Ever experienced one of those days when you could barely stand up, your feet ready to melt under the weight of a body getting crushed by its own weight? Shoulders aching with pain like you have been lifting 25 pounds of barbells all day? Head ready to split wide open like the headache you are already stoically (almost) tolerating not good enough? You are tired to your bones but just can’t sleep? You toss and turn lucidly dreaming ready to wake up at a moment’s notice?
Of all the different types of burnout, emotional exhaustion is perhaps one that is most commonly experienced. Back when I taught my students about issues related to workplace stress and burnout, I always shared with them a personal example. This happened while I worked as a journalist. I was 20-years-old, working full-time at a newspaper where I had first started out as a stringer at 19, and attending university as a full-time student. Being a sincere student, I made sure to attend almost all my lectures starting at 7:30 a.m. and after all the classes were done, being a committed employee, headed straight to my office or the field, wherever interviews, feature stories, and other events needed me to be so I could cover them and report back. Not to mention, I was also working on my GRE so I could take the exam along with the TOEFL for acceptance to US universities for my Master’s.
Eventually, something had to give and I crashed. I reached a point where nothing interested me. I had a writer’s block, I was feeling pulled in every possible direction, my mood swings were off the charts and my poor mother had to bear the brunt of them all, I wasn’t interested in eating, and all I wanted to do was sleep or just lay and do nothing….I have never felt as exhausted before or after until recently.
That first time, it took me over a week to feel better but that was a very slow process that continued to linger even after I had kinda sorta already “recovered” which I kind of forced myself because, well…deadlines still needed to be met.
In the almost two weeks that Aaron was out of the country, I went through my second most memorable burnout. One may wonder if stay-at-home-moms are eligible to burnout because after all, we don’t have any real stressors if you think about it – no horrible boss breathing down us, no deadlines to meet, no work clothes to try to fit into, no ridiculous commutes to navigate, no clients to answer to, no pesky coworkers to get along with, no forced uninteresting or disinteresting work…or so the thinking may be.
However, taking care of my own kids 24/7 was very, very draining and exhausting for me. My body has never known such exhaustion before. I was emotionally drained. I don’t know how much longer I would have been able to keep up the facade (not that I was trying too hard anyway) had Aaron not returned. I don’t know when and in what manner I would have broken down. Twice, I let out long and loud cries, with my kids around, crying, wondering to whom I could turn to for help, how I could change my situation, speaking loudly to nobody about how helpless, incompetent, and inefficient I felt in taking care of my kids, in not being able to patiently nurture them, in not having the capacity to love them like they deserved because I was so caught up in my exhaustion…as my stunned kids watched, quietly, having momentarily forgotten why they were whining or crying or screaming or disobeying, or throwing food around or emptying toy bins for no apparent reason.
…then, I wiped my tears, took long breaths, watched my tone, and continued on like nothing had happened.
I still feel the remnants of that stress. I still feel burned out. Aaron is back but I feel the burn every day. I feel like with each passing day, my capacity to deal with little humans is diminishing.
I need sleep. I need a vacation, a real vacation. Perhaps even a vacation without kids.