The Come Down and the Burn Out – Take 2

My first blog post (Take 1 here) covered the come down; those feelings post course ending, thoughts on library qualifications, job hunting and the problems with job hunting, my skill set and what I’m going to do next.

This blog post covers the burn out I’m currently feeling / recovering from.

Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich on

What is burn out?

  • Feeling exhausted all the time – by everything.
  • Work/study/life feels either dull or overwhelming or sometimes magically both.
  • Every day feels like a bad day.
  • Loss of motivation.
  • Difficulty doing even the most basic tasks (work or home).
  • Tired, exhausted, drained, etc. etc.

These are just some of the things I think encompass burn out, at least for me, and how it feels. You can get burnt out through work, personal life, anything really.

The catalyst of my burn out occurred last year over the summer due to a particular job. I got out of that job pretty swiftly, but left with nothing more than two zero hours jobs to go to*. Anyone who’s worked zero hours will know how stressful each month is trying to get shifts and if the shifts don’t turn up… well it can be pretty bad.

Funnily enough despite having a variety of zero hour jobs for 10 years now, and them existing, and being in the media a lot, I STILL have to explain what it really means to work zero hours to soooo many people. This is especially hard when juggling jobs and people say ‘Oh can you just come in this day’or ‘Can we just swap that day with this’ or ‘Can you come in for this extra thing on Thursday?’ and then just saying ‘Nope, sorry I can’t’ if it goes beyond that to explain that changing your plans means losing income. This happened a lot on my librarianship course too, which was infuriating when visits, lesson dates/times changed short notice and this effected my employment. The majority of lecturers didn’t seem to get it. Please GET IT.

1. Left my job.
(PEAK burn out – Minor Stress Relief)
2. Relied on only zero hours roles whilst looking for work.
(Extra Stress + more burn out from taking as many shifts as possible)
3. Looked, in a panic, for more work, applied to anything/everything.
(More Stress + more burn out)

This situation lasted for around 3-ish months.

I was also in the first term, second year, of my part time Librarianship course and this was the time I moved from the Masters course to the Postgraduate Diploma so I could afford to finish. Again… more stress! Working as much as possible, job hunting, interviews AND trying to do well in my course = a true cyclical recipe for disaster (but still very happy I left a bad work situation that was causing me mental/emotional distress).

I did eventually get a job that started in December last year, but I couldn’t find anyone who would take me on full time and fit around my part time course timetable (part time did not equal classes for 2.5 days btw, literally a day, if that, a week – 4 hours teaching tops). I found this EXTREMELY annoying. This narrative has been running for long enough that I shouldn’t be surprised. Employers want you to have a library qualification, but will often do nothing to support you in this!

I even rang some places about vacancies preemptively to ask if I could re-arrange my hours to go to class and had so many… ‘No’s and ‘Well I dunno you’d have to ask HR’ and then more ‘No’s.

Anyway, I got a part time job! Set hours! Set money per month! This was way better. But it wasn’t really enough for me to afford to live, and commute to Sheffield and other costs like transport, when stuff breaks, needs replaced, life stuff, food, etc. So I took on some other work.

So here’s what my time looked like:

£ Subscriptions and E-Resources Coordinator = 17.5 hrs per week
£ Repository Administrator = 7 hrs per week (approx.)
£ Editorial Assistant = 7 hrs per week (approx.)
£ Impact Evidencing Intern (Paid) = 7 hrs per week (approx.)
= 38.5 hours per week

Taught Study = 4 hrs per week
Self Study= 10 hrs per week approx.

Total = 52.5 hours per week

And I still had my two zero hours jobs so I could work some evenings and weekends too. I’ve always been a big believer in not living beyond my means, which means if I want nice things beyond food and rent (which obvs I do cos CAPITALISM) I gotta work for them.

Obviously the money was better than just zero hours or just one part time job, but for every job job after your first you get taxed 20% and your holidays are all messed up and everything is pro-rata and your wages still change a bit per month. It was super hard to keep on top of what I thought I should be making.

I managed to do all this, but I was BUSY and TIRED all the time.
I wouldn’t recommend it, but also some people have to do this, and more, and worse. I used to hate people telling me to ‘look after myself’ or ‘slow down.’ If you say that to someone in a tricky work/financial situation expect to be invoiced immediately for their rent/bills for your lack of understanding.

So even though I was trying to recover from previous burn out all of this was still contributing to post burn out feelings. Having so many jobs meant having to remember a lot of different information, manage A LOT of email boxes, and I felt a lot of my roles were fairly subservient, which was exhausting acting this way in multiple roles. There have been weeks where I’ve definitely felt like the host of a million vampires sucking all my energy away (E.g. emails like ‘This is broken!’, ‘I’m so important I need this thing immediately!’ and ‘My research is the most important in the world!!!’) until I’m nothing more than a husk by the end of the week only to start it all over again.

All of this continued roughly from September to June, with the above jobs appearing and finishing in between stages (none of them full time/permanent contracts).

Then, post course finishing, my set hours dropped to 24.5 hrs per week + zero hours work. It was great to reduce my number of jobs and hours, but not so great to go back down to less money.

So it was back to the grind of job applications 10 months later (not that I hadn’t been looking for dreamy jobs during my course). Ideally a full time gig so I can stop doing multiple jobs and having 10 different hats on and a billion email addresses.

All those jobs above I had to write applications, go to interviews, perform tests or tasks, etc. So much research, so much time and energy. People tell me it’s great practice and yeah… but at a cost.

It’s not really a surprise that I’m exhausted. Or tired of job applications requiring me to be this amazing, organised, team player, but can also work on their own, and use initiative, but remember not too much, only to join (some) employers where all of this seems completely lacking in the current team and or structure?

How do you recover from a burn out when the only thing you can do is keep stoking the fire?

Scene from Over the Garden Wall featuring the Woodsman.
(be careful there’s spoilers if you’ve not seen the show. It’s a great show!)

Applying for jobs post burn out or during a burn out recovery is difficult. When you have a lengthy low mood and you feel so tired it’s hard to write or talk about yourself like you’re this amazing, competent, super star when all you want to do is crawl into bed and never work again.

Looking at jobs and thinking… well… do I really want to do that? The low, miserable, mood seeps into all the cracks and definitely clouds your vision over everything. All my old fears from multiple difficult jobs that have definitely effected me, my confidence, faith in my own abilities, etc. rear their angry heads when looking for new opportunities. The worries that make me think… ‘Is this job going to be worth it? Worth the application? Worth the interview? Worth finding out if it’s another toxic environment?’ It’s hard not to think the worst especially when I seem to have the worst luck in finding healthy work environments (remember that burn out is often a process of build up – most likely not just contributed to by one thing, one job, etc.)

I’ve obviously been applying for vacancies as much as I can. As much as I can see ones that I fit the bill and only kind of fit the bill for. I can only describe it as feeling like an octopus trying to cram myself into weird and wonderful shapes for employers and being like ‘Look at me! Look how I exactly fit into this Rhombicosidodecahedron that is this job! For you!’ which is, again, exhausting.

I want to finish up with some suggestions for relieving burn out

  • Cancel every plan you can/want to cancel.
  • Set some boundaries – say “no” more.
  • If you need to apply for jobs you can’t really stop doing that, but play smarter. Don’t try and apply for everything if there is lots out there. Make some selections. What can you do and what do you stand a chance in.
  • Don’t listen to everyone’s advice all the time (even mine in this blog post!)- especially if there are huge differences in your life circumstances.
  • You know you best – remember to take your own advice too.
  • Try and readdress a work life balance as much as you can.
  • Don’t feel bad about doing nothing.

I don’t want this blog post to appear as a ‘poor me’ blog post even if it seems that way. Or that my experiences or advice will help everyone when we all lead such individual lives. I guess I’m writing it because as I went through all this so many people’s understanding of my situation, my money, my finances, my time, my responsibilities was completely lacking in the majority of cases. As much as sometimes we talk about the cost of deciding on a library qualification and trying to work in this field and jump through all the hoops I think the nitty gritty information on people’s actual lives can get lost.

This is not a special situation that belongs to me. I know it happens to other people people. I know that people have much worse situations with their finances and their time and trying to progress, whatever that means to an individual, and keep their head above the water.

I’d really like to do something about it. I’m just not sure what that is yet or what it looks like.

* I’ve had zero hours jobs as I’ve said for 10 years. My longest run has been 6 years of the same zero hours job. I’ve always had them from feeling I’ve never been in safe or stable or well paid positions and they have definitely helped me over the years to cover these things and act as a “safety net” if you can even call it that.

3 thoughts on “The Come Down and the Burn Out – Take 2

    1. Thanks Ingrid! I found it really hard to talk about because it effects people so differently and I’m not sure if what I’ve said is helpful at all! Got stuck in a bit of a why publish it if it doesn’t help anyone :/ this went through sooo many drafts and I’m still not happy with it 100%


  1. Pingback: Life Update – some good news! – Rookie (almost) Librarian

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