How Did We Get This Far?

Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Jorinde Berben

Yesterday was the first day of our one-week autumn vacation. My partner is in quarantine with his sons and my parents (with whom I share a home) are on holiday, which means I’m home alone with my two cherubs.
Yet, despite the difficulty that situation could have presented somehow I’d managed to change three beds, help my daughter carve a pumpkin, do three loads of laundry, bathe both my children and give my son a new haircut before noon. On days like those, it’s really hard to imagine why I can’t manage that kind of effort on all the other days, too. It doesn’t seem so impossible. I don’t seem so ill-equiped.

But the truth is that, even on those days, some simple tasks now seem nearly impossible. I don’t manage to clean the kitchen or cook dinner (my amazing partner often makes a dish I can pick up at his front door <3). My energy levels are just at a baseline, even after 10 hours of sleep, and I deliberately have to plan in off-time.

Last week, after a long time of no meetings, my coach-friend and I settled down for another Zoom session, and she asked this very poignant question: ‘How did it get this far?’

It was the first time I really thought about it. How did I get this far? And on a broader level, how did we get this far? As a society? There are so many people dropping out with burnouts and depression that most of us now see this as a cultural issue, rather than just a personal one.

On the personal level, I can say that the things that have kept me going even when I should’ve taken time to rest were a changing mixture of the following: guilt and shame (major roadblocks to self-care!), the idea that I didn’t have a choice (you HAVE TO do this, this and that), my own successes at times (see, I can do this!) and the fact that there was so little conversation around the topic in my immediate circles.

The latter is undoubtedly one of the main reasons it’s become such a cultural issue as well. We don’t really find talking about rest and self-care a sign of wellbeing and strength, even though they are essential to it. When someone exclaims: “Well, that was a rough day, I think I’ll work a little less tomorrow”, we might perceive that person as lazy or weak, rather than as an individual who’s fully in control of their energy levels and knows exactly what they need.

Here, I’ve noticed a huge difference in reaction from those who have already suffered through burnout versus those who haven’t. It’s as if living through burnout resets people’s minds in a way. They have learned, out of sheer necessity, how important it is to rest, nurture and protect yourself. They don’t see failure in it other than the failure to recognize when too much is too much.

As a society, we’ve got to start recognizing the wisdom of people who work to live, instead of living to work. We need to teach our young ones that life isn’t about reaching some faraway goal and depleting all your resources to get there, but about aiming for the right direction and remembering to enjoy the ride as much as the eventual destination. And we urgently need to upgrade the emotional and physical intelligence that allows us to fully experience what’s going on in every single moment, in our own minds and bodies, good or bad. It’s all essential information.

The burnout epidemic and the way we go about balancing work versus family and play is a true horror story, worthy of any Halloween blog post, in my opinion. Somehow we’ve managed to completely turn everything upside down, with little babies that get sent off to daycare for 9 hours a day while we slave away at a job we don’t really like to be able to afford a house that never quite feels 100% finished and to go on vacations that give us more prestige than pleasure. This is pretty scary shit if you ask me. Can we just blame capitalism for this strange shift in priorities?

I’ve learned to see that those who suffer from burnout are those who gave it their all and forgot to take back what they needed. That they are the wise ones who learned the lessons of how to take care of themselves and to stop apologizing for it. (I’m not quite there yet, myself). And that taking time to build yourself back after you’ve seen yourself fall apart, is really scary, but therefore also really brave.

One day, I might even be proud of myself to have had the courage to take time off and really face what’s not working anymore.
One day.

Happy Halloween y’all!

4 thoughts on “How Did We Get This Far?

  1. Rephrasing sometimes helped me in times when I was overwhelmed, asking “how can I have more energy for the tasks I absolutely have to accomplish today? Sometimes lack of energy has physical roots, a low vitamin, hormone changes etc. Maybe worth investigating? Unfortunately parenting is not a choice and there’s no turning the kid off so we can rest. In my case work was not, and still is not, a choice. But I survived the parenting 😀 and you will too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the tips Alessandra. I’m supplemeting some vitamins already and get my blood checked at least once a year. It can definitely have a big impact, psychologically as well.
      The ability to choose your work and have options that suit you is a luxury. There are many of us who are simply happy to have a job at all. The parenting job, though more in reality, actually costs me less energy because there is no doubt on my mind that I am doong exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. It’s my nr. 1 calling ☺️

      Liked by 1 person

      1. One thing I have noticed is that there is really no time when we have “more time” or “less things to do”. So in a way we all need to think about that regardless of outside commitments, as you have pointed out in your posts, directly or indirectly. For example, I didn’t have any free time when I was a graduate student and a single mother. Then I graduated and married again and I still didn’t have enough time because I needed to work hard to get a job. Then I got a permanent job, and that generated its own set of things to do. Now with my son graduated from college, I should have much more free time, and less things I have to do. But it absolutely does not FEEL like that. I will probably be very busy when I retire also. Go figure. It’s really an internal thing we need to take care of, that feeling that we have to be “doing” otherwise we don’t exist? Something to think about for sure, thanks for constantly bringing that up in your posts.

        Liked by 1 person

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