Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Burnout : It's Real and It Hurts

When thinking about a worthy subject for my next post, I found that is fitting that I talk about something that not only I've been through (more than once), but something that the blog itself helps me with. Just another coping mechanism, I reckon.

For those of you who haven't known me for long, or at all, I am an absolute workaholic. On average, I pull 40-50 hours of overtime per bi-weekly pay period and sometimes way more (upwards to 80-90 hours). Working in a high run volume 911 service, those kind of hours can take it's toll on you very quickly and when you'd least expect it.

My first REAL run of being burnt came in 2008. I was making $17/hr at my current employer and was working 16 hour days for sometimes 14-15 days straight without an off day. If my memory serves me correctly, this was the year that I grossed well over $90,000. Yeah.... I was killing myself and I didn't even know it.

I would have long strings of bad runs, but I'd shrug them off like most of us do. I'd have nights of making 16-18 runs a night, getting off late and having to be back at work 6 hours later. I felt like I was superhuman at times. Boy was I wrong.

After 7 months and some change of relentless professional self-mutilation, I became bitter. I was angry at the world and had I been the owner of a puppy at the time, I wouldn't have wanted to be him. Anger turned into depression. Depression led to alcohol. Alcohol led to more and more pain and self-pity.

After bad break ups, more drinking, less caring about my work and my own well-being, I decided to make a change. Something I had never done before and like many other stubborn ass guys that I know, never dreamed of doing. I talked about my problems. Turning to the only person that I knew would understand, my preceptor, mentor and friend throughout my career, Joe, probably saved my career. Not to mention with the self-destructive behavior I was throwing down, maybe my life.

He suggested a few things that had helped him get through tough times in EMS. Working out, finding a hobby, read a book, build a model airplane... the usual stuff that normal folks do in that thing that we EMS folks have little of, "spare time".

"You need to stop working so much fuckin' overtime, dude. That's your issue." he said.

No shit, Sherlock. Like I didn't already know that.

Sad thing was, it was the truth. It was that simple. Stop working so much, have some time for yourself and relax. I hadn't had 2 days off in a row to sit on my couch in my boxers, watch TV and do absolutely nothing but chill out, collect my thoughts and catch up on sleep.

I know this sounds elementary, and it really was for me, but sometimes that's all it takes. Drop back five yards and punt.

Soon after this conversation, I found another thing that still to this day helps keep me sane. Social media and networking.

Twitter has helped me make so many connections all over the world, make great friends and assimilate a TON of knowledge from so many great pre-hospital providers from every edge of the globe. It really helps to see people being so passionate about the profession that deep down you love and want to succeed in. The folks on there that write blogs (most of which blow this heap of crap out of the water) are UNBELIEVABLY intelligent, articulate and passionate about the career and it shows in their writing. The Chronicles of EMS and EMS 2.0 movement has inspired me to want to be more involved with my career path and be a contributor to the future of OUR profession.

For me, it comes down to not working myself into a zombie-esque state and putting my time, thoughts and energy into making things better for the future of EMS. Simple? Yes. Does that mean I don't have my moments of anger, depression, etc? No. Everyone has that. But, knowing that I'm doing the right thing for myself and my chosen career helps keep things on a manageable platform.

That's how I've kept myself sane during the hard times. How about you?