Sammi Says: Battling Emotional Burnout

I’ve been wanting to start blogging again since January, crafting various outlines and jotting down topics whenever they hit me. I have so many ideas, so much to talk about. Yet, every time I would sit down at my desk or in my bed, laptop in front of me with a blank document open, I just couldn’t do it.

I could chalk it up to writer’s block, but the inspiration is still in me. I just can’t seem to channel it properly. I can’t seem to form words worth sharing.

I haven’t been writing poetry or chapters of my new book or even journal entries beyond a few angry rants here and there. As a writer, I feel like a part of me is broken — the part of me I am most proud of, who I turn to when I’m down or spiraling. The part of me who knows how to communicate and connect. The part who makes life worth living.

Yet, here I am, writing about the fact that I haven’t been able to write. Progress?

Maybe I’m just putting too much pressure on myself — a common habit of mine. I want my posts to be insightful and perfect. I want to help others better understand their mind, help them learn more about mental illnesses and spirituality and wellness and all these other exciting topics I’m passionate about. I don’t want to let anyone, including myself, down with a half-assed post. So instead, I just…don’t write anything?

That’s why I’m starting this little section of the blog called “Sammi Says” where I can freely SAY what’s on my mind. Sorta like a stream of consciousness. That way, during times like these when I am emotionally depleted, I can still create something.

This has been a long-winded introduction to my topic of choice today: emotional burnout.

You’ve likely heard the term “burnout” thrown around before. It’s a common occurrence, one I’ve grown especially accustomed to in the past few years. I’ve dealt with it my entire life, but I never realized until my body screamed at me to slow down by making me physically ill — so ill that I had to quit my journalism job in New York and pursue a remote opportunity.

I’m past that now, but I will never forget the feeling of my body quite literally rejecting life itself. Since I was a little girl, I have always needed my own time and space to sort through my feelings and shut out the rest of the world. However, I was shamed for it, told I would regret not being more social. Friends would get angry with me if I didn’t want to hang out, so much so that they’d start arguments and resent me for days simply because I wanted to spend a Friday night in solitude.

Is that so wrong?

Back then, I thought it was. I felt guilty for listening to my own body and feeding my own needs. So instead, I pushed myself relentlessly to do things I didn’t want to do. To people please. To put others above myself.

In college, I balanced so many responsibilities that I feel like I could retire already. I was president of a club, editor-in-chief of a magazine, wrote for the school newspaper, pursued a major with a specific concentration and double minors, had three internships before my junior year, worked multiple part-time summer jobs, had a boyfriend and various friend groups, partied on the weekends, worked out almost every day, went to therapy, drove home every other week to see my family, started writing a novel, and…holy shit, how did I not have a nervous breakdown?

Well, I almost did, actually. According to my current therapist who, by the way, saved my life, that would have been my fate if I didn’t prioritize my healing. Instead of giving myself the down time I needed, I filled the void I felt since childhood with jobs and people and hobbies. I didn’t listen to my intuition when it told me that something was wrong, and I needed to slow down. I needed to process the emotions that I’d stifled since childhood.

When I was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) in 2019, I was shocked. I’ve always battled OCD, and I did have a childhood trauma I would occasionally remember (and panic about until I managed to repress it for the millionth time), but I didn’t think the diagnosis was valid given my experience — despite having every single symptom of the disorder.

I still ask my therapist almost every session: “Are you sure this was traumatic enough?”

But just like I was taught not to honor my own needs, I’ve grown to believe that my experiences were also “no big deal.” I’d like to iterate that this is through no fault of anyone. No one force-fed me these notions, and if they did, it wasn’t with ill intent. Really, I’ve adopted these ideas from loved ones who thought they were helping me, or people around me who were even harder on themselves.

Now, society has shifted in a way that allows for deeper healing, and I am thankful for that every day or else, like my therapist said, I would probably be in a hospital bed right now.

But because I’ve denied my truth for so long, because I’ve neglected my own needs, I am exhausted. I am still recovering from a life of serving others and turning my back on myself. Only now am I facing the reality that I was sexually abused and threatened at the mere age of 4, and that, instead of receiving treatment for it, I was thrown into exposure therapy for OCD that only traumatized me further. Only now am I facing the pain my younger self endured. Only now am I healing old wounds. And that takes far more energy than I get from the 4+ cups of coffee I have every day.

The hardest part of healing is the backlash you will face — not from others (although sometimes, that too) but from yourself. My inner critic has the volume of 12 bullies screaming horrible things in my ear all day long. It’s nearly impossible not to give in and defend myself, which takes hours of my time, distracting me from work and hobbies and relationships. On my especially bad days, it’s hard for me to even answer a simple text from my best friend or phone call from my mom.

Balancing my inner chaos with therapy twice a week on top of a full-time job, writing career, social life, etc., I can’t help but shut down sometimes. Often, it feels like I’ve lived six months in the span of 12 hours. I’m fidgety and hyper, but exhausted and numb. My exhales sound like sighs, and my neck is always tight with knots.

Very often, more often than I’d like to admit, I am emotionally burned out.

But…I am still me. I am still here, and worthy of love and happiness. I am still opening my eyes to the world around me, even if I’m keeping the curtains pulled shut some days. I am still breathing and healing. Every single day, I am healing.

And I’m realizing that you don’t have to do in order to be. You can — in fact, you should — listen to your body and give it what it needs, even if that means taking a day off or canceling plans. Even if that means publishing a disorganized blog post just to get back in the swing of writing. You can just exist, exactly as you are in this very moment, and that will be enough.

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