Is it Burnout or just a yearning for another life?

Like most of us, I’m not very keen on the idea of aging - not when it applies to me or the people I love. Not aging the way most people think of it anyway.

If you need help, please call

  • Lifeline- 13 11 14
  • BeyondBlue - 1300 22 4636
  • Suicide Call Back Service - 1300 659 467
Suicide Call Back Service Online Chat

Like most of us, I’m not very keen on the idea of aging - not when it applies to me or the people I love. Not aging the way most people think of it anyway.

 

Was Shakespeare right?

 

When we think of old age it may not be quite the “second innocence and mere oblivion” stage that comes to mind, but it could easily be “the pantalon” - shrunken both physically and mentally, the butt of jokes, a person to be avoided or whose company is only to be  sought out through a sense of obligation. Either way it’s not very pleasant.  How I cringe when I think of my year nine English class, and many other more mature audiences for that matter, laughing at those descriptions from Shakespeare’s As You Like It! But those descriptions are written for laughs and are only one side of the coin.

 

(You can find a wonderful version of the Seven Ages of Man from Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman here)

 

 The trouble with retirement is that it is often considered the doorway to the kind of old age we all fear, doesn’t sit well with me when people ask me if my recent career change, away from clinical work, is a prelude to retirement.

 

What are they thinking when they ask me about retirement?

 

“Get out old girl! I can see you are past it. Time to move over into your dotage and make room for someone else”? (I concede that this may be just the voice in my own head)

 

The other possibility is of course that they are thinking I’m no longer a “real doctor”, whatever work I’m doing, because I’m not seeing patients anymore.  With medical graduates increasingly involved in careers outside clinical practice I’ve learnt not to care about that second thought, but the first one is still bothers me a little.

 

Tired but not retiring

 

 I’m not retiring - I’m changing direction.

 

I admit I am feeling very tired. Clinical work is constant exposure to other people’s problems - many of which I’m no more capable of solving than they are. This persistent exposure to pain is very draining and I can’t do it 40 hours a week any more (I wonder if anybody should ever do it 40 hours a week, but that’s a different discussion). Sometimes I’m so weary I find it hard to be empathic.

 

Did I hear someone say “burnout”?

 

 Sure, it sounds like it doesn’t it? - fatigue, failing empathy and uncertainty about your own skills are the three primary characteristics of burnout as described by Maslach and her colleagues.

But I have decided that calling it burnout is not very helpful. Calling it depression is even less helpful. It’s either my fault or an incurable problem (or both) if I use those words.

 

If not burnout, then what?

 

In the same way, calling what I’m doing with my work life “retirement” is also not helpful, nor is it accurate. Apart from the fact that I work every day, just not clinically, it also suggests to me that I’m done for - no longer useful, needing to rest, tired and shagged out after a long squawk, pining for the fjords and ready to “push up daisies”! - with apologies to Monty Python.

 

(You can look at the Dead Parrot sketch again here. This is the version from 1969. There is no such thing as watching it too many times and just look at how young John Cleese is!)

 

 What I’m calling it is “time for a new life”. I’ve done my 40 years in clinical medicine (during which I often wondered if I should have been a lumberjack after all) and now I’m ready for something different. I can make good use of that 40 years of accumulated skill but what I need to do is not think about it as giving up - just as changing direction.

 

 Unlike the Norwegian Blue, I am not nailed to my perch and I hope you’re not either.

 

Further reading

Burnout: 35 years of research and practice Shaufeli Wilmar B., Leiter Michael P. and Maslach Christina. 2008 www.wilmarschaufeli.nl/publications/Schaufeli/311.pdf

{{commentCount}} comment(s). You must be logged in and AHPRA verified to view and comment. Login here.

Dr Jan Orman

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

The latest healthcare news from medcast

Being Well in Difficult Times - Sally
Being Well in Difficult Times - Sally

Sally* is the director of new urban private practice. She is a generalist psychologist & qualified teacher in her mid-forties with two ‘tween girls, and vulnerable (but fit) parents. Her clients include young children, teenagers, university studen...

Being Well in Difficult Times - Margot
Being Well in Difficult Times - Margot

It’s always helpful to hear how other people cope with life's challenges. Over the next few weeks we are dedicating the Being Well blog to a series called Being Well in Difficult Times. We've asked a range of health professionals 3 big questions t...

Being Well in Difficult Times- Elizabeth
Being Well in Difficult Times- Elizabeth

How would you feel if you were pregnant right now? It would probably add a whole other dimension to your concern. What if, to add to the puzzle, your work made you responsible for the mental health of others? Elizabeth* is a thirty-something s...

Being Well in Difficult Times - Dr Vered Gordon
Being Well in Difficult Times - Dr Vered Gordon

Dr Vered Gordon is a GP in Sydney’s Northern Beaches with a special interest in perinatal mental health. For more than a decade Vered developed Black Dog Institute’s highly regarded Professional Education workshops.

Being Well in Difficult Times- Michael Kidd
Being Well in Difficult Times- Michael Kidd

It’s always helpful to hear how other people cope with life's challenges. Over the next few weeks we are dedicating the Being Well blog to a series called Being Well in Difficult Times. Michael's CoVID-19 job responsibilities are huge and his...

Communication in the time of COVID-19
Communication in the time of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a massive, and almost overnight, transformation in Australian general practice, most notably with the rapid rise in telehealth. What does effective communication via telehealth look like?

KISS - COVID-19 Primary Care Assessment & Management
KISS - COVID-19 Primary Care Assessment & Management

This Keep It Simple Summary (KISS) covers the treatment and management of COVID-19 in the Primary Care environment. Stages of the disease will be explained, followed by a succinct summary risk factors, symptoms, complications, treatment, respirato...

Reframing Isolation
Reframing Isolation

I keep wondering about what we can learn from all these people who live in isolation or confinement. What strategies were put in place and what might the long-term impact of their isolation have been?

Non-drug Approaches to Chronic Pain Management
Non-drug Approaches to Chronic Pain Management

Living with chronic pain is a complex health issue that affects over 3.2 million Australians, with close to 68% of those affected being of working age. As we know, chronic pain can have significant implications on daily functions and quality of l...

Telehealth: How does it work In Practice
Telehealth: How does it work In Practice

We are all starting to do telehealth in the current climate to protect us, our staff and our patients. Many of us feel slightly out of our depth. Here are some quick tips to help you in your practice.

COVID-19 and Us
COVID-19 and Us

Have you thought about what these measures are going to mean for you personally? Even if we avoid the need for self-isolation, we will all need to practice social distancing for possibly 6-12 months until we can all be vaccinated, or until we have...

Telehealth and COVID-19 Update
Telehealth and COVID-19 Update

As the number of cases of COVID-19 increases exponentially in Australia many of us will be exploring the new telehealth item numbers. The information on these seem to be changing daily, but currently these are the key things to know.

Coronavirus
Coronavirus

Since the start of 2020, coronavirus has hit the world and caused unprecedented levels of concern among public and health professionals alike.

Oropharyngeal Airways in Paediatric Patients
Oropharyngeal Airways in Paediatric Patients

Oropharyngeal airways (OPAs) have some additional considerations when utilising in paediatric patients, to ensure safe use in children.

Why are we so bad at making the self-care message stick?
Why are we so bad at making the self-care message stick?

Put self-care into your web browser and you will not be able to see the end of the list of hits you get. I tried for “self-care strategies” and got 658 million hits! With so much information out there about how to look after ourselves it can be ov...

PODCAST: Iliotibial Band Syndrome
PODCAST: Iliotibial Band Syndrome

Milo, aged 26, comes to see you with lateral knee pain. As GPs how do we diagnose, treat and manage this?

Easing the Lingering Symptoms of Depression
Easing the Lingering Symptoms of Depression

These findings are important in showing that delivering MBCT via the internet can be just as successful in helping improve outcomes for patients with depression, and it may be more accessible than face-to-face therapy.

Recognising and responding to deteriorating patients: a matter of life or death
Recognising and responding to deteriorating patients: a matter of life or death

The most recent update of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW) Deaths in Australia report shows that in 2017 there were a total of 160,909 recorded deaths in Australia. 50% of these were found to be potentially avoidable within ...

A new approach to mental health care
A new approach to mental health care

Day to day within my role I have been providing clinical support to an exciting new mental health program being funded by SA Health and trialled in two large hospitals in Adelaide.  This pilot program, called the Rapid Hospital Avoidance Program, ...

Out of Office - Dr Simon Curtis
Out of Office - Dr Simon Curtis

Find out more about Simon, co-founder of the Hot Topics course internationally in his 'Out of Office' before seeing him in person at Hot Topics Australia.

Join Medcast. It's free and you'll get instant access to essential healthcare news, research and more.

Already a member? Sign-in