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Beyond shame | Part 7: When with Els - Natasja van Loenen

Burnout blog - Then with Els

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 just received an email from Riekie. Riekie was one of the veteran members of the team and emailed her to give her heart. Riekie was one of the most outspoken people in her team and did not hide her dislike for Cathelijne. At the moment, Sophie was very happy about that, considering she herself could not manage to be really angry with Cathelijne without feeling guilty. She could learn a thing or two from Riekie.

Riekie had also witnessed enough of the squabbles between Sophie and Cathelijne from the sidelines. She remarkably often dropped in when Sophie was just back from the office in her thoughts, warned her when Cathelijne was on the warpath and never told where Sophie was when Cathelijne asked. Then she would come and tell Sophie afterwards in a conspiratorial tone. Sophie couldn't go along with that, of course, but if she was completely honest, she always had to chuckle inside whenever she saw Riekie arrive again. She was grateful to Riekie for her unconditional support. Like that time with Els.

Part 7: When with Els

Lisa was just on her way out when she saw the location manager's door open and decided to walk in to get acquainted. Cathelijne was just getting a little bored and decided to take a close look at HR's young recruit. It takes her less than five minutes to completely squeeze the open-minded sprout. Lisa didn't understand at all when Cathelijne was bouncing out of her office with fire-breathing eyes towards Sophie's little office and decided to leave quietly. She had only told her about the good conversation she had just had with Sophie.

Wind-up cars

After all, Sophie had a problem. Well, Els had a problem and Sophie had taken it rather hard. Els was one of the younger members of team Fountain at St Vitus with her 48 years of age. Her husband was 11 years older and had recently had an accident at work. Well, accident, say accident. A colleague had accidentally knocked over a shelving unit while working with the forklift. Not one of those cute little handy shelving units you have in your shed, but one of those industrial things that can stack I don't know how many pallets.

A pallet of wind-up cars then came down and before Jan realised it, he was buried under the colourful children's toys. When Els told her, Sophie had not been able to suppress a small chuckle. Not because she liked the fact that Jan had had an accident, but because of the delightful imagination with which Els could tell it. Els hadn't blamed her for it either; it made her laugh herself. Yet that humour was only a thin outer layer of protection. Els was, in fact, incredibly worried.

Jan's surgery

So Els had now walked in on Sophie because Jan was due to go under the knife in a few months. He was now too weak for major surgery. He had had internal bleeding from which he really needed to recover first. His spine had taken a big hit, so surgery was firmly scheduled in four months' time. After that, he would really not be able to do anything for a while. In addition, their adult daughter lived at home. She was mentally disabled and needed help every day. Normally, Els and Jan would coordinate their schedules so that there was always someone at home to take care of Mieke, but Jan could barely manage that now, let alone after the operation. All in all, Els was pretty much at a loss for words. She came to Sophie to ask how many holidays she had left and whether she could take them after Jan's operation.

When Els heard that she only had barely two weeks of holidays left, she was visibly touched. They talked some more about caring for her husband and Sophie tried to stay positive. She indicated to Els that they would surely sort it out by then. Els seemed uneasy about it, but resigned to it.

It didn't let Sophie off the hook, so she started googling. She found some information about the operation Jan had to undergo and immediately understood where Els' worries were coming from. Two weeks was not nearly enough. He had to be completely flat for a fortnight after the operation and this would be followed by quite a bit of rehabilitation. Two weeks was not nearly enough for Els. In addition, she would not have any holidays left to relax a bit herself. It didn't sit well with Sophie.

Between Cathelijne and Lisa

Sophie had been smart enough to tell Cathelijne that she needed to sort some things out around taking days off for Els. Cathelijne had not asked further and had referred her to HR. That was exactly what Sophie wanted. She knew full well that Cathelijne would insist on Els using her holiday hours and nothing else if she knew exactly what the situation was. Cathelijne was not exactly known for her leniency now.

The next day, Sophie discussed the case with her HR adviser Lisa. Lisa was a junior adviser who was newly employed. She supported a handful of team managers with human resources. She discussed options and found out that not only could Els take care leave, but there was also a pot to supplement some extra if care leave was insufficient. Top! No problems so far.

What Sophie had not taken into account was that Lisa had never had to deal with Cathelijne before and was therefore unprepared for the unexpected question fires. Cathelijne suffered from micromanaging moments. Then she would dive on top of you and suddenly want to know in detail what you were doing, what choices you had made and why. That usually ended only when she had found something she did not agree with. Then she would instruct you to solve it and, with any luck, you would be allowed to go again.

Let them have just such a moment when Lisa decided to walk in on Cathelijne. After all, she was just new, so it seemed like a good idea to show herself off right away. Full of pride, she told Cathelijne about her solution to Els' problem. Even before she had told the whole story, Cathelijne shot out of her office towards Sophie, leaving a bewildered Lisa behind.

Confronting Cathelijne

Riekie was just sorting laundry in the corridor near Sophie's office. She saw Cathelijne approaching and saw her just too late to duck away unseen. Cathelijne stormed into Sophie's office, only to reappear in the doorway with a red head within five seconds. Her eyes scanned the corridor and it seemed only then that Riekie noticed her. "Where is Sophie?" Riekie shrugged her shoulders. She knew Sophie had gone for a walk with Vera, but she certainly wasn't going to hang that on Cathelijne's nose. She recognised the thunderclouds around Cathelijne's head like no other. Ranting, Cathelijne walked back down the corridor to her office. You could hear the bang of the door at reception.

Lisa stood rooted to the spot on the other side of the slamming door and suddenly found herself face to face with a furious Cathelijne. Now that Sophie was not around, Cathelijne decided to explain to Lisa in great detail that this was really not the intention.

Sophie shivered as she thought back to the confrontation that followed. Cathelijne had cooled off before she returned from the walk. You would think that was beneficial, but it only made her scarier. She seemed so reasonable then, while in the meantime she was bonjourning your whole plan straight into the bin. She could poutily saw the legs out from under your chair, sending you away with lots of questions and no solution. You had no choice but to give in. Fortunately, that victory was then usually enough. She often did not check after that what you were and were not doing now, so eventually Els just got her leave. But man, man, how insecure Cathelinee had made Sophie during that period.

* 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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