When I Hit A Wall – A Story of Burnout Overseas and My Road to Healing

Today we’ve invited Brandie Green to share her story with us, the story of “hitting a wall” in her overseas life.

Brandie, what did “hitting a wall” look like for you?

In a twelve month period, my life was overwhelmed. Every six weeks for one year, something stressful happened, sometimes good, usually not good, sometimes big (death), sometimes not so big (crisis at work). By the third or fourth event, I was no longer able to recover from the previous situation before the next one hit.

Tuning out or running on autopilot is a great ability sometimes, but this should only be done when an end is defined, and a period of recovery is built in. Picture children sitting on a couch watching movie after movie, day after day, while mom is curled up behind the couch, crying to the Lord, head phones on blasting worship music. That was me.

My crying to the Lord ended with, “God where are you?”, “God, I cannot believe in your love for me anymore,” “God, I don’t trust you anymore.” I played worship music because I couldn’t worship. It was a substitute that I could only hope God would accept. I look back at that time and honestly do not remember making meals, keeping house, etc. Many things that were accomplished were done by my husband or done by rote, as if by memory or chore more than on purpose or intent. I was a shell of the old me running on battery fumes.

As you look back on the time leading up to “the wall,” what were the warning signs in your life that you were headed for a crash?

I became more forgetful. I was moody and controlling, trying to wrest control over everything so that nothing else could go wrong. Criticism of everybody and everything. Anger, I yelled at my kids for everything. I remember one day sitting on the couch thinking I had been drained of all life. Hopeless and expecting disaster. When my daughter was severely ill, I had so little hope that I just sat on the floor and waited for whatever was to come – which at that point I had decided was death. Fear became increasingly present, particularly fear of flying (a problem when your work requires travel). Pride and pretense. At some point I think I could see that life was starting to crumble but I was determined that it would not crumble. I would not crumble. As much as possible, everything was “I’m good” or “it’s good” even when I wasn’t and it wasn’t.

What was your road to emotional and spiritual health after the crash?

Step one was emailing a friend, someone who I respected, who had been on the field at least 10 years longer than us. I wrote something like,

“Dear Friend,  I think I’m in trouble.”

Emotional and spiritual health came in many forms, most of which could only happen because we started a home assignment a few months after crashing.

Leaving China was huge and in itself stress-reducing. Physical rest was big. Our youngest started school, so having all three kids out of the house each day was so helpful to my mind and body. I could live, move, and breathe slowly. Church was nourishing for my soul. My first few Sundays back in our home church I didn’t sing. I just sat and let the worship and good preaching pour over me.

Freedom to be honest. People would frequently ask me if I was looking forward to going back to China. “No.” A very simple succinct answer that most people didn’t know what to do with, but it was like opening a locked cage in my heart. In fact for the first three or four months, I didn’t even talk about China, I wouldn’t even mention the word. All these things allowed me to begin thinking straight again.

However, I needed more help. I didn’t know how or where to get it though. I also realized that other workers, likely, also needed help. Through many interesting turns, I ended up taking a pastoral counseling class. The professor, a pastor and counselor, took me aside one day and said very graciously to me, “Brandie, you need counseling, do yourself a favor and find a good counselor to help you through your time overseas.”

I wrote my pastor and said, “I need a counselor, one who understands the difficulties of ministry.”  I learned about limits, boundaries, and what does emotional health look like. One of my main text books was actually Peter Scazzaro’s “Emotionally Healthy Church”.  I began putting suggestions from that book into place in my life; understanding that I had priorities and limits.

Another counselor (this came once we were back on the field) helped me to see in a new way the love the Father has for me.  I could trust God again. I could see his love for me in so many ways. One session was so poignant that my fear of flying was gone. What a gift that session and that counselor was to me from the Father.

Forgiveness and apologizing. I had hurt people, my family in particular. I needed to apologize to them, my husband, children, and sisters. I had to forgive people who should have warned me much earlier that I was heading for trouble.  I had to forgive those whose job it was to see I had burned out, but didn’t.

Now that you’ve experienced healing, now that you’ve examined the patterns that led you to hitting a wall, what do you do now in your life when you see those warning signs showing up again?  

I take a big breath and slow down. I take time to walk every day. I don’t meet with as many people as I could, or should, or would. I call or text a few friends who will ask me, “How’s your heart doing?” knowing that they are asking for full answers, not simple ones. I make time to worship, to talk with the Lord, and to read the Bible.

For a day or two I do no work. I do a check up. What is out of alignment in my spiritual life, family life, emotional life, work life, etc? What do I need to change? What can I ask of others? I talk with my husband and my kids. Are we connected? Do you need mom-time? I make sure I have been having fun. Some of the most life-giving times were spent with friends not afraid to be silly. People who know how to laugh, who can cut loose, and fall off the couch with tears of laughter.

Getting back to work and “doing”, then, I am more clearly able to prioritize what needs to be done and what can wait.

Thank you, Brandie.  Thank you for offering yourself and your story.  We pray that we’d all be encouraged by it to examine our lives, the patterns in which we live and minister.  We’re celebrating with you the restoration you’ve found in him.      

What about you?  Have you had an experience similar to Brandie’s?  Do you see similar warning signs flaring up in your life?  What do you do to connect with Jesus, to find the healing and wholeness he has for you?

6 Comments

  1. laura r November 19, 2015

    Thank you for sharing this part of your story, Brandie.  The parallels with my own story are strong – a year of crisis and stressors constantly coming my way.  I remember the day a friend said that she felt she has to stop telling me that once I made it through the current struggle (whatever it was at the time) I would be fine… because she was starting to believe that the season was going to be much longer and much harder than anyone would hope for or want.

    We stepped off the field, it wasn’t necessarily as graceful as I would have hoped it to be but… His grace has covered me.

    I’m learning to rest in this – That God knows me. God accepts me and God loves me.  So basic and so challenging.   The verse that has been playing on repeat in my mind is 1 John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.”  I’ve been reminded that his love for me is my starting point.

    Some days are still hard- grieving over my many losses and failures, struggling with the hard work of forgiveness and apologies, taking time to pause and reflect instead of pushing forward constantly.

     

     

     

    1. Brandie Green November 19, 2015

      Laura,
      the more I spend time with other international workers the more I learn how common the themes in my story are. His grace really does cover us. I’ve read and learned a lot over the past few years on stress. Alluding to the last post on stress, I’ve coming to the conclusion that no matter what we do, the ‘base-line’ stress level of an international worker is always higher than normal. I also think that we are living proof of God’s grace covering us. Even when we are in messy situations of our own doing his grace covers.

      It is so hard to believe and accept because it is so counter-cultural. God is not a “you’ve made your own bed and now you’ll lay in it” type of God. He did love us first and I have done nothing since then to earn more of it. There is such healing and freedom in your journey Laura, I hope and pray that you have a few people around you to encourage you along the way.

  2. Monica F November 19, 2015

    Brandie, oh my dear sweet friend.  My heart skipped a beat when I saw your name attached to this post, and then I cried (you know me!).  I know I don’t have to say any words… you know my own journey, and we’ve walked closely together over the last 10 years.  You knew what I was experiencing when I hit my own wall.  I’m grateful for you.  I know your words will encourage so many.  Love you friend.

    1. Brandie Green November 19, 2015

      No words indeed. But if I could pit in some big hugging arms here, I would. And a huge smiley face to go with it.

  3. Anna November 24, 2015

    Thank you for sharing your story.   We ended up in a difficult ministry situation that had us headed for burn out.  I won’t share details since they involve other people, but it was an organizational system that saw us as commodities.  We could deal with third world life and stress, but not the organizational part which included an unnecessarily crazy busy schedule and no limits or boundaries.  (Decisions would be made for us about things with our family or in our own house- or I should say that they were attempted.  I can be a bit stubborn.)

    Anyway, it was a great and fulfilling ministry overall, and it was really hard to walk away.  I struggled with forgiveness of the organization and those involved who valued us more as commodities than people.  But through time and lots of wise input from others, I have learned to see that they are imperfect people, some of whom have been mistreated and are unhealthy themselves.  It helped me to separate them from the negative actions.

    Some of the best advice we got when we were in our last few months overseas was to take at least 6 months in the US.  First, take a time of recovery, and only after that prepare for the next location.  I had been thinking that we would come back and gear up for the next place.  After being back in the US for almost 3 months, I can really see the wisdom in that.  It isn’t something to be rushed, and we are making slow but steady progress.

    1. Brandie Green November 25, 2015

      Anna, first I’m sorry that this is part of your story. To be seen and treated as commodities is the antithesis of humans being created in the image of God and all that should entail. Yes, you did receive great advice and I’m glad you (and your husband) had the wisdom to follow it. It is indeed a slow progress. I found, eventually, that though I was able to continue on with life and ministry a few things took much longer than I expected to finish being worked out/healed. Mercy for you Anna, and for those you work with. The longer I live, though I’m only 38 :), the more I see how much mercy the Father pours out on us and how much humanity needs a redeeming Saviour.

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