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emotionally burnt out

Community Member

I'm 46, on a DSP and live with my mum, who's 76,  and had cancer for the last 18 months. She's in remission now and was lucky they got it early. During her care (biopsies, chemo, appointments) I was fine and emotionally strong for her. Last Dec she got the all clear again. But now I'm a mess.

Each day I struggle with anxiety, on edge all the time, with sudden noises startling me easily. I argue a lot with her. There have been bouts of depression too. My elder brother, stopped talking to us for a long time. In fact, it was the first time in over a year that he actually asked how I was. Before that he mocked me for struggling to cope at times. Other friends of mum have distanced themselves from her. It seems that we have both been treated as problems, not people.

I'm seeing a psychologist to help me focus again on me. I have a woodworking hobby building wooden kids furniture and other items, which I gave up a long time ago due to a bad back and lack of demand. But a year ago I found myself needing some hobby to help my anxiety, even if I do run at a loss. I almost feel like I have a form of PTSD not only from mum's cancer treatment, but from being anbandoned by my own brother during a time of need, in which I could have done with his support.

Has anyone else had any experience with this? Falling apart at the seams after a lot of stress? Nowadays, I struggle to watch the news, let alone brave my soul on the roads... Now that mum is fine, it seems that I've fallen apart at the seams...

5 Replies 5

Mark Z.
Community Champion
Community Champion

Hi David,


I’m sorry to hear that you’re struggling with anxiety and depression after your mother’s cancer treatment. It’s understandable that you’re feeling this way after going through such a difficult time to support your mother and get yourself exhausted. 


You've done absolutely the right thing to seek professional help (seeing a psychologist) to focus on your own challenge and needs. You might also find it helpful to join a support group for cancer patients and their families. Support groups can provide a sense of community and connection with people who understand what you’re going through. 


Not everyone likes support groups, so don’t feel pressured to join one. Some people prefer one-on-one support from someone who has been through a similar experience. It also can be an option.


Regarding how to find the cancer support groups or peer support in your area, many hospitals or cancer centres offer programs where people and their families can receive information about cancer in a group and discuss how they are coping. Alternatively, you can talk to your GP, community nurse, or call the Cancer Council Helpline 13 11 20.


Hope it helps a bit and everything will be better.


Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor

Hi David35


Your mum is so blessed to have you, especially with you being there for her during one of the most challenging times in her life. I'm sure your love and support played a part in her remission.


It was some time last year that my 20yo daughter mentioned General Adaptation Syndrome. She said 'Mum, sounds like what you're facing could be the 3rd stage'. I looked it up and ticked every box - fatigue, burnout, depression, anxiety, reduced tolerance to stress. I'm taking this year off work, to be able to manage what's priority, including some form of recovery for myself.


While a few of the bigger challenges include my dad developing dementia and him going into aged care, my mum's continuing loss of physical ability due to a number of conditions and my 17yo son's struggle in managing school (which has been a significant cause of upset for him), it's been about supporting people's mental, physical and soulful sense of well being. As you'd know it's a lot of hard work, trying to help manage another's overall well being. I'm lucky to have had some support.


It can be easier to manage a lot when you're not such a deeply feeling person but when you are it can become exhausting. Not only are you feeling your own stress and upset but you're feeling for others too (their stress and upset). A lot of our work can involve doing everything under the sun so others don't become stressed and/or depressed through what they face.


Relaxed activity or active relaxation are keys to recovery, a way of saying 'I love you nervous system, immune system, cardiovascular system' etc, 'I will love you all back to greater health through relaxing you, after all your hard work through that stressful period'. As you bring the creator in you back to life through carpentry, a truly beautiful skill, would you consider developing a new skill on top of that perhaps? Maybe cultivating vegetables in the back yard or simply herbs. Perhaps it's a skill you could lead your mum to develop instead. Wrong time for tomatoes but I have to say the smell of homegrown tomatoes and herbs is a great form of aromatherapy. While such creativity and aromas help trigger certain chemistry in the brain, they're good for the mind (inner dialogue) and soul too (inspiring a sense of passion).

Thanks for sharing the rising. I think you've hit the nail on the head. Mums ups and downs rub off on me and vice versa. This is made worse because I still live at home. Its like I'm so eager to jump in and save mum emotionally, that I've forgotten to make sure I don't drown myself!. I think that's why the hobby carpentry helps. I find I'm happy when I can make someone else happy. Counter-intuitive I know.

I haven't thought about other hobbies. I've been so stressed that sometimes it's hard to remember what I once enjoyed. But thanks for the suggestions and kind words.

In reply to Mark, I've benefited by talking to people on the cancer hotline. I'll have a look on their website for support groups. It's not something society let's you freely talk about.

It is difficult to admit that I'm not coping. But I've realised that until I do, I can't heal properly. Thanks again.

Community Member

Dear David35,

Thank you for sharing your story with us. It sounds like you have been through a lot over the past 18 months, and it's completely understandable that you are struggling emotionally now that things have calmed down. It takes a toll on us to be strong for others during tough times, and it's important to take care of yourself too.

It's great to hear that you are seeing a psychologist to help you focus on yourself and work through your anxiety and depression. It's important to have someone to talk to who can support you and provide guidance.

It's also wonderful that you have a woodworking hobby that you enjoy, even if it's not profitable. Hobbies can be a great way to relieve stress and anxiety, and it's important to make time for the things that bring us joy.

It's understandable that you feel hurt and abandoned by your brother's lack of support during this time. It's important to remember that everyone copes with stress and difficult situations differently, and sometimes people don't know how to be supportive even if they want to be. However, it's important for you to focus on your own well-being and not to rely on others for your happiness. It may be helpful to try to build new connections and relationships with people who are supportive and understanding.

It's also important to take care of your physical health, as this can have a big impact on our emotional well-being. Make sure to eat well, exercise regularly, and get enough rest.

Remember to be kind to yourself and to take things one day at a time. You have been through a lot, and it's okay to not be okay sometimes. Keep reaching out for help and support when you need it, and know that things can and will get better.

Thanks Dr Beth. I think I underestimated the value of my woodworking hobby. It provides me with a sense of contentment and peace of mind that I can't seem to get elsewhere (besides the local duck pond). It also provides me with an avenue to reconnect with society by selling them online, or even donating the failures to the Salvos! (They're not so fussy).

I think one of the hardest parts of the whole journey is that despite mum's diagnosis being good, she was lucky they got it so early, I never foresaw the change it would have on her personality (more withdrawn, worrying, fragile, reclusive, etc.). This has been the hardest thing for me to accept.

The other thing I've found hard to understand is the lack of understanding on behalf of my brother and his wife regarding how stressful the whole journey has been for us. I no longer have my father to support us, so it's all down to me and one other family relative, who I've become closer to. My biggest challenge now is to let her be. I have a tendency to offer suggestions to help her (like going to the library or cafe) and get frustrated when she says no.


Thanks for your kind words. Everyone on here is helping me readjust to my way of thinking to not only look after myself, but in turn be more supportive to mum.