Living with a spinal cord injury isn’t necessarily a “job,” but to anybody living with paralysis, it can certainly feel like a job. Recently, the World Health Organization added burnout to its International Classification of Diseases. The definition of burnout used by the World Health Organization relates to stress caused by a person’s job and/or workplace. The symptoms of burnout include feelings of energy depletion and increased feelings of negativism and cynicism toward one’s job. Individual experiences will vary, but in a typical week I spend approximately 30 hours dealing with situations that I would not deal with if not for having a spinal cord injury. Coincidentally, 30 hours also happens to be the generally accepted threshold for a job to qualify as full-time.
Over the years, these 30-hour work weeks add up and can take a physical and mental toll on an individual. The biggest difference between a “spinal cord injury work week” and the standard work week is that there is no escape from the daily grind of living with the injury. The pain, spasms, caregivers, bowel programs, accessibility issues, insurance battles, and everything else that comes with the injury never really go away. Most people take vacations to get away from their jobs, but those of us with injuries often dread traveling because of the stress caused by worrying about damage to our wheelchairs and finding accessible accommodations. Needless to say, burnout is often an inevitability when living with a spinal cord injury.
Since there is no vacation from the injury, it is important to find ways to manage the stress. Oftentimes, people put their head down and push forward through the difficulties of the injury. This can work for short periods, but it is important to acknowledge the stress we deal with. I have found that talking to others with spinal cord injuries is the best way to vent our frustrations. We all deal with unique but similar situations that only we in the spinal cord injury community understand. It can be helpful to know that others deal with the same problems and that we are not alone. Being able to say “this really sucks” to someone who understands can be a powerful thing.
It is also important to take care of ourselves physically when dealing with stress. Stress can cause many physical symptoms like elevated blood pressure, ulcers, and weight gain. All of these can complicate the problems that come with a spinal cord injury. Exercise is a good way to take out frustration, and can also help manage any physical manifestations of stress. If exercise sounds like too much work, finding an escape by watching a movie or listening to music can be effective in reducing stress.
Life with a spinal cord injury comes with many challenges that very few people will ever understand. Managing the full-time job of living with the injury while participating in the other things we want to can be difficult and lead to burnout. It is important to know that the challenges we face are real and it is okay to acknowledge that the stress that we feel is valid. Everyone encounters feelings of burnout at one point or another, and it is good to know that we are not alone.
Written by Mike Franz
Mike is a C6 quad from Michigan who has been injured 16+ years.