INTERVIEW - KATIE'S STORY
We regularly interview people who have experienced loss or burnout. Everyone experiences and responds to hardships in different ways, there is no right way or wrong way to grieve or handle stress. We share these stories in hopes that their experiences will support you in your journey – which ever side you are on – working through the process or supporting a loved one. If you are interested in sharing your story, please reach out via our home page.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I am a born and raised San Francisco Bay Area local, who still lives there with my husband and young daughter. We are super excited for the newest addition to our family arriving in a few months. We love rediscovering and exploring new parts of the Bay Area as parents.
Our lives have definitely changed since becoming parents, so our fun activities have modified a bit. My husband and I still try new restaurants, albeit those that are family-friendly, and to go to concerts in the evenings and when we are able to find a babysitter. I still run and hike a few times a week to relax and have some alone time.
Have you experienced a time in your life when you felt burnt out? What do you think led to your feelings of being burnt out?
I’m really fortunate to work at a company that has a great maternity leave and was able to spend several months adjusting to being a new mother. I think there is a misperception for some on what a new mother goes through during a maternity leave and that there is a notion the mother was able to relax like it was some sort of vacation, which couldn’t be further from the truth! New moms experience really big emotional, physical, psychological changes – plus a whole new level of sleep deprivation and exhaustion. So along with those new changes, I was coming back to work sad leaving my baby and nervous, but also looking forward to having regular adult conversations again.
I had a difficult transition coming back to work as I was given four new projects on top of my already busy workload. I took it in stride because I felt very guilty for being on maternity leave as my teammates were stressed and covering for multiple people. My teammates told me how relieved they were that I was back and could pick back up my work (and then some). On my second day back, my first call was at the crack of dawn (again I was still dealing with sleep exhaustion) with a team on the other side of the world who had shared with me that I was their project manager for a major company project, which I hadn’t heard about previously and was due in less than 12 weeks! In addition, I was disappointed because some important work that I asked others to back me up on while I was on maternity leave was not attended to, so I had to correct and fix those projects. Needless to say, my transition back to work was immediately overwhelming, but I couldn’t voice my concern because the entire team was stressed.
In particular, I was given a very difficult and not well-scoped out project that turned out to be massive, all consuming and was closely watched by the CEO. My stress levels felt off the charts – I was in the project as a one woman team and had to rely on an amateur IT development team. This project was in addition to my day to day workload, which happened to fall also during my busiest time of the year. Eventually it got to a point where I was constantly asking for assistance that was equally denied while simultaneously receiving a flow of negative feedback from just about every important person in the company on a daily basis that weighed heavily on me. I was working on average 60-80 hours a week, every day, every weekend for four months straight and at one time even worked 92 hours a week, which I’m still dumbfounded that I survived. I still somehow was able to launch the project successfully on time and eventually received some support, albeit seven months later. My emotions really crashed when I learned that despite all of my persistence, strategic thinking, and management of massive project did not result in any recognition – promotion or otherwise.
None of this was worth it and I was burnt out beyond belief. As a result, I gained over 25 pounds, had high blood pressure, developed deeper bags (than new mom bags!) under my eyes, was angry all the time, and fell into a depression that I didn’t realize I was falling into. I had little patience with anyone that I loved and would snap at my husband, who was a saint and was pulling double duty as a parent. The worst moments would be with my daughter. She would cry because after seeing me all day, every day for the first six months of her life, she would only see for an hour or less each day over the course of six months (that was half her life at that point in time!). Seeing her cry would inevitably cause me to cry and have a breakdown. I had hoped to nurse my daughter until she was at least a year, but after working all of those hours, I lost my milk supply. This was utterly heartbreaking as a new mom. I was absolutely miserable for a little over a year until I eventually transitioned to another project.
Describe 2-3 things that helped you deal with your feelings of burnout and stress? How were you able to heal from being burnt out?
> I was in a number of competitive sports from childhood through post- college, and always excelled in being mentally and physically strong. I really utilized an athlete’s mental strength in persisting through those tough months.
> Hugging my husband and daughter daily as a reminder on what is more important.
> I tried signing up for a run club and signed up for two half-marathons to force me to workout, to remind myself to do hobbies that I love (for me that is running), and keep physically active.
Thinking about all the things you might have had on your plate during this time, if you had the choice, what would you have changed? What supported you most through dealing with burnout?
I was incredibly fearful in saying anything as there was no one on my team who had the capacity to take on this project. In hindsight, I would have been more firm with my boss on what I could and could not handle as a brand new mother transitioning back to work, instead of persisting through what felt like the Mt. Everest of work.
My husband was my greatest support in dealing with burnout as he could see my overall happiness and physical well-being was quickly deteriorating over the months. He encouraged me to join the running club and a gym, knowing that he would have to come home sooner from work to care for our daughter and then work late evening hours after she was asleep. I’m incredibly fortunate on how understanding he was, even though I know he was as equally frustrated for me and the situation we were both thrown in. When I was finally out of the burnout fog, I realized how much this all affected him as well and how much more I value and love him.
What advice would you provide others dealing with burnout?
Even as a new mother, I thought with my project management skills, I would be able to neatly handle, organize and manage all the personal and professional tasks….and I couldn’t be more wrong.
> It is completely okay to see a therapist or talk to a professional, which is something I unfortunately didn’t do and wish I did in hindsight. I’m really happy to see more awareness on mental health in the media and supported by public figures as it helps bring more acceptance.
> Lean in on your spouse and family for emotional and physical support. This is when those marriage vows – for better or for worse - really kick in and where I heavily relied on my husband to do double duty for almost a whole year.
> Repeat and stand up for yourself. Sometimes it take 10x before the message sinks in for your boss to realize that you need help and to be taken more seriously.
> For new mothers, if at all possible, don’t come back to work on a Monday and face a full week of work, which is overwhelming and stressful. When I come back from my next maternity leave it will be on a Wednesday or Thursday.
What advice would you provide those who want to support those dealing with burnout?
Be an empathetic listener and actually listen. I felt most frustrated when I felt ignored when I tried to raise up my concerns and was being placated with ignorant responses.
*interviewee chose to remain anonymous. I randomly assigned her the name Katie.