From Burnout to Reflection

I was experiencing burnout at the beginning of May. This is not the first burnout I experienced, but it was the first time I was diagnosed with lung cancer. It caught my attention, and it made me think deeply about my life.

Exploring burnout

These one-and-half years' pandemic has been challenging, especially for lung cancer patients. Besides the constant stress related to our diagnosis, we have suffered a lot due to COVID-19 by worrying about getting COVID-19, potential triages, canceling doctors' appointments, or surgical procedures.

I felt terrible, but I didn't know I had burnout until I learned about the signs of burnout. Under chronic stress for a long time, we can develop the symptoms of burnout, which include 1) emotional exhaustion, 2) depersonalization, and 3) lack of personal accomplishments.1,2 These were what I felt at the beginning of May.

My schedule has been nonstop

I had been non-stop advocating for lung cancer for three years. I have Zoom meetings or conferences or webinars almost every day, and I have to go through FB, Twitter, and WeChat every day, all related to lung cancer. At the end of April, I focused on advocating for the Manitoba Government to shorten the two-dose vaccines to cancer patients. The Canadian Government decided the second dose vaccine was postponed four months after the first one to have more people with one dose vaccine. For the lasted two weeks of April, the advocacy is intense even for a healthy person, but I felt incredibly proud of myself and my team after that.

In May, after the advocating, I had experienced burnout. I started to feel low and empty after we changed Manitoba Government's rule for cancer patients. I was lack of enthusiasm and energy for anything I was doing. I was in full-body fatigue, indifferent to my advocating work, which I have never felt this way before, and I viewed myself and my advocacy in a negative light and was critical of myself. I felt dark, dull and couldn't see how to pull myself up.

I selected the strategies about how to handle burnout explained by Priyanka Halli and Alicia Nortje.1,2 I dropped many things except one or two related to my cancer advocacy. I stopped Zoom meetings, all the conferences, webinars, Twitter, and WeChat. Instead, I went to the cottage, unwinding for several days. Well, it worked.

Thinking about my life

I don't want to dwell on my burnout, but I spent some time walking and thinking along the lake during my burnout. I did some soul searching about my past and present. I was always wondering: was I supposed to be a scientist/professor? Should I embark on science? Should I be somebody else? This question has bothered me for a while, even before my lung cancer diagnosis.

I was convinced to be a scientist by my parents and by Chinese society, but I was never asked what I wanted to be and what I was more suitable for. I've felt another voice in me, but I repressed it. So I want to know who I’m and look at myself from a new angle. Maybe I'm a natural-born scientist, or maybe not.

Connecting with my spirituality

I'm not a spiritual person and have zero spiritual experience. Since the Chinese Communist Party came to power in 1949, all the religions and spirituality were considered "anti-revolutionary". Therefore, the churches, mosques, and temples for Christians, Muslin, and Buddhism were all demolished or burned down. At the same time, those more than 2,000 years of ancient Chinese philosophies were also disregarded as superstition, like Confucianism (儒家思想), Feng Shui (风水), Taoism (道教), etc. Their books were all burned, and nobody dared to talk about it. I remember we were told that there was no God and God was just a tool used by the "ruling classes" to "slave the working people".

Growing up in China, both my parents are not religious. In our household, religions, and spirituality are never mentioned.

After I lived in Canada, I became interested in religions and spirituality, especially after being diagnosed with lung cancer. I first started to practice for PSG (平甩功) a Chinese soft martial art last September. I feel that my mind is very clear and I can do some tough thinking while I practice PSG. Although I was not spiritual, I'm getting more interested in Feng Shui (风水) and listening to webinars about Chinese and Indian philosophical talks. I have a feeling something spectacular will happen to me.

I still have the question about who I am. I’m trying to know about myself, maybe from spirituality, and gradually, I want to live spiritually. This burnout has made me think deeply about myself.

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