Is Burnout a Bad Sign or a Badge of Honor?

This post is going to be short. I’ve had a cold for nearly a month now, I’m working non-stop, and my list of to-dos is so long I just laugh when I look at it. I’m burning out. Being a working mom felt like a manageable juggle until my work load doubled recently. Now, feeling run down has become my status quo.

This morning I didn’t make my bed for the second day in a row. I’m sure that’s no big deal to most people, but I’m fairly certain that hasn’t happened to me since I was six. I have some compulsive behaviors and cleaning is normally one of them. No more. If I haven’t invited you over in the last month, now you know why.

I feel discomfort at the disheveled state of my life, but part of me is just getting accustomed to it. Looking at a pile of dirty dishes this morning I thought, “this is it, the moment I stopped caring.” Strangely, I felt sort of proud of myself. I took in the half folded laundry on the couch, my dogs begging for a walk, the curtain rod that hasn’t been hung, and I was almost giddy. There was so much and I couldn’t do it. It wasn’t that I was being lazy; it was that I was physically incapable of doing everything on the list. Suddenly, the pressure was off. “I can only do what I can do” has become my mantra.

I’m sure I’ll steadily hack away at the list this weekend. Certainly I’ll finish the laundry, clean the bathroom and walk the dogs (I already rallied and did the dishes). But I’m certain I will not be able to finish everything. Out of necessity, I’m feeling okay with that for the first time.

I’ve always thought of burnout as something to be avoided at all costs. Bad for mental health, the immune system, blood pressure, not to mention personal relationships, burnout is an all-around loser of a phenomenon. But what if burnout, which feels like an inevitable part of life when you’re a working mother, can actually teach us something? What if this is my body’s way of saying “your priorities are all screwed up?”

This evening, instead of making the bed, I snuggled with my kid for 30 minutes while we watched a show. Instead of working, I’m writing this post. When I’m done, I’m going to sit in the middle of my disheveled living room, drinking tea and reading my book.  Maybe my priorities have changed for the better after all.


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