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This is what burnout 2021 feels like: little sacs of fi...

Defend Truth


This is what burnout 2021 feels like: little sacs of fire in the back of your throat


Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a Brown Woman in a White South Africa. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @sage_of_absurd

It’s not the time of year to whine about the year. Those tweets and comments are usually reserved for October onwards. So I will try to keep this comment as short and precise as possible: 2021 has been a burning heap of crap.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

I thought 23 weeks of long Covid-19, my dad dying and having a son all in quick succession in 2020 was bad, and then 2021 arrived to bite me in the ass with an immune system that is still suffering the consequences of a version of Covid-19 that’s yet to be explained. Our kid went to daycare and has become a walking, talking bacterial infection, I had to submit a new manuscript for a book for which I have yet to receive feedback (the fact that I am quite happy with the work I produced and quite proud of it makes the wait weightier and more anxiety-inducing), we just wrapped up another season of Don’t Shoot the Messenger and while podcast production and storytelling is a passion, passions are not for the faint of heart, and I took some time out the other day to count how many days this year I have been healthy, consecutively. That number, my friends, is 21 – slightly less than, actually.

All above-mentioned projects were signed, sealed and delivered and I was gifted the inevitable burnout. That ominous time when your body shuts down mentally and emotionally because you have used up all your adrenaline and cannot run on the fumes of love and fresh air any more.

And it has all manifested in pustular tonsillitis. I have it, my wife has it and so does our kid.

We, however, are two enraged adults treading lightly on the coals of life for fear of collapsing completely and turning into ash. The reality is, that’s just a dream. Because we’re already there. We’re burnt out. We are the ash.

And it’s all in the back of our throats, squatting in little burnout sacs of pus and fire, which have frankly turned us into feral animals with very dark spirits, comparable to something you would only read in old folklore that explores wild, half-human, half-beast-like entities.

When you wrap something up, some giant assignment or project, when you submit a manuscript after pouring a lot of blood, sweat and tears into your writing, there is supposed to be a sense of relief. Something heavy is supposed to fall off your shoulders and something pleasant is supposed to take its place; preferably, nothing at all.

Just a new revitalised you, getting back to enjoying life and taking a breath – but no, instead, here we are, breathing fire, banging our heads against walls and finding our momentum in the hours by rolling through time because we have shapeshifted into temperamental, strung-out balls of anxiety.

I didn’t even know adults could get tonsillitis. And as if that’s not a gross enough infection, add pustular to it and, Bob’s your damn grim reaper. Well, stick a fork in me, Bob, I’m done. Stick your sceptre in the septic sores at the back of my throat and let’s call the whole thing off.

I never used to believe in “burnout”. I always thought it was an excuse weak people used to get out of doing things, like being an adult or just living life. In the new English translation of The Iliad, Achilles tells

Agamemnon that he fears people will think he is a “worthless, burnt-out coward”. That’s kind of the stance I took.

But The New Yorker says that burnout has existed since biblical times.

A Swiss psychotherapist insists that in Numbers 11:14, Moses was burnt out when he “complained to God, ‘I am not able to bear all this people alone because it is too heavy for me’”. And, in Kings 19, apparently, Elijah was burnt out when he “went a day’s journey into the wilderness and sat down under a juniper tree and requested to die and said ‘It is enough’”.

I’m not a religious person. But The New Yorker is gospel enough for me and goddammit. It. Is. Enough. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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All Comments 2

  • Burnout is spreading like wildfire in this pandemic. We need to take it seriously to prevent it developing into one of what I call the dreaded Ds (depression, diabetes, divorce). You may find my book Recover from Burnout (Bookstorm) helpful. Feel better!!

  • Thank you for this article, Haji. I am so grateful to know that what I have been feeling has a name, and it’s name is burnout. Too much for too long. I wish you, your wife and your child a complete recovery and happier days ahead.

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