I felt like if I’d been stronger then I could have been there for the kids despite the flaws in the job, in the system, in life. I felt like a better me could have worked within the mess without being made a mess myself because of it.
I thought I burned out. And I felt bad for a long time about that.
But years later, I came to realize that it wasn’t burnout at all. I was never meant to work within that system. It made me crazy and I didn’t benefit anyone in it when I was crazy. It’s a surprise that I lasted as long as I did, burning as brightly as I did during that time.
I’d like to think that I made an impact on some live with my bright light while I was there. Usually we do, not because we try, but because we are the people we are when we encounter the people we met. Something connects sometimes and leaves an impression.
We have to figure out what we believe, what works for us and what work we can do. Sometimes it works within the things that we want to be doing. Sometimes it does not. There are complications and destruction and pain as we try to find the right space for living out our beliefs in a way that is efficient and effective. We get tangled up in what we think we should do, what other people think we should do, what we aren’t quite sure yet that we want to do.
The world is a noisy place. With all that noise around, it can be hard to hear the heart beating, leading you to the way that is truly right for you. But it is beating there and it is crucial to hear that beat. Live as you believe. Stumble and catch yourself. Always burn brightly.