I wake to two of my favorite things: a cup of coffee on my nightstand and a sky warming for the sunrise. Gratitude should be first on my mind, but in the split second between sleep and awake, my mind rests on an unsettling word: depersonalized.
Indicators of burnout have been popping up for months—waking up to a sense of dread, going to bed defeated, pervasive sluggishness in between. There’s the constant drip of cynicism, even on the good days. The busyness of life is unrelenting, and I hover above work and writing projects with an aerial view of every overwhelming detail and little ability to narrow my focus.
The Red Flags of Burnout
There are the red flags of detachment, too. Forgetfulness, apathy, the inability to answer an acquaintance’s simple question, “What’s your favorite summer activity?” Dysregulation is overriding muscle memory and I’m running into door frames, getting turned around in familiar places, even forgetting to rinse the conditioner from my hair, as I discovered one hurried Saturday afternoon. My mind and body are out of sync with each other and their surroundings.
I call it burnout because it’s less cumbersome than calling it compassion fatigue, the very thing I’ve trained my team to avoid over the past few years of upheaval. We work with women in crisis and we know the statistics. We know abuse increased, addiction spiked, and the impoverished fell into deeper poverty. We know death has come too soon and too often. Our work puts faces to the numbers. Sara packed her two young children and left her violent husband yesterday. Jasmine was almost a year into her recovery, but we haven’t seen her in weeks. Maria is living in her car. Frances lost four family members in less than two months. I’ve continued the work by disconnecting.
But what do you do when crisis comes home? When the statistics say emergency department visits for attempted suicide rose 51% among adolescent girls in a year, and your daughter’s face and name make those numbers part of your story, what do you call it? Two years of intakes and appointments. Two years of insensitive conversations and being handed recycled advice I could just as easily find in a Google search. Two years of questioning everything, as well as myself. Two years of hypervigilance. Two years of trying like mad to keep myself from slipping through the cracks of my own life. I’ve denied the word trauma because it sounds hopeless and somewhat passive, but my mind knows. My body knows.
I am learning to tolerate ambiguity and the disappointment of relinquishment and apathy that comes with both. It feels like grief and I push through by giving it tiny blocks of time, knowing full well it is insufficient, but also knowing that’s all I have to give. Much is unresolved and I carry it with me, in my bones and bowels, undigested. When fragments stand alone, the mind pieces them into dreams of perceived threat instead of possibility. When experiences and their effects are too much to process, the body does what it must, pulls away as an entity free of the complex brain, with all its emotion and will, and moves forward, removed. Depersonalized.
Where Faith is Worked Out
Imagination was joy once. As a kid, I colored every sky orange, every artistic undertaking telling a story that happened at sunset. As a teenager, I saw possibility rather than risk. As a single mom, I was the optimist who could make it work. As a mother of a child with mental-health issues, I relentlessly laid the bricks toward hope. I did it with the second child, with the third. But fighting for the life of a child three times over is no small thing. Curiosity has opened the door to loss without resolve, pain without relief, problem without solution, and of course, the smoldering of questions unanswered. I know too much about the physical world and too little about spiritual realms. This is where faith is worked out.
A boat in the storm is a story of trauma. Disciples cry, “Lord, we will drown,” and they’re not wrong. They make their money on the water and they know its potential. They know storms and swells and the probability of disaster. The danger is palpable, alive inside the body, encoded in the memory of previous brushes with death and friends lost to sea. The body has a lifetime of physical knowledge, language for details, logic, and odds. No imagination necessary when you remember, when well-founded and perfectly legitimate fear fills in the blanks. The soul’s experience of spiritual happenings and miracles whisper of confident hope on the horizon, but hearing the soul takes practice. It takes a Person, a calming Presence, and the recalibrating words, “Do not be afraid. Be still. I am here.” Two thousand years later, the remedies for integration are still the same. Relationship, trust, hope.
In The Jesus Way, Eugene Peterson writes, “In an act of faith, we give up control, we give up sensory (sight, hearing, etc) confirmation of reality; we give up insisting on head-knowledge as our primary means of orientation in life… It is an obedient life, a deliberate engagement of the will, a fusion of body and spirit, visible and invisible fused, taking us somewhere” (p. 44). Faith counters the understanding of body and mind with holy curiosity about where God is, what he is doing, and how I might see his glory.
Release is coming, but it is not here yet. I want to see stories in the moments, connect happenings with discoveries, but my synapses are heavy and my body is full, so I reflect in fragments and pray through them. One day, they will be pieced together. I sit with God in morning contemplation, imagine him in the wind moving the branches. A hummingbird flits to her nest and I wonder about her tiny eggs and what God was thinking when he shaped them. I breathe, wait for my soul to catch up with my body. For now, that is enough.
Photo by stefano-pollio-ZC0EbdLC8G0-unsplash