A lot has been written about burnout. I wanted to summarize here several testimonies I have gathered from men and women who have experienced this kind of episode in their lives. These testimonies also helped me identify people at risk around me and explain to them how burnout can occur and evolve, in the hope that they will make some personal changes at an early stage.
Causes and first symptoms
Often it all starts with changes in the professional situation: new tasks, new colleague, new manager, interim, new project. Gradually, you realize that you are sensitive to comments, that some things are not done as you would like, that there is a gap between the company's values and the way employees are treated. But you can't express it properly, you feel like you can't make yourself heard. You want to do everything and do it right, otherwise you feel guilty. People who burn out are often perfectionists, very invested in their work. And the burnout takes the opportunity to settle in; "it's like a rubber band, you pull on it, but you don't know when it's going to break," one of the people affected told me.
Physical and psychological symptoms
Then, begins the long descent, physical symptoms can be added to psychological symptoms. You can no longer do everything, you can't stand the comments of your boss and colleagues, you no longer want to go to work, you no longer dare to speak in public, you have the impression that some tasks are very complicated, you have difficulty planning, you have memory problems. You have back pain or other pain; you sometimes have one or more successive work interruption. You are also very tired; you can no longer recover. The symptoms can vary from one person to another, in most cases you became obsessed with your work, nothing else matters. You think about it before you go there, when you come home, in the evening, on holiday, with your friends you don't talk any more, or you only talk about work. You have nightmares about it at night. You go to work the whole day, but you feel like you haven't accomplished anything.
People affected can handle a heavy workload but are no longer emotionally able to handle situations that arise, like a disgruntled leader or a remark during a session; the reaction to these situations may become exaggerated. A lack of discernment can affect your judgment, there is no longer any distinction between the level of gravity of the different situations, there are no more priorities. A feeling of injustice, of self-deprecation, settles in. And you crack. You cry. You can't get up in the morning any more. Often problems at work, or feelings or burn out, can impact life at home. The situation with the partner, the children, becomes unmanageable.
Ask for help
In most cases, the partner plays a major role. It is he/she who detects the first signs and tries to talk about them. Unfortunately, the person affected is often not receptive, denies what is happening to her/him, thinking that it will pass. In all cases, the person who has experienced a burnout acknowledges that the support they receive plays a major role in taking control of their problem and in their recovery.
Professional care, first by the doctor and then by a specialist (psychiatrist, psychologist, etc.), is also essential. This care should take place as soon as possible and should last throughout the phase in which the person is not feeling well. All the testimonies confirm it: you must get help.
Getting up on your feet
Then, slowly, you regain courage and confidence. A sympathetic message or encouraging phone call from your supervisor and colleagues can help. And when you feel ready, you go back to work, or you decide to change job. You often work part-time during the recovery period. It is extremely difficult to return to work in the same position, with the same colleagues and the same manager. You sometimes have the label of the one who has cracked, you can be ousted from certain projects, have fewer tasks. In most cases, it is preferable to look for a new job or apply for another position in the same company.
Job search can be difficult and sometimes, even when changing companies, returning to work is not easy. You have no self-confidence, you are not ready, you need more time, or you just don't like the new job you have accepted for lack of something else. In this case, you must be patient, time is the best medicine. And above all, you must continue to be followed by a specialist until you really feel well.
Some symptoms may persist for a very long time: you are no longer the same, you no longer have the same memory, you can no longer organize yourself as in the past. You must accept these changes, organize yourself differently. You will set up protection and defence processes. Furthermore, you don't want to let it happen again. And you learn to refocus on what is important in your life. You then make good resolutions, including that of no longer living just to work and accepting yourself.
Above all, be kind to yourself and remember you’re not alone. A burnout can be a positive occurrence leading to a change of life for the better.
English version proofread and improved by Kelly Moore. This article was published in French on joHdi. Original title "Le burn out: synthèse de témoignages".