One of the things that made burnout so hard to manage was that it surprised me, because you see, I’ve been sick my whole life. I’ve been sick my whole life and I’ve worked my whole life and I had a rough childhood and I had made it through all of that and through Stanford, so why was I suddenly hitting a wall? It didn’t make sense, because nothing had really changed in that time. My condition didn’t get worse, it flared and unflared like it always had. I was very sickly as a kid and yet I made it through Stanford without too much trouble, so I didn’t understand how I could be failing so badly physically at something I was so good at.
I saw it as my failing. I wasn’t the only one. People accused me of giving up as I was still in a wheel chair. We had convinced ourselves that I was invincible.
I may criticize Stanford a lot, but I’m a good Stanford kid. I believe in a meritocracy, the importance of hard work and contributing through my work to society. I pulled 60 hour weeks in high school to get there. I’d willingly sacrifice my body for my work, just like all the other kids around me. Because you see, that’s the secret to Stanford, these are kids who have been molded and encouraged to work like machines. Some of them have much faster processors than other people, but the thing they all have in common is that they will put their work ethic up against robots.
At the time, it was hard for me to see myself as part of a greater trend, we all suffered in silence. But the truth of the matter is, as public as my story may have been, I certainly wasn’t alone or the only one. Every time I see someone from my college years, I hear a similar story. They entered the workforce and found it unsustainable. Break downs are near universal.
And this makes you wonder what is so toxic about our work environments that our human robots are getting chewed up and spit out? But we never ask this question because we think the burn out is personal and that we are alone and that we have failed, precisely because the same society that gave us so much also molded us to believe that if we struggle we are the ones who are broken.
I think back to all the ways I was punished when I tried to set boundaries on my work. All those times that I was rewarded, praised, showered with affection for the hell I put myself through. I think about all the times I probably should have been pulled out and wasn’t because people didn’t think I could ever need that, because I am invincible, which is the same thing as saying I am not human.
People mistake my competence for confidence all the time. And it seems like a really silly thing to complain about, “people think I’m too smart/strong to fail” but it has caused the single most brutal series of destruction to me personally of all the isms I have to deal with. It was this belief that led my master’s program director to accuse me of faking illnesses because I was doing so well in class, which led to me shutting up for the rest of the year about my suffering. It was this belief that led people to push me back into the classroom too soon after trauma. It was this belief that led me to leave the classroom in a wheelchair.
It was ironic, sitting there in my master’s program classes and listening to them repeat over and over again how “you didn’t need to worry about your high enders” because academic success negated everything. It’s that same belief that made it such that my teachers ignored the obvious signs that I was being abused as a child, and it was the same belief that led Stanford to abuse me in my master’s program through gaslighting, silencing, and emotional abuse. People stood and watched me be oppressed because I was “good” at dealing with it.
Except I wasn’t “good” at dealing with it. What I was good at was burying my emotions so deep that instead of feeling them like a normal person they started to wreck actual havoc on my physical body. But who cares? Pain isn’t real right? I can psychologically overcome any pain right?
But the pain was a warning signal, it was trying to tell me that I was literally tearing the fibers of my body apart. Do you know how many awards I’ve gotten for ignoring that pain? For literally tearing myself apart?
We didn’t burn out, we were abused. And it doesn’t have to be this way.