I remember my first day of EMT class when we talked about two things. The first, the provider always comes first to the patient and the second, how to recognize burnout in yourself and your coworkers. Being in EMS is stressful. When you go into work, you never know what you might see. On one call, you might help a kind old lady and on the next call, you might be shot at by a drunk. EMS is unpredictable and dangerous and can eventually lead to what is referred to as "burnout" in providers. So there we were, sitting in EMT class, on our first day, learning about what could maybe, possibly happen to us 10 or 15 years down the road. I glanced at the potential list of burnout symptoms--sleep disturbances, lack of care and motivation, anxiety--just to name a few. Honestly, I sort of dismissed it and assumed it would never happen to me. And while thankfully, it hasn't yet, burnout is starting to happen in other aspects of my life.
Today, my therapist pointed out to my friend (who attended with me) and I that I am probably experiencing some form of food allergy burnout. I am so tired and done with dealing with my food allergies that I have probably, perhaps unconsciously started to let my food allergy management slip. I have put other things before my food allergy management like social events and recreational activities that in years prior would have come secondary to my safety. And when I have reactions, part of my resistance to using my epipen most likely comes from the fact that I don't want to be having another reaction because I am just so done. I am so done with struggling to breathe. I am so done with checking every ingredient in every thing I eat. I am so tired of having to cook every meal I eat and navigate social situations where I have to be hyper-vigilant about what everyone else is eating and touching. I just need a chance to completely let my guard down which unfortunately with food allergies is extremely risky.
In EMS so many measures are put in place to prevent provider burnout. Things like Facebook pages dedicated to EMS humor, support groups, talking with partners who "get it" and debriefing stressful events with critical incident stress management (CISM) teams. Perhaps the last one is most important though. After particularly stressful calls or incidents, crews have the opportunity to meet with CISM teams. CISM teams are put in place to help reduce the emotional trauma EMS crews experience. Unfortunately with food allergy management, there is no such thing as a CISM team for after a reaction.
For me, the trauma of an anaphylactic reaction is just as much physical as it is mental. Sure my body is not itself for days after an anaphylaxis, but neither is my mind. After you have a reaction, which for me feels like confirmation that I am not doing everything I can to manage my food allergies, instead of taking a vacation we go back to food allergy management. There is no break.
For teenagers with food allergies, while at this point food allergies have become as second nature as tying our shoes, it is important to recognize that it isn't. It is important to remind ourselves that managing food allergies are a lot of work. They eat up our time and energy and can make us miss the things we love. And while it is important to remain hopeful of the treatments on the horizon, it also stinks to know that there is a potential we could be managing this condition for the rest of our lives.
I am happy I am addressing this issue now before it had a chance to negatively effect my everyday life and the relationships I have with my family in friends. If you are reading this, and this seems like you, don't be afraid to get help. Please talk to a friend, a family member or even a licensed therapist and get help. While food allergies may be chronic, there is no reason that the feelings of burnout need to be chronic too.
So now, the golden question remains, how exactly do we prevent burnout and treat it if it is already manifesting? Comment below with ideas, we love to hear your voices!