Kassi Martin's Blog
Keep Calm & Carry On... an exploration of Burn Out & Self Care
Self Care is never far from my Mind, both personally and professionally. It is a huge aspect of why I do what I do.
I saw a cartoon recently of a man wrapped in swathes of plaster, bandages and traction. He had one eye visible and a space for his mouth to breathe and speak through. Underneath, the caption read: 'I was hoping to be back at work on Monday,'
I immediately recognised the bandaged man - a version of my previous Self, which can from time to time still pop up and try to take over. Do you recognise your self in this man? His driven, loyal, responsible, striving, compulsive Employee Self?
I remember many occasions over the years of adopting the Keep Calm and Carry On approach, or maybe it's more like; Wear My Mask of Appearing Calm and Carrying On - particularly at work, but in other areas of life too.
When I was a Wedding Florist many moons ago, I was incredibly driven, not just because I was Self Employed and therefore if I didn't do the biz there would be an empty bank account. No, there was also a Perfection-streak in the mix too. That was more of a Defence against Criticism however. I remember many a summer evening, late, driving around the country lanes searching for Honeysuckle in perfect bloom, or ivy trails or up a Hawthorn tree gathering in new buds of May to include in a head-dress of roses with a scattering of dew drops. I jest about the dew drops but that is how far my Perfectionist could have gone in fear of receiving a Not Good Enough message back then.
Early one morning en route to her Training, my dear friend fell down her stairs a few minutes prior to leaving. She cried. She was in agony having sprained her ankle so badly that she couldn't walk. She managed to get up and actually hopped down her garden path, maneuvered painfully into her colleague's car who was car sharing with her and she spent the entire weekend in Edinburgh training in terrible pain.
Above are physical examples of how we neglect ourselves. Why do so many of us, no matter what life throws at us, keep on going? I have an idea it has a lot to do with our Mind! No surprise there. No matter how battered our Body is, as long as Mind is functioning in its usual fashion it will drive our Body onward to hop, crawl or do everything it can to hide an injury in order to Keep Calm and Carry On. Can you relate?
What happens though when our Mind takes so many batterings, particularly as a caring professional, listening and witnessing continual traumatic events from minor to major, that it just cannot Carry On any longer? Mind is now 'bandaged' entirely with just a tiny window to allow minute slithers of thought and information in or out. Very little is possible. Our entire world slows down to simple baby steps. Mind cannot even contemplate Carrying On.
I have sat with many professionals who are burnt out, crawling from bed to toilet, hardly making it to the GP for their next sick note. For most, this is a stage of numbness, Shock. A void. A not-knowing place, barely functioning with even a question about what has happened, how did I get here? Simply surviving moment to moment.
Sounds dramatic and yet I believe this is how Burn Out is often experienced. Sudden. Shocking. Overwhelming.
No space for thoughts or questions. Just existing - for a while.
In my opinion, it is a long, slippery slide of a toboggan ride to the actual point of Burn Out. I believe we receive many signals and hints from Body, Mind and Soul en route to that Burnt Out moment. Stress takes its toll in so many different ways. You could be experiencing headaches, fatigue, anger outbursts, migraine, depleted body, lack of energy, lack of understanding, tearfulness, foggy, floaty non-presence, racing heart, painful limbs... this list really could be very long and unique to you.
At the point of Burn Out I believe we have no idea about the importance of Self Care. At the point of Burn out we are unable to think about what has happened. I believe we are in an 'Existing only' place or mode, where we simply exist from one moment to the next and in very slow motion. Our Mind, our Body has ground to a half and very little is possible.
At some point, usually when your GP or Occ Health enquires do we then say, 'I'm exhausted,' or ask 'What has happened to me?' I can barely get to the loo or the kettle,'
Our Striving, Driven Mind is no longer functioning any longer. There isn't a whisper from inside about 'Come on, get a grip!'
Did it snap? Break? Leave?
This reminds me of another cartoon I saw on the front of a greetings card once. It was of a crazed looked creature with eyeballs bursting out of its sockets and an appearance of being so strung out it was about to snap. The caption read:
'I only have one shredded nerve left - and YOU are getting on it!'
It conjures up a vision of the Nerves in our body losing their elasticity and flexibility and snapping, one by one. Yet another Child Protection issue this week - Ping goes another Nerve... Three more 'red' cases appear on my Waiting List - Ping goes another Nerve... Another whole day in a departmental meeting eating in to critical clinical time - Ping....
I do believe our Nervous System is a flexible and elastic process. I also believe it can function on Red Alert Mode for a very long period of time and often does. As far as I understand our Nervous System needs to have a flowing flexibility where it can move in to Red Alert for a brief time and then return to it's balanced, flexible state once more. The world that I live in - and possibly your world too - may have many Stressful Red Alert moments than just occasional ones however, making huge demands upon your Sympathetic Nervous System - the part that reacts in the moment to danger as required. The more demands that are made upon us, the more taut nerves may be stretched... pinging and snapping as years pass by... maybe when that final shredded nerve snaps, then this is the moment of burn out?
And eventually, when we can move around a little more, find small bursts of energy, we can get up, shower, dress, boil the kettle and then have to rest for a few hours to recoup our suddenly depleted energy, that may be the time we begin to ask, 'Does this state I find myself in mean I have Burnt Out?'
We can slowly piece together little snippets of moments in time that may have contributed not only over the last year or ten years but perhaps a whole life time. We may find a very knowledgeable, compassionate and wise Therapist to help us piece things together and really begin to appreciate what Self Care is and how it will look for the individual as a unique plan. Not just for the next year but perhaps for the remainder of our life given our 'Mind's' previous approach to living and working. Maybe the Self Care plan it a vital and new way of Being?
I was so lucky. I caught my self before it was too late however... it took a long time sitting in my garden, wrapped in my soft blanket, feeling the breeze lightly on my cheeks and hearing birdsong which somehow reached its way through my ears and down in to my Soul to lift my Heart and bring a sense of Hope back in to my Being.
After a period of Sitting Staring, feeling the breeze and hearing the birdsong, the most effective tool I discovered next to Painting and Meditation was Somatic Experiencing. A way of locating and processing trapped energies and trauma, then Tracking and processing their exit from my body. Personally I believe all who work in the emergency services should be allocated this process of clearing trauma from their body on a weekly basis. I can only imagine the incredible build up and over-stretching of 'Nerves' over the years for the incredible humans who give of themselves in this way.
During the Somatic Experiencing and deep retreat in to my dark cave to hibernate for days at a time, my return to my Art - my most precious journey back to Me, was my deepest healing. Taking me away from the Me that was driven by my Mind and back to the Me that I was born to be.
Healing is a long and winding road and I believe, it is a unique one with twists and turns, zigzag bends and can be uphill a lot of the time. I also believe it is vital that we experience our own healing journey, accompanied - and at times led - by a compassionate, wise Other. I recall ringing my Therapist from my Training days to ask for support and being greeted with a very impatient and loud 'Tut' followed by a sharp, 'OK!' down the telephone line. Needless to say I didn't go. Why would I do that to myself - and pay for it. Thankfully due to the 'impatient Tut' I discovered a truly amazing Therapist who deeply knew what I needed. I was shown an entirely different path which completely re-routed my journey personally and professionally and I will always cherish her gift to me.
As I sit here wondering "How helpful will this post be to others?" I ask myself, 'why do I hesitate? Why wouldn't I share information that may raise awareness of such a vitally important issue to caring humans? An issue that generally receives Lip Service but no real understanding or action until it is happening to the individual and by then it is often too little, too late.
....And so I will share this with the hope that it helps You or helps you work with others in a more informed way - and if you need more information, please just ask me.