Beyond the Burn: Burnt and Charred.

This is the second of a three part series on personal rhythm and burnout.

In my previous post - Afterburners - I wrote about the need, at times, to expend extra fuel in order to push through the tough times in life. But, much like a jet using it’s afterburners, if we stay engaged at that level for too long or too often, we’ll burn out; we’ll run out of fuel. In this post, I want to talk a bit about burnout, something I’m all too familiar with. My next post will outline what a proper, normal “burn” or lifestyle should look like. Personally, I think too many are beyond the burn.

Generally speaking, burnout is when a person works too hard for too long and becomes emotionally and physically worn out; they’ve passed beyond what is their normal rhythm of work and rest and into a dysfunctional state. You can Google burnout for a thorough, scientific explanation, if you’d like. The purpose of this post is to provide a personal view of what all too many are unwittingly experiencing

I have the privilege of serving as the Chaplain of my township’s fire department. For the past 2 years I’ve gotten to know the crew of Station 27. I’ve watched them train, prepare and execute their call of duty. Since my training specialty is different than theirs, I try my best to stay in my territory, serve those who serve, and attempt to understand the stresses they and their families face. Part of their duties include servicing and inspecting the equipment. Everything from tires on trucks to hoses, ladders and personal gear get regular, systematic review. Without such constant monitoring they risk both hindered performance and personal injury. Some gear is rotated out at set intervals. But there are times when some has to be retired early due to damage from extreme conditions.

An old, charred helmet smolders from the heat of a training burn. Fire equipment must be inspected and maintained in order to provide optimal protection and efficiency. We are no different! But few take the time -  and life doesn't assist us - in avoiding burn out.

Our lives are absolutely no different. But unlike a new ladder or fire helmet, we often don’t have a baseline to compare our condition. It’s easy to see when a helmet is charred and in need of replacement. But it’s not always clear when a person’s heart and spirit are burned. We can’t visually inspect those. Yes, there are symptoms that we can monitor, but many of us work so very hard at covering up what’s going on inside. And, because this world’s pace is so absolutely frantic, ungodly and inhuman at times, we don’t get much help from the outside, either, unless we’re looking for it.

I can’t list all of reasons why we get burned out. Striving for relationships or money, pleasing bosses and coworkers, achieving promotions, failure to rest and Sabbath or sustaining personal worth are just a few of the things that drive us to emotional and physical failure. But I can offer some characteristics that will help us to realize when we’re beyond the burn. (In part 1, Afterburners - I provided a similar list to help you understand when you’re pushing beyond your normal limits.)

Here are some signs that you’re “Beyond the Burn”:

• You feel driven by some project, task or accomplishment, but no matter how hard you push there’s minimal progress. You’ve stayed in “afterburner mode” too long and there are no benefits because you’re now running on fumes.
• Even a full day of rest quickly gets swallowed up in the first or second day back to work.
• You have little drive or interest to do anything.
• Your efficiency plummets - you work twice as hard with maybe half the results.
• You’re angry and snippy even at little things - you’re on edge, habitually.
• Relationships deteriorate and erode and no matter what you do, there’s little to no improvement.
• You begin to suffer personal, internal damage as well as external collateral damage.
• Depression sets in and a feeling of hopelessness accompanies it
• For some there are wide mood swings caused by nonsensical events - our responses are out of proportion to the stressors
• Deep rest alludes you, insomnia sets in
• Your physical health deteriorates, even manifesting in unexplained illness
• In extreme cases people will drift toward neurosis or even suicide or murder. Death lives close to burnout.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list - burnout can vary in severity of symptoms from person to person. I’ve been to the edge too many times to not care about where you are. But when I was there, no one was standing next to me to help me understand just how close I was. I tried to hide it, I even made excuses, but I was charred on the inside and my outside was smoldering as well. A few people would mention my horrid behavior, but I was either unwilling to listen or no one was truly willing to walk with me. They would point out my issues but offer no solid help. I thank God for the path He had me on to have enough wherewithal to know I needed to step back.

Living outside of our God-designed rhythm is not worth it! It’s a disservice to others and to ourselves. When we allow ourselves to be molded and tossed about by the world around us - and even our own personal dysfunction - we actually live outside of what and who we’re intended to be. We forfeit our true purpose for performance. We sacrifice health and relationships for what? A better car? A bigger paycheck? Ego? It’s not worth it!

I pray you will think seriously about this topic and take time to reflect on where you may be. Are you already beyond the burn or quickly running out of fuel? Take time for personal evaluation. Pull aside a trusted friend or counselor. Ask them for their honest input. It may sting initially, but it’s better than burning out.

*This blog is not intended to replace or even serve as a substitute for professional, medical attention. It is ONLY intended to raise awareness to your personal health and well being. If you’re struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, please seek professional help immediately.