Episode 8: Am I sick?
I am involved in about four kinds of therapy (emotional, physical, stress management, and a little pharmaceutical for good measure). The suggestion has been made to me (not by any of my therapists, have you) that perhaps I should pursue long-term disability. That means, by the way, that I could have in my medical history that I am disabled with a mental disorder. Oh yeah, and that the insurance company that pays for my disability-leave may divulge this information to whomever they see fit, as they are not bound by the confidentiality rules of medical providers.
You know what? I am not disabled. I am so able that I have endured this back-breaking, isolating job, in which I rarely, to never, get to experience my value, for nine years. I do not have a mental disorder. I have never been so rational as to stop this craziness. The tendency to medicalize burnout in a way that places all burden on the individual and their “sickness,” and not on the structure in which the individual is struggling and suffering, is beginning to really, really annoy me. “The personal is political” is filling my mind these days with a force and truth that it never had before. It is very convenient for those who wish to avoid a look at their own institutions, their rules and regulations, their values, their habits, and their patterns to medicalize anyone who does not persist within their structure. And guess who is formally in charge of this medicalization in an institution? The department of “human resources.” We are “resources,” like tanks of gas that fuel the institution and are available to use, to burn up, and burn out. Why? Because guess what: “There are a million people waiting in line to take your job” (heard that one before?). I am more than a human “resource,” to be consumed. And if I won’t be consumed anymore, that does not mean that I am disabled.
All right. Let’s see if I can’t make this simple. It doesn’t always need an accompanying analysis. Plain is powerful:
I don’t want to feel anymore like all my life’s energies are going down a drain. I want my work to be valued. For me, I know now that it is simply not enough to have “faith” that my work is having a positive effect. I need feedback. I need to experience the positive feedback loop. Without that there is nothing to refuel my energy to work, to study, to give, to care.
I don’t want to feel anymore that in order to be a professional I must give up the rest of my life. I am a human being. I need to eat healthy food, I need to exercise, I need to be in nature, I need love, I need friends, I need to play with my dog, I need to read for pleasure, I need to relax, I need to be able to think and feel. I need to stop being on-call 24/7. I need to stop frantically running, running, running.
These shall be the boundaries, the commitments, the touchstones to remember as I try to make a new life.