There have been several times over the past 17 years of homeschooling that I have experienced severe burnout. They have always been very difficult times; times that would make me want to run as far away from home as I could. Typically, once the worst passes, I can get back on my feet pretty quickly. It takes some time to refresh, get my mind renewed, and sometimes I have to take a break from the usual daily routine for a while. But once I feel like it is passing, I can usually jump right back in to full swing.
There is a different kind of burnout though. This kind isn't overly dramatic; it doesn't come on all of a sudden; and it doesn't scream out for your immediate attention. It comes on through a series of underlying stressors that make normal routines seemingly impossible, and yet sometimes you can't quite pinpoint the exact problem. In our case, it has come through extended illnesses, financial difficulties, and church problems.
During the same period of time that we have been struggling, I have had a dear friend lose a child to death, a dear friend battle cancer, another friend suffer through chemo and radiation, my parents' house was broken into for the third time, and many people at our church have dealt with life threatening illnesses.
I am not saying that our problems are on the same level as these folks. But I think we sometimes downplay our own struggles, just because they aren't as "big" as someone else's. I don't think that is necessarily healthy, because our problems are still our problems, whether they seem "big" or not! With that said, I want to give you a little timeline today of what we've been facing lately. Nothing earth shattering, but enough to give me a case of low level burnout.
It started like this:
July 21, 2012-
I went to the beach with my BFF Linda. We sat on that beach, slathering ourselves every two hours with sunblock, for about 7 hours. For the next five days, I had the worst case of sun poisoning I have ever had. I couldn't get anything over my top half but a loose tank top for a week. (Linda had the same sunblock I did and she was badly burned too.)
Four weeks later, on August 16, 2012-
Our 14 year old son had an emergency appendectomy, and we spent the next four nights in the hospital on IV antibiotics, hoping that the severe infection he had would clear up. It did.
One month later, on September 15, 2012
Our second child, Thomas, got married. Now a wedding is a joyful thing to be sure!! But it is also in the top five on the Life Stressors list!! It was a gorgeous, fairy tale like wedding, which left us all happy, but even more tired. I wrote about it here, here, and here.
One month later, on October 16th, 2012
Our then 5 year old started with a high fever, which would not come down below 103 no matter what we did. By Friday night, two of my girls were also sick. On Saturday, the other boys started with fever as well. On Sunday, the 21st, I took my little guy to the emergency room. He was diagnosed with Type A flu, severe bronchitis, and a quickly spreading pneumonia.
By Monday, all of the children were terribly sick with the flu. And so was my husband. I was the only one left standing.
By the end of the week, the kids were all beginning to perk up some. Then, on Saturday evening, the 27th, I came tumbling down. It would take me more than three weeks to even become functional again. Thank goodness for well trained children. School, laundry, meals, and housework went on as usual. Without me.
(It was around this time that we started discussing our problems with our church...)
It was at this point that I lost track of the days...but here's what happened.
Every three or four days, one or more of my children, or my husband, or I, would wake up with a sore throat. The sore throat and stuffy nose would last for a few days, then go away; only to be picked up by another child soon after.
At some point in mid November, I had two kids whose sore throat kept getting worse and wouldn't go away. I took them in to see the doctor. You guessed it. Strep throat. They started antibiotics and got better quickly. But the rest of us continued with random sore throats and stuffy noses.
(By this point, my husband had almost no work. He is self employed as a heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration specialist. Our very mild winter was killing us.)
We muddled through Christmas, some of us beginning to feel a bit better. Still very little work for my husband, but we pulled Christmas gifts together. Our oldest daughter turned 18, and thanks to pre-planning, she and I enjoyed a wonderful two nights away in a nearby historic city.
(Differences of opinion with church leadership began to really grow around this time.)
When we came home, the sickness continued. In February, I, as well as my oldest girl, were diagnosed with sinus infections. We both ended up on steroids and antibiotics. And the kids and the hubby weren't much better.
March came, and with it, nicer weather and everybody feeling better. But the other problems were growing. March brought with it the worst of the problems at church. Our differences with some of the decisions our leaders were making made it difficult to worship.
(At the beginning of March, we accepted grocery money from a close family friend who knew our situation. She showed up at our house one night with money and lots of hugs. She is such an encourager to me! )
Then the storm hit.
Slander, character assassination, and false accusations became our reality. Day after day we were dealing with these things. It was hurting our family on every level. Worshiping at our church had become impossible. We could not focus on God due to the stress from all that was going on.
My husband and I were very nearly non-functional. The stress was overwhelming us, draining us of what little energy we had. We spent hours discussing the issues, speaking with our church leaders, trying to come to some sort of closure. It wasn't happening. It still hasn't happened. And there it lies, under the surface, just waiting to spring back up and begin again.
(It's a little easier to see now how God was using these issues to move us on. We know it was His will that we leave that church, even though that might not make sense to a lot of people. I'm sure it made little sense to a lot of people when Abram picked up his family and left his home, but it was God Who called him to do it. I know that obedience is right, even when folks question you for it.)
So, here it is April. Believe it or not, the kids have had strep again. I have two still on antibiotics. And my 8 year old daughter had a reaction to the medicine, so she is covered head to toe with a bright red, spotty rash.
If you have read this whole post, you might be asking yourself, "Why in the world did she tell us all that? Sounds like a whole lot of belly-aching to me."
The reason is that all this stuff has affected my mothering, more than I would like. Low level burnout is still burnout. And when things like this just keep going on, without break or closure, you don't get a chance to recover. So next time, I want to talk about what I am doing to survive, and even learn, from the circumstances we are currently facing. I hope you'll come back then. Until then, please know this...
This kind of burnout doesn't mean that I walk around with the sad face all the time. On the contrary! I am actually a very funny person, as anyone who knows me in person will tell you. And I am optimistic to a fault. So I continue to laugh and make jokes and look for the best part of everything. It really mostly affects my motivation.
For the Christian, joy is not something that waxes and wanes with your circumstances. My inner peace in God's good plan for us has not failed me. He is there, He is good, and He loves me.