Sh*t To Help You Show Up June 25, 2021
On Integrity & Burnout
On Wednesday night my oldest graduated from high school. Otto is on the autism spectrum, has ADHD, and is trans. Since the onset of puberty, when his increasing gender dysphoria ran smack dab into the apocalyptic hell that is junior high, school has largely been a place to be survived, not actually enjoyed.
Despite his learning challenges, if he really emotionally connects with a teacher he performs quite well. But how many teachers do you think have the time, or even the willingness, to make themselves emotionally available to a quirky, slightly obsessive, socially awkward, sometimes combative, stubborn teenager? I will tell you, it’s not many.
We discovered when he was a sophomore that Otto had been chronically engaging in self-harm behaviors (cutting, in his case) for years. Though cutting and other forms of self-harm are not the same as suicidal ideation, the rates of suicide among trans teenagers is three times that of their cis peers. I found out Otto had been cutting and I became somewhat obsessive myself about getting him to graduation alive and emotionally well.
I made sure he got therapy with someone who respects trans identity. I walked with him through a parade of providers and medications to get him biologically supported and able to focus at school. I got him tested and diagnosed and accommodated. I worked actively through my own emotional responses to his transition and made sure everybody I had an influence over in his private life got on the bus with names, pronouns, and other supportive behaviors. No one, if I could help it, was going to keep my kid from making it to adulthood with his soul and spirit intact.
I don’t regret a single bit of effort, because here we are. He graduated! More importantly, he feels loved, connected, and supported as he moves into this next phase of his life. I won’t lie, though. The emotional weight of it all has been heavy.
Add to that weight of many years a painful, unexpected break-up with my partner two months ago, trying to be emotionally and physically present for all of my bio and bonus kids through the grief and transition, handling the house/yard/garden alone as everything explodes or needs planting, keeping all my creative and work projects going, and hosting my mother for her first visit post-quarantine this week, and you get the recipe for emotional burnout.
Having crossed the high school finish line, yesterday I hit an emotional wall headfirst. I spent most of the day spontaneously crying on and off. I also wrote, walked, read, and napped in bits and snatches, but it took all day to be able to take care of anyone else but myself. I managed to talk to my mom a little. I cooked a very simple dinner.
I do think it’s possible to stay in your integrity when you are completely burned out, but only if you recognize what is happening and make space to move through your emotions and discharge your stress. Otherwise, the tendency to act out to your own detriment or the detriment of people around you will likely overwhelm the habits of integrity.
How do you handle burnout and discharge stress?
Drs. Emily and Amelia Nagoski walk you through it all in their book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. Lest you shy away from anything that might be construed as “self-help”, let me just say, these two are funny. Really funny, and wry, and a little dark, but in a good way. You will benefit from this book, I promise.
If you want to experience the two of them talking about the book, you can listen to Brené Brown interview them on her podcast, Unlocking Us, here.
You can also watch a shorter interview below:
My favorite part? When Emily talks about approaching emotions, particularly difficult emotions like stress, as tunnels as opposed to what she thought they were as a kid— dark caves with rats and bats in which she would be trapped forever. When I transitioned my own understanding of emotions in that way, it totally transformed my integrity practice.
It’s important to me to note that central to their teaching is the notion of community care and integrity. There’s burnout that arises from personal stressors like my life has been replete with of late, and then there’s burnout that arises from societal stressors, like systemic racism, poverty, etc. Essential to discharging personal stress is building a network of care and community around you. Essential to discharging societal stress is actively participating in fighting oppression and building social supports for those groups and communities suffering.
In neither case is the answer ever an individualistic, pull yourself up by your bootstraps approach. It is working together, in small and large ways, to care for each other.
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