Just the other day I was on a support call with a family who had just given birth, lost and buried their second born son. The call for help came from the husband who was worried about his wife’s lack of engagement with him and his worry about not being able to help her.
I was instantly reminded of the first weeks and months (and years?) after the loss of Amya, our younger twin daughter. The emotional rollercoaster and physical marathon of grief, the intensity of being a (new) mother and having to care for a child, even if all I needed was to go into fetal position and hide in my bedroom. My husband was THE person I could be real with, if that meant being angry, speechless, numb, overwhelmed or a complete crying mess. He saw my everything. Daily.
Grieving is intense, it’s a full-time job with 24 hour days. Having just read an article on burnout in the Harvard Business Review, I’m absolutely certain that – at least in my case – grieving the loss of my child has lead to burnout. According to the pioneering research of psychologist Christina Maslach and several collaborators, we now know that “burnout is a three-component syndrome that arises in response to chronic stressors on the job”. If I look at the components of burnout, here is the description of the first and central one:
Exhaustion is the central symptom of burnout. It comprises profound physical, cognitive, and emotional fatigue that undermines people’s ability to work effectively and feel positive about what they’re doing.
I first contemplated having a burnout in December 2015 but probably I had it already for quite some time. It took another few months for me to accept and understand it. My support person said that in order to understand how burnout develops, you must look at what happened in the last 5 years. I counted back the years and made a list: I had an operation, I got pregnant through IVF (with all the hormone treatments), while pregnant dealt with a suicide attempt of my mother (living on another continent), then gave birth to twins prematurely, held my younger in my arms as she passed away, had to learn to be a mother of an infant, faced my mother’s death through suicide four and a half months later, planned and move back from Australia to Switzerland and… (much in between)… and wrote and self-published 3 books. I had just written down the big things but there were probably many seemingly smaller but nevertheless intense stressors.
Still, even just grief IS a marathon, a marathon that lasts months, years, if not a lifetime.
Article quoted: Beating Burnout from Harvard Business Review