Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Vital Exhaustion

Women "resting" at a Norwegian sanatorium

There was a fascinating article in yesterday's New York Times about what used to be called a nervous breakdown and is now referred to as vital exhaustion. You can read the article HERE. My favorite quote from it is this:
In recent years, psychiatrists in Europe have been diagnosing what they call “burnout syndrome,” the signs of which include “vital exhaustion.” A paper published last year defined three types: “frenetic,” “underchallenged,” and “worn out” (“exasperated” and “bitter” did not make the cut).

Exasperated and bitter, two words that can be oft-used to describe yours truly did not make the cut.

Then what does that make me?

I've often fantasized about the old days of rest places and sanatoriums, the kind featured in a Fellini movie, perhaps with people dressed all in white, the ill draped on lounges in front of pretty vistas, the workers floating about with small cups of water and tiny, white pills.

I know, I know, that's not the way they were. And I'm certainly aware of the gravity of mental illness. 

I spoke with The Adult Neurologist last week and she recommended stopping the birth control that she prescribed for Sophie about three months ago. She said it sounds like it's making her worse.

Oh, good God. 

I don't feel vitally exhausted but I would like a rest from it all. 


  1. Elizabeth:
    Hi! I read your comment on Lawyer Mom and couldn't agree more. I was intrigued enough to see who you were and was pleasantly surprised to see your lovely blog title as I am a Yeats fan as well. Thanks for this reference to the NYT article; I completely missed it over the busy holiday weekend and found it fascinating on a number of levels, not the least of which was the rhetorical context of this phenomenon and how the terms used reflect the cultural aspects of the time. Thanks again!

    Flat Rock Creek Notebook

  2. When I am in old cemeteries, it always strikes me how many headstones refer in some way to the dead "being at rest."
    I think that in the olden days people had to work so hard and suffered from so many types of exhaustion that death offered, at the very least, a long rest.
    I wish you could get at least a little rest, Elizabeth. I don't have any idea how you do it.

  3. When I was growing up in Texas, we had lots of euphemisms for crazy. We had a Cousin Betty Lou who was "nervous". This was the excuse for many, many things. "Well you know, Betty Lou is...nervous." And sometimes people "took to bed". As in "Betty Lou was so nervous, she took to bed." Wouldn't that be nice? To be able to just "take to bed"?

  4. Being responsible for the world would exhaust anyone. I wish you could get a day, a night, a weekend off.

    Or at least time for a margarita vacation. Just a few hours of being your younger self, dancing and laughing. Probably as good as yoga (although the yoga hangover is way better).

  5. You deserve a rest, and I wish I could send it to you. Respite care? Dang, where's that fairy godmother when you need her?

    I remember the term, Having the Vapours. And women of a certain class (my Nana was one of them) were always resting. "Resting from what?" we often wondered, since she had a cook-housekeeper, driver-gardener and nanny. Every morning, Nana had breakfast in bed. Every afternoon, when my mom arrived home from school, Nana was resting. We would think, Wow, those 6 hours of ??? must have been a real strain.
    It's sort of comical, but it wouldn't be, if it was your own mother. I wish I could send you a big dose of that "rest." A spa weekend, even. I'm sending lots of love and positive vibes.

  6. The next big book I'd like to read is "The Magic Mountain" where a guy goes to visit his cousin at a sanitarium and ends up staying 7 years.

    What happened to the 19th century vacation, where you'd go somewhere for a month? We all need to re-insitute that one...

  7. i want to give you a rest, a break from it all. i love your description of those movie scenes--yes, the white attire, the vistas, the workers gliding by with small cups of water and little magic pills. i know it was fantasy. how about our own version with marguaritas for our mouths and majestic bluffs for our eyes, many workers scurrying about giving foot massages and accupressure.

  8. I've often thought about the term "nervous breakdown" and wondered what we call it now. Vital exhaustion. Yes. That's it.

  9. Vital Exhaustion? How about Total Exhaustion? Total Eclipse of the Mind? You need a break and if I could I would come down, help you pack your bags, move in with the children, cook and tell them tall tales of other lands and keep them busy and fed while you sit somewhere, reading, sleeping and drinking whatever you want. Alone.
    Without phones, and meds, and seizures and bureaucracy nipping at your ankles and at your brains.

    You cannot imagine how I wish I could do this...

  10. I haven't read the article yet, but it's horrendously easy for me to relate to the juxtaposition of those two words!

  11. you know,
    I don't generally swear,
    but I did.

    I wish you had family that could give you some time away. You are long overdue. Sorry if that is too forward. It would probably take a week just to make it feel real.

    And I'm all for getting putting away for a bit, although I'd pass on wearing such ready for the world clothes... I'm thinking flannel pj's and a hoodie.

  12. Vital exhaustion sounds exactly right.

  13. Shades of Janet Frame and the Yellow wall paper. All this horrible imposition on women. No wonder they became/become bitter.

    It can be too much this domestic load, this load of love, these constant demands.

    With no other thought than that we must struggle on.

  14. Before I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome 10 years ago I thought the rest cure sounded mighty appealing. Then I was forced to do it for months on end and it became significantly less appealing. Plus I was viewed as a total headcase by my doctor and most of my friends and family (with the exception of my then-boyfriend now husband). I felt like a 19th century woman with a case of the "vapors."

    Now that I'm recovered though -- or as recovered as I'll ever be -- and I have these rambunctious boys and this job and this house and this blog and these crazy writing ambitions, the rest cure is beginning to sound like a vacation again.

    I guess the bottom line is probably that I'm never happy with my current state.

  15. Obviously I'm catching up this morning. Sorry for all the comments.

    I am too afraid to read that article. I may collapse by the end of it.

    Interestingly, we just stopped the BCP for Maggie too. That was designed to address a perceived overall bleeding problem. Thhe docs must think it's a cureall for teenaged girls.

    I don't think it made her worse at all, but it did nothing. On the upside, though, she's not pregnant.



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