The Burning Shame of Burnout

The Burning Shame of Burnout
| 3 Minute Read |

My resistance to the idea of having burnout was, on reflection, mind-boggling stubborn.  The textbook signs were all there, but here’s the thing, the conversation about burnout is all workplace-related and that was simply not my experience.  The workplace for me was a safe haven, my burnout was caused by extreme stress in my personal life.

If you are already running with a regular (unacknowledged) baseline stress level, then a massive life event can be a critical tipping point.  The hardest thing for me was the feeling of having to admit defeat.  Particularly tough at a time when there were so many things that were down to me.

So, what did I learn?

First of all, if you ignore the whispers that your body and mind may be sending you, they will eventually turn into a shout.  I was getting increasingly frequent migraines – days of vomiting and being stuck in a dark room.  Despite the increasing severity, I didn’t visit the doctor—mistake number one.

Second major learning—ask for help. When it became evident that I was going to be left very much on my own to deal with marital separation, a house move and the impact on my daughter, I should have asked for help immediately.  Instead, I honoured my promise to protect my ex-husband’s privacy by not widely sharing the reality of our situation.  Essentially, I cut myself off from getting help in order to help him.  The most extraordinarily stupid, and typical ‘people pleaser’ move of all time.

Third, and most important lesson.

Being clear on what strength and resilience actually means, is vital to your well-being.

It does NOT mean rolling with every punch that’s levelled at you emotionally. It does NOT mean you keep going at all costs.  And it certainly does NOT mean pretending you’re OK when you most definitely are not—game-changing mistake.

Game-changing in a helpful way.  It is often the most challenging learning that’s the most beneficial—annoyingly.  So, when I got honest with myself and others, was when I asked for help.  When I finally went to the doctor (thanks to my best friend Karen and my mother, who staged an intervention on the morning of my 50th Birthday!), the turnaround began.

I hated having to change the story in my mind of being someone strong who coped with everything.  In the early days of my recovery, I felt I’d lost myself.  There was a deep and burning shame that I wasn’t able to keep ploughing on.  I couldn’t stop thinking of others who had so much more to deal with in life and kept going.

Then something magical happened –

I stopped resisting and began to show myself the same compassion I would show others. I accepted the offers of help.

Burnout is a sign that something needs to change

I’ll never forget one particular afternoon as I prepared for my upcoming house move, after 20 years in the same house, I was faced with a garage, stacked from floor-to-ceiling, with the contents from the attic. I’m sure opening the door to that mountain of boxes is what tipped me over the edge of burnout.

When you don’t know where to start, what usually happens is we just don’t start.   So, when my friend Janice rocked-up with moving boxes and a brusque “Let’s get on with this”, it was a moment I’ll never forget. “I’ll make dinner – you pop into the garage and see what you can get done in half-an-hour”.

An hour later, when my daughter and I sat with Janice laughing over dinner, I knew true, deep gratitude. She’d helped me start. We were on our way forward.  Hundreds of moments of help from so many people lay ahead of us.  I got into burnout by going it alone, and I wasn’t going to make the same mistake getting out of it.

Are their whispers you might be ignoring?   Maybe today could be the day you reach out and ask someone for help? 

4 replies
  1. Sheila Champion-Smeeth says:

    Wonderfully said Jean. Thanks for continuing to share your story to help us all along the way. So grateful ?❤️


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