Burn Out

I was in the middle to two writing projects for the launch of a new drug when the pounding in my chest first started. The timelines were short Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 3.53.26 PMand the projects were long (nothing new in the pharmaceutical industry). I’ve done projects like these hundreds of times over my 25-year career as a medical writer. Launched several new products and blockbuster drugs into the market. This project was really nothing new; and not so large that it should trigger such a powerful reaction.

But there were other curveballs life has been throwing at me at 50 Something that may have intensified my stress. My best friend recently died following a 3-year fight with a brain tumor.  We had been through junior high school, high school, and college together. He was the type of friend who was always there when you needed him, no questions asked. And now he was gone. He was only 59. My brother-n-law only few months earlier was diagnosed with lung cancer that metastasized to his brain. And my wife, only that spring, had been diagnosed and treated for breast cancer just after winning a two-year struggle with major depression.

The symptoms were not typical of a heart attack so I just assumed they were palpitations and I didn’t go to a doctor right away. I assumed it was stress related and decided to stop working and take some time off. As a freelance writer I can take as long or as little time off as I want. After all I had the best boss in the world—me! Plus it was the holiday season and I could just enjoy Christmas in New York. I deserved that.

But they didn’t completely stop right away. Over the next week or two, the palpitations would come and go; sometimes they occurred in the early morning, something during the day, while working out or relaxing in the evening.  Now having the palpitations was making me nervous. Maybe even causing a vicious circle: palpitations increase stress that increases palpitations.  So I made an appointment with the cardiologist.

Twenty-four hour halter monitoring revealed I had an arrhythmia. Quite common; and not dangerous. I was put on a beta-blocker that took about two weeks to control the arrhythmia.

So now it was time to go back to work again. But something strange happened. After taking two months off from the work I had been doing for 25 years, I had no passion, no drive left to go back to it. Maybe the palpitations were more than just stress, more than just a reaction to all the curveballs life had been throwing at me, maybe my body was telling me “enough already.” Maybe I was completely “burned out.”

So what do you do now? Most of us cannot afford to stop working indefinitely. Look for something else? The income from this field could never be replaced so quickly, so I started putting out feelers for writing assignments anyway. But I was looking for work that I did not want to do and it seemed to making me even sicker.

So what are my options at 50 Something? Take more time off? Start a new career? Any suggestions or ideas are welcome.

4 comments for “Burn Out

  1. scott
    February 18, 2015 at 5:50 pm

    Write a short story and submit it to Reader’s Digest to stir up your creative juices; maybe it will spark a new path for you, or at least something fun before going back to slide kits and monographs.

    Or take a friend to see “Kingsman: The Secret Service”.

  2. Perry
    February 18, 2015 at 9:11 pm

    Dear 50 Something…
    You already know what the prudent course of action for you to take is don’t you? Of course you do!
    As we age, life throws us more than curve balls. Add the off speed pitch, the slider, the change up, even getting hit occasionally by the errant fastball and it’s no wonder why we’re stressed and have heart palpitations.
    It’s time to simplify your life my 50 something friend. Time to stop and smell the coffee.
    The important thing to remember now that you have recognized the “wake-up call”, is that status quo is not your friend. Why? Because Time waits for no man, and that is why you shouldn’t waste any more of it.
    So, grab your lucky wife and your awesome dog and go rent a Winnebago and get the hell out of NY for a while. Go explore.
    The passion will soon return, guaranteed. Perhaps “it” will reveal itself in some new and refreshing direction.

  3. Melanie
    February 19, 2015 at 8:08 am

    Sorry to hear you’ve been through so much lately.

    My problem is trying to figure out what that “other” thing I want to do is, so I end up doing the same old thing – although being freelance helps A LOT! But you are a writer, so there’s a lot you can do with that talent.

    Also, try volunteering. I’ve found that it helps to do something you really enjoy that helps someone else (in my case, it helps cats), even for an hour or so a week.

  4. Patti
    February 19, 2015 at 10:06 am

    You are my rock and you have awesome family and friends. We all hit a rough patch and I am certain you will conquer this and life will just get better. Life is already better with you in it! I hate to quote the proverb from medieval Levant but “this too shall pass”.

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