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Beyond the shame | Part 4: Free Day - Natasja van Loenen

Burnout free day

Ten years ago, my world was turned upside down. I was faced with a challenge I had not seen coming and thought would never happen to me: burnout. That period in my life was filled with uncertainty, exhaustion and powerlessness. I felt completely lost. What followed was a shaky road to recovery. In the end, it made me stronger and I am now the person I want to be, without compromise.

In this blog series "Beyond the shame", I share my personal story*. From the low points to the moments of breakthrough. I invite you to watch, listen and feel with me.

Sophie has just dragged herself off the bathroom floor after a night of stomach upset and other misery. Funnily enough, she is actually feeling pretty good. She has therefore convinced Marko that he can go to work with peace of mind.

Part 4: Free Day

Sophie smacks kissing hands at Marko with abandon as he walks around the corner of the street. 'See you later sweetie!' 'See you soon baby!' She fishes her phone out of her trousers to call Maya. She unlocks the phone and her face tightens. 'Shit...' Her screen reads ARBO very large. She had completely forgotten about that appointment. She searches diligently among her messages to see if there is one from the company doctor, no, nothing to be found. Another new message did arrive: 'Hi Sophie, I understood from Irene that you are home sick. If you want to talk, you can always call me. Lonneke'

Lonneke had been her source of support during her early years of leadership. She had been her guide and role model when she actually had no clue what the job actually entailed. Even well before Sophie was officially under her charge, Lonneke had been a fine sparring partner for her. Until she moved to another location about a year ago and everything changed.

Forgotten appointment

Sophie is startled from her musings when her phone vibrates softly twice. An automatic message in full capital letters appears on her screen: YOU DID NOT APPEAR AT THE SCHEDULED APPOINTMENT. WE WILL PASS ON YOUR ABSENCE TO THE APPLICANT. YOU CAN SCHEDULE A NEW APPOINTMENT VIA THE APPLICANT. "Shit, shit, shit." Sophie is nowhere near six weeks sick, but Cathelijne had insisted that the company doctor be called in immediately. Sophie wasn't waiting for it at all and now she missed that phone call too. She knows how strict Cathelijne is on keeping appointments around absenteeism, so this would not go down well.

The applicant for the appointment is Cathelijne. "Shit!". She thinks about it for a moment and decides to call back. She marvelled at her proactive attitude; she thought she could no longer do that at all. You see, today is a good day. She has actually regained a little bit of her resilience. Before her phone anxiety rears its head again, she resolutely presses the green phone button. Even before she has the phone well and truly to her ear, she recognises the typical sound of the robot voice from the automatic voicemail: 'The number you are calling is currently unavailable. Please leave a message after the tone.'

So that doctor didn't even bother to leave a personal message on his voicemail. So now she really has a problem. Sighing, she drags herself up the stairs and turns on the computer. Maybe she got an e-mail.


As her computer makes sounds like it is about to take off, Sophie stares out of the window at the trees in the street. The pale sun reflects in the windows of the flat across the street, gently caressing the first soft green leaves. 'Gross, it's Wednesday too.' She hears herself muttering and smiles sourly. Even when she wasn't sick, she always worked on her day off, so why should it be any different now? She feels rebellion bubbling up. This is crazy, isn't it? Are they completely out of their minds. Who thinks of scheduling an appointment with the company doctor on her day off in the first place? She has been asked nothing! Hard-handed, she presses the off button on her computer which, with an indignant sigh, aborts the start-up process. She grabs her phone and cigarettes and runs down the stairs.

Visiting Maya

Normally Sophie is a massive cold-shoulder, yet she barely feels the chill as she strides at a brisk pace down her street. Around a corner, around another corner and then she sees the building where Maya lives looming before her. She feels at the door of the communal entrance. With a click, she pushes the glass structure open effortlessly. Apparently, the automatic lock still hasn't been fixed. She rushes up the two stairs and bridges the first half of the gallery with a few big steps. She rings the bell. Hopefully it will come out. Normally Sophie always calls before she comes over, but she didn't want to risk Maya saying no. That might be very selfish, but right now she doesn't care at all. She really needs a friend for a while.

Maya opens the door with a puzzled look; 'Sophie, is something wrong?" without waiting for an answer, she steps aside and gestures for Sophie to come in. Her gaze changes to understanding and she turns towards the kitchen. As Sophie hangs up her coat, she mutters a thank you. From the kitchen, she hears Maya: 'Coke?' 'Yes, nice!' Sophie feels her shoulders relax slightly. She walks to the sofa and takes off her shoes. She sits down in a cross-legged position on the sofa and lights a cigarette. Maya soon follows.

Between anger and shame

Sophie begins to narrate. When she was on her way, she had expected tears to roll down her cheeks immediately. They don't. Not yet, anyway. Sophie tells the story of yesterday, the crappy night that followed and how her morning had gone. She talks about the rollercoaster of emotions and the huge effect Cathelijne had on her. She tells how her body had reacted to Cathelijne's phone call. How her hands started sweating, how her fingers trembled, how she became light-headed and week in her legs. She tells of the knot in her stomach and the tension in her shoulders.

As she tells it, she is torn between anger and shame. She is angry because Cathelijne is doing this to her and she is ashamed because she has let it come to this. She analyses lustily. 'Cathelijne and I are just very different, you see. She is used to people listening to her and expects you to do what she says. She thinks people should comply and does not compromise. She is constantly playing politics, there is always a double agenda. I can't do anything with that.'

Putting your finger on the sore spot

Maya looks at her with a neutral stare. 'Yes, that is indeed nothing for you. I find it so clever that you know exactly how to put your finger on the sore spot. You really can look at it with distance just fine. I really couldn't do that when I was in the middle of it...' Sophie has to think about this for a moment. 'Yes, that's also a bit my problem I think. I really analyse everything to pieces. I can't even really get angry at everything Cathelijne does because I always want to see the other side too. It would be so nice to just be able to be unabashedly unreasonable for once...' Maya looks at her with a raised eyebrow. 'You've been really angry with Cathelijne before, but then it wasn't about you. Remember that thing with Frederique?'

* Names and personal characteristics have been changed in this story for privacy reasons.
** This article was previously published on my website. For all blogs visit

Burnout tears blog - writers bio - Natasja van Loenen


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