Living with someone who is living with burnout is, in many ways, as difficult as living with burnout. It can be frustrating. Confusing. Worrying. Boring. Lonely.
More than anything it can be lonely.
As the burnout tightens its grip, the person experiencing it becomes more and more withdrawn; grumpy, irritable, miserable and very, very sorry for themselves. They don’t want to do things that used to excite them. They don’t want to see people who used to interest them. They don’t want to eat different food, do different things or expend any energy. They don’t want to try anything new. The truth is they don’t want to do anything they don’t have to, and they most certainly would prefer not to leave the house. And they’re not exactly sparkling company to stay home with.
It can be hard to know what to do in these circumstances. Should we make helpful, life- and health-enhancing suggestions? Even if we run the risk of incurring the wrath of the sore-headed Grizzly that seems to have taken over from the Teddy Bear we used to know and love? Should we go out and have fun with our friends? Despite feeling like we are being insensitive in our selfish pursuit of fun and pleasure. Or should we stay home and try to be supportive? Even if it makes us feel isolated, bored and more than a little resentful (and resentment, sadly, is extremely toxic to even the healthiest relationship)?
It is easy to forget, when living with someone who is in a physical and energetic crisis, to look after ourselves. All our energy and attention is spent on trying to make the other person better. But we need to remember to look after ourselves as well. We need to ensure that our own needs and wants are being met so that we do not become burned out ourselves.
It is possible to be a supportive and loving presence for your person who has burnout and stay healthy and free from resentment. You just have to follow three simple steps:
1. Ask for help
You may need to find a coach or a counsellor to help you to make sense of the emotions that are coming up for you while you live with burnout-by-association. It may also be helpful to read books and do some research so that you understand burnout and what your person who is experiencing it is going through. This will make it easier for you to not take their moods and responses personally.
2. Have a healthy ecosystem
You and your person are going to need a healthy ecosystem; a comfortable living space that supports the needs of both/all, a good support system that can provide moral/nutritional/social support when needed, work that feels as meaningful as possible, nourishing food that also feels comforting, gentle and predictable routines that feel containing and soothing….
3. Practice self-care
We need to keep up our own self-care routines. Exercise, seeing friends, doing things that bring us pleasure…we need to keep doing them. Even if it isn’t as much fun without our person, and even if we feel that we are abandoning them (I can assure you that they will probably welcome the opportunity to sleep, read a book or watch a bad movie without having to make conversation or spend precious energy pretending to be fine when they aren’t). We can only be present for others when we are able to be present for ourselves.
Burnout is a terrible, horrible, frightening thing to live with. And living with someone living with burnout is pretty unpleasant too. But by asking for help, practicing self-care and having a strong and healthy support system, it is possible to get back to how it was before burnout. In fact, it is an opportunity to put in new systems and approaches and get to a place of better after burnout.
My new book Recover from Burnout: Life Lessons to Regain Your Passion and Purpose will help you to understand burnout, how and why we get it and how to recover from it (and not get it again). Now available on Amazon.