My Journey to Burnout: Proof That I Really Can’t Do It All

Burnout. It’s a word that highly ambitious and driven people like myself often think that we are immune to.

I have struggled with over-achieving and perfectionism for almost as long as I can remember. At the tender age of 12, I worked a steady babysitting job every morning and after school, while balancing schoolwork, private music lessons, city orchestra and serving in my church. Even in my 3rd and 4th years of university, I maintained a very full course load with a high GPA, volunteered at church, took on heavy leadership roles on campus, and worked significant part-time hours.

It’s never really occurred to me to slow down much. Having a baby was a bit of a shocker, as I sought to coordinate caring for a baby, home and husband when I’d never really learned how. But I just added that to my list of things to learn to do, and continued on busily… it’s what I had always done.

For reasons I can’t explain, I have always struggled with setting limits for myself and taking on too much. Friends frequently tell me that they get tired just thinking about all of the things I try to do. Oddly enough, I haven’t always found it tiring, but rather invigorating. Until this year.

Beginning with the birth of my youngest child in August 2009, I began a slow and steady downward descent. Never really resting after the birth, I started writing my book Real Food on a Real Budget a mere 6 days after she was born. Preserving and canning season hit, we walked with some friends through a season of difficulty, and then I was knocked out by a crazy throat infection and time in the hospital. Shortly after the busy holiday season, my husband’s health issues worsened and he spent time in the hospital, and we lost two family members to cancer. Pushing on, I made plans to publish my book that spring, launch a second website, and attend a blog conference, all while preparing to move to a new home, accept homestay students and keep up with gardening in two places.

All these years of pushing myself too hard, then that long year of stress after stress after stress. I broke. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually.

Despair began to set in. So did anger. And frustration. And impatience. And then depression.

Image by misteraitch

Wearing the Mask of “I’m Fine”

My sleep began to get more patchy and the struggles with insomnia increased. The tiredness left me more drained than I had ever felt in my life. I was hardly functioning. My brain was in a permanent fog. I was starting to feel like I was losing it and honestly, it wasn’t pretty.

Still, I tried to keep up with things, only somewhat admitting that things were bad. Maybe I just need a better schedule, more self-discipline, more help around the house. I kept running both of my websites in such a way that most people probably never even guessed that I was struggling, except for the small things that I said here and there. Even many who knew me in real life only saw the phoney facade I put on, trying to pretend that all was well, although those closest to me knew better.

I stopped cooking like I usually do and dropped our style of eating down to survival mode for lack of time and energy. I did the bare minimum house cleaning, tried to simply keep the mess to a minimum, and we often pulled clean laundry out of baskets instead of drawers. I insanely still did almost all of the summer preserving that I had planned on doing, telling myself that I had to do it, tired or not.

I still couldn’t keep up with everything on my plate, but I tried. Even as I struggled, I pushed myself, and pushed myself, and then pushed myself some more.

The Ugly Truth

I had pushed myself beyond my physical and emotional limits. Some circumstances were beyond my control, and others were due to my pride and my own desperate attempts to keep up with everything else that I told myself I needed to do. I was spiritually dry. I was not healthy and I was not coping with the everyday aspects of daily life, and I knew it.

I once read that good health is having the ability to do all of your regular, necessary activities, and enough reserves that you could temporarily cope with emergency or challenging situations. I had neither.

Through the stress (physical and emotional), the lack of sleep, a growing dependence on sugar and caffeine (things that I used to be able to say no to), and never allowing myself to actually just stop and be still, I led myself straight into what seems to be a fairly textbook case of adrenal fatigue, where your adrenal glands are drained and have nothing left to give your body because they have been over-stimulated due to stress, diet and other lifestyle and environmental factors.

Image by pasukaru76

Does This Sound Familiar to You?

Perhaps it’s not business endeavors, but rather homeschooling planning, remodelling projects, overcommitment in church activities (yes, even serving others), or trying too hard to be the perfect mom and homemaker, that keeps you burning the candle at both ends and pushing yourself past what you can or should really be doing. Add in to that real life circumstances and challenges, like new babies or pregnancy, moving, job loss, financial difficulty, relational strain, serious illness, loss of loved ones and more (the things that you can’t help or avoid), and it simply becomes too much.

A dear friend has been reminding me often of the need for margin in my life. I was too busy trying to squeeze everything into an unattainable, overloaded schedule, let alone planning for extra margin and time to deal with life’s unexpected interruptions, sorrow and grief, or even needed times of relaxation and enjoyment with friends and family.

In various ways, both my husband and I realized over the course of this fall that it simply had to stop, for my own health and sanity, and for the sake of our family. We began making plans to cut back on my commitments, lighten my schedule, and allow me the margin I need to get back to health.

As of this month, our exit plan is taking full effect with me letting go of my second website (Saving Naturally) to new ownership, and reworking my schedule to allow for rest, recuperation and a return to doing things that bring me life and joy. I have plans to spend extra quality time with our family, to get us back onto the GAPS diet to address our current health concerns, to work a whole lot less, gradually get back into a regular routine (including consistent time with the Lord) and to otherwise not do much of anything beyond the basics.

Image by flik

Question to Ask Yourself

(some of which are taken from the book Tired of Being Tired, an excellent read for anyone who believes they may be suffering from adrenal fatigue)

  • Do I blow past my own fatigue to finish the day’s work?
  • Am I working at my full capacity, or do I feel slowed down, sluggish, foggy and generally tired?
  • Is my schedule realistic or am I trying to cram more into a day than I can actually accomplish?
  • Do I tend to have higher expectations of myself than others have of me?
  • Do I often feel compelled to only do work, but not allow myself times of fun or relaxation?
  • Do I regularly put more on my to-do list than I could ever actually achieve (and then proceed to feel guilty about it)?
  • Am I using stimulants (coffee, sugar, etc.) to try to push my body past its limits?
  • Do I lay awake at night, thinking of the things I need to do?
  • Am I easily irritated at my family or others, even when they haven’t really done anything wrong?
  • Do I feel anxious? Depressed? Angry? Hopeless?
  • Has my time with God gone by the wayside, as I declare “I don’t have time“, while I frantically work away at everything else on my to-do list?

The point of these questions is to help you assess your own life, your heart and your health. Are there things that you need to let go of? Have you gotten to a place of burnout? And are you seeing the negative effects in your family, your home, your other relationship, your walk with the Lord?

This month at Keeper of the Home (and possibly extending even into February) our main topic will be general wellness and the delicate balance of maintaining good health. We’ll look at getting quality sleep, how to include exercise in your days, what adrenal fatigue is and how to deal with it, the huge topic of depression (from both a spiritual perspective, as well as natural treatments and helps), a panel discussion on burnout and fatigue, and much more.

How would you answer some of those questions? Is the topic of burnout and fatigue one that resonates with you?

Top image by through my eyes

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About Stephanie Langford

Stephanie Langford has a passion for sharing ideas and information for homemakers who want to make healthy changes in their homes, and carefully steward all that they've been given. She has written three books geared to helping families live more naturally and eat real, whole foods, without being overwhelmed, without going broke and with simple meal planning. She is the creator of Keeper of the Home.

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  1. I’d love to know what your rest time looked like! I’ve been struggling for nearly 3 years now…well longer than that, but 3 years that I’ve known why and been actively addressing the issues. I know for most of us, just “stopping” isn’t really an option, but where did you cut back, what got put on hold, etc? How did you get the rest you need? My struggle is getting my brain to rest. I can sit perectly still and my brain is going 120mph. I need to get over this-anything you could share would be greatly appreciated!

  2. Wow, Stephanie! I read this last year, but I really needed to read it again….and then you became pregnant after all that! I hope you are doing much better now (you seem to be!). This really spoke to me. I’ve been perusing some of your adrenal fatigue posts the past few days (you know, the ones I skimmed before…tucked away b/c “they didn’t apply to me.”). With the recent discovery of my thyroid disfunction (as well as low vitamin D levels…despite 1,000 ius/day–I’m taking 4,000 now!), I’m definitely relating more to these posts now!

    I struggle with trying to keep the girls healthy–to the neglect of my own health. Like I wrote here last month, I think part of my baby’s health issues last winter was BECAUSE I wasn’t looking after myself! Since I now know what’s really been going on in my body, I’m looking forward to a fresh start in 2012.

    Thanks for being so real and vulnerable!

  3. Stephanie, I can so relate! I went through the same things back in 2006, 2007, 2008 and into 2009. I have chronic health issues and found myself – more than once – being bed ridden and very, very ill – still trying to maintain perfection! I still struggle with overcommitments, but for now things seem better. I told my husband I couldn’t do it all any more and I stopped trying (for the most part!) I wrote about it in my workbook Spring Cleaning for the Heart and Home. Half of my problem is other people’s expectations, but I do put a lot of pressure on myself as well.

    I hope you find balance and renewed health!!

    Melissa Ringstaff

    • @Melissa Ringstaff, It’s definitely hard to let go of other’s expectations for us, isn’t it? It’s tough to learn to care more about what the Lord thinks of us, rather than having a fear of man. For me, it’s probably more about the pressure I put on myself, but I definitely hear you. It sounds like you’re learning and changing, though, through God’s grace! :)

  4. I’m so glad a friend introduced me to your site! I could have written everything you have about fatigue and burnout word for word. I think people are really shocked when I explain to them that running myself ragged for so many years has actually taken a toll on my health and I am now having to get my body back in balance because of those health issues. But like you are doing, I hope to reach and help other women dealing with similar issues.

  5. One of the greatest gifts we can give one another is the removal of our masks, willingness to be vulnerable and transparent with one another. Thank you so much for your honesty and transparency.

    I too have struggled with being on the verge of burn out this past year and I am taking a sabbatical from leadership and administrative roles. Serving where I can do something practical and encourage others is just what I needed! I help out in little ways to encourage others here where I serve as a missionary, but I don’t feel guilty about taking the time to rest.

    Three things I have done to help get more rest: take my calcium at night, drink chamomile tea when I need to rest, and relax in bed in the afternoon, deliberately quieting my thoughts until I can just be still!


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