Black Dwarf Syndrome: Avoid Hurtling Toward Burnout

Most people who are experts in their craft have one thing in common without fail–consistency.  Unfortunately, wiring myself to repeatedly do things that produce the best results has always been difficult for me.  I run into stints where my energy maxes out at a superhuman level and then plummets back down without warning.  But this is because I have a chemical imbalance that exaggerates the ebbs and flows of my mood and energy.  After I understood the scope of the damage it was causing in my life, I accepted that giving my family and writing more effort would simply take more planning for me than someone with regular functionality.  Through trial and error, I found a flexible regimen that helps me finish the things I start. When it gets hard for me to stay the course, I just remind myself that the bigger the star, the more fuel it requires to produce light, and I plan to stay lit.

When a White Dwarf Star burns out, cools it becomes a Black Dwarf.It’s called this because presumably, the star will blacken as it loses its ability to produce light and make it appear nearly invisible.


Typically, periods of transition are what used to give me the most anxiety.  Before I was able to manage my mental illness through medication, meditation (and prayer, of course), I could never handle periods of transition–because I never allowed space for them.  I’d work at a feverish pitch for months on end, sometimes a year, without checking in with myself mentally to consider if the pace I was keeping was sustainable. Then, not wanting to look flaky and let people down, I’d soldier forward even when my energy levels bottomed out. When they did, I ended up resenting myself because my physiological down spiral felt so extreme. The times I felt that way were not only difficult for me, but also for my family and the people I worked with because I’d stop communicating, or be surly and short with them when I did because I was physically and mentally exhausted.

Luckily, my closest friends always always knew how to calm me down.

So I grasped that’s it’s crucial to self-assess every now and then, and discovered that keeping a journal is my best bet to relieve stress and gauge areas I need to work on in my life. I’m able to look at what I focused on when I was manic, and which things triggered my sadness the most. The pages in between those extremes– the ones where I could tell I was healthy and levelheaded–were the most reassuring to read. Now, most of my entries are that way, because I fight to stay in this space. My journal also serves as a buffer zone between my mouth and the world, and as my vault. If I have something particularly wild or controversial to say, I write it down so I can avoid ranting aloud. Or on Twitter.

Go nuts with your notebook.  That’s what it’s for.

Truthfully, when I burn the candle at both ends for months on end under my own, self-imposed “no-days-off” mantra I often hit a wall, crash, and end up looking unreliable anyway. Inner light burned, bridges burned, lesson learned. So now I keep tabs. Self-inventory is key.

Black Dwarf stars are hypothetical, but the theory behind them is a sound one.  For a star to be visible it has to have fuel to emit light.  When the fuel is gone, so’s the light. What are you doing to fuel your light?



There is something truly therapeutic about being with the people you love most.  The best part about it is you don’t really have to go anywhere.  A friend of mine has a backyard with a fire pit.  It’s become quite the refuge for us.  We sit out there, listen to the birds, put veggie patties on the grill and talk smack without anyone intervening.

We don’t have a yacht (yet) but the backyard’ll do.

If you’re an introvert who finds it tough to hit up a friend’s function (or even their backyard), then just catch up via text or phone call.  Listen to them.  Let them listen to you. You might rediscover that the reason the person you’re calling is a friend in the first place is that they’re one of the few people who actually gets you.

Pace yourself.

If you’re overwhelmed with personal deadlines, the choice to go at your own pace should be obvious.  It wasn’t for me, though.  There were dates on my calendar for personal projects that were giving me real anxiety.  I had to remind myself that personal goals are just that. I’m allowed to take a break from writing if it’s my own stuff, and I’m allowed to take a day off from the gym if my muscles aren’t feeling it that morning.

Been working on this baby for a while now.

Give yourself time, and permission to relax.  Pace yourself.”

It’s something I’ve heard from wise folk all my life in one form or another, especially when I appeared to be anxious and overworked, but it’s still something I struggle with. If I don’t use my calendar and bullet list the things I need done, I could end up zooming through one half of a task and losing steam toward the end of it. Also, when I’m working on things I usually choose to use tunnel vision to block out what others are doing. My logic is that if someone’s moving faster than me at something I’d like to be more efficient in, I’m certainly not going to move any faster by obsessing over that. The only real tricky part to pacing myself is remembering to strike a balance between kicking my own butt enough so that I don’t slack off, and keeping myself from flying into a frenzy.


Told my son that even Drake had to learn to wash dishes at one point. Sidebar: Is he wearing a tennis bracelet? He is. It’s dainty and lovely and I want one just like it.

A few years ago I refused to let my son wash the dishes because he did it incorrectly once. Looking back, my frustration was actually absurd.  Instead of considering the man hours I’d save for years to come by letting him learn to do it well through repetition and positive reinforcement, I hastily decided that the task was best left to me. But after awhile (and an increasingly bad case of dish-pan hands, I took the training wheels off the dish washing liquid and let the boy try his hand at the valuable life skill. What did I learn?  It’s good to delegate. It’s also good to know when and what to delegate. Plus, it’s a legit trait of every good leader.

And that’s about it.

Comparing myself to a celestial body works for me. They’re bright and sometimes volatile, but they’re also beautiful to behold. Plus, thinking about stars makes me think about the universe.  It’s immeasurably vast, which always makes my problems feel impossibly small, and I like that. Stay lit, my friends.


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