In this series of authentic conversations around burn-out, my clients share their recovery journey openly with the world. The intention with this series is to create awareness and understanding around burn-out and chronic stress. The stories invite to inspire others to be brave, challenge their beliefs and speak up on their needs to avoid burnout and other stress related outcomes.
Below you can read the story from Marianne.
I am Marianne a 43 years old French madame, I have been living in the Netherlands for more than 11 years. I started my career as an embedded software developer and I am now responsible for all the software developments in a small medical company. I am the mother of two girls and step mom to the daughter of my Dutch husband.
What was your moment of truth?
In monarchy lexicon exists the expression "annus horribilis" to describe a year that should be better forgotten of. 2012 was my "annus horribilis". In January, my perverse narcissistic father steps up another level in his cruelty and announced us by email that he was leaving our mother. He told us that he would live with his mistress and hoped we would be able to celebrate with him this wonderful development in his life. As we were not as enthusiastic about his choice and certainly not the way he chose to proceed with it, ensued from my father years of emotional manipulation.
In September that same year, my relationship with my partner and father of my two children came to a bitter an acrimonious end after 13 years. Years of mutual anger with him followed, along with the problem with my father, caused very regular peaks of stress. A few months after that, he decided to move back to our home country and I became a single mum in a foreign country to my then 3- and 7-year old daughters.
From that moment I entered the mercenary mode: to make enough money to be able to keep our house and the after-school activities of the children. I wanted to keep their life as identical as it was before the separation. I worked full time and taught piano in the evenings and week-ends to make that happen.
I embodied the softness of a mother, the authority of a father. I was the money maker at the same time as the stay at home mom. While doing this, I was also the emotional support for my mother's emotional distress during her separation with my father. All while I was dealing with my own anger at my father and my own emotional distress around my own separation. Above that I tried to perform well at the new job I just got in a start-up to take my career to the next level.
What beliefs or expectations were you carrying at this point?
I thought I had to do it all because I was raised like that. Our motto was: “You put other's need before yours, you have to own your responsibilities because you are the adult in the room and you protect your children whatever the cost.” The idea not being able to cope with all of that meant that I was a failure.
I carried on like this for 3 years, I consciously ignored all the warning signs of distress my body was giving me until that Friday at work. We had a stressful situation. I came home stressed and that evening I did not fall asleep. Neither did I fall asleep for the next 4 months. I just stopped sleeping COMPLETELY. I had been ignoring my body signs for so long and my body took things in his own hands and went on a full-on long-term strike. At that point I did not realize it but looking back, THAT was when I went into burn out.
Sleep was always my secret weapon to sustain such an active life, and without it I felt like a tortoise without its shell. Immensely vulnerable, thrown in a total depletion mode, after a few days of complete sleep deprivation, the panic attacks started. I felt that I would never get out of this hole and that created a downwards spiral.
My first salutary reaction was to call my mom that Sunday to share with her what was happening. She came that next Tuesday to help me with the children. She ended up staying for four months…
I got in contact with my nearly retiring Huisarts who told me, that yes, it was tiring not to sleep but that sleeping pills were addictive so I should just let go and everything would be fine. Not what I needed to hear obviously. Finding the right care and the right ear in the Dutch heath care system was an added difficulty. I think my Huisarts did not understand the acuteness of my situation. Or maybe I failed to complain clear enough by taking my own symptoms not seriously enough.
My father has an history of antidepressant abuse and I refused to even consider going that way. Taking medication was being like him, a weak person and I could not be that person. At the same time being the sole bread winner in the house, I had no choice but to continue working as I was on a temporary contract. I realized that so many mornings I put my life at risk, doing my long work commute by car when I had not slept a full hour the night before.
Anti-depressive treatment and inner work were my saviors
3 more months passed and although I had a lot of support at my work from my employer, at home from my mom, my family and my LAT partner, I continued to spiral down. I refused to hear the pleading of my mom to take medication to help temporarily with the emergency of my situation. My aunt and uncle who were my father figures stepped in at this point to tell me that although my stubbornness was legendary in the family, to stop the nonsense and get on medication.
I reluctantly did and started taking an anti-depressive treatment that would also help restoring my sleep. In a matter of a few weeks I could stabilize myself again from a sleep perspective but was still suffering from anxiety attacks. I started to work with Eva to learn how to restore the communication between my mind and my body and stop the war those two were having with each other.
I stopped the medication after just a few months despite everyone's warnings and I relapsed. Often, we want a quick fix to our problems, but recovering from the burn- out was not a quick fix. After a year, I could slowly wean from the medication. Overall it took me 3 and half years. Since only a few months I feel that I am back to my "old" self.
It took a lot of therapy, a lot of questioning of my beliefs, that I could not be weak, that I had to do it all or I would be a failure. It was painful, it was scary. As I had to find a new definition of myself where I allowed myself to be vulnerable. I never wanted that! But finally, I surrendered to my vulnerability.
And that was a blessing. If you would have told me the first weeks of the burn out that that would probably be the best thing that would happen to me, I would have simply smacked you in the face. But now I believe it is. It forced me to drop the armor. To show my vulnerable self with my children, my partner, my boss, my friends, my colleagues and the rest of the world.
I was always the listener, the counselor, the strong one. And in a way it prevented me to really connect with people because I was not allowing them to be there for me. It was a hard, hard, hard, thing to let people be there for me. To let me need their help. To become more human and not this idea of a superwoman I thought I had to be.
Almost 4 years down the line, I have learned that stress comes... and goes. That there are sleepless nights but they will also go. So, when they come, I acknowledge them, I let myself experience them. I befriend them. They are not my enemies anymore. They are my partners, my constant reminders that I have to pause for a while. That allowing myself to pause makes me a better mother, a better wife, a better daughter, a better human. And that I deserve to be all of that without any pressure.
What advice would you give other women who identify with the situation you were in when you landed in burn-out?
I would like to advice other women who identify with my situation to think about the security instructions in a plan plane: “Please put on your own oxygen mask before you put on the ones of your children.”When you are passed out because of the lack of oxygen, you won’t be able to put any oxygen mask on your children’s face. It seems like common sense but I feel like a lot of women are raised, or pressured by society that they have to do it all: be perfect mothers, perfect partners, perfect workers.
Women are often raised with the sense it is their duty to take care. But if you have no oxygen mask, you will pass out. It’s normal. Taking care of yourself, pausing, slowing down, is your oxygen mask. By showing vulnerability you also teach your children the most important lesson: they don’t have to do it all perfectly, you teach them that they can pause, they can fail, sometimes they won’t be the best parent, the best partner or worker but they will be their best self and in the end that is more than enough.
I want to thank Marianne for her bravery to share her recovery story. I hope you will take her learning experience to heart and listen to the wisdom she has gathered through this experience.
Together we can change the narrative around burn-out by being open in how we deal with the challenges in our lives. As being open in our vulnerability is the real strength. Women owning their stories, aligned with their bodies and souls are the real power women and new leaders we need in our (business) world and society.
I wish this story inspires you to become real about your life. To be brave, to start to reflect on your beliefs and life style. I desire that you take your body and soul serious and that you can see that you are more than a walking head. A head which pushes us to do more and better.
The first step is to take a moment to pause and reflect. To start to connect with your body and soul. This practice of pausing and reconnecting with your body will help you to transform your life where you align with who you truly are. Living from an aligned mind, body and soul is where burn-out has no chance.
Hi, I am Eva and I support women who are working hard to climb the career ladder or grow their thriving small business. I facilitate them to create a life and career with purpose and wellbeing so that they can create a balanced and conscious life. I do this by helping them to re-connect with their body and soul. This alignment creates authentic leadership and contributes positively to our current changing world.
In case you have any questions about burn-out, or you feel are ready to ask for support to create purpose or wellbeing in your life, feel welcome to contact me. Find out the different services I offer for women like you. I also would love to hear from you have had a burn-out and you are recovered and you wish to share your story on my blog to inspire other women, you can contact me here.