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Burnout is when we reach a point of exhaustion as a result of overworking. Most women, particularly working women, will experience burnout sometime in their lifetime owing to a lack of work-life balance or an uneven split of household responsibilities. I’ve been married for 5 years. Only recently, I came to the realisation that the main reason for my intermittent burnout was actually me, the way my brain works and subconscious guilt. Not my profession, not my workplace and most certainly, not my husband. All long, IT WAS ME.
I work full-time and I spend around two and a half hours each day just driving as a result of my long commute with unbearable traffic. Most days I felt drained by the time I reached home, but I still did most of the cooking. By the time the kitchen department gets closed it would be 8.30pm, leaving me just under an hour until it’s bedtime again. Many times I would notice myself doing way more than I could physically handle. Even on weekends, I wouldn’t rest. I found myself doing so many tasks all at the same time – vacuum cleaning, kitchen cleaning, bathroom cleaning, you name it. Before I knew it, that was my precious Saturday and Sunday gone. But I have to be truthful. My husband is like my right hand. He always comes forward to help, but it was me who actively kept refusing because of guilt. I would end up saying “no, it’s ok, I’ll do it.”
As time went by, I began to contemplate. I thought to myself, what am I feeling guilty for? Why should I feel guilty for allowing a man to do the chores? It’s his house too, right? Having been born and brought up in India and then moving to the United Kingdom has given me the advantage of experiencing both cultures. Whether it be family, friends or colleagues, there exists three categories of women I interact with in my life. White-British women, British-Indian women and Indian women based in India. To this day, I have never come across a single white-british friend of mine who has raised a conversation with me about burnout. It’s always been Indian women. Wondering why? It’s because white-british women are not conditioned in that way. However, from a young age, Indian women are conditioned to think that their one and only priority in life should be marriage, children and the overall smooth-running of the house. How many of you can relate to this? Indian women barely go out socialising because of feeling guilty for leaving the house. Even on the odd occasion when we do go out, there is that constant thought of what’s happening at home. The continuous cycle of questions at the back of our minds, not allowing us to switch off even during our break. “Will everything be ok?” “Have my husband and children eaten?” “How will he/they manage alone, until I return?” The thought process excels at an exponential rate that we just end up rushing back home because of guilt. My husband has never asked me to rush back home, so let me reiterate. All along, IT WAS ME.
Let’s take a pause and think about who has been responsible for our conditioning? We are in 2023, but to this day, a woman’s primary enemy has always been another woman. Not a man. The same women who go through the suffering, entertain the suffering, ultimately converting the next generation of women, to also continue suffering in the same way. Whenever I interact with family members, particularly the women, they always like to ask me unidirectional questions. For example, if I’m on a WhatsApp video call, and my husband happens to walk through the front door after coming back from work, the immediate question I would be struck with is, “Have you made a cup of coffee for him?” “Oh poor guy, he will be tired and hungry, is dinner ready for him?” However, during these 5 years of my marriage, not a single person has ever thought to ask him the same questions when I have walked through that door, tired and hungry from a commute that is at least twice as long as his. The funny thing is, he in fact always makes sure I am well fed after a tired day at work and cares for me exactly the way I want him to. So, my frustration is not towards him at all. What triggers me is how the relations around me perceive it. That’s how the conditioning begins. Everything he does is fully visible but everything I do is simply unseen. Most Indian women barely get any appreciation for the amount of work they do. Let’s take cooking for example. Even if we make a variety of dishes with a complex set of recipes, there will be no recognition for it. However, if our male counterparts cook even a fairly straightforward dish, it’s treated like a groundbreaking achievement. Unnecessary pampering and gender bias at its finest.
That brings me to the top tips that I want to share with my fellow Indian women to avoid burnout:
Burnout as a result of uneven split in household responsibilities is applicable to all women around the world but a large proportion of victims are Indian women. Thanks to a society built and still thriving on outdated patriarchal ideologies. Far too many women have been brushing it under the carpet for centuries, and it’s high time we decondition from all that guilt.
I'm Dr Shalini Moorthy. I was born in Chennai, India. I moved to the United Kingdom during my childhood as a first generation immigrant with my parents. I finished my PhD in 2019 in read more...
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