I woke up a few months ago and thought: I am slipping away and am at risk of disappearing entirely if I don't do something. I'm a trauma therapist, and for the past six years, I've supported my clients in understanding what their bodies are telling them. I, however, completely missed the signs. Call it naivete, or even arrogance, that had me thinking I was somehow above contracting this all-too-common condition therapists face—complete and utter burnout. A stealthy mother-forker, this burnout was strategically camouflaged by a social work culture of selflessness and hustle. Eventually, my body, practically already devoured, was the giveaway. I am not writing this because I have anything new to add to this burnout topic or anything particularly inspiring to share with you. I am writing this for my own catharsis.
The conditions for burnout were in place long before my private practice became official mid-pandemic. Starting this story at the point where I wanted to create an ecotherapy practice seems more practical than beginning when I first stepped foot in social work school. That will be a story another time. I dreamed of having a small piece of land with old-growth trees and a few animal residents. The land would heal the people who came there, and we would give back to the land. I put an offer on a property and left the group practice I worked for just as the pandemic picked up speed. But the property didn't pan out, and everyone was moving to virtual sessions. So, that first year in business, I feverishly poured myself into all the tasks required of a business owner and dedicated myself to my wonderful clients. All while stuck behind a computer screen, strategically avoiding the grief I felt about so many things outside of my control.
I invested in a new website and brand, and found a nature preserve to hold sessions with a few clients during the week. I did everything all the time while doing nothing to address the something lurking in the shadows and picking up speed. Ultimately, I neglected myself, leaving most of my needs behind. As a result, burnout slid my way and coiled itself smoothly and tightly around my life. I was greeted with a hard slab of dread each morning. Most nights, insomnia was a regular visitor. Stalking quietly along dark walls, I would be lucky if sleep would find me in the small hours of the morning. I filled most of my days with giving all I had to my clients' growth while attempting to weather the hot storms of autoimmune flare-ups - storms that could put me in bed for multiple days at a time. Increasingly isolated from working at home, I had little energy to foster friendships or connections with coworkers and colleagues. I felt utterly alone.
It was sometime late last year that I recognized something was very wrong. All directions point to my health. What was going on? I needed a chance to break the cycle of insomnia and immune response. I packed up the dogs and drove to my childhood home in southeast Michigan for a month-long sabbatical. Time away was exactly what I needed. I could feel myself come up for air, just a bit, supported by life on the farm. Insomnia kept its distance, and the oppressive bouts of autoimmune issues were replaced by the long slow daily walks I took down the evergreen-lined driveway.
A month went by quickly, though, and when I got back to the noise of the city and the rhythms of my life, everything began again; insomnia, the morning dread which had bloomed into hopelessness, the isolation, and all the conditions for my body to lash out at itself. Then, somehow, as if waking from a dream, I finally saw it. I saw myself in the jaws of burnout. I saw the last six years and how it had all happened. I saw what I had to do. Shortly after my new website went live, I decided to close my therapy practice. It was one of the most challenging choices I've ever made, but strangely also one of the clearest.
My clients and I often talk about trusting the process of healing and growth. After too many years of not listening to my own wisdom, I am trying to trust this process. Yes, I am scared. I've put so much time, training, money, and energy into being an excellent therapist. It feels like I'm holding on to the stem of a dandelion and scattering all of that work to the wind with a single breath. But like most things in life, the loudest narrative is not always the whole story or even the most important part. I've already tasted the cost of inaction and know that making no change is the scariest option.
So hello to this is a season of transition - of watching what has been slowly fall and gently bed the ground. Letting go is bittersweet and the only way to restore what I have lost. I know this because it's nature's way, and I look forward to our reunion. I will be spending a lot of time in the coming months wading through the grief that the last few years has left in its wake. Something about this gives me hope for what's next. I look forward to the sweet medicine of connecting more deeply with family, loved ones, dogs, horses, and natural spaces. I will still collaborate with Colors of Austin Counseling to offer our Collective Healing in Action groups. I will also still offer consultations for individuals looking to deepen their social justice impact as well as consultations for practitioners incorporating horses into their work. But I will no longer be offering therapy. I am curious if this will be a permanent or temporary change, but I am eager for space to see what things might grow in its place. As much as I have been writing about endings, I suppose I've been writing about beginnings too. And isn't that how life works?
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