Mom Triumphs

Mom Triumphs: Severe Burnout

Jenna’s story is one I could have practically written myself, and I’m sure it will resonate with too many moms out there. Learn how she found herself experiencing severe mom burnout and what her path to recovery looked like.

Thank you, Jenna, for sharing your story!

Check out the rest of the Mom Triumphs series for more inspirational stories of how real moms have overcome serious challenges.

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Tips are based on personal experience and should not be considered medical advice. Full disclaimer.

Jenna’s Story

Tell us a little about you! Where are you from? What do you like to do? What is your family like?

My name is Jenna Kelland. I live in Alberta, Canada with my husband and three kids. My son is 13 and my twin daughters are 11. I enjoy reading and learning about nutrition, health and wellness. I also like gardening in the summer and teaching my kids to cook and bake.

I’m trying to find some hobbies because I tend to either be working or thinking about working. I’m also practicing just being still.

What is a major challenge that you’ve experienced during your time as a mom?

My kids were all born while I was in grad school working on my Ph.D. in adult education. With my son, I didn’t really take any time off. I slowed down my work for a few months, but then I was back to research and writing.

When my daughters were born, I was able to take more time off but I was busy with three kids under the age of 3. Before my girls turned one, I had recovered from a cesarean, breastfed twins, packed up our house so we could sell it, taken on some extra paid work, started volunteering for the twin and triplet club and moved.

This was the start of living on adrenaline, which became a pattern. There was always something or someone needing attention – school, family, volunteering, or work.

When my daughters started kindergarten, I decided I wanted to do something that really excited me. I went back to school to study holistic nutrition. Food and health had always been a passion.

I read food blogs and books about staying healthy. I was excited about learning something new and doing something just for me. At school, no one needed anything from me. 

When I went back to school, I didn’t remove anything from my schedule. I went to school while my kids were at school. I taught for the university in the evening I did volunteering and my homework in between.

The first few months were great – or at least they were productive. The adrenaline kept me moving at full speed. It felt like everything was in sync, but then it was too much. My kids were all struggling at school with undiagnosed learning disabilities and in the spring, I started having panic attacks. 

What were your thoughts when you first encountered this challenge?

My first thought was that I could just push through. I only had a few weeks of school and then I could slow down. But then I had to finish up my teaching for the semester, and then I had to prepare for my certification exam. There really wasn’t time to take a break, so I didn’t.

The panic attacks kept getting worse. I thought I just needed to figure out how to manage my stress and anxiety. I read more and tried to research a solution.

I figured just like grad school and twins, I could get through if I just kept taking the next step. 

How did you figure out what approach to take in facing your challenge? Did your approach change over time?

My plan of persistence wasn’t working. The panic attacks were getting worse. They were happening daily – and lasting most of the day.

My relationship was with my husband was suffering, I felt like I was neglecting my kids, and I couldn’t manage anything. I had to tell my husband I couldn’t go on holidays with him and the kids. That felt like a huge sign of failure. I couldn’t get my stuff together to take a holiday. 

I truly believed that my training in holistic nutrition would provide the answers. I figured drinking more green juice and eating more organic food would help. But it didn’t.

By the end of September, I couldn’t walk to the bus stop to pick up my kids. I was failing as a mom, and I wasn’t getting better. I cut back a little on my work – I was teaching online so I could work even if I couldn’t leave the house. Maybe having more time off would help. 

It didn’t. My world got smaller and smaller. I stopped leaving the house. I spent most of the day in my bedroom. I’d try to pull myself together so that I could be reasonably attentive to my kids when they arrived home from school. I would sit on the floor in the bedroom while they did their reading homework or played games. 

My physical health started to be affected by the constant panic. I could barely eat because my stomach felt sick all the time. I lost 15 pounds that I couldn’t afford to lose. I wasn’t sleeping because my mind wouldn’t slow down. I had headaches and sore muscles. My heart was racing. I started to get dizzy.

I finally ended up at the ER because of the dizziness. I was immediately hooked up to a heart monitor. They were concerned about my racing heart, which had been going on for months. At that point, I started on medication for the anxiety and panic attacks.

I didn’t want to take medication. It felt like a sign of weakness. I’d been on medication for depression before and I thought I had finally found a way to live without it. I had gone back to school to do something I loved, I was building my own business, and I was ready to do what I wanted. 

The medication helped. It let me start to actually look after myself. With my nervous system calmed down from 120 to just 115, I could start to do the things that would help me heal. Even with the medication, it would be 6 months before I left home except for a handful of medical appointments.

What helped you during times when you were struggling? Did you have any support?

Because of my interest in health and wellness, I had some contacts and some ideas about what help I needed. I already had a great counsellor who worked with me by phone. I had a naturopath who understood how much the panic attacks had depleted my body, and how to help me get enough of the nutrients I needed so my body could start to heal itself.

I worked with a yoga therapist who understood how anxiety affects the nervous system and how to soothe that energy with breath and movement.

I started to take tiny steps to make changes. Changing too fast stresses the nervous system and can actually make it harder to make changes. I would eat small meals throughout the day because a regular meal was too much.

I would do a short yoga routine several times a day to help my body slow down a tiny bit. The medication helped me sleep, which was so important. 

I also decided to approach my life and building my business in ways that would support my health and wellness first. 

Did this challenge affect others in your family? How did you balance addressing their needs and your own?

I worked really hard to be present when my kids were home from school. My kids got used to me always being in my bedroom. They adapted fairly well. They’d curl up in bed next to me to do their reading homework. They would bring me books to read to them at bedtime. When my husband was home after work, I counted on him to look after them. 

It was hard on my relationship with my husband. He had to step up and do more around the house. He did more stuff around the house and he did all the things outside the house: grocery shopping, parent-teacher meetings, playdates and birthday parties.

He didn’t know how to make things better and that was hard. Over time, he’s learned about mental health through my experiences, and now he is a resource person at work for people with questions about mental health. 

How are things today versus when you first encountered this challenge?

Today, I am more aware of my feelings and physical reaction to stress. I can see when I’m starting to feel overwhelmed and I can take action.

I’ve learned how my body responds to different foods and supplements, and what I need to eat to stay healthy. I consciously set aside time for things that support me like yoga, journaling, and meditation.

I also prioritize activities that support my relationship with my husband and children. I make decisions about what I say yes to, based on how it will affect this relationship.

I feel like it took at least a year to rebuild the foundation of my physical health after the panic attacks slowed down. It took another couple of years to build up some reserves so I felt I was ready to handle the stress of daily life.

While all of this was happening, my kids were all diagnosed with learning disabilities and other conditions that added more to my schedule with appointments for all three.  

I’m still learning ways to better support my mental and physical health, but I’m doing it from a solid foundation. The COIVD-19 pandemic has meant I need to adjust my approach.

I’m experimenting with different routines to make time for myself while my kids are learning from home and my husband is working at home. I miss quiet time for myself with no one around. 

"It takes a lot of self-love and compassion to take the time you need for yourself."

What advice would you give other moms going through something similar?

Get a team of people to support you who know what you need and what you’ll need next. Healing from burnout, which seems like the closest diagnosis I can find, takes time. After the initial period of getting well enough to function, there is still lots to do until you are really feeling well again. 

Be gentle with yourself. It takes lots of self-love and compassion to take the time you need for yourself. Treat yourself the way you would treat your child or a friend who was ill.

Mental health matters! Taking care of your mental health is essential. You need to do this so you can look after your family, be part of your community, make a difference in your world, and enjoy your life. Don’t ignore it or downplay its importance.

Listen to your body. It constantly gives you signs. When you ignore them, your body will get louder and louder until you are forced to listen.

The foundations of good health are eating well, drinking enough water, getting good quality sleep, moving your body, and having supportive relationships. Find the people, information or tools you need to pay attention to all of these parts of your life.

Are there any helpful resources you would recommend?

From my own resources, I’d recommend the 60-Second Self-Care Cards that I’ve developed to help busy women take small breaks throughout the day to look after themselves. 

What’s your super power as a mom?

I’ve become a strong advocate for my kids. I want them to know they are always supported, and I want them to be able to identify what they need to be successful.

I hope that teaching them these skills will help them learn to identify when they are overwhelmed and constantly seek the supports they need. 

What have you learned or gained from this experience?

They say you learn what you are meant to teach. I’ve learned about mental illness from living through it. I’ve experienced the stigma and the challenges people facing getting help.

I don’t want to go through this type of experience again. I use my experience to help other women stay happy and healthy by teaching them about their bodies and how to support their physical and mental health. 

About Jenna

Learn more about Jenna on her website and Facebook page.

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