Updated: May 7, 2020
In today's blog, I talk a lot about parenting, but honestly, the same concept applies to any area of life that you are finding yourself exhausted. When I say exhausted, I dont mean tired or feeling meh. Instead, I'm talking complete and utter physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. The kind where you don't know which way is up and honestly, you don't have the energy to work it out.
And that kind of exhaustion can lead to you feeling utterly inadequate.
Not the comparisons and taking in of others 'perfect' lives on social media, but complete 'knowing' within you, that you are doing a crap job and that no matter what you do, its not enough. When you are feeling exhausted and inadequate it can quickly jump to detaching emotionally. And I'm not talking the healthy detachment of letting others do their thing. But a real struggle to empathise, relate and emotionally understand where another is coming from and why they need you. An almost removed ability to see them as anything other than a drain and the source of your exhaustion and discomfort.
You don't want to feel this way, you expected to feel the opposite, but over time the strain of life seems to have taken such a toll that you feel like a switch turned off and you aren't sure how to turn it back on.....Does any of this relate? Because I'm not talking about illness. I'm talking about burnout.
Burnout is one of the hardest things to admit to because we feel like our lives are constantly being judged. When it comes to parenting you love your children completely. Everything you do in life is for them. You would lay down your own life to save them! So how do you admit that it's all a lot harder than you thought, without sounding ungrateful for the joy that is being a parent? There are so many people out there unable to have children and here you are moaning about it? Better to just suck it up and accept this is what parenting is. It's what you signed up for right? Best suck it up and smile.
And this kind of inner rhetoric applies to anything in your life that you are all in on and feeling those yucky emotions that can become attached to it. Maybe for you its marriage, work, friendships, a business venture, a hobby or sport. It could be anything.
Suck it up and smile? I said bollocks to that.
This is the thing about society. When we are so busy trying not to offend anyone, or be judged, it becomes almost impossible to discuss and be honest about your reality. If burnout feels like a thing for you. I'm talking about your reality, not someone else.
Everyone has difficulties and struggles and yes I know that some struggles are something others would do anything to have, but it doesn't mean that you aren't allowed to share what you are going through. Those wishing for your struggles and you experiencing your struggles are two different realities. You see, most of the pain and suffering we experience as humans is from life not working out to the story, that plays in our heads.
Reality and the story don't line up and instead of accepting that we can change the story, we try to change reality to fit the story instead. Cue overwhelmed, overworked, frazzled, emotionally exhausted people. What's really interesting is that burnout is not usually linked to external factors but instead is something that happens within. The good news is that within is where we can make a real change because its the stuff you are in control of, whether you are aware of the choices or not.
The perfect sweet spot
We each have an image in our heads of what a perfect parent/ business owner/wife/husband/friend looks like. This image is the main cause of burnout. It determines who you measure yourself against and therefore what stories you consistently try to make play out as that role. The issue is that this image and story is false.
It's a completely made up, imaginary character that you have built into your head, over years of watching and absorbing beliefs, conditions, actions and consequences throughout life. I know this character well, for example, the perfect parent and the story that ran with her in my head for a long time was this:
A mum who woke early, before the children, showered and dressed, prepared breakfast & made a start on the washing before waking her children with a smile as she pulled open the curtains, letting in the sunshine. She helped each of them dress with laughter and giggles, encouraged them to tidy their beds ready for the evening and everyone sat together with mum serving each of their choices of a warm, hearty breakfast ready to start their day. She then packed lunches and walked them to school, playing games all the way to keep the children engaged & happy. On her walk home, she thinks about the delicious meal for that night she can make a start on and runs through the errands and chores she needs to sort for the day. She meets up with other mums from school for coffee and cake and they all talk about craft activities, play dates, date night ideas for important husband/wife time and share recipes. She plans family activities for every weekend, organises birthday parties with hand made gifts and great craft activities. She is always busy. Busy with housework, clubs, volunteering at scouts or brownies, cooking, making things, at school plays or helping out in class. As evening falls, she tucks the children into bed and reads from the big book of wholesome children's' tales until her darlings fall asleep and then she sits with her husband and listens to his day, having made him a cuppa, before its time to settle into bed for a rejuvenating sleep at 9.30 pm.
Seriously who the fuck is this woman?!
I don't even recognise her from my own upbringing. There are elements in there of course, but she's a created and perfected version of a 1950s housewife. This is the woman I saw as the perfect parent in my head, with the stories she played out. And so, every time I didn't measure up to her (because newsflash my friends she doesn't exist!) I berated myself, felt like a failure and exhausted myself. This was particularly prevalent as my reality was NOTHING like the parent in my head.
The actual reality of my life was that I was a full time working mum while my husband stayed at home, then a single mum on benefits when my marriage ended. 3 out of 4 of my children have additional needs and I spent from 2008-2013 in and out of the hospital with my 3rd child as he has a significant medical problem. My children could not manage in school and so we chose home education over 5 years ago. I now work part-time evenings and weekends and am home 24/7 with 2 of my children, while one is at school and the other at college. My husband works full time as well as us then working together on the full-time job that is parenting. My life is full-on. Juggling the needs of 4 children, Running a home, working, spending time with my husband, family, friends. What's interesting is that my reality is so much better than the stories I had in my head of that perfect mother.
I've experienced burnout.
I suspect some people are thinking I'm not surprised with all that going on! But it had nothing to do with the external factors and everything to do with the person I was trying to measure up to. That perfect parent, with her perfect life in my head. I was so busy trying to be her, that I lost sight of the important stuff. The truly perfect stuff I already had in my life:
So busy with the cooking and the cleaning, the working constantly while then running the home and doing 'all the things' so that I could measure up to that parent, that I forgot what my children actually needed. They needed a warm, safe, physically clean home, food in their bellies & parents who are there. Physically there. Emotionally there. Mentally there. They needed parents able to listen. They needed parents who have the time. They needed parents who can understand that children do not belong to a parent, but are partners with the child on their own journey.
When you are at burnout, whether its via parenting, work, friendships, running a business, its because you have overwhelmed yourself with this impossible perfect version of that role. With daily tasks that are impossible to accomplish alone. This is when its time to go back to basics. Admit there is an issue, look at what's really causing the issue and then choose how to move forward. Reach out to others, reach out to friends, look at what support you can get and actually ask for it! Life is not a competition and even more so, it's not a competition with the version of the perfect person in your head.
Helping you to clear this.
I would love you to write a list for me. Start it with: 'To be a perfect *insert role here* I must......' and then I want you to write every single thing that comes into your head. Everything. Keep going until you have nothing left. Now consider these questions below:
Where do those ideas come from?
Who're beliefs are they?