I must admit personally this question raises its head often! It’s a constant debate and sometimes a source of heated discussions!
Which is worse:
1. Being physically exhausted
2. Being emotionally exhausted
3. Being mentally exhausted
I think there is an answer however this may differ for all of us.
It’s understanding this that’s they key. Accepting these differences is also vital!
As we always do I turned to google to define these terms, this is what it said.
1. The act or an instance of exhausting.
2. The state of being exhausted; extreme fatigue
“Emotional exhaustion is a chronic state of physical and emotional depletion from excessive job and/or personal demands, as well as continuous levels of stress. It describes a feeling of being emotionally overextended”
“Exhaustion that affects mental keenness”
As you can see the three can be felt individually but more commonly occur as a result of one or both the others.
It can result in what we call ‘burnout’. Burnout is a “state of chronic stress” (Psychologytoday.com). It’s where we find ourselves unable to do the simple things we used to be able to manage.
These simple things can be something as doing the washing, making dinner or meeting a deadline. Everyday things we always do and have to do.
I myself have experienced all three in excess over the past two years. Prior to March 2016 I had no real idea what these three types of exhaustion really meant. I only thought I did. Some of my examples would have been;
Being physically exhausted from climbing mountains on my Outdoor education programs.
Being mentally drained from a full day of meetings and planning the curriculum which is being implemented to better educate our children. Making big decisions which have big ramifications if done incorrectly.
Being emotionally exhausted after meeting with parents and kids who are experiencing a divorce, a death, suicidal thoughts and much more.
It’s hard to imagine and for those who have experienced something similar to what I am about to share, I feel for you. For those that haven’t I hope you never do.
After marrying young and being a young mum, I went through an amicable divorce followed by about 6 years of what I would call a good co-parenting relationship.
However, two years ago this all changed.
March 2016 came around and I found myself being sucked up into the family court system. Something I never would have imagined I would have to do, let alone be forced to do. All to ensure my then 10year old would have stability and the emotional and mental well being to achieve the amazing things she is destined to.
Let’s just say this was an emotional time. I experienced raw anger, sadness, frustration but most of all helplessness. I had felt helpless before but I have never experienced true helplessness, not like this.
It’s not everyday you put your child, your one and only, and the decisions about her life, yes decisions that would affect her whole life in the hands of one person, a judge!
A judge who reads, well you hope so but this is not always the case, all the paperwork you have spent hours, days and months tossing and turning over. The paperwork that you have read and re-read and then read again, ensuring you relive the disaster of what your life has become to make sure all the dates and times are right because the law is not something one can play with. It’s not just the law but rather it’s someone’s life, a small person who turns to me to make the decisions.
I felt like screaming to everyone, the lawyers, the judge and the people in the room listening, someone has to listen, someone has to care!
“It’s a person not a thing. It’s my person, a human being…..”
The first day in the family court brings out the stress, the increased heart rate, the unwillingness to eat, even if you were starving you feel sick to your stomach knowing that someone else has been given such immense power and ultimately the final decision.
It’s an experience let me tell you, arriving at 8am for an 8:30 start. You look at the list on the wall and see the judge who is hearing your matter has about 36 other matters. Nervous and now disheartened you find a space in among hundreds and I mean hundreds of people, all waiting for the clerk, the ones in the black cloaks, to come out the court and yell your name.
Literally yell your name!
You are not anonymous, your issues not your own. Everyone knows your name now. It’s on the board and now it has been yelled out to all around you. You can no longer hide!
You hear your name. You don’t have time to think, even though you may have already been waiting 6 hours, it feels like you didn’t have enough time, you want one more minute but no, it’s your turn. You scurry to collect the paperwork, to double check you have everything in order, you fumble, you panic but you cannot escape, your names been called.
You walk into the room, you take your seat and sit in silence waiting for the cue, the knock on the door which signals the judge is entering and the court will be in session.
You try not to be sick as the butterflies you have and the nerves, the stress and the anxiousness which have all been building come to a head.
The matter begins, 10 minutes later it’s adjourned and you are asked to come back again on another date…. this is how the courts work.
I thought the whole thing would be over in a day. I spent hours, days, months putting together what I thought was so clear, what spelled out the issues and the suggested solutions. The paperwork, the depth of what I put in, the responses to other affidavits and evidence, gone – dismissed, everything, just put aside as though no one read it, as though no one cared.
“No, we need to come back again.” The lawyer says. Don’t worry they will read it. This is what always happens this is normal.
‘I did not not what to say, I was literally speechless, dumbfounded. I felt flat, I felt empty, I felt non- human, disconnected’
Day one, 8 hours in the system, no food, many coffees and you walk out with nothing but knowing it’s all going to happen again, only worse.
Someone once said to me: “the only people who win in these situations are the lawyers, no one wins, certainly not you.”
I never truly believed this or internalized this, as I always knew from the beginning and still do to this day that we were doing the right thing.
I cried all the way home, is this what it’s going to be like, I haven’t slept well in weeks, I dream all situations, I lie awake worrying about what could happen or what the next ‘attack on my character and parenting would be’. What will I have to defend next. This is what the family court results in, the constant attack of ones character, ones parenting, your every action and I mean EVERY action.
Being mostly a single mum, I did my best, I always did. I loved unconditionally, supported the tears, worked a second job to help pay for everything she needed, I held her when she cried, I celebrated her wins. I disciplined her when necessary and we learnt together that we can rely on one another always. To have this thrown back at you, morphed and misconstrued is hurtful. It tests your control, your understanding and also your ability to forgive.
It’s true though that the saying, ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ in my mind is no longer applicable. I would happily have had sticks and stones thrown at me to prevent the words that were both said and written. These can never be taken back, never be ‘unsaid’ and for me they seem to take a lot longer to heal.
The scars that remain are but memories of everything we have endured.
My brain is running circles around me and when that alarm goes off at 6:05am the following morning I have to get up and pretend I am okay, dismiss what’s on my mind, put on my mask and go do what I am best at. Being a teacher, however I now have bags under my eyes and the skip in my step has slowly disappeared.
It’s a day at work that regenerates me, it’s the kids, knowing I can help, I am valuable and that I am strong, I have accomplished to much and being among the students and listening to their laughs, helping them is what reassures me it will all be okay. That there has to be a light at the end of what seems like a very dark tunnel!
The trip home and this rejuvenation slowly disappears, the dread returns, the heart rate increases and you know you have more material to prepare. The next date is fast approaching and you have to make sure everything is right. Again.
The emotional and mental strain of the whole ordeal reminds me that we as people are amazing creatures. We rely on support, we have to, we can’t do it alone. Watching my daughter break down in tears as she doesn’t understand, trying to explain what we can, when we can as we don’t want to involve her at all. I want her to be a child, to be happy and care free like I was growing up. It’s vital for them, its normal.
It’s that feeling of helplessness, pure helplessness that drains you emotionally. Mentally you have no idea what to do, what’s right, what’s wrong and what should be done. Physically, you just cannot keep going, your brain is giving up, you have shed to many tears and exhausted yourself that you feel you cannot do anything. I would i had reached that stage of chronic stress, of ‘Burnout’.
This is only a portion of what my family and I endured over two years. From it, I have become stronger, more thankful and proud. I also have unbelievable gratitude towards those that were there for me. Without them, my family, I would not have been able to mange, I would not have put one foot in front of the other each day, I would not have been strong enough to fight for what was right.
I would have given up many times as I was so physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted. I had burnt out… instead they threw water on me, the put out the flames each time and helped me rebuild.
I felt not just this once but for an entire two years, physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. It’s not just one of these types of exhaustion that is worse than the other, it’s all of them.
Together they work as ways to destroy you, to bring you down and to keep you down.
However, I survived, just. With family, the amazing family I have together we managed to get through what I hope will be the toughest times of my life. Times we will look back on and just be amazed at what we all went through. My dad is now officially totally grey haired but I remind him it’s not solely because of me.
We didn’t come out unscathed and we are slowly rebuilding, myself and my daughter. Her scars, I know are there. I cannot erase them, I can only try and show her that scars are a part of our lives. They are part of what makes us, us. They shape us and we must learn from them.
They may not always be good but they are always a lesson.