I'm still standing
Emotional burnout was recently revealed to me. You would think I would have known exactly how to describe how I feel since I have been living with it for so long. But I didn’t. Because like most people I chose to describe these feelings of apathy, depression and exhaustion as “being tired” or “busy”. The truth is I have a mind that won’t shut off, a body that is constantly in survival mode and responsibilities that are becoming more and more challenging to face. Stress is a normal part of life. Constant, unresolved stress is dangerous. The fact that I cannot take action because I am paralyzed in my psychological and physiological state has forced me to share this with you. Because I am also a local entrepreneur of a woman operated business, a wife, a mother, a citizen and a human being of this world. And I am sure I am not alone.
So what have I been doing in this emotionally immobilized place? Watching the internet get lit on fire by an apocalypse of change and a virus consume every facet of our lives. When everything began in the Spring I dove into damage control and planning. But first I sobbed. Because the grief over losing the momentum we had built as a team came crashing down on me. I drafted emails. I responded to clients who wanted answers I hadn’t yet had the time or capacity to formulate. I stared at my bank account. I had a dear friend come to the store and photograph a large selection of inventory. I built an online store in 3 days only to spend hours fighting with its compatibility with my current in-store system, waking to days of work being erased because of it. Tears were shed. Home schooling was a daily barrage of refusals and tantrums from the 8 year old and one-on-one constant supervision for both. So I moved drafting email templates and Insta stories to the wee hours. And quickly lost the desire to fly like a pendulum swinging between two inevitable failures. So I just stopped. And tried to focus on one thing: being their mother.
I have watched women all over the world rise up under the incredible weight of what has been called a she-cession during this pandemic. Where we are disproportionately affected by job loss, work in higher risk industries, shoulder many of the child-care responsibilities, assume the burden of decision making that creates its own emotional exhaustion all while we see increased rates of domestic violence and a reduction in accessibility to social services. Everyone has been affected by this pandemic. But the daily realities for many women have exposed a need for more supports for the family structure which would not only alleviate the anxiety we face but have immense benefits for the economy. In our household it was not a question of whether or not Josh would work or stay home. It was only a discussion on how I would design my businesses ability to operate while being home with two children. He was an essential service, I was not. He had a reliable income while my industry was flailing. We have had many conversations about the fact that it wasn't really a conversation at all. I felt like everything I had built was expendable which led me to experience deep feelings of grief and emptiness. That wasn't his fault. It was simply the reality of the situation
I gave my boys a summer to remember. Of adventure. Of time with their mother. Coming from a household of two self employed people has always compromised our time with them. I taught them about Elton John. About bear safety. How to use an oven. What to do in case of a fire. I took them for walks every morning. I marched with them through the streets of Winnipeg. I found ridiculously inexpensive cabins that no one was willing to rent in May and booked them. I took the money we saved on childcare and invested it into providing them an outdoor space (besides the park behind our old apartment building). I gave them a beach that we could walk to while Josh was working to keep us alive, through late evenings and weekends. I gave them time away from Netflix. We taught them how to fish. And we isolated ourselves for 14 days before every new “vacation” to ensure we weren’t bringing something with us. I took them camping. BY MYSELF. I took them on a 10 km hike. I was so proud of them for finishing that day. I read them stories about the history of their Cree and Metis family. I taught them how to build a fire. I taught them survival skills. I taught them how to manage their frustration, fear and loneliness. I taught them to see the world with kind eyes and always be aware of their responsibility to protect and build up others. But most importantly I tried to show them how much they needed to lean on each other because sometimes your family, in your own little bubble, is all you will have.
When they went to sleep I read my own stories. I finished 4 whole books after not having read anything that didn't have the words "marketing" or "client avatar" in it for years. Books that illuminated the reality of our world. I gave my oldest the responsibility of making breakfast and I hid in my bed until 9 am. I allowed myself to take showers that lasted longer than 3 minutes. Sometimes I had our sitter come over so I could try to work in my bedroom or sneak off to the shoppe for a few hours. My attempts to focus on the needs of the staff and the store while feeling detached from the connection and purpose it had always provided pushed me further down the rabbit hole. I tried to offer them guidance and leadership while being crippled by stress and fear. I calculated the minimum amount we required in sales to break even and I felt fleeting relief every time we made it through another week. And I avoided answering the question, "are we ever going to post something again?"
Meanwhile my team stayed the course. We reopened slowly and methodically. We adapted to the needs of our clients. And we put our heads down and focused on what would get us through any crisis: creating memorable, beautiful life moments in a safe environment. Moments that clients felt compelled to share about in reviews. Memories that would exist long after an Instagram story ended. And that very simple mission has kept us alive. We may not have been on the internet but we have been here the whole time, pouring ourselves into the things we care about the most: the celebrations of deep, enduring love and joy.
I am still learning how to trust my team. They are amazing human beings who have invested so much into offering this incredible experience to Manitobans. I’m learning to be okay with taking a break. I am learning to put down my phone. I am learning that I brought a lot of trauma into 2020 that has been unresolved for a long time. Leading to a paralysis that has prevented me from moving through this year in my business. And I have given myself permission to explore why I am feeling this way. I gave myself the grace to discover that I am suffering under the weight of emotional burnout. I learned about threat responses. And was finally able to name some of the symptoms I was experiencing and see the walls I was building.
When we feel threatened our body reacts to stress and danger by releasing hormones that trigger a series of physiological responses. The most common being fight or flight. And here I was like a deer in the headlights. My threat response was the often ignored third reaction; I froze. That walls I built were made of ice. And I was completely unable to engage with everything 2020 was throwing at me. Coming to that realization has set me on a path to untangling myself from the things that are holding me back. In the business I worked so hard to build. And in the life I created through so much struggle. I have been working since I was 15 years old and supporting myself since I was 17. I have experience homelessness, addiction, domestic abuse, sexual violence, recovery, unconditional love, resurrection, faith, marriage, childbirth, motherhood, business ownership, success, failure, disappointment and joy. I have tried to embrace powerlessness.
Emotional burnout is real. And you don’t owe the internet an explanation on why you are struggling. But you do owe it to yourself to not live with your stress in chronic activation. The world is a very loud, scary and often angry place right now. And so is the internet. Social media, for me, has become this screaming behemoth. A space where words have become weapons and comment sections battle grounds. I understand why. Anger is fear externalized. And many of us are terrified. I am not the person who decides for others how to feel or express those feelings. I am not the person who gets to choose what form of action others take when they stand in those spaces. I am a person who recognizes the value in other’s lived experiences and speaks out when injustices occur. I am a mother who wants a better future for her children and her family members. I am a member of the community who bears witness to inequality and names it. It is hard to go to the internet and talk about lace hems and sequins while the world is in so much pain. Evaluating how I show up on social media is a part of this process.
If you have supported us this year in any way know that you have been here for me at a time when I needed it the most. If you have emailed kind words of encouragement, I got them. And even though I couldn’t respond then I am deeply grateful now. If you sent gifts, I opened them. And I cherish the sentiment behind them. And if you shared with others how much your experience at Pearl & Birch meant to you it has offered me so much hope for the future. It has helped me through insurmountable financial challenges, moving to a safer home in the middle of a pandemic, recovering from surgery and finally resolving some chronic health problems while being present for my children when they needed me the most. We are going to continue to do this safely, with the well being of the community and our staff and guest at the forefront of every decision we make. We are going to continue to support brides through their incredible journey to the altar. As I move forward I will try to include you all in the journey. But, if I am not able to, please know that I am still here. I haven’t given up. And whatever you are struggling with in this unprecedented year I hope you don’t either. Many of us entered 2020 with burdens we couldn't see and have now been forced to confront. Which can only serve to prepare us for a new future. And hopefully allow us to seek the tools we need to live a life that recognizes that although things may never be what they once were we can heal and grow and celebrate the way we are living life today.