Speak up before exhaustion breaks you

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Deb Russo is a FIFO wife of the offshore kind. Her husband works on oil rigs and vessels. Typically, he does a four-week-on and four-week-off roster. They've lived their entire 14-year relationship like this. Initially Deb's husband was in the Navy, then he shifted to work in the mines and did the 28/7 roster (Deb's least favourite!) With this offshore roster, though, she wouldn’t change a thing.

"I broke my body and then my brain," my friend said, laughing nervously as she said the last part.

"Yup, been there," I said. "It's rather scary, isn’t it?"

My bout occurred way back in September 2011 and at the time I wasn’t sure if it was depression or exhaustion.

"I'm pretty sure it was exhaustion," I told my friend, "but regardless, if you don’t fix it, one will lead to the other."

"I was physically sick at first," she said, "and then I just couldn’t move. I couldn’t get out of bed."

I nodded in sympathy. She is a full-time mum with a FIFO husband, running her own business and on more charity boards than you can poke a stick at. So it was only a matter of time really.

"It was like I wasn’t in my body," she said, hoping I would understand.

I nodded again. "I felt completely removed from myself," I said, "and I cried a lot. Not because I was sad but because I was frustrated and angry that it had happened. 

"So, have you been to see a doctor?" I asked.

Luckily, she said yes. And the doctor had told her to take two weeks' break from everything – including asking relatives to help with the kids. 

True exhaustion is completely different from feeling tired because you've had a binge night of Netflix.

Exhaustion is mental and physical tiredness all rolled into one, and if something doesn't give, it can create a much bigger problem – often depression.

Around 1.5 million Australians see their GP about exhaustion or severe fatigue every year and it’s fast becoming a catalyst for many other conditions.

Exhaustion develops for many reasons, but lack of sleep (or in some cases even too much sleep), poor diet, anxiety, drugs and alcohol and medical conditions such as anaemia can be contributing factors. So seeing your doctor is very important.

The 'fix' sometimes involves medical intervention, but often it's as simple as working out what the problems are and balancing them out correctly. Most times it's taking better care of ourselves – something most parents are notoriously bad at.

For me it was anaemia and lack of quality sleep combined with being unable to ask for help or cut myself some slack.

So my friend is on the mend now, and striving to find more balance and time out in her busy life. 

We finished our coffee and I said, "Call me next time."

"So long as you promise to do the same," she said. "If we did more of that, there would be less of this." 

More columns from Oil & Gas Mum Deb Russo:

Check out Deb's daily blog at www.thefifowife.com.au and if you've got any questions for her, please click here.

And here's another oil and gas couple's advice on making FIFO family life work when you're working offshore