Burnout. What Happened When I Just Let Go.

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It had been a LOOONNNNNNGGGG time since I had felt the total freedom to just sit, breathe and be by myself. Nothing to do, nobody to cook for or collect, no chores or bedtime routines.  The feeling was really quite strange and overwhelming, as I sat on the beach watching the sun set over Dubai’s city skyline. I cried to myself. A cry of relief, of rest, of appreciation for all I had, and also for that moment.

That’s right I was alone.  I was a married Mum of a four and two year old, and here I was, on a beach in a different country.  OMG.  How did I end up here?  Was it a work trip?  Did I need urgently to visit someone in Dubai?  No.  I had DECIDED that this was something I needed.

The Start of My Best Self Project

You may relate. It had been four years since I had spent a single day without my children. I was always in “Mummy Mode” and to some extent still am.  I dream about my children, I think about them throughout the day, my coat pockets contain their snotty tissues and the odd raisin, and I often find random items like their socks or toys in my handbag.

Did I mention I had spent that four years looking like a mum too.  No, not the ones you see on Cheshire Housewives wafting around in leather leggings and heels, with perfectly coiffed hair and a stunning red lip.  I just looked like shit.  Every day.  Like, totally frazzled.

Motherhood wasn’t just a part of my identity.  It was who I had become.  In fact it had consumed every cell of me. I had gotten to the point where I was so lost that I couldn’t even remember who I was outside of that role anymore.  Being a mum was all consuming, and there was always this nagging feeling that there was so much more of me desperate to come out.

Unfortunately I was too busy, drained and overwhelmed to do anything about it for way too long.

My Best Self Project

The Slow Burn

I had always been wildly ambitious and strived for growth in every area of my life… constantly.  I’d always told myself that I’d bring my A-Game to motherhood whenever that time arrived, and I’d set up my life with my own business, so I would have the flexibility to earn money AND be there for my kids 24-7.

I’d still dress really cool, I’d be perfectly groomed, I’d still have clients when it suited me and I’d spend the rest of my time having fun at playgroups or outdoors with my darling kiddies.

Sounded simple to me.  But then I didn’t have kids then, so what the f*** did I know. LOL.

Nobody ever mentioned to me the three aspects of having kids that changes your life overnight.  It happens fast, and it’s crazy intense.

1. They NEED You

It starts quite innocently when they are newborns.  They NEED you every minute of every day. They are 100% completely dependent on you to survive, and you feel that within every inch of your body.  Before you are a mum, you know this logically, but nothing prepares you for the sleep deprivation, the torturous crying, the brain fog, the confusion, resentment at times and complete overwhelm.  You feel the weight of this responsibility to your core.  Whilst it’s a privilege, it’s also an overwhelming, life-changing and all-consuming thing to come to terms with.  You feel like you have no choice but to submit to it.  You now come LAST.

2. You have NO Time

In addition, there’s always a chore to be done – milk preparation, endless washing, tidying the thing that used to resemble your house, none of this includes actually taking care of yourself at this point – it’s all about them.  This is in addition to the little person to feed / clothe / burp / ween / play with.  You think this will get easier as they get older, but the demands never get any less – they just morph in to different ones.  You continue to be just as busy.

3. You Feel You Have NO Freedom Anymore.

Now don’t get me wrong I LOVE my kids.  I LOVE spending time with them.  I LOVE being silly and ridiculous with them, and exploring new adventures with them, cuddling, reading and simply just looking at them.  It brings a fulfilment to my life that can be compared to nothing.  Parenthood is hard, and when you are feeling empty, drained, tired and completely unfufiled because you are putting everyone else first, there can come a point where you realise you now rarely enjoy ANYTHING.  I one day recognised I was completely depressed because I no longer felt like I had choices in my day. My life had become one long obligation/duty/to do list.

If I wanted a shower or bath it was dependent on whether Simon was home, and whether or not a child may or may not disturb me. I found myself unable to relax, prepared to be disturbed at all or any times of the day or night. I realised I was no longer in charge of whether I would have a full night’s sleep (hello parenthood)! If I ever did sleep I would awake with sore hands, head and jaw and realised after some time I was sleeping with my fists and jaw clenched. This was indicating that my adrenals had gone in to complete meltdown…. I was no longer able to relax.

When you feel exhausted and have no guarantee or hope that you have a good change of getting eight hours sleep in the forsee-able future, it is a lot for any person to deal with. I mean we’re talking about basic human needs here – eating, sleeping, washing – but the reality of motherhood, is sometimes we aren’t even meeting these needs for ourselves.  Let alone fulfilling our hearts, minds and souls! Why does nobody tell you this?

So it became abundantly clear I had some problems. Mentally, emotionally and physically – I was burned out.

No matter what I tried to do to combat it, I just burned out more. And that’s the thing with burnout. It won’t let up until you find a way to rest, restore and only then, can you rebuild.

Mum Feeling lost in life
Mum feeling lost?

Human Doing.

I realised to my horror that I had gotten ‘used’ to doing everything for everyone, every minute of my waking day and was completely and utterly drained.  Not only that, but because I was getting it done, everyone had gotten used to me doing it (and expected me to do it).  Oh and I resented it – BIG TIME.  And trying to deny that emotion long term is a horrible thing – it doesn’t go away. It simply intensifies.

I resented that I couldn’t even recognise myself in the mirror anymore – not physically, emotionally or in spirit.  My eyes were empty, my body flabby and my skin was grey. I was just a shell. A shadow of the person I once was.

It’s so easy for me to see how many women can spend probably twenty years doing this without realising that they’ve never put themselves first since having children. Maybe even longer.  It’s such an easy trap to fall in to.  Days as a Mum are a ridiculously jam-packed rollercoaster of highs and lows, and every emotion possible, most days.  Keep doing this for a few years and it’s going to grind you down.

Signs of Burnout

Some nights I would lie awake ALL night.   I would find myself holding my breath sometimes unconsciously.  My chest hurt.  I was tired CONSTANTLY – even if I did get sleep.  I ached.  My back hurt.  I overate or ate nothing.  I was angry.  I was sad.  I was depressed. I cried a lot whenever I was alone. And that was the thing. I felt alone.

I felt had no choice but to keep going…

Running a household, kids, a business, day to day routines, learning to be a good parent to two very different little girls with very different needs, trying to understand Autism so we could better understand and communicate with our eldest daughter – being mummy, wife, chef, daughter, sister, lover, friend, therapist, boss, social organiser…. and a woman in there too…. all whilst feeling constantly ill and like someone had pulled the plug. Sound familiar?

I wasn’t actually doing anything very well.  I wasn’t doing anything with energy, with love or gusto.  I was just in survival mode.  I smiled when I needed to on the outside, to appear normal, but inside I felt nothing.

Even when somebody gave me a few hours to just ‘relax’ – I couldn’t!!! I would do chores, tidy, go and run errands. 

One day my husband offered to take the girls so I could have a day to myself to do whatever I wanted – to relax, or go out. Anything. And it was in that moment I realised…

I’d totally become incapable of just BEING for a second.

I had become a Human Doing.

The Life in my Eyes has Returned


I had managed to get to a place in my life where literally everything and everyone was above me in terms of priority. I felt so overwhelmed and that time must be spent chipping away at the overwhelming list of ‘to dos’. I had to be productive. I could no longer justify time for myself any more in my own mind.

The result of this is that I was struggling to feel any positive emotions.  This was honestly the scariest place I have EVER been in my life.  Depression is so terrifying. I remember being both ‘in it’ and at the same time, feeling like I was observing it, saying to myself, “this simply can not go on.”

As a Human Doing you find it pretty much impossible to enjoy life anymore.  You find yourself drowning in so many to dos, obligations and duties whilst your energy levels are at zero, and you’re too drained to see a way out. You don’t have the energy to even fight for a way out. You drag your feet through life, because you think that’s what you ‘should’ be doing.

I felt at the time, totally under-appreciated, misunderstood and alone.  I couldn’t see my own worth anymore as a woman – as an individual.  I was just a machine doing, doing, doing.

The weirdest thing is you may even be applauded for it! People see you ‘getting stuff done’ and say “Oh I don’t know how you do it? You are Super-mum!” And in a weird way this reinforces your negative and self destructive behaviour because you are given props for behaving in this way.

You can imagine what this was doing to my close relationships, my energy, our finances, our progress and joy as a family.  Mummy’s depression was seeping in to every single area of our lives. And had I mentioned that I deeply hated myself for that. I was in such a state of self loathing and toxic guilt. I look back with sadness at how I brutally I talked to myself, and abused my own spirit

Ironically what I found more frustrating was the ‘self-care’ things I had been trying to cram in to my day – exercise, meditation, counselling appointments with a therapist, time with friends – were only making me more stressed!  More things to do and remember. I felt overwhelming pressure.

After a particularly challenging day I found myself in the kitchen one night crying desperately. I glanced up and happened to see my reflection in the mirror. It was the sorriest sight. I looked so old and unhealthy. So weak.

And then something new happened.

I got irrationally angry with myself. I saw myself as pathetic, selfish, disempowered victim. And in that moment I realised just what I was risking through my behaviour.

I risked my marriage falling apart

I risked mentally and emotionally damaging our children

I risked a miserable life.

I imagined the pain of travelling along this trajectory for another five, ten, and fifteen years. Who would I become if I kept along this path? I did not like that vision. Like the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, allowing myself to see where my past and present behaviour could lead if I did not change.

And then I did something powerful. Something that I believe we all have the power to do in any situation. I made a decision. A decision to never allow myself to get in such a state of stagnation or depression every again. It simply was not that woman who I wanted to be.



I realised at that moment exactly what I needed. It was simple, but it was not going to be easy. I needed a rest. And that felt enormous, and somewhat impossible.

That’s right, as silly and ridiculous as that sounded, I needed to prioritise having a rest.

It dawned on me since that following a thirty-six hour labour and emergency c-section four years earlier where I had a mental reaction to the drugs and thought I had died in child birth, I had never ever had the opportunity to rest, process and recover from that.

And this was the result.

Call Time Out.

The decision to book a break just for myself felt absolutely HUGE and very scary.  I felt terrified of leaving the girls.  Frightened for how they might miss me and what it would ‘do’ to them.   The fear was very, very real. I wondered if they would feel abandoned. What if Simon couldn’t manage? What if he didn’t do things like I did them? What if he forgot snacks? What if he took them out and forgot ‘the bag’? I read this back now and laugh at how unable I was to deal with anything if I didn’t feel in full control.

I was also scared to travel alone!  It had been about 10 years since I had got on a plane alone – I used to do it often in my 20s but when I met my husband, we always then travelled together.  So the journey alone felt like an ordeal bearing in mind I had suffered from anxiety in public places and a total lack of confidence for the last four years.  This really annoyed me.  I knew better than this.  I was better than this. In the past I had always practised The Secret. I used to meditate, exercise, breathe well and care for myself, and I lived life through a positive lens.  I realised that since I had children, I was now approaching my whole life through a lens of fear. 

I needed a new approach.  Fast.  I was going to have to face the things that felt scary in order to change.

The Why.

I have learned that when I am trying to face a fear, or something causing me anxiety I need a very clear WHY.

I need to be able to answer “WHY this is important to you?

“WHY is this is a MUST for you? WHY MUST this change / happen?

And this has become a habitual part of my life now, whenever I feel I am self sabotaging, or trying to control everything, or quite frankly, being a martyr. I ask…

Where will you be in 1, 3, 5 and 10 years time if you don’t change this?

What will it do to the people who you love if you carry on like this?”

It snaps me out of my negative loops and behaviour, and back in to my heart and spirit.

For me, it was and still is SO important that I show my girls that you should NEVER feel bad for giving yourself what you need in order to rest, restore or re-energise yourself.

It is interesting that we have a daughter with sensory processing disorder and Autism, who is excellent at knowing exactly what she needs and not being afraid to tell you. Our daughter is our teacher in how to give ourselves what we need. It’s a gift our family have been blessed with, and believe that I am her mother for a reason to teach her the things she needs to know, and she is my daughter to teach the lessons I have not yet learned. Sienna often tells you “I’d like to be on my own” and will go off to put a blanket over her head. Sometimes you’ll find her bouncing madly on a trampoline and others, singing repetitively to calm her nervous system. Autism is an eye opening, soul restoring journey. You realise just what is (and is not) truly important.

What’s the reason you jump?
When I’m jumping it’s as if my feelings are going upward to the sky. Really, my urge to be swallowed up by the sky is enough to make my heart quiver. When I’m jumping, I can feel my body parts really well, too–my bounding legs and my clapping hands–and that makes me feel so, so good.”
― Naoki Higashida, The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism

Without positive energy to show up as our authentic selves, we are just shells.  With positive energy we are vital, happy beings, and I know exactly which one of these I want for my girls.

It’s crucial I lead the way and teach my girls to respect the signals that their body’s are giving them, rather than teaching them to self-medicate through food, booze, self serving or sabotaging behaviours or any other unhealthy addiction (like I was!)

Taking the First Step

So after putting off booking the holiday and procrastinating … quite frankly my husband sat me down and gave me three options for a short break that he’d gone off and researched and priced, and racked with guilt, fear, anxiety, apprehension; with my husband’s support and encouragement, I picked a hotel in Dubai. Within minutes he’d booked a flight to return four nights later. YIKES!

Letting Go Sounds Easy. But Not If You’re Gripping the Side of Cliff Edge.

The biggest fear I had was letting go.  To say ‘things will be ok without me for a few days’.  As Mums we feel better when we’re in control.  We can keep everybody safe that way.  Looking back I think it made me feel worthy. Like there was a point to my existence, that only I could do. I realised this reluctance to let go was the thing that was really holding me back, and possibly could even hold our kids back in the future.

There’s trying to help your children to thrive in their life, and then there is trying to maintain control over everything so they never experience pain or hurt. The latter is simply unrealistic, unsustainable, and quite frankly impossible. But the latter is what I had become guilty of. How could they possibly become their best selves if I was always wrapping everyone up in cotton wool, and trying to prevent every difficult circumstance in my own (and their) life.

As the date of the trip drew nearer, I realised that I was facing major fears here in many ways.  Old traumas were emerging, I was having crazy dreams, and I was getting increasingly anxious as each day passed

I had set up our life and daily routines really carefully around the girls – always putting them first. Part of this had stemmed from the therapies I had put in place in our daily life to help Sienna’s development, but now I started to recognise that I was absolutely terrified that if I didn’t ‘do it all’ every day, she might stop developing.

I argued with myself, knowing I needed a break (and it was now booked and paid for) but was deeply terrified that her progress would halt, or even regress, and it would all be my selfish fault for putting myself first.  I realised that I was still blaming myself for the fact that my child had Autism, and feeling like I was the only person who could and should help her – everything was my fault and therefore my responsibility.  I knew this was totally irrational when I thought about it, but as parents some of these beliefs just take over in our sub-conscious and we simply don’t realise that we are still being held back by them.  We don’t realise sometimes the amount of toxic guilt we are carrying around for us for ‘never feeling enough’.

Working through all my fears that surfaced through the process of the lead up to the trip – allowing myself to feel fear, and express it out loud, helped me to realise the obvious.

All I needed to do for my daughters was love them.  With everything I had.  It wasn’t about what I was doing FOR them that mattered.  All that was needed was unconditional love and support.

It Takes a Village.

So with my husband’s encouragement I got on that plane. I’m so lucky that I had such a great support in place, otherwise I don’t know if I would have made it to the airport.

The thing is, when I was depressed and overwhelmed,  I felt 100% responsible for my children (forgetting that all the time, Simon was ready, willing, able and offering to take more on so I could have some space).

Even more poignant was that I had convinced myself, through my own lack of self-worth, that I was only worthy of love by doing all the stupid daily stuff we all do as mothers and wives.  The stuff that in the end, our kids and partners won’t ever remember or care about. In reality, none of them cared about what I was doing. They just wanted me back to my happy, authentic self. Just as I was.

My family just wanted Mummy to be happy, healthy and strong and emotionally present. 

LIGHTBULB MOMENT! I had been working on all the wrong things for a really long time.

A Change in Perspective.

All of a sudden it was much easier to change my approach. I focused on living my life through the lens of love. Love for my girls, my husband, but just as equally myself. I realised my worth wasn’t tied up in what I did. I just had it. Just like my children were just born with it. They didn’t have to do anything to prove they were worthy of my love. They appeared, and I loved and adored them. Even before they were born – I loved them.

I would teach my children that you can love with a whole heart and STILL be a whole person.  You don’t have to give parts of yourself away in order to love someone. You should never have to edit / remove / stifle a true part of yourself to be worthy of receiving love back.

Some people say to give yourself ‘me time’ if you want to recharge as a mum.  However this is extremely difficult to do, if you are already feeling drained and low.  Self care can feel like yet another thing to plan and organise if you are burned out. It’s feels like ‘doing more’!

Every time I feel a little overwhelmed, I come back to read this blog. I stop focussing on what I think I should do.  I remind myself to focus on the person you need to be today in order to feel full and to feel joy. When I do that, everything else feels peaceful. It all kind of just falls in to place.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from recharge time alone – you are worthy of love just as you are.  You can sit on a beach for hours, with the waves lapping at your feet, staring as the sun sets, and you are still loved. You are still worthy of that love.

You don’t have to DO anything.  Just BE.

The remedy to most negative feelings in life in GRATITUDE. Is having the time and space to allow how grateful you are to fill you up. This can take practise – especially when you are tired and overwhelmed. You can know you are grateful, and understand it intellectually, but for it to be effective you need to FEEL it. So sometimes you need to let go, and step back, distancing yourself for a little while, in order to FEEL again. In order to just BE.

You are enough.

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