Mom Life, Special-Needs Parenting

Medical-Mom Burnout

I have nothing left to give

I laid awake at 3am scrolling through my phone when I came across a blog post that opened my eyes. It made me realize I can’t live like this anymore.

Diana Spalding’s article titled “Self-care is not enough for how much moms are burnt out” put a name to what I was feeling: burnt out. As I read through her post I realized I was done. I couldn’t push on anymore. I was burnt out and I needed to recover.

As a parent to two children, with one child having complex medical conditions and needs; the amount of pouring out I do is astronomical. Imagine all the general requirements for raising a child, and then add on keeping track of medical conditions, booking appointments, hours of therapy each day, inventory of medical and feeding supplies, and ordering medication before they  run out.

Instead of teaching my almost three year old to ride a tricycle, I’m trying to teach her to eat, to drink, to build muscle enough to even just stand. Our life has an extra dynamic of worry, stress, and anxiety that I didn’t imagine would be part of our life.

Having a child who would most likely not reach her next developmental milestone without hours of intervention and therapy is a huge amount of pressure on me as her mother.

Want to know more about our daughter Maddison? Click here.

Realizing something needed to change

I realized that a lot about this life isn’t going to change. My children are still going to need me relentlessly. But I can’t continue to pour from an empty cup. I had to let myself visit this place called burnout, find rest, and recover.

The next morning, instead of the joyful greeting my husband usually receives from me, he was met with me in distress. I was in the middle of an anxiety attack. My heart was pounding so hard in my chest I thought I was going to be sick. I was so scared of my realization, and even more scared to let the words leave my mouth,

“I’m burnt out.”

I told him I had nothing left to give. I wasn’t okay anymore. There was so much shame that I hadn’t managed my life better to avoid this. But my husband heard me when I told him I needed him to step up and help carry more of our family’s load while I tried to find recovery.

I didn’t even know how to communicate what kind of help I needed because I didn’t even know what I needed myself. But he tried his best to step into the role I’ve been in for so long. He packed the kids up and took them to the grocery store so I could just have some quiet in the house.

I sat in silence for a long time. Then it dawned on me: I couldn’t remember the last time I experienced silence, let alone stillness. I sat there for a long time, slowly letting the pressure I felt from my responsibilities fall from my shoulders. And with the little energy I had I started to pen what was happening to me,

Journal entry:

Burnout, day 1: I feel tapped out. Like I’ve been nurturing and pouring into my family, but I’m neglecting me. I feel like a disappointment. Like why can’t I handle this better? I’m an inconvenience. I’m completely empty. I’ve poured out too much. My cup is now empty, I got nothing to give. My joy is scarce. I feel like I might just cry if someone asks me the simplest of tasks. My body and mind is so weak, but my soul is in Jesus’ hands. My eyes are on your Lord. You won’t abandon me. Let me rest in Your comfort, refresh and replenish my soul.

Missed red flags

In the two months leading up to the burnout there were many red flags that I missed. Slowly as more of life’s stresses started adding up, I started offloading my own self-care opposed to offloading falsely important tasks. Looking back I realized I slowly decreased the amount of time spent working out. Instead of getting that mood-boosting release of endorphins 3x a week, I was getting it maybe once a week. I just didn’t have time. Or so I allowed my days to be that way. And quiet time? I’m sure my bible was developing a nice layer of dust. I hadn’t turned to the scriptures and as a result felt a disconnection in every aspect of my life.

Shared to my IG in the weeks leading up to the burnout
Shared to my IG in the weeks leading up to the burnout

I felt sluggish and didn’t embrace the times when I could have had a rest or a nap. There was this belief that I had to power through and get my to-do list done. I have a terrible fear of laziness. I was exhausted and coffee started to replace my water intake. As my coffee intake increased, so did my anxiety. I found myself not preparing nutritious meals, and there was a huge increase of high-sugar carbohydrates. This made me crave more sugar and kicked off a terrible cycle of sugar caused issues.

I found it far too easy to scratch off things for me. Everyone else’s life took precedence over my own. I was at the bottom of the totem pole, trying to pour out of an empty cup. I had completely unrealistic expectations on myself. My tank was empty, and I wasn’t filling it up. I eventually lost all joy in my own determination. My body finally said enough was enough, I could not longer push through. I had to rest and recover.

Finding recovery

Once I accepted that I was indeed burnt out I immediately offloaded everything on my plate that wasn’t completely essential. There are far too many things that I made falsely important. I sat down and wrote out what our family absolutely needed verses the things I do because I feel I have to. Then I took it straight back to basics: I fed, clothed, and kept my kids alive. I stopped all therapy for my daughter. I had no planned activities. No crafts that needed preparation or clean up. The toys that had been played with still scattered the floor at the end of the day.

This was all very hard for me as I watched the laundry pile up. I had to consciously not allow myself to feel any personal pressure to maintain a tidy home. The little energy I had needed to be spent elsewhere. My personal cup still wasn’t full enough to pour my time into my house. And I trusted it wouldn’t be this way forever.

I needed to rest

Distraction is not rest. So I put my phone away. I wasn’t going to stimulate my brain by doing anything with a screen. Even though making content for our online audience is fun for me, my personal cup wasn’t full enough to pour my efforts into maintaining a social media presence .

My caffeine intake was cut to one small cup of coffee in the morning. I slept when I was tired. A single cup of green tea replaced my afternoon pick-me-up. I made sure I was drinking at least 75oz of water each day. And fed my body natural foods, avoiding anything processed with large quantities of refined sugar.

Most days I just sat outside in silence looking at the trees. Wherever I was, I was there. Mind-full of my presence. I consciously took long slow breaths as I dug hard into the Word and fed my soul with anything encouraging.

Turning to the Word

The foundation of who I am comes from what the scriptures say. For over ten years my joy, hope and peace has been rooted in the guidance of what the bible says. And it’s where I found my grounding again in this journey and I wanted to share the scriptures that really helped pull me through:

  • “For anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their work, just as God did from His. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience” Hebrews 4:10&11 NIV
  • “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” Matt 11:28 NIV
  • “The Lord replied, ‘My presence will be with you, and I will give you rest.'” Exodus 33:14 NIV
  • “Yes my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him.” Psalm 62:4 NIV

Let’s not forget that while there was still work to be done, Jesus himself took breaks to rest and pray as seen in Matt 26:36, Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16, Luke 9:18, Luke 9:28, and Luke 1:1-4

And if God himself took rest on the 7th day as it says in Genesis 2:2, then who I am to think I can try and push through life without rest?

I am so thankful that through Jesus we can have a personal connection with God. Without it I don’t think I would have had the faith that this burnout would just be a season. I trusted wholeheartedly that I would be delivered from this and that this too would add to my story of how faithful God has been in my life. And as I dug deeper into the Word, and spent time with God, I felt a sense of peace and healing.

If I didn’t start to see improvements in my mood by caring for this at home, I would have made an appointment with my GP. Fortunately things started to improve in the first week.

What do I need

A couple days in I started looking at what I would need to do so that I could avoid such a dramatic burnout in the future. I sat down and wrote everything my body, mind, and soul needs to function. Asking myself what is non-negotiable for my own health. These are things that I need to make priority in my life for my own self-care:

Daily dose of stillness
Fresh air breathing
Nourishment: body (good food), soul (bible)
Working out
Good posture
Positive touch
Chiropractic care
Being present
Good friends
Less coffee
More water
Less sugar
Honouring the Sabbath

Putting to action burnout prevention

I realized that rest doesn’t come after you’ve completely exhausted yourself and crash. Rest needs to be a part of my lifestyle to allow my body, mind, and spirit time to heal. I actively started to plan my schedule so that I would have a day of rest. A Sabbath. God’s word clearly states that we need to rest. Who am I to think that I can carry on and have success while disobeying what God intended?

Planning a day of rest

I sat down again (I did this a lot) and wrote out everything I usually do in the day that I would consider work. These are things that require my time and energy and aren’t critical for daily function. Things like washing syringes, stocking supply cupboards, planning and doing therapy activities (while there is a huge pressure that Maddison’s development won’t progress without therapy intervention, I’m allowed to give us both a day of rest), laundry, cleaning, emails, blogging, etc. I also noted things that are completely unavoidable. Things like preparing meals for the kids, and all the things that are apart of setting up a tube-feed for Maddison.

I looked at our calendar and found a single day each week that could be my day of rest. This could be a day I wouldn’t have to do the things I consider work. It didn’t have to be the same day of the week each week. Just a day that didn’t have anything booked, and I would keep it that way. For over four weeks now I’ve been able to blackout an entire day in my schedule and keep my day of rest.

Day of rest

My day of rest doesn’t look like me lounging around all day sipping sweet tea while everyone in my family pampers me. Let’s be real, I’m a mom. But I try my best to plan to use as little of my energy as possible, and ask for (and accept) help on this day.

So for meals, I would opt for easy to throw together meals with minimal dishes. Cereal, crackers and cheese, cut up fruit and veggies, and definitely some popcorn. And for Maddison, I’d pre-make her meals the day before.

This was my day of rest. The day I would allow myself to sit and enjoy life with no hustling. The day I am present with my family with no nagging to-do list. I get to spend my day doing things that bring me rest and joy. This is a day I tell myself everything else can wait because I am allowed to have a break. I am worthy of this time of rest.

We’ve kept it going for a couple weeks now and it helps me feel encouraged to power through my week because I know my day of rest is coming.

Burnout self portrait with my daughter Maddison – not even enough energy to smile.

From Kelsey,

It was so easy for me to start putting everyone’s needs before my own, but it came at a price. It cost our family nearly two weeks of having a minimal-mom before I felt like my cup was full again and I could get “back in the game”. Our family didn’t fall apart in the process, and that helped remind me that they will continue to survive when I say I need a break.

I’ve accepted that there is no perfect recipe for always feeling refreshed and avoiding burnout. This life requires a lot from me and a coffee with a friend, or good gym session, or even a pedicure isn’t going to fill my cup so that it’s overflowing. But when it all works together, with my own health being at the centre of my attention, I can set myself up for better success in the future.

When I allowed myself the rest I so desperately needed, and spent time in that stillness, I felt that spark again. Through the stillness there was space for my creativity flow. I finally felt motivated again. It wasn’t a pestering drive to do tasks, I felt as if I could be that mom I always wanted to be again.

So wherever you are on your journey reading this, I hope you value yourself enough to allow yourself the rest you need in the hustling life – because you’re worthy of rest.

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