I survived an 8 year relationship with a man while I was growing into my journey with major depressive disorder and anxiety. It was rough. It started when we were 16 years old, and we managed it a little better year after year. At some point, my ex-boyfriend became exhausted from caring and coping with me during every panic attack, which is a symptom of burnout. We were in our early twenties and had no idea what that felt like.
I can’t even pinpoint when the burnout began, but I remember it all started with a heated argument that ended with, “Don’t be such a little bitch.” My ex-boyfriend was one of the most polite and jovial guys I’ve met and hearing those words cut me in half. Soon after, our exchange of hurtful words turned into damaging actions. I would never ever say that we were physically abusive to each other but we did push and shove. I’m not excusing it because it’s 100% not OK. It happened regardless and burnout was the culprit, not the reflection of my ex-boyfriend’s character.
Patience, love, and care were all part of his character – not the portrait of this disrespectful man who was badly bruised by burnout.
Burnout can be described as physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion, which changes a person’s behaviour from caring to… well, not caring. Not giving a crap about how the person feels and just being a bystander. Near the end of our relationship, he tried his best to care about every panic attack but it was short lived. Eventually he would become frustrated and that’s when the physical frustration emerged. I have no regrets or resentment towards him about this at all because I understand where it came from.
What I do regret is not monitoring his mental health, all while he tried to win a boxing match with my anxiety and depression single handedly every time. We were quiet about it, which kept him alone and isolated. My family barely knew the extent of our challenges at home – we painted a pretty picture of us with our white picket fence instead.
Back then, we pushed and shoved because we were too tired of pushing and shoving the panic attacks away, and I carry this regret with me. I carry it into my marriage now and have learned the lessons from my past.
When the going gets tough, as it has lately toying with my medications and all, we see my therapist together. There is no shame in that at all. In fact, I believe that it builds resilience and stronger communication between my husband and I. My journey with bipolar disorder hurts me as much as it hurts him. While I’m lost in another world, he has to witness the voices that play and torment with my mind. It is absolutely excruciating for him.
There is no real boxing ring – there is no fight club here – because he can’t kick some ass when he can’t see the friends inside of me.
There are a number of tools and strategies that can be used to prevent and tackle burnout.
A few that we use include:
- Recording objective events and explaining how each incident makes you feel. Journalling is a muscle, so it can feel weird at first, but practice makes perfect!
- Surrounding yourself with others in a new but comfortable environment. My husband has recently joined a football league even though it isn’t an easy balance. Sometimes he’ll have to miss a game or two because he’d rather emotionally support me at home. *When the process of burnout is brewing, your significant other might stop caring and leave anyways.* If this resonates with you, please have a conversation to address it.
- Talk to friends who can trust and recharge you. You’ll never know if someone will understand or judge your situation until you try reaching out to them. It’s been difficult for my husband to open up to his friends but a slow process is still progress.
- Trying new experiences together or revisiting old “first dates”. This might sound obvious, but my goodness is it ever so difficult. Our biggest challenge was even getting me out of the house or actually scheduling it into our calendars. I adjusted once we left the house. And it’s certainly not failure if you can’t tolerate being out together the whole time! You still tried and that’s a big step.
- Counselling and therapy. Talking it out at home is great, but having a mediator to guide the conversation is even better if it’s affordable and the right fit for you. I mean, wouldn’t you drink Coke instead of Pepsi if you had the choice?
That being said, please address your feelings if any of this rings a bell. It’s tragic to see a relationship fall apart because of burnout from a mental illness. I know for me, the experience is all too real.