Episode #219 - Emotional Exhaustion

March 10, 2024 Damon Socha Season 1 Episode 219
Episode #219 - Emotional Exhaustion
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Episode #219 - Emotional Exhaustion
Mar 10, 2024 Season 1 Episode 219
Damon Socha

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So often in this world of pressures, priorities and pledges to succeed, we find the wreckage of the emotionally exhausted individual.  One who has pushed beyond their emotional and physical capacity and found a crevasse so dark and deep, it is difficult to see anything much less a way out.  

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So often in this world of pressures, priorities and pledges to succeed, we find the wreckage of the emotionally exhausted individual.  One who has pushed beyond their emotional and physical capacity and found a crevasse so dark and deep, it is difficult to see anything much less a way out.  

Episode #219 – Emotional Exhaustion.  I am your host Damon Socha.  Have you ever felt spent emotionally and physically, like you just could handle anything else?  Have you ever felt emotionally numb?  Have you felt lost and without hope, just living each day, no joy, no real misery except perhaps the absence of joy?  Have you ever felt stuck?  I am most certain you have.  Each of us has likely experienced emotional exhaustion.  For many individuals emotional exhaustion is a passing part of life when someone dies, or they have driven their bodies and minds to the point it can go no further.  For others that feeling of exhaustion lasts much longer and has a much deeper effect upon the mind.  And for still others that feeling never seems to end.  Given the state of our current societies across the world, emotional exhaustion is one of the most common forms of mental and emotional illness.  In any given day you are likely to encounter several people who are just going through the motions of life waiting for the joy to return.  It is so common that an entire industry has risen up around keeping our mentality sharp and focused.  We see dieting trends, vitamins, minerals and everything one could imagine to circumvent this important part of our mental health.  The truth is we all have a pause switch in our brains that tells us when we are at our limits of emotional and physical capacity.  And when we reach that point in time and momentum our brain switches on the pause cycle.  We generally have no control over that turning point or the consequences that follow.

I am certain almost everyone of you has heard Elder Holland’s talk on mental health called, “Like a Broken Vessel”.  In it he speaks of mental illness in more general terms and in more specific terms he speaks of depression brought about by emotional exhaustion.  His words on the subject are the following, “No, this dark night of the mind and spirit is more than mere discouragement.  I have seen it come to an absolutely angelic man when his beloved spouse of 50 years passed away.  I have seen it in new mothers with what is euphemistically labeled “after-baby blues.”  I have seen it strike anxious students, military veterans, and grandmothers worried about the well-being of their grown children.  And I have seen it in young father’s trying to provide for their families.  In that regard I once terrifyingly saw it in myself.  At one point in our married life when financial fears collied with staggering fatigue, I took a psychic blow that was as unanticipated as it was real.  With the grace of God and the love of my family, I kept functioning and kept working, but even after all these years I continue to feel a deep sympathy for other more chronically or more deeply afflicted with such gloom than I was.  In any case we have all taken courage from those who, in the words of the Prophet Joseph, “searched … and contemplated the darkest abyss” and persevered through it – Not the least of whom were Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and George Albert Smith, the latter being one of the most gentle and Christlike men of our dispensation, who battled reoccurring depression for some years before later becoming the universally beloved eighth prophet and President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

While depression comes for many reasons to one’s life, emotional exhaustion is one of the most prominent.  Especially in our current society.  Pressures have never been more elevated to work harder, longer and with greater intensity than someone else.  The pressure to get ahead, move forward, push beyond your limitations is a constant, persistent ideology.  This is no truer than within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  We hear the call to magnify one’s calling, to lengthen your stride, to be of greater value to the Lord.  While these teachings are necessary and true to motivate the saints of the Lord at times, for many the lengthening of strides and the magnifying of callings can and does lead to a time and place when the emotional load we carry collides with our emotional capacity and the result is a darkness, and an emotional avalanche that is beyond description.  We fall into the crevasse that is incomprehensibly deep and wide.  We do not have control over the moment of collapse.  When we have driven our emotional body and mind to a point of personal perfection and that point is beyond a predetermined emotional weight, our emotional body and mind will collapse into a darkness that not only obscures the light of heaven but is so thick and heavy it can be felt.

We cannot determine this point of descent.  It has already been determined by our genetics and our emotional capacity.  We cannot avoid the consequences either.  Like a train weighed down with cargo moving speedily down the tracks, we cannot simply apply the breaks and hope that we stop as we reach our emotional capacity.  When emotional loads reach maximum weight and are moving swiftly down the tracks, it will be impossible to stop when suddenly the tracks run out.  People who experience burnout, or emotional exhaustion, speak of it as hitting a wall that they didn’t even see coming.  The experience is often so bewildering to them that they can feel that dark abyss covering their heart and mind sending them into a tailspin episode of mental and emotional health challenges.

While the earth shattering experience will be individual and personal.  The outcomes tend to fall into two categories. The first is a more temporary mental health challenge, where with some time and rest the body returns to a more normal functioning.  The amount of time and rest vary per person and per instance but many individuals will recover much of their functioning ability.  It might take weeks or even up to a year or more but they do recover.  Often the recovery is slow and arduous and full of false starts and reoccurring collapses.

The second outcome is more chronic and leads to a lifetime of difficulties and struggle.  Last year about Christmas time, I reached that point of inflection in my own life.  The pressures of work, church and family all became too much for my weak body to handle and I collapsed and found myself in the ER for a visit.  Now my emotional exhaustion came because of several inherent factors such as my autoimmune diseases, my previous bouts of mental health issues and some physical problems brought about by COVID.  I admit that I have still yet to recover my full functionality and perhaps at this point may never do so.  There are many among us who suffer in this way.  They have lost their capacity to accomplish what they once did.  It is not that their strength has diminish in the sense that the muscles are somehow weakened.  This darkness affects the very core of who we are.  Physically we look fine, but emotionally and mentally we have been weakened to the extent that our capacities have been altered significantly.  When this occurs anger, frustration, worthlessness, powerlessness enters one’s life with deafening speed.  Depression is by far the most common experience of those who have passed through this portal of misery.  But many other emotions and concerns arise, the greatest of which is that suicide and thoughts of suicide might become a persistent, nagging problem.

When we suddenly cannot do that which we once did a unique type of despondence occurs in our minds and hearts.  We wonder if life is worth living and what value one has to their family, children, church and community.  Instead of contributing and being one who served, we become the weak link in our family, church and community chains, needing more help that we can give.

One of the hardest lessons of life is to be served rather than to serve.  And when that moment comes suddenly, it can devastate one’s entire life.  When one can barely withstand the emotional and physical demands of work and have nothing left to give whom they love the most, they can feel utterly worthless.  Often family, friends, employment do not understand the sudden changes.  They expect what has been previously provided and enjoyed.  That expectation is a consistent reminder of one’s failure to be involved.  The same is true for one’s employment and often church family.  Most individuals cannot comprehend a sudden change in capacity.  Our brains simply do not work in that manner.  Our brains expect consistency.  What we have seen in the past we project into the future.  And so expectations of family, friends, coworkers and others are part of human nature.  And yet they heap pressures and fires upon those who have experienced this sudden change in capacity.  This same idea of projecting the past into our present also causes deep remorse within the soul of the person afflicted.  We become lost in a sea of I don’t knows, I don’t cares, and I can’ts.  And each time we have to dismiss ourselves from an activity, we fall ever so much further into that realm of darkness.

I think that one can tell from my writing that I have suffered several years from this type of exhaustion and all the ramifications that come with it.  I don’t think that I have faced anything quite this difficult in my life.  To be limited in emotional capacity which has severely limited my physical capacity has been about as much torture as I can handle.  I have certainly passed through to many “I don’t want to live anymore” moments.  And yet I am still here trying to do my part.  I get disappointing looks on a regular basis and I am almost certain sometimes my wife questions what she married.  However, she is an angel who in many ways suffers along with me.  And perhaps that is one of the hardest parts of this staggering emotional collapse, the weight and load that I once carried now falls upon my wife and family.  They struggle to understand why I can’t, when I look fine.  And the increased load and burden they carry causes all sorts of issues to arise.  One of the main problems and sources of frustration from this type of mental and emotional collapse is within close relationships where partners share the load of family, work and church.  When oxen don’t pull together, the path becomes far more difficult for the both of them.

So what do we do when we find ourselves lost in the endless night of limited emotional and physical capacity?  How do we refocus our lives?  How do we find joy and peace again?

Not sure I have all the answers to those questions.  But I have perhaps some understanding enough to say a few words about it.

The first and foremost rule is that you never give up.  You place your thoughts of suicide and leaving this earth into the “never going to happen” box.  You do your best each day you are given and I admit understanding that your best may not look like much. You give what you can each day.  Without running beyond your capacity.  And that will be difficult because your brain still believes that you have the same capacity you once had but your body and emotions tell a completely different story.  The brain will feel guilty as it cannot complete what it once did and the body and emotions will often be consistently overrun and taxed.  You will feel guilty and exhausted all the time.  Not sure that I have entirely erased that guilty feeling but with some brain training it does get better.  The first thing we need to do is to build that “never going to happen” box in your head and place all those thoughts of leaving this world there.

Second, comparison is the thief of the present.  Forgetting what you once did and understanding what you now can do is very important.  And you will need to involve both earth and heavenly powers to accomplish it.  You cannot compare yourself and your efforts to anyone past or present and that includes yourself.  You must cut off the past and find a new life and identity, one that is entirely redefined.

Redefining life when you have suffered such a collapse of capacity is no easy task because the mind is not setup to do so.  It wants that past to be present in the present.  It wants to know what we can do and how much we can do and it always reaches back into our memory to find it.  We need to work hard to stop the reaching back.  This means that you will need to be satisfied with what you are able to do today.  The only way you won’t be satisfied is if you compare what you did today to some other moment in time.  

Many who are driven to succeed have deeply rooted goals and objectives.  This includes goals in every portion of their life.  These goals have always been predicated that our past capacities will match our future ones.  Meaning life goals will need to be entirely rearranged and reestablished.  Everything from daily routines to weekend plans will need to be reworked, reviewed and renewed.  

The first thing I am going to admit from my experience is that when you do this redefining you are likely going to get it wrong several times.  Redefining who you are and your capacity to work and live takes time and effort.  To be satisfied with small accomplishments when your grandiose ones were your driving force is not easy for the brain to accept. To go from working 12 hours a day to hoping that you have enough capacity to shower, eat and work a couple of hours is something the brain was not really built to do.  And so a retraining of the brain is necessary and this retraining is not easy.  Our brains are stubborn by nature and that stubborn brain does not like to change habits, routines and understanding of capacity.  And so changing a stubborn brain takes more energy time and effort than we expect.

We must redefine our goals short and long term.  We must find joy in other life experiences.  We must learn our new capacity and live within it.  I admit that for much of my life when I have experienced this exhaustion, I have tended to do what society says.  I have tried to work through it, eat healthier, find the right combination of supplements and pharmaceuticals to help my body recover.  I have done the spiritual work, reading more, attending the temple more, being more engaged in my callings and spiritual matters. I have done everything possible but accept my illness for what it is.  For me none of those things have provided significant relief.

Ultimately, I have had to redefine who I am and who I will be.  I have had to step back and see something different for my life.  I have found joy in more simple things and life experiences.  I have had to push guilt to the side and say, I can only do what I can do.  There is nothing easy about this fight with the demon of emotional exhaustion.  I have had to reprioritize my efforts and where I spend my time and energy.  I have had to rethink and replan everything.  And I admit that I am still working through that process.

In order to accomplish the life refocusing and redefining, I have needed to ask what and why.  What does the Lord want me to learn from this?  Why has he allowed for it to continue?  My answers have come far more line upon line and a little hear and there.  Ultimately my answer has been that the Lord knows what I can do when I have all my capacity and he does need me to prove myself, although I would most certainly like to try.  He needs to know what I will do when I am severely limited in my abilities.  Will I continue to do small things or give up entirely?  Upon what will I focus?  What will I leave behind and what will I keep?  Like the pioneers who needed to lighten their load on the trip west, what am I willing to leave behind that might have been once very important but now seems far more trivial?  When the Lord has broken me down to my core elements, what will be left?

The answers to those questions have been personally eye opening to me.  I have come to see myself and my life in a new light and with new understanding.  I have seen my priorities change and my life renewed in different ways.  I have come much closer to the Lord and his priorities for me as I have wandered in the wilderness of darkness.  I think that when we come to the Lord and give ourselves to him, he must break us down to our core elements and then rebuild us from the foundation.  He cannot build upon sandy soil or core emotional elements that are faulty.  So when we give ourselves to him fully, we often find ourselves within our greatest trials.  When we are truly willing to be tutored and molded in the image of God, we will pass through experiences and life events we could not ever have imagined.  So often we think that when we give everything to him and place it on the alter, he will gather us in his arms and keep us safe from the trials and troubles of this world.  We will be sheltered from the wind and rain.  And yet when others have given everything to him, he asks them to sacrifice their covenant son, traverse the desert for eight years, give up their profitable fishing business, and so much more.  What we see when we turn completely to the Lord is his tutoring hand upon us. Sheltering us from life’s difficulties is not the pruning we need.  Celestial people are fully of difficult experiences not stories of a sheltered life. 

When we come to these moments of truth and trial, the real question is will we shrink.  Elder Maxwell was famous for saying that he would persevere what the Lord desired of him, he just didn’t want to shrink under the pressure.  The real truth of the matter is that if the Lord is not placing trials and difficulties in your life, you should probably find out why.  We all need pruning and cutting if we are to produce the fruits that are most desirable.  When it comes to emotional exhaustion and the trials that come with it, I hope that you will not look upon it as a punishment but an opportunity to learn from the Lord your true potential.  May he bless you to see yourself as you truly are and as you can be under his guidance.  Until next week do your part so that the Lord can do his.