Saturday, January 03, 2015

From burnout to...

I've been formulating some ideas lately in regard to my journey into, and now out of, pastoral burnout. As I look back, the road to being burned out probably started as far back as 2004 for me.

At the time there were two elders in the church, and I was the "pastor." The three of us met quite a lot. We studied together, prayed together, shared a lot of things together. I felt like we were a pretty good team and provided some decent leadership for the church. In August of that year, though, one of those two elders died of cancer... and the other one abruptly left the church. So there I was - in many ways - alone.

I really think that's when it all started. It wasn't anyone's fault; I don't blame anyone; certainly there were still plenty of positives after that; but that's when I first remember feeling completely overwhelmed and had the feeling that 'I' needed to do something.

I came across this list of '12 Stages of Burnout'... This, they say, is a summary of how it goes:

1. The Compulsion to Prove Oneself; demonstrating worth obsessively; tends to hit the best employees, those with enthusiasm who accept responsibility readily.
2. Working Harder; an inability to switch off.
3. Neglecting Their Needs; erratic sleeping, eating disrupted, lack of social interaction.
4. Displacement of Conflicts; problems are dismissed, we may feel threatened, panicky and jittery.
5. Revision of Values; values are skewed, friends and family dismissed, hobbies seen as irrelevant, work is only focus.
6. Denial of Emerging Problems; intolerance, perceiving collaborators as stupid, lazy, demanding, or undisciplined, social contacts harder; cynicism, aggression; problems are viewed as caused by time pressure and work, not because of life changes.
7. Withdrawal; social life small or non-existent, need to feel relief from stress, alcohol/drugs/porn.
8. Odd Behavioral Changes; changes in behavior obvious, friends and family concerned.
9. Depersonalization; seeing neither self nor others as valuable, and no longer perceive own needs.
10. Inner Emptiness; feeling empty inside and to overcome this, look for activity such as overeating, sex, alcohol, porn or drugs; activities are often exaggerated.
11. Depression; feeling lost and unsure, exhausted, future feels bleak and dark.
12. Burnout Syndrome; can include total mental and physical collapse; time for full medical attention.

The way this works out in one's life is certainly not as nice and neat as this list, but it seems about right to me. I didn't necessarily go through them 'in order' - if there is such a thing - but over time, and at different rates of speed, it all happened. Right down to the near-total mental and physical collapse.

I can still remember when I told the board that my counselor said I was on the verge of needing hospitalization - and that was why he suggested the sabbatical - I guess I thought they understood what I was talking about. Given the fact that they told the congregation I had a 'mental illness' (why they were letting me go), I can see now that I had not explained my situation to them very well. I believe they saw my symptoms as being the issue, rather than the cause of the symptoms. Such is life.

So... that's where I will stop for now. One of these days I hope to delve further into my ongoing journey OUT of burnout. I am tempted to call it "How I Survived Pastoral Burnout," but there are days I'm not sure if I've really survived it, or if I'm still in the midst of surviving. We'll see.