From Buzzfeed News: “All of this optimization — as children, in college, online — culminates in the dominant millennial condition, regardless of class or race or location: burnout. ‘Burnout’ was first recognized as a psychological diagnosis in 1974, applied by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger to cases of ‘physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.’ Burnout is of a substantively different category than ‘exhaustion,’ although it’s related. Exhaustion means going to the point where you can’t go any further; burnout means reaching that point and pushing yourself to keep going, whether for days or weeks or years.
What’s worse, the feeling of accomplishment that follows an exhausting task — passing the final! Finishing the massive work project! — never comes. ‘The exhaustion experienced in burnout combines an intense yearning for this state of completion with the tormenting sense that it cannot be attained, that there is always some demand or anxiety or distraction which can’t be silenced,’ Josh Cohen, a psychoanalyst specializing in burnout, writes. ‘You feel burnout when you’ve exhausted all your internal resources, yet cannot free yourself of the nervous compulsion to go on regardless.’
In his writing about burnout, Cohen is careful to note that it has antecedents; ‘melancholic world-weariness,’ as he puts it, is noted in the book of Ecclesiastes, diagnosed by Hippocrates, and endemic to the Renaissance, a symptom of bewilderment with the feeling of ‘relentless change.’ In the late 1800s, ‘neurasthenia,’ or nervous exhaustion, afflicted patients run down by the ‘pace and strain of modern industrial life.’ Burnout differs in its intensity and its prevalence: It isn’t an affliction experienced by relatively few that evidences the darker qualities of change but, increasingly, and particularly among millennials, the contemporary condition.
People patching together a retail job with unpredictable scheduling while driving Uber and arranging child care have burnout. Startup workers with fancy catered lunches, free laundry service, and 70-minute commutes have burnout. Academics teaching four adjunct classes and surviving on food stamps while trying to publish research in one last attempt at snagging a tenure-track job have burnout. Freelance graphic artists operating on their own schedule without health care or paid time off have burnout. […]
This is why the fundamental criticism of millennials — that we’re lazy and entitled — is so frustrating: We hustle so hard that we’ve figured out how to avoid wasting time eating meals and are called entitled for asking for fair compensation and benefits like working remotely (so we can live in affordable cities), adequate health care, or 401(k)s (so we can theoretically stop working at some point before the day we die). We’re called whiny for talking frankly about just how much we do work, or how exhausted we are by it. But because overworking for less money isn’t always visible — because job hunting now means trawling LinkedIn, because ‘overtime’ now means replying to emails in bed — the extent of our labor is often ignored, or degraded.
The thing about American labor, after all, is that we’re trained to erase it. Anxiety is medicated; burnout is treated with therapy that’s slowly become normalized and yet still softly stigmatized. (Time in therapy, after all, is time you could be working.) No one would’ve told my grandmother that churning butter and doing the wash by hand wasn’t work. But planning a week of healthy meals for a family of four, figuring out the grocery list, finding time to get to the grocery store, and then preparing and cleaning up after those meals, while holding down a full-time job? That’s just motherhood, not labor.”