I sat there, empty as a husk, having given everything I thought I had to give. As my last client, a boy with a past more terrible than my imagination could make up, left the hospital, I sat there, slowly sorting the files and signing the termination reports. My nerves were frayed. I was done. Empty but glad that my cases were closed and all my clients referred elsewhere. “Off to better hands”, I told myself. I stayed glued to that chair for a long time.
It had taken months of nightmares and a slow and sickening descent into my own personal hell, to finally admit that I needed to put the brakes on. The clinical head of my department, a doctor who I admired for her ability to see 700 families and remember and care for every one of them, was kind enough. She suggested that I was doing a fine job and needed to just “leave it here” without taking it home. I wish I had her hardiness and distance then. In taking a leave of absence, I felt like I was committing the worst crime as a new therapist: abandoning my clients and conceding defeat.
That was over ten years ago, on a day whose night unfolded into a journey of personal disintegration: losing my identity into an abyss of trauma, panic, and despair. It was the beginning of my own mask as a “helpful therapist” and overall “nice guy” shattering into a thousand pieces.
Though the beginning sounds terrible, there are many blessings that have come out of my experience of burning out: some came as I climbed out of my personal hell and others like wine cultivated in the years that have followed. I list them here in brief to inspire, console, and perhaps even guide any of you who are also going through your own hell, or afraid that you may one day do so:
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA