This week, J Thorn and Crys Cain discuss their experiences with burnout. They share how it looked differently for them, what caused it, and ways they learned to address it.
This week’s question: Have you dealt with burnout? What did you do to handle it?
Crys: Welcome to the TASM podcast. I’m Crys Cain with my cohost J Thorn. How’s it going, J?
J: It’s going great, Crys. How are you?
Crys: I’m doing pretty good. I had a very active a week on the administration end of my business, and it felt really empowering just to get a lot done.
J: Awesome. Were you able to get a lot done with Smalls home?
Crys: He got home Tuesday afternoon. And so I have not. Today’s Thursday. I took yesterday off, but then today I have been back to work, so a little slow on the uptake today, but should slide pretty easily back into the pre him gone schedule. So I’m excited.
Crys: How was your week?. What have you accomplished since we last talked?
J: I sent off the seven last episodes of my first season of the one Vella project that I’m getting ready to to publish. I sent that to the editor. Once I get that back, I will have 10 episode season. And my carrot for that was I wasn’t allowed to start the writing the second project until I finished the 10 episodes of the first project.
So I’ve done that now, and now I can have my dessert.
Crys: Excellent. That first project is the co-written project and the second project is the silly project?
J: Yeah. And the first one is it’s probably not going to be co-written because I did it with Rachael and she’s in the process of moving to New Zealand and she just does not have the bandwidth to do any more with that project.
So she was like, just take it and do what you want with it. So the first three episodes were co-written and then the last seven will be mine.
Crys: Oh, excellent. Excellent.
We had a lot of response to one of our recent podcast episodes. We actually have a couple weeks of comments that I don’t think we’ve addressed, but we talked about failure and the fear of it with publishing. And we had some responses in our mastermind group in our slack group, and people getting really into what the core of their fear actually was.
Someone actually had fear of ridicule and scorn from their MFAs. And that idea of the author that everyone seemed to be reaching for that filled their head.
J: That’s unfortunate when you have those dynamics in different author communities. I feel bad for that person that they even have to consider that.
Crys: Yeah. And I know they’ve gotten past that now. But that is definitely a really big hurdle to get over it. It’s just any kind of negative judgment from anyone in your life close or not super close.
Crys: And then we had other folks in our group say that sharing with others helped them get through the fear before publishing.
They started a blog, low stakes, pressing publish regularly for practice, which I think is a really great way to get over that fear of putting your words out there.
Crys: All right. Well, my question for you this week is one… we’ve talked about my burnout quite a bit, and we’ll probably talk about it more, but I wanted to ask you, have you dealt with burnout and what did that look like?
J: I think so. And I’m hesitating because I’m trying to think about burnout. I’m trying to come up with my definition of it. Let me ask you this: what is your definition of burnout first? And let’s see if mine matches that.
Crys: My definition of burnout, I think is expending myself beyond the resources I have for a very long period of time and the resulting slump.
J: Yeah. Okay. I think I experienced it in a little different way.
Burnout for me is more like a feeling of overwhelm. Which I think is different than how I conventionally think of burnout as oh, I’m just sick of this. I have to walk away and get some time away. Whereas I tend to stack projects on top of each other because I like working on multiple things at one time.
So it’s completely intentional, but I will have periods of time, days, it’s usually days it’s usually not longer than days, but I’ll have a period of a few days where I’m just… I have way too much. I’m trying to do too much at one time. And the way I know that happens is I start to get a really bad tension headache in the base of my skull on the right side.
So I think this is what happens when you get older is you start to recognize the body signals faster than you do when you’re younger. And so when I start to feel that tension pressure on the right side at the base of my skull that’s usually because I’m hunched over or I am tight. Like my, all of my muscles are tight.
And that’s because I’m just overwhelmed. I have way too much going on and I’m not doing a really good job at any of them. Unfortunately, if I don’t slow down at that point or I don’t stop the, it goes to a full on tension migraine where it blossoms at the rest of my neck.
Then it moves up to my eye. At that point I can’t open my eyes. I can’t sleep. And I know I probably have 10 to 12 hours before it’s going to subside. I do neck stretches or specific stretches for tension headaches that you can do. I’ll have a little bit of caffeine, which tends to help with headaches. I’ll have a heating compress. I’ll massage it.
None of that makes it go away. So that’s my indicator.
Crys: Yeah. It’s I’m very familiar with those tension headaches as well. If you don’t get them early, they take you out.
J: Completely. And what I often do is I’ll start to feel it. And I would just like, pretend I don’t, or I’ll be like, oh, I can handle it.
And then it just turns brutal. And so for me, I think that is, that’s more of my sense of burnout. What that means is the next day is almost completely shot. If it starts creeping up during the afternoon, it peaks in the evening when I’m most fatigued.
And then I know the next day, like I have a hard time even looking at a screen, so it forces me then to like, the next day, just, lay in a chair out in the back or go for a walk or ride my bike. But I have to do something away from the screen and away from the words.
So that’s the negative side of it. I think the positive side is for me, it’s not long stretches, so I, I’ll take a day or two to recover and then I come, I can pick up where I left off as opposed to hitting a burnout where I need several weeks to recuperate.
Crys: Yeah. My burnout was not like that. I originally, before I took the Becca Syme’s class and started digging into her book on burnout, I said that I had several burnouts, like three or four burnouts.
I now think that it was one long slow slump to absolute rock bottom of burnout.
And it started, I can tell you exactly when it started. It started October of 2017 when I wrote three novellas, 110,000 words in one month. And then had difficulty writing anything for two, three months after that, but then tried to get up back up on the horse as fast as possible.
I kept pushing myself into Into levels of productivity that my body, brain, and honestly, emotions were not ready for.
This is on top of I just had a kid. I had moved countries because I had lost my job. I could not afford to stay in Costa Rica anymore. And we were living with my parents, were living on massive debt that we’d gotten into after losing my job. And then started publishing.
Everything in my life conspired to try and tell me to slow down and I did not.
I got to the point where the six months before quarantine last year were so painful, I could not even conceive of writing as quickly as I had a year before.
A thousand words would normally take me about an hour on a bad day, previously. It was taking me an hour to write 300 words, which was meaning that I had to work more hours in the day to keep to my production schedule, which meant that I spent far more time working than I used to for far less to show for it.
My relationship was already problematic, that put more attention on that. The kid getting bigger and needing more attention, put more pressure on that until we got to my relationship ended and I was actually quite grateful for lockdown because it simply coincided with the time where I needed to not see anyone.
It was so hard for me to simply accept that I was not capable at this point in my life of what I knew I was capable of at the height of my energy. That was the hardest part.
J: Yeah. So it sounds like your burnout was this cumulative effect that you just hit a wall.
Crys: Multiple walls. And I kept running into them. Didn’t learn my lesson.
J: As I think about it now, like the other kind of burnout I experienced was a very… instead of hitting a wall, it was like a very long slow burn.
That was the burnout I felt when I was nearing the end of my career as a classroom educator. I had several years where the past couple of years were great. I really enjoyed being around the kids and I enjoyed what I was doing, but that level of enjoyment started to taper off and I started to enjoy it less and less.
I remember I had this feeling of dread going into the final year of the school year starting, which is normally something that got me super excited. I remember that being an indicator like, okay, something’s wrong here if I’m dreading it, instead of being excited about it.
It just ground me down and this probably was over a five-year stretch. And then I got to the point where I was technically burned out.
From hearing what you’ve said and thinking more about my own situation. It almost sounds burnout can manifest in very different ways and in different time elements too.
Crys: Yeah. I was talking to a friend this morning and I told them, you are in burnout.
And they’re like, no, I’m not in burnout. I still, when I sit down to write the words, I still, the words are there. It’s everything else in my life is overwhelming. I was like, you can be burned out in one realm of life and not the other. I just happened to burnout in multiple, because I’m special.
J: All at the same time.
Crys: All at the same time!
I really liked what you said about that, that feeling of despair. I think that’s one of the key elements to recognizing that you’re burning out. Especially when it’s on something that you used to love.
It could be like a, Hey, this is been like my time in this project or in this realm is burning out, like we’ve literally just breached the end of the candle on this. Or it could be, I need to go on sabbatical for a year or just need a break from this particular thing or something else.
It’s so hard to say what in your life is causing you to burn out. Whether it is the thing that you are now dreading or other things in your life are causing you to not have energy for the thing you love.
It can be complicated.
J: Yes, totally agree.
Crys: As far as climbing out how did you climb out of your slope of burnout? I know we’ve talked about it before, but we’re going to talk about it in the context of this.
J: You mean the career burnout or the…?
Crys: Yeah. The career burnout.
J: I changed careers.
I quit my job that’s and that wasn’t the only reason, but that was certainly a contributing factor.
Crys: was it a quick energy recharge for you when you did that?
J: No. There was a lag between the time my spirit decided I was done versus when my contracts that I was done.
So I had probably six or seven months of knowing I’m not doing this again. That’s a very complex energy because… it’s hard to explain. Because, on one hand you don’t want to be doing it cause you know you’re not doing it again. And yet on the other hand, there’s this relief because you’re doing it for the last time.
So I had all these little mile markers in my job where I was like, okay, this is going to be my last Christmas as as this teacher. Okay. This is going to be my last spring break but at the same, and at the same time having that relief came with “Can we just finish this already?”
I just remember being an emotional mess at the end of the final school year. I was sitting in a bathroom, like crying and I wasn’t sure why. I wasn’t sure if I was crying because I was happy it was over or because I was in pain. I wasn’t even, I was just an emotional mess.
So that’s not exactly the healthiest and safest way to break burnout, but I think on any level, if you can somehow change what you’re doing or rearranged things because if you keep doing the same things, the burnout’s not just going to go away on its own.
Crys: Yeah. I think that’s one of the hardest things to accept about burnout, particularly when it relates to your income or how you support your family, whether that’s time and emotion or financial. And you’re right.
You are going to have to change if you get in burnout, because burnout is going to change you regardless.
It’s going to limit your capacity. It’s going to drain you if you don’t listen to it.
And you were in that weird space of okay, I’m listening that I’m done. But I still have to push forward to the goal line.
J: Yes. Yeah. Everyone has those kinds of goal lines. I think very few of us can say, okay, I’m burnt out. I’m done. And just walk away.
Whether it’s a relationship or a career or any type of commitment, it’s usually not something you can sever instantly. So you have to mentally prepare for that transitional period between the moment you decide you’re done and the moment you can actually walk away.
Crys: A hundred percent.
One of the strangest parts of burnout for me was actually coming out of burnout. Because I had gotten to this point where I accepted that I just didn’t have the capacity that I used to. That I might only write a thousand words a day and not really be able to do much else. And that was okay.
Some days I wrote 4,000 words and that was amazing, but then I might be back to 500 or 1000 the next day. And I got to this point where I really almost feared pushing myself harder, because I could see how often I had pushed myself into burnout by pushing myself to a higher level before I was ready.
I actually did have a session with Becca Symes about this. And one of the things that she said to me that was really helpful was at some point, not pushing yourself will become more painful than the rest. You will get really actually annoyed, not that guilt feeling like, oh, I should be doing more, but the I can’t sit still and not do more kind of feeling.
That’s when you know that you’re ready to start leveling up again.
But that took such a leap of faith on my part. I think when I started Write Away, that was kinda my commitment to, okay, I’m going to start trying to do a little more and see if I can handle it.
J: Yeah, that’s a good way to to look at it of, yeah.
Not the shame piece, but almost like boredom or, like you gotta, you feel that desire to start doing something again.
Crys: I hope that this conversation has been useful for our listeners. I think burnout is really common, especially this last year, when so much extra has been thrust upon folks that we’ve never really experienced before.
I would be really interested if our listeners have experienced burnout and what it’s looked like for them and how they’ve gotten out of it, if they are out of it.
J: Sounds good.
Crys: IThanks for joining us this week! Drop your answer below, and if you would like to be part of the conversations in real time, you can join us at The Author Success Mastermind.