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Levels of Exhaustion: A Mum's View

The other day, I was reminiscing with friends about the pre-school days of our children and how we coped, felt, and dealt with life back then. I was struck by the fact that, despite our considerable differences in work life, family arrangements, pre-children life, age, and culture, we were all using similar words to describe our experiences.

An observer might have thought that we’d all had a very similar experience of new motherhood when I knew that to be far from true.

This got me thinking.

The Swedes have at least 50 words for snow. We have a single word for exhaustion which is covering a range of situations.

When I tried to define levels of exhaustion, I came up with nine. I don’t have fancy names for them, but here they are. See if one or more chime with you.

  • LEVEL 1: I have a newborn / preschooler. Of course, I’m tired.

  • LEVEL 2: I’ve been rushing around all week. Give me a good night’s sleep or two.

  • LEVEL 3: Just give me a night off to be an adult and play.

  • LEVEL 4: I need a week in the sun, preferably without kids.

  • LEVEL 5: It’s hard work, but I’m okay if I don’t stop.

  • LEVEL 6: The balls are all in the air. As long as I don’t breathe or do anything out of the ordinary, everything will be okay.

  • LEVEL 7: My routine is what keeps me going. If I deviate, I’m done. I’ll crumble. I’ll scream if my routine is upset.

  • LEVEL 8: I’ve lost my identity. I’m mum, cook, cleaner, taxi, did I say partner? I’m on autopilot. But it’s all good. I’ve put dinner on the table. Never mind, I’m still in my pj’s.

  • LEVEL 9: Okay, I’m done. I can’t get out of bed, even for my kids.

In Sweden, if someone tells you it’s snowing, you’ll know whether you’re likely to get stuck in a drift, or if it’s time to go out and build snowmen.

Here, the phrase “I’m exhausted” gives us no clue whether to offer to look after the other mum’s children for an afternoon or call in the cavalry.

As a mum, I’ve spent time floating around the bottom three levels of my exhaustion scale. It’s an uncomfortable place to be. It’s lonely, confusing, and rife with guilt and the sense of failure.

Looking back from a happy place of now, I wonder what life might have been like if I hadn’t been that far gone with exhaustion. How much did it affect my children’s lives and my other relationships?

The difference between levels one and nine is huge.

So how can we discern who truly needs help? And how can anyone stuck at the bottom end of the scale fight their way back upwards when it feels as if there’s no way out?

For me, the way up included looking at my childhood, into my mental and emotional patterns, and into my soul learnings. In the process of getting better, I changed into a new version of me. I’m still learning and growing, but I’ve become more aware of myself and—in this way—I hope to guarantee that I’ll never hit the lower registers of that scale again.

Now, years later and with my children grown, I am passing on what I learned all these years ago, helping other mums and professional women to stay on top of their workloads. If you feel overwhelmed and exhausted, don’t wait until every day is a struggle. Please reach out and talk to me now.

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