Metro Morning

Tired, busy, stressed: Getting off the hamster wheel for healthier you

Racing around to meet the demands of full time job while raising children can result in a burn out, especially for a single parent. But what happens when the parent stops racing?

'We glorify being busy,' says single mother on stress leave

Being a single mother and working full-time can feel like being trapped in a hamster wheel. (CBC)

Racing around to meet the demands of full-time job while raising children can result in a burn out, especially for a single parent.

But what happens when the parent stops racing?

Amy, a single mother raising a three-year-old and working in the catering business, decided to do exactly that. She went from being non-stop busy with work and her son to stopping it all to sort out what was going on in her life.

She remembered when all the running around, fatigue and stress crystallized one night in her home.

"I needed to break down, but I couldn't because I didn't want to wake my son. I needed a good old-fashioned bawl-my-eyes-out cry about life, and I couldn't do it. I was trapped in my own tears," she told Metro Morning. "Then I realized I was going to snap."

After that, she went to her see a doctor to see about going on stress leave. Amy — who does not want to be identified because of the stigma of being on stress leave might affect her work prospects — said it was her only option.

"The only alternative to finding a babysitter to take my son every single weekend was to just stop everything," she said. "[My life] was a runaway train down a mountain and I didn't know where the train was going to end up."

She describes her life before making that decision as a hamster wheel — running very fast but not moving anywhere.

As part of Metro Morning's Tired, Busy, Stressed series, Matt Galloway spoke with a single mother about stress, and reaching the breaking point.

'I was walking the edge'

"You feel stuck. It's really demoralizing, to see you're not progressing in different areas of your life, where your friends may be," she said of her long days, sometimes getting home past 2 a.m. and getting up only hours later with her toddler.

"It's a fine line between feeling blue and frustrated and feeling actual depression. I was walking the edge."

She thinks back to times when she was tired and stressed and would snap at her son, and then feel guilty and ashamed of doing it. That was a motivation for her to take charge of what was happening.

"He deserves a mom who's not always tired. I always would read one story and be too exhausted to read another," she said. "I didn't want him to associate me with always being snappy and angry and tired and exhausted. I want to be excited when I pick him up at the end of the day, not tired.  I'm the only parent he has, so he needs me to be the best source of love and support."

When she went to see her doctor, he was supportive but uncertain her condition warranted medical leave for stress. She simply didn't look the part.

Stress leave

"It's easy when you look terrible, people know there's something wrong. But we can hide the damage that stress and tiredness is doing to us," she said. Her doctor eventually granted her stress leave.

But that, too, has been stressful. Amy works in catering, a job with no benefits or sick days. She has gone a month without pay. She is so adamant she needs to be off, though, she is seeking an emergency loan to stay away from work.

Her days now are spent being a mother to her son and then concentrating on all the things that she put off while she was juggling work and parenting — mainly herself.

"The best part is dropping my son off at daycare, and just having the space when I get home. The quiet. No demands or expectations," she said.

Catching up on emails, taking time to eat, seeing friends. On New Year's Eve, she did a big clean-up. For almost six hours, she cleaned everything in her home. Amy called that simple chore both liberating and empowering.

She's doing anything and everything, except work.

"We glorify being busy," she said, "but i'm trying hard to resist that."


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