I’m So Over It - Chronic Illness and Healthcare Burnout
2021 was fun, tiring, wonderful, complicated, and stressful, among other things. Above all, it was a long, exhausting year full of healthcare visits for me.
As a result, I’ve been so mentally exhausted with doctor’s visits, scans and procedures for months now. And I know I’m not the only one in this boat. Week by week, month by month, the consistent collecting of doctor’s visits can come with a steady increase in a variety of emotions, as I’m now finding out. These emotions can stretch beyond concern for one’s health.
My 2021 healthcare journey
When the year began, I knew I’d be seeing a gastrointestinal specialist for the first time, therefore expanding my healthcare team. Little did I know the journey in store for me early in the year.
Since the beginning of the year I’ve seen multiple specialists about several different concerns, had to halt my biologic several times for infection (not to mention had an allergic reaction to an antibiotic), started several new medications, underwent multiple x-rays, ultrasounds and a CT scan, and made time for dozens of doctors appointments both in person and virtual.
Some of these visits and procedures came about because I’ve been chasing some mysterious side pain for five months now with no good leads. In the midst of this search, there have been several other incidental finds resulting in a chain reaction of more visits, more procedures, and more worries.
How burnout is affecting me
Typically when we talk about burnout, we’re talking about burnout with a job. But burnout, because it’s related to mental, physical, and emotional fatigue from excessive stress, can be associated with anything including healthcare and chronic illness.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m stressed. Not only am I worried about the findings and potential issues arising from all of these doctor’s visits, but I also find myself wondering what else will arise from new medications, a future surgery, and what other imaging scans may reveal.
I find myself becoming flippant and cynical about each new concern that arises, as if it’s just one more thing to add to the list. I try to cope by pushing it out of my head but that tactic only works for so long. Instead, I find myself searching for more sustaining ways to manage healthcare burnout.
Managing healthcare burnout
I haven’t gotten it figured out yet, but I’ve surely had quite a bit of practice with healthcare burnout throughout the year of 2021! Here are a few strategies that help me cope:
1. Focus on the positives
Sometimes tests, bloodwork, and scans can lead to a compounding of concerns resulting in more tests, scans, and appointments (and more stress!). That’s why I try to embrace the results that come back normal. But even if I receive concerning results, I know the first step to resolving an issue (or treating it) is to identify the problem.
2. Manage doctor’s appointments strategically
I try to get the absolute most out of my doctor’s visits by asking lots of questions and advocating for myself. I ask the doctor to be transparent and reveal the next several steps, not just the most immediate one. This allows me to send a simple message to request we move forward with X or Y instead of having to make trip after trip into the office for each new development.
3. Self-Care is vital
Self-care is not just a buzzword for people managing chronic illnesses. It’s necessary to manage the physical, mental, and emotional symptoms of long-lasting and progressive diseases. When I feel overwhelmed by health concerns and healthcare visits, I make time to do something that’s relaxing. I also seek other areas of my life where I can eliminate some stress so I don’t feel bombarded from all directions.
These strategies work well for me, but they don’t eliminate the stress and anxiety associated with managing a chronic illness. Above all, leaning on a loved one may be the most crucial tactic I’ve used.
I’d love to hear from you. Do you have experience with healthcare burnout? What strategies do you use to cope?
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