Burnout Has Changed Me

The more I read about burnout, the more I realize that the path to recovery is not a short one.

watercolor glowing embers from a fire
Image created via Midjourney

Last week, my husband and I left the house for several hours. We’re doing some home improvement projects, so we met with a builder. Spent about 90 minutes at the office, then picked up lunch on the way home.

By the time we got back to the house, I was exhausted. I mean really exhausted. Promptly took a nap for over an hour and woke up still feeling tired.

It vaguely reminded me of the early days as a new parent. With each of my babies, I remember the first outing (usually to Target). It was so exciting to finally leave the house, but it also involved a lot of logistics: feeding and changing the baby before we left, packing the diaper bag, dressing the baby in weather-appropriate, moving the baby to the car seat in the car, moving the car seat from the car to the store cart. I’d also had c-sections so my body was recovering from major surgery. By the time we got home from even the shortest of trips, the baby and I were both wiped out.

And just as everything would begin to feel manageable, my maternity leave would end. My days would shift from being only focused on my family to splitting my time between home and work life. I would make attempts to ease back into work, but that didn’t always happen.

Having babies altered my life. Altered the way that I functioned every day. Continues to alter my life every time we start a new school year and have to change our routine.

The pandemic was a long, drawn-out form of the same. Rather than an abrupt change to something new, it has evolved over the past two years. First there was isolation, then vaccines, then the re-opening of schools, then a Delta variant, then an Omicron variant, then the easing of restrictions. For our family, only now do we truly see what a “new normal” might look like.

But what I’ve kept in mind is that “new normal” is not “old normal.” When my kids were born, it was “new normal.” When Nelle and Iris died, I had to learn to carry grief and change how I talk about my children.

The pandemic caused severe parenting burnout for me; something I’d never experienced before. I constantly felt trapped and exhausted from day-in and day-out caregiving with no break — and no end in sight for the longest time.

While that dark period of time has passed, I recognize the lasting impacts. I’m still not back to pre-pandemic stamina, as evidenced by my fatigue after a few hours out of the house. I still find some mental tasks draining in a way that I didn’t Before.

Rest is often offered up as a prescription for burnout. Burned out from your job? Take some time off! The problem with parenting burnout is that there is no easy way to get rest. And rest only treats the symptoms of burnout. Like taking Tylenol to bring down a fever.

The more I read about burnout, the more I realize that the path to recovery is not a short one. Amelia Nagoski, co-author of Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, says, “There’s the period where you’re really wounded, the period where you’re working to bounce back, and the period where you’re not quite back to normal, but you’re definitely not in crisis anymore.”

I think I’ve reached the phase of not-quite-back-to-normal, not-in-crisis… maybe a little beyond. It doesn’t take much to exhaust me these days and I can’t tell if that’s a leftover from burnout or if I’m just getting older, survived a pandemic, and this is the result.