When I met Barbara and Mary from Mothers Connect, Amsterdam, I felt like
I was coming home. I heard their stories about their personal challenges in motherhood and I felt recognised. I thought “You get me!”. They know what it’s like to be one of the many who don’t experience a pink cloud in motherhood. They are real about the crappy side that exists. And best of all, they talk about it.
That’s why I enthusiastically said “YES!” when they asked me to run a burn out support group.
The group will run in Oct but first we want you to come along to an open event so that you can get to know us for yourself, ask the questions you have and let us know what you need. And if you don’t know, we have plenty of suggestions. Want to know more? Ping me, PM me, just get in touch.
In the meantime, here is my story with burnout. First published on my blog about chronic illness: the parts we don’t talk about in Jan 2014
When I burnt out I was traveling at 100 mph being batman; saving my business world from the bad guys and crooks who appeared disguised as project managers and stakeholders; and in my private life, fighting off the evil villain of my daughter’s chronic illness. I was working harder and harder and doing it with a smile and sometimes a snarl.
Finally, a message came through. My body finally broke through the wall I had put up in my mind to avoid the truth. My body is a dirty fighter and hit me hard with aches and pains and finally, took my mind. I was tired, cranky and short tempered. I was forgetful, I couldn’t even remember how to spell forgetful. I couldn’t sleep. I was exhausted, worn out.
I had an epiphany. ” I need to stop, take a break before I break”. I thought I was so smart and that I had realized in time. Ha! Could I have been more wrong?
So I parked my bat mobile, got ready for a 4 week timeout and …… just stopped. Everything just shut down. I could barely function. I had used up all my reserves and was empty.
It took a long time to start back up again, 1 step forward, 1 step back, a step sideways etc. I started making progress, recovering, to function. However I realized that there were some things that I couldn’t do anymore and I feared I was broken. I felt broken.
You see, I thought that people are like elastic bands; when you stretch them too much, they break and they stay broken.
With my burn out, these are the “elastic bands” that broke:
– multitasking. It took all my concentration to make a cup of tea. I couldn’t have a chat with you at the same time.
– being able to take on the intensive 24 hour care of a critically ill baby with just my husband and I to split the shifts over. (Of course I had been trying to do this perfectly). A lot more work fell on my husband’s shoulders (sorry dear) because I wasn’t able to do my part.
– Being a superhero. Batman was gone, suit back in the cupboard. I just didn’t care to fight the bad guys anymore
– Being helpful: saying yes, I’ll fix that / take care of it, you can count on me. Gone. I just wanted to tell people to, well, insert your own swear word here.
I really thought I had lost a lot but something strange happened during this mega timeout. I started to see things in a new light. Those things I mentioned just now? This is what I like to call them now:
” tolerating being overworked”
” being taken advantage of”
“not asking for help”
Now that I see these “elastic bands” for what they really are; negative, destructive behaviours. I am glad they are broken.
Who actually wants to be a superhero, working non stop, taking care of everything? (Never mind having to wear your underpants over your tights).
Who wants to do it all alone?
It was with relief that I realized that people are not like elastic bands, we are organic. We grow, adapt, learn new things.
New things have taken the place of the things I lost. These are my new things:
The ability to
– say no. Or “not now” and fit it into a time when I can do it without adding stress.
– recognize if I am becoming overloaded and getting cranky
– take action if that happens and get myself back to feeling good: look after myself
And these two are my favourite:
– letting go
– asking for help
Whatever I am doing, it doesn’t have to be perfect.
I can let someone else do it. I still think there are a lot of things that I can do better than anyone else – I’m not humble, I admit it!. But if it means that I can take a break, get other tasks done, just breathe, then it’s worth letting someone else do an average job. I can live with imperfection if I can just breathe.
So did burn out leave me broken?
Actually, it set me free. Those restrictive bands have burnt away, leaving me covered in a fertile ash where things can grow. I have grown, improved, become a better me.
I can get more done than ever before because I delegate and share the load. I accept and ask for help. I focus on what is important and I’m mindful and do one thing at a time (well, ok, I’m not living a zen life but I do it a lot more!).
I feel happy again, I laugh and I experience joy. I dream and I expect to make some of those dreams come true.
So people, remember this: we are creative, we are resourceful and we are whole.
So if you recognise any of this story, then get in touch. You are not the only one and you do not have to go through this alone.