I have been experiencing a lot of self-doubts lately. I’ve been questioning my abilities as a therapist and whether what I do is useful regularly. I feel hopeless and tired all the time. I feel like the version of me that is a therapist is ruining my personal image. Almost like my mind is screaming at me, “If you aren’t a good therapist, are you even a good enough person?”. Yes, my self-doubts can leave me in places where I feel worthless for days.
I feel so conflicted and lost. Why is this happening to me? I have struggled with my mental health like everyone else, but this is new. This is different. I’ve absolutely no motivation and my headaches are excruciatingly painful. My therapist agreed without the slightest shadow of a doubt that this is burnout when I brought it up to her. Even though I am a therapist, I was surprised at myself for rejecting such obvious warnings.
I used to believe that my exhaustion and overwork were all my fault. But I’ve lately discovered how to be kinder to myself, and I suggest that you do the same. The only reason I say so is that it’s easy to miss the fine line between working to your potential and working more than what your body can take.
Despite exerting more energy than I could manage, both physically and mentally, I used to think that burnout was a rare occurrence. Even after I had exhausted all of my excitement and energy, I kept giving without realising what was happening to me. Yet an amazing number of mental health professionals experience it at some time in their careers. A study from APA (American Psychological Association) that aimed to explore burnout in mental health service providers showed that anywhere between 21% to 61% of mental health practitioners experience its signs.
But those are just numbers, let’s talk about emotions. The strongest of all emotions I feel is a huge amount of guilt. The free-floating guilt that comes with self-doubt and compassion fatigue is overwhelming. And guess what? These feelings are not unique instances. In fact, one of the many telltales of burnout is compassion fatigue.
Compassion fatigue is physical and emotional exhaustion, which eventually leads to a reduced capacity to empathize or feel compassion toward another person. It’s no wonder I feel guilty all the time because most of my job is to feel compassion and accept my clients for who they are. But, when that seems out of bounds, it gets hard for me to understand. What’s happening and makes me lose touch with myself and, when it gets bad, my sanity.
However, not all the time is this burnout so apparent. Sometimes, it creeps up in stealthy ways. It begins with exhaustion, loss of connection, fantasizing about escape and eventually manifests itself in my physical health (remember the headaches). All of this happens so subtly that, despite being taught about self-care and burnout. I don’t realize that I’m heading in that direction before it’s too late. It’s not just me. Data shows that many don’t realize it until it’s too late.
It might be because of the hustling that is so normalized or the fact that we, as therapists, feel the need to help as much as we can. We forget to draw boundaries of time, place, quantity, and more, given the need of the situation. We forget to help just enough to have the energy and bandwidth to help ourselves.
But what do I do about all that’s happening to me? I can’t take the exhaustion and the guilt anymore. I guess creating the boundaries I mentioned may be a good start. Taking a break for some time where I can focus on myself and practice self-care could be another way to help myself.
Self-care is everything or anything we do “deliberately” to take care of the ‘whole’ of us – our mental, physical and emotional well-being. It sounds like an effortless thing to do, which is why, maybe, we hardly give any attention to it. Even when I was taught to, I forgot I had to look after myself. Maybe the struggle I face is because of the misconception that taking care of myself is selfish. I, subconsciously, did think that thinking about myself was selfish even when I had the privilege to be more informed. Even today, I sometimes feel that the time I’m putting into taking a break, I can help another person feel heard. And this makes me feel even more guilty. Almost like a loop, you see.
A hard journey to have traveled but, through self retrospection and therapy. I’ve learned that I need to take small steps toward making my mental health better. I need to take steps to not feel unproductive and unmotivated all the time. I will have to unlearn the urgency culture (“I’m in a hurry to get things done. Oh, I rush and rush until life’s no fun” – remember this old old song by Alabama?). Along with that, I’ll have to keep my emotions in check (naming my feelings, accepting them, creating a safe space for myself and also listening to my amazing playlist).
Releasing myself of constant pressure will be paramount ( as Queen puts it, “Under pressure That burns a building down Splits a family in two, Puts people on streets”) and also to appreciate me as genuinely as I can ( go and listen to “We are the champions” by Queen). The last thing I can think of is to remove the unjust competition I put myself through (no song reference for this one).
These might not be the exact things that help you. But you’ll definitely gain a better understanding of what’s happening. You might even be able to think of ways to help yourself. Therefore, I’ve decided to be kinder to myself and practice self-care more consciously and diligently. But the question that’s burning inside of me is, will you too?