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Have you lost your mojo?

04 May 2022 - Dr Jan Orman

Before I go on …….

….maybe I should clarify what “mojo” means to me. Expressions go out of date and language evolves. Meaning can change entirely over time and vary according to context. Take “deadly” for example. Deadly can be either very good or very bad depending on who is saying it and in what context.

I decided I’d better make sure we were all on the same page with this “losing your mojo” expression, and I found a little bit of confusion about it in the world of words. The Oxford Dictionary says mojo derives from an African language and means “magic charm, talisman or spell”.  An online site called “your dictionary” says it means “sex appeal or sex drive”.  The Collins Dictionary says mojo is “personal power or influence over people”. Other definitions include self-efficacy, self-esteem, energy and self-confidence.

So, what do I mean by my “mojo”?

I think the Oxford Dictionary definition is closest to the mark for me. There is something magical about the way connection to our values and a sense of meaning in our lives motivates us to keep on striving. For me it is the magic thing that gets me up in the morning and gives me the energy I need to live my life.

I wonder if this notion of losing your mojo resonates for you as well? I know quite a lot of people, both personally and professionally, who are in the same boat. In fact, I know more people who are struggling right now than I have ever known before.

“Of course,” I hear you say. “What with Covid and climate change and the situation in the Ukraine, how could that not be the case?” But it’s too easy to jump to conclusions and dismiss fatigue and lack of motivation as “normal under the circumstances”.

Could I just have “Crisis fatigue”?

“Crisis fatigue” is not in the DSM, but the term is popping up all over the place and it’s not difficult to work out what it means.

“Crisis fatigue” seems to describe a kind of emotional numbness that people are developing in the presence of so much bad news. After months (or even years) of “doomscrolling” since the beginning of the pandemic, many of us are exhausted and some people have turned to the head-in-the-sand defensive position to protect themselves from the distress. Many have simply stopped responding in any way to bad news when they hear it. 

It's easy to understand why people might turn off their emotional responses to all the bad news in the world, but that defence comes with a risk that the emotional numbing may generalise and become a problem in itself. If it did generalise, would it look and feel a little like depression? All I can say is that I haven’t stopped being distressed about the state of the world just yet.

How do I know I don’t have burnout?

The truth is - I don’t know for sure. The best indicator that it’s not burnout is that my lack of enthusiasm and motivation is pervasive across all areas of my life. If I had burnout, wouldn’t it just be affecting my attitude to work and my enthusiasm for it?

I’ve just made some videos for the TEN (The Essential Network) project that are part of a new online program designed to help health professionals tackle burnout. I’ve had a sneak preview of the content and I plan to go back soon to see if there is something in that program that might help me. If, like me, you’re not sure if you have burnout, I recommend you take a look.

How do I know I’m not depressed?

This may sound a bit naïve but I’m going to say it anyway. I’ve been depressed many times before and this feels different. Right now, I’m just plain exhausted. No amount of sleep is enough and I’m even slipping in an afternoon nap some days.

I admit there’s a bit of commonality with depression in the way I feel. I’m struggling with an upsurge of negative thoughts and feelings of worthlessness. I’ve lost contact with the meaning of my life and feel like it has been a bit of a waste. Oops! As I write it down I know it sounds like depression, doesn’t it? But, in reality, my life is fine and there is nothing at all in my life to be unhappy about.

I can hear what you are thinking! I know it’s possible to be depressed without an external explanation.  Nevertheless, I am still adamant that this feeling is just not like the depression I have experienced before. Does that mean its not depression? I’m beginning to be uncertain about that too.

Between these paragraphs I have just visited the Black Dog Institute’s online clinic. I like it because it’s a quick and easy way to self-check anonymously and at no cost. The PHQ9 result suggests that I am moderately depressed. Maybe I need to rethink!

So, how do I find my mojo again?

I’ve looked in a lot of places and I honestly don’t know where to look next. I don’t want to talk to friends or family about it – they’ve all got their own problems. There are so many people so much worse off than I am!

As I write I’m beginning to wonder if I’m a good example of why practitioners should not trust their own judgement about their own mental health. Perhaps what I need most is to talk to a mental health professional.

I wonder if that’s what you need too?

Here’s a suggestion

As a first port of call you might like to try Hand N Hand Peer Support Network, a volunteer run organisation which offers one to one or small group peer support to health professionals of all kinds across Australasia. 

As for me, I’m going to go to my GP next week and see what she thinks.


Dr Jan Orman
Dr Jan Orman

Jan is Sydney GP, private psychological medicine practitioner in Sydney’s inner west and a GP educator for Black Dog Institute.

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