A burnout carer’s two cents

This post was written by Megan on April 30, 2011
Posted Under: burnout and support

Burnout carer interview cartoon

It's fine for us burnt out folk to be jabbering on about our challenges. But what about the poor sod who lives with us? How do they feel about it all? I asked my poor sod over breakfast this morning…

My partner, Jeff Shearer, also happens to be an acupuncturist who helps many of his clients with stress, burnout and ME/CFS. So he seemed a good interview subject. Mind you, I had no idea what he was going to say. Maybe I should have prepared myself better.

Find below 'Jeff's Moment of Truth': 

  1. Jeff, what's the biggest hurdle for those living with someone struggling with burnout (or beyond: ME/CFS)?

    "Well, Megan," Jeff pondered, "the difficulty with caring for those with burnout is that they are traditionally go-getting, high energy people. During burnout their mind still thinks that they 'can', but their body actually can't. It takes awhile to get to the stage where their mind and body are integrated."


  2. But aren't we nice to live with?
    (Okay, possibly a loaded question)

    "Those suffering burnout also tend to be people pleasers."


  3. I really like that shirt you've got on, by the way…

    "Thanks," Jeff sighed. "Anyway…those with burnout have a habit of agreeing to a suggestion, thinking they can do it. And they're very convincing! So sometimes you are led to believe they can manage it. And then the task might even be achieved – but they can end up in a hole for days as a result."


  4. What do you think the role of a partner-carer is?

    "The difficulty for a partner of someone with burnout is to learn the line between what is your responsibility and what is theirs. It's easy to become the burnee's watchdog. But this means your relationship changes from being an equal relationship to a parent-child relationship. Not a healthy dynamic at all."

    (I nod enthusiastically, Jeff can be bossy on occasion) 

    "However, I believe the burnee's partner has a responsibility to expose the illusions for what they are – that is, voicing observations related to actions that result in my previously mentioned 'hole'. It's important not to feel responsible for the burnee's mistakes. Everyone needs to be accountable for their own actions."

    (I'm not so enthusiastic about this bit…surely someone else should be blamed for turning me into Snoozy the Incompetent?)


  5. So have I believed (to myself and others) that I could do more than what was actually possible?

    "Yes," Jeff says looking at me sideways.
    (he knew that question was definitely loaded)


  6. When?
    (note: I know I do over-estimate all the time, but I like to play with Jeff's head every once in awhile) 

    "When you were first sick," Jeff replies tactfully, "You were completely exhausted, not sleeping well at all, extremely anxious. You were diagnosed with ME/CFS and the doctor recommended that you take at least three months off work.

    "Despite all this, you kept saying 'I've got to go to work! I've got to go to work!'. You believed that you would be seriously letting people down (including yourself) by not going to work. This belief overrode the obvious symptoms of a serious illness." 

    "You believed all these relationships heavily relied on you to be productive – that was the illusion."


  7. So you're saying I'm easily replaceable?
    (Note: I know this already too. it took no time for my employer to find someone else to swivel in my office chair)

    "We all are," Jeff replied with gentleness.
  8. How are we (the burnt out) supposed to know what's possible for us to achieve?

    "I often say to people: Imagine what 100% of what you want to do looks like and then pull your expectations down to 70%. For burnout suffers, this second figure needs to be below 50%…sometimes as low as 5%."

    (I gasp in horror, Jeff nods knowingly)

    "I say to burnout sufferers," Jeff continues, "think about what you want to do. Then consider what is absolutely essential – i.e. what is required to sustain life and sanity. Only do things that are absolutely essential – bearing in mind that there's that tendency to often distort what is essential…like pleasing others."


  9. I think it's the green in the shirt that brings out the colour in your eyes

    "Thank you."


  10. What's an important tip for carers?

    "Aim for clear and compassionate communication – from both sides. Then a better balance in the relationship is more likely to be achieved."

Nicely put, I thought. What did you think? 


This post was written by Megan Hills. Megan is a writer and cartoonist who happens to have ME/CFS – and is also very lucky.  Find out more about Megan

Reader Comments

I think Jeff is awesome.
Jeff ;)

Written By Jeff on April 30th, 2011 @ 11:52 am

Well written article and highlights an area often forgotten. The role of the carer to have access to "me" days and to ensure their energy is kept up. I often talk to carer groups about the importance of looking after the carer. The reason for this is if the carer is unwell, who looks after both?
Love the catoon:)

Written By Marney Perna on April 30th, 2011 @ 11:58 am

Thanks to both of you for your honesty, that was a brave interview! But one of my favourite posts so far. Lots of insight from both sides!

Written By Erica on April 30th, 2011 @ 4:40 pm

Excellent points!

Written By Tiago on April 30th, 2011 @ 6:57 pm

Add a Comment

required, use real name
required, will not be published
optional, your blog address