This week, my latest piece for Sky & Telescope was posted. The topic is burnout, seen through a stargazing lens.
Honestly, I feel both relieved and kind of anxious that it’s out there now.
I’d struggled with the topic for a solid month before I turned in my draft—not because I didn’t know what to say, but because I was searching for the right words to describe my experience of ongoing, long-term burnout, and also trying to keep it from sounding too gloomy. It’s hard to find a constructive perspective on being mired down when you’re still stuck in the bog.
Working with my editor, I think we did a pretty good job. I was hoping to write something that would resonate with others who are feeling worn down by the pandemic, by chronic illness and pain, by political outrage, by climate denialism, by widening economic stratification and widespread injustices. By all of it. And I especially wanted to reach the neurodiverse people who are burnt out from trying so hard and so long to make their way in a neurotypical world.
The truth is, regardless of the source, burnout is messy. It can be quiet and unspectacular and still royally suck. Burnout is more common than I’d realized, and it goes largely unrecognized even by those who are in it. It can be the result of difficult working conditions, dysfunctional relationships, or just about anything that produces prolonged states of high stress. I’ve read that it’s possible to get stuck in burnout, which is probably my biggest fear, as I’ve most likely been in a state of burnout—at one level or another—for a couple of decades now.
To compound things further, it’s been really hard to identify resources and strategies to combat and climb out of burnout—especially if you’re having to do this all on your own. I’ve described the experience as being like sitting at the bottom of the ocean, alone and in the dark, and trying to teach yourself how to swim before you run out of oxygen. It’s a challenge to communicate our needs to others who genuinely want to help, because we often don’t understand ourselves what will make a positive difference.
Because I remain a relentless optimist, I’ve worked hard to keep all this from forming too morose a filter on my words and my work. I still laugh. I still crack terrible jokes. I still seek and find joy. I’m also just really tired all the time. So I try to take more time to rest and to turn away from the things that cause me stress while turning toward sources of engagement and nourishment. In my case, there are added degrees of difficulty because I’ve not yet found a way to escape my health and pain issues, and I’m still autistic when I awake every morning.
I continue to look for my solutions, and I don’t imagine it will be a single remedy but will instead entail finding a balance of strategies and practices, with adjustments made and new experiments tried over time. It’s going to be a long haul, and I hope I’m on a healing path. Mostly, I just wanted to let you know that if you’re struggling, too, you’re not alone.