INTERVIEW - ASHLEY'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 live in Philadelphia with my husband Drew and son Colin. I'm in the midst of getting a Master of Arts in Counseling. As a counselor, I hope to create a space where people who are suffering can be honest, open and receive acceptance.
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?
Seven years ago, I became pregnant with my son. I was working from home and had my new mom life all planned out as a work-from-home mom. I had the perfect set-up. I could be home with my baby and still be connected to the outside world.
The day after Colin was born, I realized that my idea of mom life and actual mom life were completely different, pretty much opposite, actually. Colin was a fussy newborn who did not always like sleeping. When I returned to work three months later, Colin was sleeping through the night, but he was still taking short naps throughout the day. My days consisted of juggling taking care of Colin when he was awake and rushing to get as much work as I could get done while he was napping until my husband came home to relieve me. There were many days when I would have to work late into the evenings since I couldn’t get to it during the day.
The first two years of my son’s life, my brain would only shut off when I was sleeping. People would often tell me, "Wow, I can't believe you work and take care of your son." Though it was crazy, I took a lot of pride in being one of those strong women who "leaned in." I kind of felt like I was superwoman (fueled by coffee, lots of coffee).
Just after Colin turned two, I took a yearly business trip to Las Vegas. I had always loved traveling, eating out, and being with my co-workers. But this time was different. I arrived to Las Vegas exhausted. I felt nauseous and could barely eat the whole time I was there. I didn't understand what was happening, but had an inkling that it was stress because when I returned home my appetite came back. Little did I know that this was only the beginning. It began a cycle of days of loss of appetite and nausea to days where I felt better, but all of the days were marked with fatigue. I call that weekend in Las Vegas the day my body revolted against my brain. I had burnt myself out emotionally and physically and my body had had enough.
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?
It took me a year to fully realize what was happening to me. My burnout was accompanied by severe anxiety and some depression so my first step was to name and admit to myself what was happening. The next step was to begin seeing a counselor. I was so blinded by my anxiety and stress that I needed a third-party objective person to help me see it clearly. My first homework assigned by my therapist was to write a list of things I could do for self-care when I had time. I remember staring at the blank page for 20 minutes straight. It had been so long since I had thought of myself, that I didn't even know where to begin. When I finally came around, baths and exercising were on the top of my list.
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 would have changed my idea of a successful life. I thought I had to do it all, be the best mom, make money, make my house immaculate, cook the best meals. Now I believe that a successful life is one that is filled with love and presence. The best support was people. Not everyone knew how to handle what I was going through, but the people who love me stuck by my side and tried to understand despite not having personal experience with it.
What advice would you provide others dealing with burnout?
My advice would be self-compassion, self-compassion, self-compassion. You couldn't have known this would happen before it happened so don't beat yourself thinking it could have been different. Also, have compassion on yourself for the amount of time it takes to heal. Healing from burnout doesn't have a timeline, but I can say that it will probably take longer than you think it will, and that is more than OK.
What advice would you provide those who want to support their loved one dealing with burnout?
Don’t forget to find your own support system, it can be really hard to understand and deal with. Find someone who has been through a loved one burning out - someone that you can vent to and be honest with and that can give you support and help, especially when you are tired.