Stress, Burn-out, Healing
I have not published my email newsletter since the end of last December. At first, my reasons were valid - a website overhaul involving learning new skills, then my daughter’s wedding, followed by a backlog of work to catch up on, followed by new projects, followed by an east coast trip.
A Sabbatical, I explained to anyone who asked. Mental health break.
I’m six months into 2008 and I’m out of excuses. I have been researching and writing about my illness for more than nine years, and there is nothing left in the tank. Burn-out is the technical term. I’ve been running on fumes for about a year. About a week ago, the engine sputtered and died.
Burn-out is what happens when stress overtakes you. Motivation goes out the window. Things you used to care about don’t matter. You just want to quit, get out of the game, throw in the towel.
In October 2006, Harper Collins published my book, “Living Well with Depression and Bipolar Disorder.” A month and a half later - just before Thanksgiving - my marriage broke up. A week later, I was living on a different coast, my entire life stuffed into two suitcases and carry-ons, plus five shipping cartons en route.
Talk about stress.
Then a year involving ten road trips. In June, I collected a major international award in Pittsburgh and arrived back home feeling emotionally spent. I met a wonderful woman in August only to re-experience the agony of my second consecutive Thanksgiving break-up.
Thank heaven for rural southern California. If the wheels are going to fall off, this is the part of the world to have it happen. Temperate climate, mountain views, blue jays and humming birds, cobalt blue skies.
Thank heaven, also, for friends who care about me.
This year, I cut down my road trips to one. But I came back ten days ago in a state of interior frizzle-frazzle. Like playing the black keys on a piano and the white keys at the same time. Then the weather turned rotten.
Something wasn’t right. I was finding it impossible to get any work done. Personal stressors were pushing me to the breaking point. I needed to sleep and not wake up for two or three years.
On Monday, I mailed a signed copy of my book to a fellow author. This morning, she emailed me. "Fascinating’ she wrote “Lord, the work you must have done.”
My book, I could only think. It was so long ago. I wasn’t going to get any work done today. I needed to go back to bed. Out of idle curiosity, I picked up a copy and started reading: “I have an MD. It stands for manic depression.”
The words of someone with an attitude, out to prove a point. Not me.
I kept reading: “‘Please,’ writes Brian, 'may I have my life back and start over again?”
I was telling other people’s stories, giving voice to the forgotten. Then I came upon a small piece of my own:
“In the fall of 1998 came a crushing series of rejections. I simply had no oxygen. My run of bad luck had propelled me into the Mount Everest Death Zone from which there was only one way out.”
I was a tired old man - me - reading someone else’s writing - me - about a totally forgotten individual - me.
John McManamy, meet John McManamy, meet John McManamy.
Something shifted inside. A feeling of peace. Contentment. Gone was the frizzle-frazzle, the black keys against the white keys. Gone was the fatigue. Of me fighting against myself.
I looked out the window. The good weather had returned two days earlier, but now I could appreciate the blue in the sky. The birds were chirping.
It will be a little while yet before I get my newsletters back on track. Healing may occur unexpectedly, but it can’t be rushed. I’m at a standing stop right now, but nothing lasts forever, and now, at least, I know things are going to get better, not worse. And that when better returns, I will experience it with a profound new sense of how lucky I am.
All in good time.
John is an author and advocate for Mental Health. He wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Depression and Bipolar Disorder.