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Trauma, Burnout, and The Self Care Challenge

Are you too distracted to engage in self-care?

Trauma, Burnout, Self Care caitdonovan.com
Trauma, Burnout, Self Care caitdonovan.com

Oh, Lawd. I just read an article that really got my goat. The author let us know that burnout basically only happens because of how we view the world. If we just lowered expectations and did the work to get the things we wanted, and pat ourselves on the back sometimes, it would all go away.

Here’s the thing. The more research I do, the more I’m noticing a correlation between ACE (adverse childhood events), people pleasing, and burnout. ACE leading to people pleasing has been written about in every codependency book out there.

For me, the trauma was limited, my ACE scores are low and the resilience building factors were very high – which basically means that I have the natural brain power to overcome this with ease – not everyone is so lucky. I know, as an adult, that my parents did the best they could with what they had. I don’t hold any resentment toward them. I honestly believe I had a much better life than most. And still, I decided during my father’s addiction and recovery years that our family was fresh out of mistakes.

In my 6-year-old mind, the number of mistakes that a family could make was limited and my father had used them up. So, I aimed for perfection. I did the right things in school, I worked hard at gymnastics, and whenever there was any uneasiness or tension in the house – I sought out to fix it. I eased anger with solutions or laughter. I attempted to guess what might create an issue so that I could preemptively solve it.


This tendency? It got so ingrained in my brain that I do it automatically which means that I am always on high alert until I make a decision and create a practice for it to be different.


It is, like most everything, a double-edged sword. Thanks to this ability to tune into other people’s moods and energies, I’m great at my job. When one of my teachers let us know that our job in the treatment room was to meet the patient where they were, I knew I was set. This, for me, was totally second nature.

I can feel what you’re feeling even through the phone and the computer. I can guess where a conversation is going before we even get there. This heightened sense means that working with acupuncture was easy for me because I can feel the energetic shifts happening as I work.

It also meant that I burnt out over and over because after doing this all day, I should have been doing regular meditation and/or qigong to allow my brain some time in rest mode, but I didn’t. I knew that meditative practices and energy cultivation practices were used by healers through the ages to ‘recharge’. I had read all the books and even practiced most of the techniques.


BUT.

Shifting into: “Ok, it’s time to really stop and take care of yourself” mode when you’re always on is not only a challenge but extremely uncomfortable. If there is someone else in the apartment, I’m clued into them so I sit, but I’m listening, I’m engaged in their goings and doings. If I have a schedule that I need to meet, my fear of missing it keeps me from really pulling my energy back into my own body. And Smartphones. Oh, smartphones. The distraction and draw often meant that I could take an hour long 5-minute break.

I’m finally learning. I’ll be 37 this summer and have been studying energy medicine since I was 18 years old.

It has officially been half my life, nearly 2 decades of study, and 2 burnouts for me to get to the point where I understand that taking that time, that sending my energy back into myself when it’s time, isn’t a luxury – it’s an absolute necessity.

So, for me, personally – I don’t think it’s so simple as to think I could just change my mind about my expectations and accept that I’m doing a good job and burnout would go away. Burnout is my greatest teacher and knowing where she is at all times keeps my ability to take care of myself in check.

I’ve been repeating the habits and actions of that 6-year-old for 30 years. Breaking those connections down in my brain and creating new ones is the only way forward but that happens with repetition, practice, failure, and the willingness to try again. And again. And again.

I’m off to sit and breathe now – maybe this could be your cue too.

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