What is burnout?
Initially, in 1974, the term “burnout” was defined as “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.”
After facing personally, I’d simplify it to the word “devastation”. The battery dies and you are no more able to do anything. It’s hardly possible to explain this condition to others, because your body can still try to do things by inertion, maybe for others you just look as if you don’t care about them, and that’s it.
Unfortunately, burnout today is not something that’s officially diagnosed. When you come home and put a piece of paper with a diagnosis and a stamp on the table, it’s taken more seriously, with burnout you only have, perhaps, the ability to communicate, and… lack of strength even for that. In fact, it’s officially recognized by WHO since May 2019, but only in the context of job (classified as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” in the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) under “Problems associated with employment or unemployment.”)
Symptoms and causes of burnout
Alienation, exhaustion, forgetfulness, irritability, headaches, intestinal problems – these are just some of the possible symptoms of burnout. My brain began to shut down right in the middle of the conversation, erasing whole chunks of someone’s speech or my own thought right in the middle of the sentence. (My partner laughed at that, because that’s how his brain works under normal circumstances 🙄). This is not depression, depression leaves a room for at least negative thoughts, even cultivates them, when burnout just erases you, blows out the candle.
It seems to me that burnout rarely happens for one particular reason, but as a result of a number of them. It can be summarized like this: excessive stress and the inability to identify or eliminate the main problem, or to properly allocate priorities and energy.
Here are some of the causes of burnout, partly borrowed from the marathon dedicated to it (it wasn’t dedicated to mother’s burnout, but at that point I was at the initial stage of it: “realized that the energy is over, and I’m trying to do something about it”, so I grabbed literally anything):
- time pressure
- lack of communication and support
- overwork (physical, emotional, intellectual; for example, you can burn out from bad news that the brain is unable to cope with, such as the loss of a loved one or job)
- unfair treatment of others or an environment that doesn’t share your values
- shame for the mistake
- resentment and anger
- long-term lack of results
- inadequate energy distribution
- endless care for others (hello, Mom 🙄)
- excessive control
- ignoring personal needs (hello, Mom 🙄)
Burnout problem number 1: complete helplessness. You are at zero: no thoughts, no desires, no strength. It’s almost impossible to operate in this mode. And to reach out to others, most likely, too. People continue to function as usual, habitually expecting the same from you. They are talking to you, while you experience a short circuit in your head.
You may simply not have time to process the information. Usually our brain works like “bzzzzz: run there, do that, don’t forget this, bzz, bzz, bzz.” If you are burned out, it more of “now I will get up and go… stop, where will I go? eee… eee .. to the kitchen… Wait, where was I going to go? 🤔”.
What to do with burnout?
Your number one resource is sleep. A good night’s sleep should provide at least 1° of energy, and it should be spent on a clear list of actions. Manageable ones. It’s idea is not to tire the brain by trying to solve everyday dilemmas that it can no longer do: here are clear instructions. It might look like this:
- get out of bed
- take a shower (this is a small resource)
- make an omelet and eat (it’s energy)
- watch an easy series / read an unobtrusive interesting book (it’s a pointless activity = rest)
- order lunch or dinner
- watch an easy series / read an unobtrusive interesting book
Hang it somewhere in a prominent place, perhaps by the bed. You can add ticks next to each of them every day: done. This is an example of economy mode, which allows you to gain minimal strength. There is no room for self-gnawing. Cartoons for children, self-sufficiency for the rest of the family, at the moment you just have to survive, and there is nothing more important in the world than that. Once you feel better – listen to yourself and give yourself something else, for example, some sports. (Only if you feel this urge!) Respond only to what appeared inside, move in tiny steps.
What did I do with it
- for some time I tried everything in a row, but couldn’t find anything much resourceful, because I simply lacked (and still lack) personal space (usually there is no one to stay with the baby),
- then there was a period of buying books, new and used ones, for myself and my child, forming a library of my dreams, it was my only source of energy (and it was a cool step, because I had the motivation to get out of bed – pick up the parcel, dopamine – open the parcel, dopamine – flip the book through, and even dopamine – to organize it on the shelf; at the same time it was a way to get fresh air for me and for the baby, and a little socialization; I was very lucky to find this tool)
- then for a good 3 days I was lying with a semi-fiction book (which, fortunately, turned out to be interesting enough to take me one step higher), allowing myself to give up remorse for the child (explained to the child that I was sick, and I would lie like this, and I will not play)
- allowed myself some alcohol (which I had thrown out of my life long time back as excess sugar) to simply relax my muscles,
- sorted photos, printed them, made an exhibition of children’s photos, drawings and pasted on the refrigerator photos that inspire me,
- went to a therapist (because I didn’t know what else to do) and a family therapist (because I was no longer able to communicate with my partner),
- once I woke up and felt that I needed a sport that finally had the strength to do it again (and this is a new source of resources!),
- then another step – a marathon to support mothers in similar situation. I made it only because I had my blessing from inside, seeing that I was where I was supposed to be and moving forward. If you are interested, contact me and I will add you to my mother’s support group.
Finally, during the marathon, I gave up breastfeeding, which had caused me serious physical discomfort for several weeks. I kept waiting for the discomfort to pass, but it didn’t pass. And I mare a decision. Unfortunately, as is often the case with breastfeeding, daytime sleep was lost – my only chance for privacy for three years. It’s been a month and a half, and we are still rebuilding. But this step was the right one, and I was relieved to get rid of the physical discomfort. I said goodbye to breastfeeding imperfectly, but tolerably, my baby and I remained friends 😌.
The whole thing took me half a year, and I’m still on my way out. “Its getting better all the time”.
Basic principles of survival during burnout
Exhaustion means a decrease in sensitivity to our own body, we stop hearing ourselves, the inner voice no longer speaks. No appetite, no ideas, just emptiness.
Here are 4 basic principles of further survival (it may take a little more effort):
- intuitive food (eat what you want)
- intuitive sleep (sleep as much as you want, then when you want / can; if you can’t – then just lie down)
- self-trust (learning to hear one’s own needs, grasping the slightest inner response, like a lifeline; because this is what our brain is trying to say with burnout: stop and hear yourself)
- no waste of energy on others (save yourself, and thousands will be saved around you).
And let the whole world wait.