Friday, March 12, 2010


There is an affliction gaining notoriety which affects hard working people and it has therapists often baffled and unable to read the signals a patient is relaying. The end result is a terrible state of inertness, requiring intensive medical treatment with a very slow recovery. Therefore, a person heading for such a mental catastrophe needs to be able to read and interpret early signals in order to recognise them and prevent the end result. This report will deal with the symptoms and stages leading up to total inertness.

Researchers discovered that people in the service industry and those with low self-esteem are at greatest risk, however, it may strike anyone who takes his job too seriously and, perhaps, adds idealism to it.

‘Burnout-syndrome’ is aptly named by those experts who specialize in the treatment of this mental state, but the wider spectrum of therapists tend to become very quiet when hearing about it and merely refer to it as ‘depression’, which is far too general a term for this specific form of state of mind!

Let’s take the case of a commercial traveller, whose very early signals were not recognized by the experts he consulted. For him, there was a constant workload to cope with and the feeling that he had to succeed! However, the more work he did, the more was to be done and the less others did, leaving him with even more to cope with.

And he simply could not stop, because as long as there was work to be done, he felt it had to be done and, he reasoned, he had to do it as there was nobody else around. There was not time for rest as work kept piling up! He wondered how other people know when they have worked enough? Who is telling them?

Of course, to maximise his working hours, all non- selling activities had to be done outside selling time, which was in effect, after the end of the day and into the night. Bureaucratic paperwork, newsletters, making product samples, organising business events, etc. were taking up his normal sleeping time.

And, whilst racing from appointment to appointment during the day, his car phone never stopped ringing, with clients and customers requesting instant service: ‘Could you, would you, can you, have you, will you…..’ And they all had to be answered in a calm, empathetic way. Solutions to problems had to be found, reassurances given and business problems solved immediately.

Many times local problems seemed to surface most when he was on country trips, far away, adding to his distress. Why? Because any customer dissatisfaction reflected on his sales figures and also competition was always a looming thread.

And nobody wanted to know about his situation. Not the boss, nor the office, not co-workers and, of course not the family. In fact, they all were becoming increasingly more demanding and critical.

Forced to keep his problems to himself and putting up an appearance of success and normalcy, he had to cope with an increasing workload.

Whilst seeing weekly his therapist, who kept belittling his feelings and heavily defended all relayed adversity. This psychiatrist also did not believe in prescribing medications - no matter what – no help was forthcoming from anybody, increasing his dominant feeling of loneliness and sinking!

Whilst driving from customer to customer, he could not stop an uncontrolled weeping, but before visiting a business contact, he always pulled himself together and put on a mask of normalcy. Since there was nothing wrong with his product knowledge, manners and sales skill, people he came in contact with, noticed nothing.

Another phenomenon started to raise its ugly head: It happened twice that, whilst driving through the suburbs and turning into another street, he did not know who he was ……This lasted only a few seconds, but it was panic- evoking indeed.

Only his local GP kept insisting that he should walk around the block, a suggestion he did not really appreciate as the very thought of stopping his valuable work and simply walk in a brainless fashion horrified him. Everything that means not working was considered anathema as it did not result in something and therefore he found it endangering his very existence as a salesman.

Even that little sleep he did get was constantly interrupted by thoughts of work to be done, causing him constantly to wake-up.

One day, his condition reached a state where he simply could not move at all. Getting up one morning, he slumped in a chair and simply stayed inert. The world around him became visible in red as if surrounded by high flames. His brain stopped to function, as thoughts are made by electricity racing through the brain cells and with all his energy spent, like an empty battery, there was simply nothing.

This can only be described as a unique state of euphoria, with no thoughts, and only being aware of breathing. This is a state Indian fakirs may achieve after many years of mental training. Breathing in and out is all that he was aware of – a wonderful state of bliss!

Of course, people did not leave him be, they tried to hassle him, to prod and push. The thought of any movement is out of the question but ‘they’ tried to force him to react and in doing so were incredibly cruel.

What he really desired was something like solitary confinement. Just being locked up and left alone for, say, six months, how could that be a punishment – that’s all he wanted!

But when before therapists, and relating how he felt he always encountered incredible aloofness, indifference and, yes, arrogance! He always had the feeling that they only wanted him to keep working and not to be a burden to anybody.

Years have now past and this victim of burnout has recovered somewhat with the help of medications but he will never be the same!

Currently, he drifts from therapist to therapist, and in doing so, has become extremely cynical, suspicious and very aware of what is going on around him.

Whilst private doctors and therapists seem to consider him a cash-cow and are in no hurry to help, in the area of public health he is considered a burden to the community that keeps costing…….

His mood swings are enormous, sometimes alarmingly low, and that’s when organisations he contacts in his need react with panic and implore him to keep searching for the right therapist.

We have illustrated now one case of burnout syndrome and if we identify the signals at their early stage, it will be possible, with correct medical treatment and change of life-style, to avoid this terrible breakdown!

Peter Frederick

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