A conversation with Leyla Ghavami

-In our previous issue, Leyla shared a bit of her experience and tips about burn-out. In this issue, we will learn more about her personal story.

As you read it in Issue 1, Leyla comes from Iran and lives in The Netherlands for 28 years. For many years, too many years, she suffered from a burn-out without even knowing that she had one. This lead us to think about the (health)system in The Netherlands but also how much your environment plays a role in your well-being. Having living in two different countries, Leyla shares her thoughts about the differences between life in Iran and in The Netherlands and why she thinks so much people have a burn-out in The Netherlands. Her view is refreshing, out of the box and deserves that you take the time to read it.


At the age of 19, Leyla started to feel tired and when she was 24 her body became really sick. That was the ultimate signal that something was going on and that it was bad.

“ I was working full-time at a bank and next to that I was really busy with a lot of things like music and art classes but the problem was not my busy agenda. I was sharing an apartment with a girl who had drinking issues and that was the main problem because I could never rest or be in a peaceful environment. At some point I started to feel exhausted and depressed but I didn’t know I had a burn-out because I’ve never heard about it. So I quit my job at the bank. Since I quit my job at the bank I haven’t been able to come back to a regular work because after one day of work, voluntary work I’m completely exhausted. This is not a life, this is surviving.


Anyway, at some point, I heard about burn-out via friends and it was clear to me that it was what I had. The therapy started ten years later, in between I did a lot of meditation and spiritual classes but it was not helpful because to heal you need to know the source of your problem and I did not know it. It is important that you, and your therapist, know and understand what is happening in your body and mind. In my case it is complicated because I have PTSS and burn-out. Hopefully now, after 28 years in this country I’m going to be treated over a month for my PTSS.

-What you are telling us says a lot about your therapist and about the system. Naming the issue is already a sort of recognition and a beginning to a heal process, don’t you think?

“Indeed, it feels like they just don’t care or care only about the money. I had to ask my therapist for a treatment and confront her with my symptoms, then she admitted that I have post traumatic stress syndrome. But if this is not treated then there is no need to try to heal from my burn-out because they go together. Now finally, I have the feeling that things are going to move forward.”


-It’s also my own experience that therapists, psychologist in my case, do not look at the entire picture. I developed interest for photography during my burn-out but my psychologist did not want to hear about it, she had one goal and it was me back at work and make money. The possibility to stop working as a teacher and start from scratch as a photographer was just not in the picture for her. Photography was acceptable but only as a hobby. But life is more than just making money and fit to a well structured system, right?

“Absolutely, there are those rules and they don’t allow you to be yourself. I call it, “fake freedom”. There are limited possibilities for people who do not have a 9 to 5 mentality. I do believe that creativity is the best thing for people with a burn-out. Three years ago I started photography and it helps me so much to feel better and to find a place in my daily life. And they call it a hobby? No, it’s not a hobby, it’s my vision, it’s my way of living. There are places here in Amsterdam where I could not walk because of my past traumas but now, with my camera I can go there.”


-As an Iranian, what do you think of the system here in The Netherlands?

“ Here it is slow, everything is so slow and it makes you passive. If you have a lot of energy and ambition, you have a problem in The Netherlands. People here think they are free because they can be naked or smoke joints but being free in your daily life and go higher in the society is an other story. There is a roof and everybody has to stay under it. This plays a role in burn-out, I think.

-How about Iran? Are the amount of people with burn-out also increasing?

“There are no burn-out in Iran. Of course, there are people who are tired but it’s different. Here in The Netherlands, there are really a lot of people either with a burn-out or depressed. I’ve been a teacher’s assistant and at some point all the teachers from that school had a burn-out.


-How do you explain it?

“When it comes to freedom, Iran is one of the worst country in the world. You don’t have the freedom to be yourself but you do have an other kind of freedom that you don’t have here. You can do things to get a better life, here you can’t. In The Netherlands, you have to pay for everything. I understand that this way you pay for people who do not have a job or a house and it is a good thing but, when you take risks out of life, you give a very boring life to people.You have a house, you have a job, everything is arranged but life is much more than that. You have to go through things through risks. Of course here, you can take some risks but you stay in a box; you have freedom in a box and that’s why, I guess, people get so tired.

-Maybe there is more solidarity between people in Iran’s society

“Absolutely. Here you are on your own. If you need help, people tell you to fix your problem yourself. When I was working at a primary school, teachers told children to fix their issues themselves. I always thought that those kids will probably have a burn-out later because they have to do everything on their own at such a young age. In Iran, the community is much more stronger, we help each other.


I think the quality of life does not depend on insurance, money or house. When I do street photography, I see very monotonic faces. You have to wait an entire day to see something happening. I was in Iran a few months ago and it was different. People in the streets were having more expressions on their face.

Thank you so much Leyla for sharing your experience and thoughts. Photographs that illustrate this article are all made by Lela, you can see more of her moving and beautiful work on her Instagram account.

2 Replies to “A conversation with Leyla Ghavami”

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