Chronic Illness and Burnout: Recognizing the Signs (Part 1)
Last updated: April 2022
We have all been there before. You have received your diagnosis, sat in your thoughts about said diagnosis, and now you feel ready to become the expert on this newfound condition that you have. So, you spend hours upon hours researching all that you can about your disease in hopes to find the answers and better your health outcomes.
Or, if you’re like me, you even go the extra step to connect with other people who have your disease and maybe even educate those who don’t on what living with your disease is like. Once you combine the additional research time with all of the time spent fighting your illness day-to-day, it’s not surprising that some may begin to feel exhausted. The truth is, sometimes becoming the expert can take a huge toll on your life and turn into a source of stress. Those are the unfortunate things that can happen when battling a chronic illness and it is important that we are mindful of where we are in our journey.
What exactly is burnout?
If you are like me, you have probably heard all about burnout as it relates to the workplace. However, have you ever thought about where the idea of burnout actually came from and all that it entails? Well, it turns out the idea of burnout was actually created in the 1970s by a psychologist, Herbert Freudenberger, and was related to chronic stressors on the job.
Today, some argue that burnout can only be used in the context of work-related situations while others claim that the term can relate to other areas of life as well. Since then, several theories have been established to conceptualize burnout into categories. The main categories of burnout cover exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced accomplishment. In recent years, additional categories have been developed to provide a more comprehensive way to understand burnout.
Burnout and hidradenitis suppurativa
As an HS warrior, we deal with a host of tough tasks on a daily basis. Whether it's medical appointments, watching our diet, trying to get exercise, attempting to maintain relationships, changing bandages, taking medication, the list goes on. With so much weight on our shoulders, it is inevitable that we will become exhausted at some point.
Here’s how I relate to the three main categories of burnout as it pertains to my HS and how I’m working to manage my range of emotions:
Physical and emotional exhaustion
The pain of having HS, coupled with the mental toll this disease can take likely has every warrior experiencing exhaustion at some point in time. When the thought of even tending to my wounds or seeking further treatment sounds exhausting to me, I know that I’ve reached the point where I need to do something that makes me feel good.
Self-care has become trendy these days, but this is the point where it is absolutely needed. If talking about HS has become annoying, if reading those articles has started to make my head hurt, if I find myself in an HS bubble that I feel I cannot get out of, I know that I might be exhausted.
This is an easy one for me because I detached myself from the disease for many years. I began to disengage and think negatively of treatment outcomes. This is detachment at its finest and unfortunately another signal that burnout may be happening. With such a terrible disease, it can be easy for negative thoughts to creep in that may be counteractive to the overall healing process.
Reduced personal accomplishment
Once I have become exhausted and the negative thoughts are swirling in my head, the urge to do nothing can set in. In this case, choosing to do nothing is likely not helping the healing process and it could contribute to delaying treatment or other positive behavior change even longer. This is certainly not the best outcome, but it is a clear possibility when experiencing burnout.
On a positive note, there are actions that you can take to either reduce feelings of burnout or prevent it altogether. With a little self-reflection and being intentional about how you view your disease, you can leave burnout in the dust.
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