Moment 2 Moment Masterpiece Parenting Blog

Burnout

by: Elizabeth Thorndike

I remember the scene well. It was a year ago in a tiny coffee shop. I finally met my friend for some much-needed girl time. We had been trying to connect for months but with the busyness of both our lives, we rarely had time. We cozied into our seats and sighed. I asked how she was, and immediately her eyes filled with tears. I reached out and held her hand, and I waited. I waited for her to be able to choke out the words she needed to say. I listened. I cried too. Our mama lives were filled with so much.

burnout 1st coffee body

She told me that over time she had become numb to her situation as a mama to a special needs kiddo. She continued by saying she felt angry at her daughter for some of her antics. Behaviors that she used to walk through with grace, now became a moment of deep tension for her. She said she was so tired all the time and felt little compassion for those around her. I squeezed her hand and let her know that I fully understood.  I told her that I had gone through this a year or so prior and found each day difficult to maneuver and sometimes even difficult to breathe.

There is a term for what my friend was experiencing. It is called compassion fatigue, and before last year, I had never even heard this phrase. It is a term they use in the health care field when an employee is burned out. Compassion fatigue depletes both your mind and body, and in this field, they call it one of the deadliest adversaries any healthcare personnel can face. In fact, this fatigue can lead a person, who once entered this field out of their compassion, to become jaded and leave this industry altogether.

It sometimes comes on gradually but affects a person deeply. Healthcare companies have compassion fatigue courses in hopes of helping employees before they go down this road.

What about us?

Soooooooooooo, what if you are a special needs parent? What do we do when we have compassion fatigue? What do you do when you are a single parent and are always on? What do you do if you can never find respite care? What do you do if you sleep 9 hours a night, but still feel tired in the morning?

Employers encourage their workers to take more breaks, have an outside hobby, and make sure they express their feelings. (Got this one down!)

Special needs parents, in most cases, don’t have breaks, have no babysitting to enjoy a hobby and, most of the time, have no energy to express their feelings.

What can we do?

Well, my husband and I have realized over the years that the tiny moments DO matter, and if put into place throughout the day, will make a difference. My husband and I try to encourage each other to remember these little moments. When doing this regularly, our parental health is decent, not perfect, but decent. However, when exhaustion piggybacks a hard season, and you add in life stressors, then one can find themselves moving towards compassion fatigue.

This is what happened to me. I was on the tail end of a very intense two and a half years. It was after our second adoption and I was on the receiving end of nightly rage from our confused, precious, and traumatized 4-year-old boy from China. I knew it was not his fault, yet the explosiveness of his daily rage built up over time. My body started to physically shake when his fits began, and I started shutting down and walking away. I was emotionally done, and even though I loved him deeply, I had put a wall up to protect myself. I had so many mixed emotions, but I knew that if I did not do something about it, it could bruise our relationship deeply.

Putting a plan together

My hubby quickly jumped in motion and helped me find ways to get more breaks and incorporate more laughter into my days. It took time to get my rhythm, but over the next few weeks, we designed a plan that would work for our lives. After doing my new plan for a few months, I started to feel the walls come down a bit. I felt deeper compassion for our son, and had forgiveness for all the rage I had endured for so many months. I was slowly healing.

(I never lost the love for our journey and our amazing kiddos…I just needed a new plan)

Below are some lifestyle moments that healthcare employees are encouraged to practice:
  1. Self-care
  2. Talk about it (friends, support group, or individual counseling)
  3. Small changes (re-evaluate your stress)
  4. Movement (dance, exercise, and walking)
  5. Incorporate fun (find what makes you laugh and do it a lot!!!)
  6. A hobby (art, reading, music, photography, skiing)
  7. Quiet time
  8. Fresh air – get outside!!! Breathe!!!
burnout hobby body

burnout exercising body

Below are the little moments that helped me personally:

10 minutes of movement: This can be going up and down the stairs or a dance party with your kiddos. (Just doing some small moments of movement throughout the day can greatly impact your emotional and physical health.)

5 minutes of deep breathing: Seated on the couch or in a comfortable lying down position. Slowly breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Ask your kids to join. (It is amazing how deeply beneficial a few minutes of slow breathing throughout the day can have on your emotional health.)

Phone a friend: I have a group of 4 mamas that I am constantly texting for prayer, encouragement, and yes…that perfect meme or gif! We support each other from afar, but it matters. I have awkwardly approached mamas at these groups and are still friends with them today. It works, I promise!

Mirror encouragements: I place encouraging quotes, as well as scriptures that bring me peace, in strategic places around the house.

Art: Seriously people, coloring with my kiddos is so darn therapeutic…and the love affair I have with playdoh is kind of weird! (except the brutal cleanup!)

Babysitting swap: We would swap care with another special needs family. This brought us peace and an occasional date night! (It can take awhile to put this swap in motion, but as you learn each other’s kiddos, it becomes a gift !)

Walks: These became my saving grace…especially when it was windy. I could feel the stress leaving my body and feeling the wind on my face was healing for me. I would do it when my hubby came home from work or after the kids went to bed. It was my God time…my chill time.

burnout breathing body

burnout encouragements body

Simple but good

These things might seem simple, but they do make a difference for us. We personally have not been able to find good respite care, nor do we have family around that can help. We know that a high number of special needs families have similar situations, so trying these simple methods can be beneficial.

I love my kiddos deeply, and I also know burnout is just part of our journey.  When you are “on” at a level that takes all your energy, then there are times when we feel “at the end.”  Sometimes it feels hopeless, but we must still get up and do the work. There is no option. We love our children and young adults. We do the work.

Friends, I see you and I see how your journey, while being blessed, can also be exhausting. I come from a place of struggle, but also one of encouragement. What fills your cup? What are the small moments that matter? Find them and try them. I am rooting for you! I am also storing these moments in my mental logbook, because it won’t be the last time I cry in my laundry room!

Hebrews 10:24-25
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

about us

Meet the Thorndikes - Moment to Moment Family

Hi there! We are the crazy cool parents to 5 amazing and crazy cool kiddos. But, first, we are Dan and Elizabeth Thorndike – married 15 years and living this life one moment at a time. We have a full and blessed life, but we are clumsily tackling a journey we never foresaw ourselves living.

Read our story of how this journey all started in our blog post titled:
“The Beginning. Our Special Needs Journey”

Author

Elizabeth Thorndike

Introverted extrovert – that’s how I describe myself. I absolutely love being a mama but never knew how hard it would be, nor how deeply I could love.

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