Burning out and getting real

Looking back, I believe, it all started when I went back to work after having my first child. Boy, would I have done things differently, if I had known what I know today.

I think the problem is that we, women, put so much pressure on ourselves to be the perfect wife, worker and mother that subconsciously we make choices that are less than optimal for our health. Our minds and bodies can only withstand so much before it lets us down and crashes. 

My baby

Silas was born in January 2015. The birth was less than perfect. Preparing for birth, I had been told that I could trust my instincts and my body would know what to do. I completely believe this to be true, but only really helpful if you know how to listen to your instincts, which most of us don’t, including me. I won’t bore you with the details of how everything went wrong during labour, as it is not important to the story. In the end, he came out and the moment, I saw his face, I forgot everything. He was beautiful. As he was placed on my belly, he made his first sound and it was the most wonderful moment in my entire life. In that moment, I completely forgot the world and all the pressure and expectations about motherhood. In that moment, all that mattered was him and me. It was a lovely experience and one I will never forget. 

For the next 7 to 8 months, I basically didn’t give him away. He was mine and I knew best. It wasn’t an easy time. The sleep deprivation was quite something else. I hadn’t imagined it being that awful and breastfeeding was not as easy as I had hoped for, either. 

When he was 9 months, I had to go back to work. I was dreading it. I had to be without my baby boy and I had to mingle in the grown-up world again. Did I even know how to be a grown-up anymore? There was one thing though, I was excited about and that was to be able to do sports again. I was desperate to reconnect with my body and to get back in shape! 

Going back to work

The company I had worked for had changed quite a bit by the time I came back. I had been away for a total of 11 months. Lots of new hires and restructuring going on. I was having a lot of trouble trying to find my place. I was being replaced by and compared to much younger, fresher co-workers and I was pressured into doing so much more than I was capable of at the time. There was no easing in and slowly getting used to working again. I was thrown in head first! 

I had sworn, though, that I would not work overtime and that I would be home in time to see my dear baby boy. That meant, that I was working all day basically without breathing, breaks or food, to able to get as much done, so I could leave at a reasonable hour. 

As mentioned, I desperately wanted to get back in shape and find my body again. I was really excited about being able to do sports again and my boxing team was welcoming me back with open arms! I was in heaven – or at least so I thought. I was racing to boxing class 3 times a week, after all the racing at work, while upholding my image of the perfect mom! I hurried there, I hurried back, I hurried to work, I hurried for everything! And I was so concerned about my son and I completely forgot to breathe or to smile or to be there for myself! 

Flight or fight! 

It was exhausting! My body was in constant fight or flight mode. My stress was so overwhelming that I didn’t know how to sleep anymore. I was literally tossing and turning most of the night and was maybe able to squeeze a few hours of sleep in. I was doing less than great! To make matters worse, I wasn’t losing any weight and I wasn’t reconnecting with anything below the neck region. 

Burning out

How long do think I could keep this up? Maybe some people can hold this up for many years. For me, it lasted for 8 months… and I collapsed. I was hiding in the bathroom and literally fell to my knees. I couldn’t breathe! I couldn’t see straight. My heart was racing. I had just left a meeting with my boss, who was asking why I hadn’t finished the work I was supposed to finish and had told me that if my younger colleague was able to finish his work on time, then surely, I should be able to. 

I grabbed my things and ran out of the office. I got in my car, tears racing down my check. I was breathing so fast, that I thought, I was about to pass out. All the while my mind was racing. What was I supposed to do now? Where should I go? Who should I ask for help? I took a deep breath and called my GP. She had a spot open and I drove straight to her office. She could clearly see that I was not well and sent me home to rest. We agreed on an action plan which entailed me resting at home and going to see a psychologist and I should report back in a few weeks. 

I went home and crawled into my bed and closed my eyes. I wanted the world to stop. I felt like I didn’t fit in. I felt like a failure. How do other mothers do it? 

I was trying to figure out what was wrong with me. Was I a failure? I mean, I wasn’t able to uphold a job! Come on! Get a grip! Other mothers do it! Most people keep going even when times are tough, don’t they? Why couldn’t I? I felt the whole world was starring and pointing at me saying: “you failed!”. It was devastating. 

Getting real

After a while of self-pity, I got up and took a good long hard look at my life. I saw how everything had just gone to shit and back. I won’t take it anymore, I thought, I need to make some changes. Basically, I got real about everything; my job, my weight, my sleeping, and I got real about what I wanted out of life.

Change didn’t happen overnight and to be honest with you, I can’t remember in which order the changes happened. But step by step, I started to get real and to understand what was going on. 

First of all, I understood how everything was related. My lack of sleep, my high stress and my inability to lose weight. I also understood that now was not the time for another fad diet, that in the end doesn’t work anyway. Diets don’t work because they are made for a large group of people, not specifically for you. What may work for one person may not work for me, so just because Nancy lost all her baby weight by going on the paleo diet, doesn’t mean it will happen for me. And, diets don’t work because they are not sustainable. Diets are meant to be followed for a short period of time and then what? You go back to eating like you did before? Doesn’t work. 

No, what was needed was a lifestyle change, a completely new view on life and healthy living. A paradigm shift if you want. I started to slow down, to enjoy what I was doing, to learn more about nutrition and healthy lifestyle and I started to sleep again. 

I was patient with myself and I learnt to get back into the working life, little by little. 

To you who is burning out

If you feel that you are burning out or in the middle of a burn out, know that you are not alone and that help is out there. Please don’t wait too long to reach out and get help. I can guarantee that help is out there for you, whether it is coaching or counselling or some other form of therapy, it is there. You just have to reach out and know that you are worthy and you deserve to feel better. 

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