Marney’s self-care tips on living with a burnt out person

This post was written by Megan on May 3, 2011
Posted Under: burnout and support

Marney Perna cartoon

Marney Perna of is a kinesiologist (find out what that is here). She also gives talks to ‘carers’ (people whose job it is to care for the elderly and disabled) about how to care better for themselves.

The main reason why Marney got into kinesiology was to help her mother with ME/CFS and her son with glandular fever. Both grounded and compassionate, Marney has practical pointers for those who live with someone who is seriously burnt out (or with ME/CFS) and how best to care for themselves in the process.


  1. Marney, what are the biggest traps that spouses/partners of ‘burnees’ fall into when it comes to self-care?

    Guilt about being happy is a big one. If the person they are living with is unable to join in on their happiness because of poor health, it’s easy to feel guilty for enjoying life.

Being constantly ‘on tap’ for the other person and not taking out time for themselves is a very common problem. It’s also easy to let the small stressors build up…and up…and up…. Which never ends well. You can get sick yourself, or angry and resentful. 

  2. What are the best ways to prevent falling into those traps?

    Here are four suggestions I offer to anyone living with a person who is seriously unwell:

Identify your own life goals

    What’s important to you in your life?
    Know what those areas are and be sure you attend to them in some way on a regular basis. Otherwise you are in danger of losing your life for another’s and becoming a martyr. 

    Be aware of your own wellbeing

    It’s important to be conscious of how you are feeling, including how your body is feeling – and to organize time-out and/or extra support if you feel your health and happiness declining.

    Have people resources

    Have a ‘toolbox’ of practitioners to help you de-brief, de-stress and rejuvenate on a regular basis – for example: a psychologist, a natural therapist and hairdresser who’s a good listener! Make sure you benefit from a few people, rather than becoming reliant on just one.

    Take time out

    Schedule time to be with yourself and do things you enjoy. Whether it’s having a coffee with a friend, soaking in a bath, or even sitting on the toilet without being disturbed (!) you need time for you.


  3. What should a spouse/partner do if they become ill and are unable to help their beloved?

    You’re not invincible. So it’s important to acknowledge that you’re not well at the moment. Don’t ignore the symptoms and ‘press on’ for the greater good. Do your best to build a network of friends, volunteers and professionals who can fill your shoes where possible for these situations.


  4. How does the ‘carer’ prevent feeling trapped and resentful?


As mentioned before, you need respite. It’s also worth exploring manageable ways for the other person to become more independent (within the realm of possibility). Illness can knock a person’s confidence, so they may need your encouragement to try doing things again – along with a slowly graded approach and careful testing. Of course, what is sensible and possible depends on each individual case.

    I also recommend open, honest communication for both of you. If the situation is feeling particularly challenging, share what you are going through – and do this constructively. For example, you could say. “This is how I’m feeling. Is there anything we can do about it?”

Stress builds up, and one small thing can be the last straw – but it’s usually not the real problem. So don’t focus on the trigger. Instead work to identify the underlying cause. Kinesiology can be very helpful with identifying the real issue by using the meridians of the body – it’s been a great process for my mother.


  5. You have some interesting ideas about how particular words can affect the body, Marney. Care to share?

    Sure! It’s good to be mindful of what words are used to communicate how you feel. For the burnt out person, they might say “I feel really tired today.” The body focuses on the word ‘tired’. If you say instead “I’m not feeling so well today” the body will focus on the word ‘well’.


A not-so-well person said to me recently: “I feel terrible. This is the worst day yet.” I replied, “Okay, let’s try to make it the best worst day you’ve had.” Even though this statement sounds a little strange, it allows the body to receive the word “best”. It also helps the other person feel less isolated and more hopeful.

    My mother doesn’t refer to her ME/CFS. Instead she calls it her ‘gremlin’ because the word ‘gremlin’ makes her smile. So re-naming your condition with something more positive is well worth trying.

    And even if you’re feeling positive and say “I’m dying to do that!” it is best to say instead “I’m looking forward to doing that!”.


  6. Jeff (as my partner and unofficial carer) has been pivotal in helping me to say ‘no’ to things and to people – even though I’d really look forward to doing them! People with gremlins do have a tendency to be over-ambitious…

    You’re right there. Only recently my mother moved into a house on my property, turned 80 and celebrated her 50th anniversary as well. She was excited about three events but because they all happened around the same time, her health was seriously affected. 

    Whether you’re feeling stressed or excited the adrenal glands react the same, so the trick is to live as calmly as you can – which can mean saying ‘no’ to some things you’d like to do, but it also means saying ‘yes’ to ‘you’. Which also means saying ‘yes’ to the peace of mind of those who care for you. 


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This post was written by Megan Hills. Megan is a writer and cartoonist who wonders if her ME/CFS should be called Eric.  Find out more about Megan


Reader Comments

Hi Megan, you captured our conversation beautifully, thanks:)
I am curious to know why Eric?
Cheers and have a great day.

Written By Marney Perna on May 3rd, 2011 @ 3:25 pm

Because naming a health ‘condition’ Eric is amusing…or maybe it’s just me…?

Written By Megan on May 3rd, 2011 @ 3:58 pm

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