Vending machine empathy

I haven’t met a snack-dispensing vending machine that I did like (yet!) But my favourite vending machine (so far) is the one I discovered in the old Downshire Hospital while doing on-call shifts in Psychiatry. It dispensed large bags of Haribo Starmix before they were trendy. Though these little rings, stars & cola bottles are not the most nutritionally beneficial snacks in the world, the sugar hits kept me going through the night.

Last year on Facebook I scrolled upon a photo of another vending machine. ‘The light’s out but I’m still working’ was scrawled on A4 paper & stuck on its glass. It struck a chord & I empathised with the vending machine more than any human I’d encountered that day.

After months of overworking my light was snuffed out . My inner spark was gone. Sticking an ‘out of order’ sign on wasn’t an option. Like the vending machine, I just had to keep on working.

On reflection I can’t say I totally burnt out but the candle was very definitely burning at both ends & smoldering in the middle.

I had a pounding headache during my waking hours, felt unrefreshed after waking from broken sleep & developed ocular migraine that I’d never experienced before.

I’m not a workoholic. I didn’t choose to be this busy. I was simply trying to do what needed to be done. But this didn’t feel like the job I signed up for. I didn’t need this pressure. Due to circumstances beyond my control, work had become unmanageable & out of control

As the hours racked up I felt that I was getting nowhere fast:

‘Everything was important, as a result you get stretched thinner and thinner. He was making a millimeter of progress in a million directions.'(Greg McKeown)

Most days I felt like I was wading through treacle in a fog.I didn’t feel depressed – just really stressed.

‘Burnout’ occurs when ‘…people give too much for too long and receive too little in return’ (Taylor and Francis, 1988.)

‘Stress is the feeling that we have when we perceive that we have a need or obligation [but] inadequate resources to handle it,’ (Alan Levine)

At the height of my work related stress,I completed the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) for the craic & I scored at high risk of burnout in all 3 elements:

1 Burnout- emotional exhaustion

2 Depersonalisation- loss of empathy, with detachment & cynicism

3 Personal achievement- negative assessment of self, failure to achieve despite efforts

As Professor David Peters, head of the Centre for Resilience in London, states: ‘Long term drowning in high levels of adrenaline and cortisol eventually makes you ill. But before that, it makes you stupid and unfriendly.’

That may sound harsh but it’s true. I hardly recognised myself. My short fuse had blown. I definitely didn’t like the person I’d become.

Throughout this time I could just about hold it together at work but at home I was the worst version of myself. Yet I felt I could relax with my nuclear family & that Rob & God were the only ones who really knew what was going on in my head.

I felt connected with God on trail-runs- my favourite form of creation therapy! Yet church felt so far removed from my real life. It felt less painful not to go – or even to just work {gasp}

I got annoyed & resentful about those who worked part-time or don’t work at all. Or who used to work but now everyday is a Saturday. I felt nauseous at the inequity of spare time. I grew more introverted & mourned bygone days of balance.

I thought back to a different season, a favourite chapter when the kids were small & work was confined to 3 days. My week was punctuated by coffee & Bible Studies with friends – doing life together & connecting our souls.

One night I had reached the end of myself, dialling -in to do more work on the laptop after a long day at work

Above the desk I have a photo Rob took at Mount Blanc with a quote from the Getty’s hymn:
‘Help us grasp the heights of your plans for us’

“Is this the height of Your plans for us? For me?” I vented at the Only One who could help. God is able to deal with our raw emotions & fragile state.

I knew deep down that this frenetic way of life was not God’s design. I couldn’t keep going.

“I’m not cut out for this!” I informed Him.

Instantly the words from Emily P Freeman’s book Simply Tuesday came to mind.
You are not cut out but placed in’

I knew I was where I was meant to be. That didn’t minimise the pressure but perhaps started to rekindle my purpose.

I’m not telling my story because I think I’m unique. Stress at work is sadly too common

A survey of 500 GPs in the UK published in the BMJ in 2012 found 46% were emotionally exhausted, 42% were depersonalised and 34% felt they were not achieving a great deal.(Orton et al)

And of course it’s not confined to healthcare. And those who don’t have paid employment can feel overwhelmed by the pressures of life.

What can we do if the light is off but we’re still working?

Look after yourself

‘Self care means giving the world the best of you instead of what is left of you’
(Katie Reed)

Be kind to yourself – We need to be . Listen to Andrew Peterson’s song

Cut yourself some slack in this season

‘Take a deep breath. Get present in the moment and ask yourself what is important this very second.’
(Greg Mckeown)

‘Do the next thing’ (Elizabeth Elliot)

For ‘A Journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’
(Lao Tzu)


We need to see things in a new way.

One helpful quote I discovered was:
‘You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf’ (John Kabat-Zinn)

I really need to turn it into a poster for the wall!

For church I try to remember:
‘You don’t just go to church, you are the church!’

Choosing change

‘There’s no life work balance without making decisions or without courage’ (Michael Hyatt)

I needed to make choices or this season would become the pattern for rest of my life. The children won’t be at home forever- & I want to spend quality time with them.

I decided to go into work early each morning to get things done at the start of the day. I made an executive decision to leave the work laptop at work.

Having boundaries between home & work has helped. There’s pressure but it’s contained & feels more manageable.

Know yourself

The ancient wisdom (& painful accuracy!)of the Enneagram helped me understand myself. I’m a type 1 (perfectionist) Whose harsh inner critic was deafening. Under pressure I disintegrate into a badly behaving type 4 ( ie all emotions & little sense!)

Find out your type.

Listen to typology podcast or read ‘The road back to you

Read helpful books
– in small chunks when you can concentrate

On Kindle I’ve been reading ‘Refresh-Embracing a Grace paced life in a world of endless demands’ (David & Shona Murray)

On Christian audio I’m listening to ‘Reset-living a grace paced life in a burnout culture’ (David Murray)

Reset is geared for men (especially those in ministry) & Refresh is written for women. David is a pastor & counsellors & Shona (his wife) is a Family Doctor.

Even the thought of a Grace paced life brings hope

It’s good to talk

Burdens are better shared & it is good to talk but sometimes we have to choose carefully who we talk to.

If your family & friends can’t really help- speak to your GP. We’re here to help!

Lastly but most importantly

Trust God

(The One who made you, knows you best yet loves you most)

I love the way the Bible tells the whole story of its characters – the best of times & worst of times.

In 1 Kings chapter 18 Elijah had challenged the Israelites to choose their true God, defeated the prophets of Baal, climbed to the top of Mount Carmel, seen answered prayer for rain & ran 10k supernaturally fast.

One chapter later he ran for his life, journeyed into the desert & sat under a broom tree praying he might die.

Elijah fell asleep then was advised to get up & eat by an angel of God (Sometimes simple tasks like sleeping & eating are what we need most & all we can muster) Strengthened, Elijah journeyed to Horeb the Mountain of the Lord& into God’s Presence . He experienced wind, earthquake & fire then the still small voice of God

When we are His, God meets us in the middle of our mess & chaos- if we can hear his gentle whisper above the noise of our troubled minds.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
‭‭(2 Corinthians‬ ‭12:9‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

I love this verse amplified:
“My grace is sufficient for you [My lovingkindness and My mercy are more than enough–always available–regardless of the situation]; for [My] power is being perfected [and is completed and shows itself most effectively] in [your] weakness.” Therefore, I will all the more gladly boast in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ [may completely enfold me and] may dwell in me.”
‭‭(2 CORINTHIANS‬ ‭12:9‬ ‭AMP‬‬)

We can trust the grace of God & His power & promises as we journey through life & work:
‘His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises’
‭‭(2 Peter‬ ‭1:3-4 NIV)

‘Steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.’
‭‭(Psalms‬ ‭32:10‬ ‭ESV‬‬)


Ruth x

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