In this section:

Resources

Morgan Cataldo: Dealing with burnout

Morgan Cataldo: Dealing with burnout

Self-care and community is the revolution we need

As community activists and advocates, it has never been more important to look at how our work affects our lives. LCJB winner, Morgan Cataldo, explores the importance of ensuring we’re at our best so we can work alongside others at our fullest and truest capacity.

We’re all doing so much – working hard to take care of and defend ourselves and the communities we love against policy decisions that push the most marginalised further to the edges.

This is not easy work and often doesn’t feel good. Speaking truth to power and resisting dominant narratives in society comes at a cost.

However, advocacy and activism is crucial work and to keep ourselves strong, we need to make sure we keep ourselves full. The American writer, feminist and civil rights activist, Audre Lorde wrote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” 

Burnout

Earlier this year I was on the tail end of experiencing serious burnout, which affected me physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Resting now, I have realised that so much of my suffering came from not being held, understood and having my experiences validated during times of crisis.

When I think about self-care, I believe it is intertwined with the deep roots of community. Burnout is not only the result of overwork, it can also be the result of loneliness.

A recent article published in the Harvard Business Review stated, “Its link to loneliness suggests that greater human connection at work may also be key to solving the burnout problem.”

During times where I have felt most exhausted, I have withdrawn and isolated myself and this has often worked to further my feelings of burnout. What I slowly came to realise was that opening to the love and deep support of those who truly understood and accepted me, created space in my life for vulnerability.

I have worked hard at opening myself to others, whilst also being respectful of their needs and am now at a place where I can also give. I now find myself a part of an incredible, interconnected circle of dear friends who can hold space for me during times where I need to explore myself and vice versa. It’s a circle that is replenishing and where reciprocity is at the core.

Dealing with burnout is complex. There are no guidelines, but here are some of the steps I took to step out of my burnt-out state.

See the signs

This was a tough one. If I had been honest with myself sooner, I would have caught the signs early and prevented becoming physically ill. Reflecting back now, I could see the signs beginning to appear when I:

  • couldn’t get up in the morning. Although I suffer from clinical depression, this fatigue was different. My whole body felt like a heavy weight and the thought of getting out bed and ready for work overwhelmed me.
  • started feeling resentful of myself and others. I began to shut off from people in order to feel as though I was ‘coping’ and had control over my daily life.
  • noticed my motivation was at an all-time low. I am generally a fairly upbeat and passionate person, and I began to notice an overall feeling of flatness and irritation.
  • began to get sick, recover and then get sick again immediately afterwards. This is when I knew something needed to change, fast.

Get support

One of the hardest things about being exhausted is that I wanted to lie low, which can look like cancelling outings with friends and other fun activities that would normally lift me up.

What I decided to do instead is open up to a handful of my nearest and dearest and let them know what I was experiencing. I would then schedule phone calls and outings with these people and they became my lifeline during some of the darkest times.

It’s also important to regularly check in with a support group to ensure they are in a good enough space to be able to support others as well. This ensures reciprocity and respect for all and makes clear where everyone is at in their own lives both internally and externally.

How do you want to feel?

Creating an action plan was completely overwhelming to me, but what felt achievable was envisioning and imagining how I wanted to feel.

From there, I was able to think about what actions were attached. For example, I wanted to feel calm and more at peace inside. So I scheduled meetings far enough apart that I had breathing room in between.

I would also work to notice when my body started to tense up  heart and thoughts racing. I made sure in these moments to go for a walk or grab a glass of water.

Small, everyday things put my mind more at ease and this enabled me to make decisions with a clear head, rather than in a state of panic.

Hands reaching into the earth

Artwork by Molly Costello

Shared my pain though creativity

When I’m feeling stressed and overwhelmed, the first things to go on my to-do list are the important but not urgent items. For me, these things are exercise, writing, singing and dancing.

During this low time, I had become so down that I knew I needed to do something to change my state of mind, even if it was only slightly.

I booked into a poetry course with a small group of other women, who were experiencing similar things in life to me.

I also joined an intimate singing group with a facilitator who I knew, trusted and loved who would work alongside me as I learnt to express, through sound, how I was feeling inside.

Although this list is not exhaustive, it provides a glimpse into the inner workings of what I put in place to soothe the beast of overwork and burnout. This will look different for every person.

Caring for each other

If we are to know ourselves as true advocates for the issues we stand for, we must learn to take care of ourselves and each other.

We can start to do this through listening to each other’s stories, validating and honouring our experiences, and sharing with each other in ways that honour agency, reciprocity and freedom.

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

Arundhati Roy.

Planting Moon, a painting by Jeanie Tomanek

"I find myself a part of an incredible, interconnected circle of dear friends. It’s a circle that is replenishing and where reciprocity is at the core."

Morgan Cataldo