When It’s Time to Refuel

Dear Inadequate Graduate,

I work primarily with disadvantaged and low-income individuals, which at times feels rewarding, but lately has felt draining due to the endless obstacles these individuals face. I believe in and am dedicated to this population, but over the last six months  I can’t help but feel like what’s the point? It seems like each small step towards progress is overshadowed by several more barriers, and sometimes I think that what I do doesn’t actually matter and that nothing is going to get better. I’m trying to keep a positive attitude but given what my patients face, its no wonder they feel hopeless.  I can’t blame them for not feeling like things aren’t going to get better because I don’t right now, either.

How do I get back the enthusiasm I once had for this work?

-BurningOut

Dear BurningOut,

I’ve been in your position a number of times, and there were several point where I considered leaving the field. Each time this happened, I had to sit back to evaluate what I needed for my wellbeing. On one occasion, I took a year off, got several part time jobs, and contemplated how I might want to use my degree differently. Another time, I switched jobs that cut down on my commute and made my overall life more manageable. I definitely understand your position, and I hear a number of things I want to address. First, it is completely natural for the reality of the work to not align with what you envisioned when first entering the field. I can’t help but sense that you’ve taken in some of your patients’ despondency, which means that you seem to identify with their outlook of futility and hopelessness, and it is impacting your ability to help them. As you may know, it is not our job to change our patients’ situations, but to empower them to advocate for their selves and to perhaps make different choices. If we only see our patients as victims of circumstance, albeit many might be, it immobilizes us to do the work we hope to accomplish. Yes, many of the individuals we serve face endless barriers, but many people have also striven and risen above dire circumstances when they have a little support and someone who believes in them. 

Second, I’m wondering if you’re simply overworked. Many times providers get burned out when there is too much need and too little support. If this part of what you’re struggling with, is there a way to cut down on your caseload? Is there another position that is part-time clinical and part-time teaching or administrative? Diversifying your schedule is shown to lead to job satisfaction, and could open up a fresh perspective or help you reengage with patients in a way that once brought you enthusiasm and vigor. This type of change may not be immediate, but it is definitely something to consider if ‘burning out’ is bringing you to the brink of  feeling completely ineffectual.

Third, I’m curious if you are taking time to care for yourself. If there is ever a champion for self-care in a mental health setting, it would be The Inadequate Graduate! The ways in which one nurtures one’s self obviously differ according to personality and resources, but it is so important that you make time to indulge in your hobbies or interests completely unrelated to work. Take a walk, meet with a friend, stay in and read a book solely for leisure. See if you can allow yourself 30 minutes of ‘me-time,’ each day so you can burn bright, instead of burn out.

I realize that putting yourself first can be difficult but know that however you use this advice, 

You. Are. Enough.

Signed, 

The Inadequate Graduate 

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