Is Depression “Just” a Form of Burnout?

I’m sure there are many people who mange to go to work every day and complete a necessary chore or errand before simply stopping and ignoring all demands for further action or attention.  I know that I’m one of them.  If something needs to be done, I need to do it immediately, either on the way home or immediately after I arrive or it simply doesn’t get done.

I came across a great article while trying to answer this question for myself:  Depression: What is burnout? (excerpts below)

The symptoms that are said to be a result of burnout can generally also have other causes, including mental or psychosomatic illnesses like depression, anxiety disorders or chronic fatigue syndrome. But physical illnesses or certain medications can cause symptoms such as exhaustion and tiredness too

Some experts think that other conditions are behind being “burned out” – such as depression or an anxiety disorder. Physical illnesses may also cause burnout-like symptoms. Being diagnosed with “burnout” too soon might then mean that the real problems aren’t identified and treated appropriately.

What are the signs and symptoms of burnout?
“Burnout is considered to have a wide range of symptoms. There is no general agreement about which of those are part of burnout and which are not. But all definitions given so far share the idea that the symptoms are thought to be caused by work-related or other kinds of stress. One example of a source of stress outside of work is caring for a family member.

Some characteristics of burnout are very specific, though. For instance, in burnout most of the problems are work-related. In depression, negative thoughts and feelings aren’t only about work, but about all areas of life.

There are three main areas of symptoms that are considered to be signs of burnout:

  • Exhaustion: People affected feel drained and emotionally exhausted, unable to cope, tired and down, and do not have enough energy. Physical symptoms include things like pain and stomach or bowel problems.
  • Alienation from (work-related) activities: People who have burnout find their jobs increasingly stressful and frustrating. They may start being cynical about their working conditions and their colleagues. At the same time, they may increasingly distance themselves emotionally, and start feeling numb about their work.
  • Reduced performance: Burnout mainly affects everyday tasks at work, at home or when caring for family members. People with burnout are very negative about their tasks, find it hard to concentrate, are listless and lack creativity.

Looking at this and other articles, I think stress is my main contributing factor and I have or continue to have several stress related physical conditions:  migraine, licanplanus, IBS-D, fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue, and insomnia.  Given the criteria, however, I am dealing with depression and not burnout.

As just about everyone else with a chronic health, behavioral or mental condition has, I have developed coping strategies.  I take amitriptyline at bedtime.  I try to get at least 8 hours of sleep and this directly lessens the pain and fatigue.  I’ve learned my IBS-D triggers and try to avoid or limit them.  Relieving my need for control has reduced stress and migraines.  But the weariness remains and the simplest definition of this is that I’m tired of doing the same things day after day, week after week, year after year, etc.  I have coping strategies for that too though and sometimes they work really well and sometimes they don’t.

I coped with divorce and the idea that’d I’d end up as a cat lady (whom nobody would miss until work reported my absence and my half-eaten body was then found) by resetting my life, developing a mantra (young and happy) that I applied to things, people and events in my life, and socializing (and dating).  I tried community interest college courses and various groups such as Seattle-based Women of Wisdom.  I took up jewelry-making (with classes).  I went back to knitting and started my own Meetup group.  Eventually, they all feel like doing the same thing over and over again.  I put a “good” face on it by saying I just got bored.

And I do get bored, mainly because I love ideas and just haven’t found anybody else like that.  Someone who reads voraciously, watches politics and current events, loves music (especially concerts and live performances) and travel, and wants to discuss all those things without rancor.  While I know no single person or activity could meet all those desires, I thought my boyfriend at least appreciated them.  But that wore off.  He’s satisfied with some occasional humor/playfulness (but not too much) and sex.  I am not a real priority except in emergencies (and he does rescue me then).  I don’t feel deeply connected to anyone, family or friends.  And now I’m planning for retirement which will probably be solo since the boyfriend doesn’t want the same things…

So, I’m not suicidal and believe my life (like all life) has intrinsic value.  But I do feel that life is just keeping busy between birth and death.  I can control my actions and reactions to what happens in my life and change is not abhorrent.  So, I’ll keep moving along.