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Beyond the shame | Part 1: Phone anxiety - Natasja van Loenen

Phone anxiety - burnout - Cathelijne

Ten years ago, my world was turned upside down. I was faced with a challenge I had not seen coming and which I thought would never happen to me: a 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 from that burnout. 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.

Part 1: Phone anxiety

"Shit!... No, not now... shit, shit, SHIT!". Inside, she is screaming, negotiating, weighing her options. On the outside, you see nothing. Well, if you pay very close attention, maybe. Then you can see her swallow. You can also hear that swallow a little, because her mouth is dry and slimy at the same time. Such a nice sticky mouth. If you were to hold her, you can also feel it. The clammy sweat in her palms, her heart in her throat. And then those óyes. So fixed on the window sill and so empty at the same time. As if someone had pressed the pause button during a staring contest. The phone in the windowsill lights up again. It is reminiscent of a lone strobe that is still flashing long after closing. The lighting effects are accompanied by a far too cheerful tone. It is a stark contrast to the dark world Sophie has immersed herself in.

Conflicting thoughts

The thoughts race through her head, from one branch to another. Pretending not to hear them? No, they might send someone over. Record it? She'd rather die here and now. She could jump down the stairs, hope she gets a complicated leg fracture. Then you'll be back in hospital for a few weeks anyway. Maybe then they will leave her alone. It only takes a second, yet she is a little shocked at how seriously she is considering the option. Then the realisation slowly sinks in that she really has no choice, because she has to get rid of it. She will have to pick up that damn phone.

For a moment, there is a tiny speck of hope on the horizon. A new thought fills her head: 'Maybe it's someone else...'. As if moving through treacle, she bridges the one-and-a-half metres to the windowsill. She glances at the screen and her courage sinks in: "Of course not...". Trembling, she drags the green phone icon across her screen: "Hi Cathelijne, it's Sophie.".

"Hi Sophia, how are you?" Cathelijne sounds genuinely interested. She's good at that, pretending to be interested. Sophie is a little embarrassed by the negative thought and immediately corrects herself. Cathelijne is just very different from her, that does not mean she is a bogeyman. Due to her musings, waiting for a response apparently takes Cathelijne too long. "Soof, are you still there?". "Uhm, yes, sorry, I... I'm fine I think. It's all a bit slow. I did start those interview reports...". "What?" Sophie shut her mouth startled, did she say something wrong? "Sophie, haven't you handed that over by now? You really need to make sure there's nothing left on your plate!".

That's easy talk

Yes, Cathelijne has easy talk. She just pretends that transferring takes no effort. Sophie only has her notes in cuneiform on loose forms. She can't give it to someone else that way, can she? "Yes but, I still have to type them out and then I can...". Her sentence is interrupted by a dramatic sigh at the other end of the line. One of those sighs that speaks a thousand words. Such a sigh from which you immediately imagine yourself back in your kindergarten shoes. Your gaze fixed tightly on those same shoes as you get a scolding from your mother. You feel incompetent and super small. Such a sigh, then.

Sophie slumps her shoulders defeatedly as she listens to Cathelijne rant about how she must have arranged everything a long time ago. She listens dazedly to the reproaches about how she does not take responsibility even in her illness process. She just lets it slide past her for a bit. Then she is startled. Her body, sagging with misery, tightens every muscle. If she had been aware of her body at that moment, she would have felt how she literally sprung up from the stairs she had sat on. Her buttocks squeezed together so fast that they momentarily detached from the step.

End of conversation and deeper into burnout

She let Cathelijne's last sentence pass her mind's ear once more: "I'll send Vera over to collect your notes". Her brain is running at full speed. That's really not an option. How will she solve this again? She looks around at the huge mess of a living room. Panic strikes, but it is already too late. Cathelijne has already reached closure: "I'll call you again next week, okay? And take your rest huh?". Sophie hears herself agreeing. Like a zombie, she walks to the sofa. She lowers herself onto it and her phone slips from her clammy hands onto the floor. Sophie doesn't even realise it.

* 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 blog - writers bio - Natasja van Loenen


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