The 5 Stages of Being Burnt Out

Posted on November 29, 2013


It’s 10:27 pm and I’ve just done some crazy shit. Some “I’m going to destroy things just to make myself feel better” shit. It was a heater, some magazines and a piano. We’ll get to the piano.  But why did I lose it. Because I’ve definitely just danced with the devil tonight. I felt legitimately unhinged and wild. At that moment I contemplated inflicting self-harm and attacking something in a split second. I texted my friend a series of sporadic, “I hate life and myself texts” only they were somehow worse than that.  She had only response: “You’re burnt out.” BINGO WE HAVE A WINNER. It’s so damn simple, yet that’s exactly what it is. Where did it come from and how did it boil down to this, well we first must look at the steps to a successful burn out.

Stage 1: Restlessness 

It started early in the semester with me. Little moments of doubt here and there coupled with a laissez faire attitude should have tipped me off that come December, my relaxed/borderline lazy habits would cause me Hell. I was learning slow and having trouble mastering concepts that everyone said should be done quickly. Now who is this “everyone?” Well that’s an important question. These people will take on a life of their own in later steps, but for now they’re just people off in the back of your mind. They were people whom my sunny and relaxed disposition had little difficulty blocking out. During this stage, I was lulling myself into thinking I was accomplishing my goals, but really I was just setting myself up for stage two.

Stage 2:  Doubt Begins to Set In

Doubt. It’s one of those words that if ever hurled in my direction it’s immediately struck down with a “you don’t know my life” sort of line. But nevertheless, this is where the seed of doubt is firmly planted. You start to wonder why things aren’t moving as quickly as you would like. You begin to assess your surroundings and behavior and are left with the nagging feeling that something is off. You’re not deep enough in despair to identify it yet, but it’s like a wave on the horizon, slowly moving forward in your mind. You begin to second guess your dreams, but then quickly snap out of it because you have time. You tell yourself “Things always work out!” or “I believe and trust!” and “What’s for me is for me!” But you are still a queer mix of relaxed and slightly off balance. This leads us to the next stage.

Stage 3: Outside Pressure

It’s now stage three and time has gone by. You are past the halfway mark and people are starting to notice you’re been slacking off. It’s not that you haven’t been working, more like you’ve been working like you have an unlimited amount of time. No deadlines, no due dates, just time. People are slowly but surely starting to bombard you with questions about your dreams. “Are you sure you want to do this” or “It’ll take allot to get there…” and before you know it, you’re sick of hearing this and are doing anything and everything to avoid these people, just so you don’t have to hear how behind you are. You’re skipping classes, playing hooky, faking illness or even family death just to avoid their mouth. But you look around and you don’t feel completely hopeless…yet. In fact, you feel like if you buckle down and get to work, you’ll be where you need to be. You tell yourself that all the advice you’ve been getting are hints from the Universe to push harder. Oh the Universe. Right now it feels like it’s on your side. Indeed, it feels like everything is going pretty good for everyone you know. You sure as hell don’t have everything together, but you’re not the most confused person you know, so that’s got to count for something, right?


Stage 4: Confusion

Oh Shit. These are basically the only two words you can say anymore. You have lost track of all time management skills, organization and have probably gained some weight (5 for me).The pressure of stage three has really begun to effect you and now these seemingly helpful opinions are turning into full fledged naysayers. Plan A is no longer seeming viable and Plan B makes you want to scream because you know it may soon be your reality. You’re losing touch with what is important and what is not, and find yourself slowly but surely sinking into a place of despair. Parents or siblings are now cosigning option B and presenting it to you like they have been with you since stage one, but they haven’t. At least it seems that way in your mind because it’s really starting to feel like the “Universe” has been plotting against you (note the ” ” marks, you are now doing these with you hands because that’s how cynical you have become).  You have started to verbalize your discontent, but everyone is still telling you you’re talented or smart. But this is only enraging you. Why can’t they see you are heading for a cliff, fast? You are still maintaining the facade of health and happiness, and this is important to you. If you are like me, you were taught early on not to show your hand in public, To “never let ’em see you sweat.” Well now you’re sweatin’, more than Trinidad James after he popped that molly. Only difference is your outer shell is still pretty cool and composed. But a storm is brewing underneath leading directly to…

Stage 5 :Indifference is Worse than Fear

You’ve snapped, and you know it. Not “HA HA girl you crazy!” snapped, but you have legitimately done something that made you question your mental state. For me it was taking my smallish fists and pounding them on my childhood upright piano. I banged till I heard a crack then thud sound from the same note.  I opened the piano to find I had broken the hammer in two. As soon as I saw this I was filled with so much anger and self-hate that all I could do was cry. (Even as I write this I’m overcome with painful emotions and a sickness in my stomach.) That hammer breaking felt just like me, finally cracking under years of pressure. Years of scrutiny and years of being the underdog. Years of grooming and preparation and years of talk focused on one thing: the future. If you are like me , you’ve been hearing about the future for so long the word has started to illicit anger coupled with fear. For me, I’ve been planning for the future since I was nine. Probably earlier, but I remember at nine wanting to be a classical pianist. Now dreams are beautiful, and dreams are inspiring but let’s be real, dreams can crush you with an unbearable weight unlike anything else. They hype you up and make you believe, but one day that plan B will come and Plan A will start to look like too much. It’s like Kendrick Lamar raps in his song “Real”:

You living in a world that come with plan B
Cause plan A never relay a guarantee
And plan C never could say just what it was

That sentiment, the fear that dissuades us from attempting Plan A, is what so many of us are suffering from. “I’m too tired and too damn lazy to be exceptional,” my text to my friend mentioned earlier said. And that’s exactly it. Some of us are tough and resilient enough to follow our dreams, but truthfully most of us aren’t. Many of us settle. The scary thing is though, if you’re at this point, you’re past settling. That was stage four. You’re really at the “how can I force myself to get out of the bed” stage. Because at this point you have taken to eating or drinking or sleeping just to block out the world. You keep wishing for a pause button. You keep thinking you don’t want to live. But you’re not suicidal, you’ve had enough pain, you just want to stop. To be left alone. People keep asking you “we’ll what do you want to do?” Truthfully, for you to be quiet. For the world to leave you be.

If you’re at stage five like me, well that honestly sucks. But a curious thing is occurring in my psyche. I am slowly lifting myself out of my own misery, crawling out of the pit of despair I created hours earlier. Even as I write this, I am slowly feeling better, calmer. But i’m not okay and I won’t kid myself into thinking I am.  I’m still in my “nobody likes me, maybe if I cry” Tegan and Sara moment and as much as I hate it, I love it. Misery is addictive and I wouldn’t go as far to say that i’m addicted to it, but  I have gotten comfortable with it. Stage five has made you, like me, all too familiar with failure and fatigue.  And that’s okay. Feel it, recognize it, and eventually, move on. Because life is moving on, and I feel it tugging at me everyday. It’s telling me to get my life together because if I don’t I’ll be past Plan A and B and forced into plan C. And Plan C can only be worse.

Auf Wiedersehen,


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