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A Hate Letter to Teenage Burnout

by Soha Aftab, Staff Contributor

Burnout is a tricky, fickle thing.


It can show up in many ways; it shows up as a slow yet crippling exhaustion, nipping at your heels and eating away at you slowly. It shows up as reduced performance, causing one to perform inefficiently when compared to previous years, or even as a physical ailment due to chronic stress like headaches and stomach aches.


The term itself, "Burnout", was coined in the 20th century, in 1974 by Herbert Freudenberger. In his book, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement, he initially defined burnout as "the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one's devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results."


Burnout can be caused by anything:a stressful work or home environment, a pressing deadline or even an argument between friends and family. There is no specific event that causes burnout to occur that seemingly sets off this chain of events, leading to a feeling of intense emotional exhaustion and a severe lack of motivation.


We read a lot of articles about burnout when it comes to the workplace, college and school. These articles teach us how to cope with a lack of motivation and cynicism that accompanies burnout.


But as a sixteen-year-old teenager, navigating this bizarre, pandemic-stricken 2020 world with self-isolation and social injustice plaguing us all; I have seen no articles on how to cope with this horrible yet ground-breaking year that has teenagers stuck in the house, seemingly helpless against all the events in the world.


2020 indeed has been a 'special' year from day one, with anger and regret stalking each month, just waiting for another opportunity to strike. It is no doubt that this year will go down in history; from the tragic Australian wildfires to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is still going strong, to the revolutionary and absolutely necessary protests all over the world, seeking justice for all those wronged,it would be all too easy to be burnout this year.


This is true especially for teenagers, most of whom were stuck in the dreaded grey area between not being old enough to make a significant change and not young enough to let bygones be bygones. To most adolescents, including myself, this situation seems hopeless when all we can do is spread information, sign petitions and get into arguments with our ignorant and bigoted family members.


In my personal experience, it was more about the feeling of feeling empty or just numb, instead of feeling an enormous amount of pressure. These feelings of emptiness and blankness cultivated into bad days, filled with depressive and anxiety-ridden thoughts. And virtual therapy sessions haven't been much help, as my mind is not paying attention to words and disregarding the coping mechanisms that once walked, so this left me vulnerable and not sure what to do next.


Staying home and going through this cycle of events didn't help at all, the days of the week blurred. This made the cycle of what was supposed to be summer in India, into a nightmare reel. The thought of getting up every day and going through the motions took too much out of me.


It wasn't all bad. Even when people could roam out and about freely without the fear of viruses and masks, I was never a social being, and I never thrived when people were around me. I was, by all means, an introvert and someone who flourished alone most of the time. This period of self-isolation should have been ideal for someone like me. Alas, that always wasn't the way things went.


Video calls with my best friend and my sister helped, made me feel more like a person. It was wild how much I needed human interaction and just being around people to thrive. I discovered a lot of things about myself during this period, that doubled as both quarantine and my summer vacation. Writing, as an outlet, became both my enemy and my best friend. We developed a close love-hate relationship.


Writing, at the best of times, was a relief. It was a domain in which I could release all my thoughts and ideas and let the creative parts of myself and my personality shine. If one good thing arose from this quarantine, it is that I have never written more in my life, and my writing abilities have never been at this level. But at the same time, when inspiration failed to strike, and all the writing came out as 'bad', or 'mediocre' or just not 'good enough', hate for myself and my abilities hit me like a truck. I had never felt so down about myself.


Yet, I got over it. Even if the virtual therapy sessions didn't work out as well as the real deal, I still went and tried my best to listen to my therapist's comforting affirmations. I talked to my family about the things bothering me, and their reassurances comforted me more than they did in the past. Distracting myself with music, shows, and learning more about the world around us - especially how the intricate parts of it worked -helped me. Just the small things that I would do for myself, take a stroll downstairs with music, talk to my best friend about everything, maybe even have a cry now and then if I felt especially insecure about something,made a difference.


I have not come out of the woods of my burnout. No, I am sure that as the cases build up in India and as online school slowly starts for me, marking the end of my unusual summer, I might and probably will reenter that stage of exhaustion and numbness, no matter how hard I try to avoid it. No matter how much I make an effort to take care of myself and make the right decisions,different from the ones I made before, burnout in a situation like this is evitable.


Maybe that's okay; perhaps it's a necessary evil, designed to plague me at times and even teach me how to take the required steps and overcome adversary. Overcoming burnout and developing the mechanisms to better help myself has undoubtedly been a challenge and a difficult one at that, but I suppose that is the price to pay at times.


This doesn't mean burnout is a friend of mine, as it is and always shall remain, a pain in the ass.


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