Sleep Is an Ambush
(By Neil Garvie from his new book, Jigsaw)

For you sleep is an ambush
deep melancholy
lurks under the pillow
stalking you all night

You don’t choose — it follows
dragging behind like a reptilian tail
mocking your disappointments

Slave to withered senses
with a target on your back
in those moments of darkness
your brain keeps spinning
Why can’t you stop?

Accomplice to your own demise
you awaken from
an all-night skirmish with
muscle ridges cramped behind your ears
feeling more tired than ever

A fearful amygdala nags
your reason
Oh, happy state — is it too
late to discover it?

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Teachers start over again every September – new classroom, new students, occasionally a new school, and sometimes a new city or province or country. It is an exciting time. But it is not always that way. Some teachers face this new beginning with dread. They have given too much for too long and simply have nothing left to give. They are on the edge of burnout and this prolonged Covid 19 situation is not helping.

Burnout is defined as a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when we feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. It can also affect other front-line workers such as social workers, health care providers, and hospital staff including nurses and doctors. In fact, it can affect anyone who works in a stressful situation for too long a period of time. It is much like Complex PTSD even though it is not based on continued trauma but on accumulation of little things that are suddenly compounded by something major like divorce, the death of a loved one, or a personal or family crisis. We simply do not have the emotional energy to meet the needs of the ones we care for as well as the ones who need our attention in the work place.

As a society I think it is important that we understand the stress these people may be experiencing and do what we can to assist them when they ask for our help either directly or through signs of exhaustion they exhibit at home or in the work place. However, if we are the ones experiencing chronic fatigue, we must remember that our personal health is ultimately in our own hands. It is important as front line care providers to take good care of ourselves or we will be of no use to the ones who need us at home or the ones we serve in society.

My ten suggestions:

• Watch for early signs of work fatigue. Focus on aspects of the job that you do enjoy or that give you a feeling of meaning and purpose. Bringing home a pay check for shelter and food on the table for yourself and the ones you love may be a good enough reason in itself as long as you acknowledge that that is the purpose. Changing your attitude towards your job can help you regain a sense of purpose and control.

• Do not take your work home with you. Make sure you have another life where you can relax and do things just for you that recharge your energy sources.

• Set some priorities. What can be left off your to-do list without repercussions? This can be as simple as a removing a single chore from your to-do list. Are there any time-wasters in your life? Can you stop or pause those time-wasters to gain the time you could use to meditate or go to sleep earlier?

• If the problem persists, share your time and concerns with trusted colleagues. They may be experiencing the same feelings as you are. During work breaks and social events after work, engage in honest conversation. This is not a bitching session – it is an honest conversation about each other’s fears and dreams. Focus on what can be done rather than on what cannot.

• Share your fears and feelings with those closest to you or who would be most likely to listen without judging you – a brother, or sister, or good friend.

• Get your family involved. If you have a life partner, let them know you cannot take on extra stress at home at this time and that they will have to take over some of your responsibilities for a while. If you have teenagers, let them know your situation – it is surprising how understanding and mature they can be if you ask for their support. However, try to shield younger children from your anxieties. They are not ready to be of assistance and having them share your anxieties may affect their own coping abilities and lead to adverse behavior.

• Check out on-line services. Health link BC (https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/rlxsk) or try https://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/infosheet/stress

• If the problem becomes more serious, do not isolate yourself and try to cope even though you lack the resources to do so. You are not superwoman or superman. You can ask for help if you need it. If you need professional help, get it. See a therapist.

• Your supervisor will often be very sympathetic and may help you access the channels needed to get additional support. If you have access to sick leave, either short term or long term, take it. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Admitting we need help is a sign of strength, not a weakness.

• After you have exhausted all these possibilities, and if your job is still affecting your physical or mental health, quit. Find a new place of work or a whole new career where you feel empowered and appreciated and where you can use your passions and talents. If this is going to create a financial crisis, remember it is only money. You will survive. You cannot afford to lose your physical and mental health; they are the most important assets you have.