- Sarah-Beth Barrett
2020: the year I burned out.
Updated: Mar 1, 2022
I began my experience of the pandemic while on maternity leave with my then 5-month-old son. We had just turned a blissful corner, moving away from the earlier months of intense sleep deprivation and the “newborn blob phase” (as I so lovingly call those first few months of new life), enthusiastically ready to get outside of the home and engage in fitness classes, activities within the community, and fun baby “play dates” with friends. We were ready to socialize! And then the first lockdown hit, and I found myself tethered to the house with my baby, my 4-year-old son and my husband. I went with it, and pushed down any negative feelings about it, because that was all I felt I could do at the time. I was so grateful. We were safe, healthy, together. How lucky were we that I was on mat leave and didn’t have to worry about work pressures?
And yet, feelings of overwhelm, hopelessness and guilt slowly began to settle in. Maternity leave is already isolating as it is, and the isolation associated with maternity leave during a pandemic lockdown was felt deep in my bones, despite never actually being physically alone (I referred to my eldest son as my “barnacle”). Having to suddenly tend full-time to two little ones with fundamentally different needs was all-consuming. My infant son needed to constantly be fed, changed, carried, soothed, while my kindergarten-aged son wanted to constantly learn, move, imagine, explore (not to mention need technical support with online learning). Navigating the postpartum period, without access to outside activities or the regular supports you could normally lean on for respite, was tough. Add in persistent lack of sleep and the ever-evolving uncertainty of the pandemic, and my energy, optimism and confidence as a mom really eroded over those long remaining months of my maternity leave.
As I continued to push my feelings down, I thought maybe getting back to work and regaining a sense of purpose beyond being a caregiver was the answer. Which in retrospect, seems ridiculous, because that just resulted in me adding yet one more thing to my plate. I hadn’t realized how much stress and guilt had already accumulated during my maternity leave, which was then compounded by my return to work while still having major caregiving responsibilities to balance. I was struggling to keep up with everything. I broke.
I could no longer ignore or push through an increasing feeling of burnout. My battery was depleted. Even then, it was tough to admit that I was not okay, when, for moms these days, “doing it all” is like a badge of honour. I felt ashamed that I couldn't keep up, which is why I felt as though I had to hide it for so long. I now know these are completely unrealistic expectations that only set us up for failure. I am never going to promote that motherhood badge again.
Telling my husband that I was struggling felt like the hardest, most vulnerable thing to do, but so much relief came from simply saying it out loud. I no longer felt as though I had to carry the weight of how I was feeling all by myself. I received love and compassion in return, which helped me realize there really was nothing for me to be ashamed of. We were now able to work together to figure out a way forward. I am so grateful for the support I had received from my partner, my family, my friends and my employer. And I am proud of myself for honouring my mental health by taking the time and space to heal.
I discovered healing through creative expression in the form of watercolor painting. I built resilience by equipping myself to better manage stressors and reframe thought patterns that no longer served me. I dug deep, to better understand what my body, mind and soul needed to thrive. I was able to start looking forward once I climbed my way back up to neutral ground and rebuilt my well-being blocks. I didn’t give up on me, and I am so delighted by the outcome. I am now more in tune with my body than ever before and I actively prioritize my needs, without guilt, knowing that showing up as my best self is the greatest gift I can give my loved ones.
If my story happens to reach any mama who is currently feeling the deep fatigue and strain of trying to do all the things, and think you might be burning out, please reach out to someone. Even when it feels like you have nothing left to give, reach deep from within and find the courage to tell someone that you’re not okay. You are not alone in this, mama, and you are not a failure. You are doing your very best.
And it can get better.
This is why I do what I do now. Why I became a work-life harmony coach for moms. Leveraging my own experience with burnout, healing, and personal growth, I want to demonstrate to other moms that it’s possible to overcome tough stuff, to fall and get back up, to learn how to make time for yourself because it benefits others just as much as it benefits your own well-being.
I want to empower more mothers to own their time and make intentional decisions around how they spend it, that they can be fulfilled without feeling like they’re sacrificing the welfare of their family.
If you're interested in learning more, I offer a free 60-minute consult that will provide you with clarity on what's holding you back from taking control of your time and energy, and how I can help you get unstuck.