Anyone else feel me on this meme?
There’s a lot of buzz about motherhood and self care these days, and I would bet money this is how most of us feel most of the time.
“You can’t pour from an empty cup.”
“Put the oxygen mask on yourself first.”
In theory these are true and wise, and we should all do them by instinct. But motherhood and life and adulting, well, they’re hard. The brain does weird things when you fall into survival mode and start to feel overwhelmed. At least for me, self care is always the first thing to go. Losing self care is quickly followed by my self-confidence and the ability to hear my own voice. Lately I’ve been thinking about these things a lot, probably because of Mother’s Day and all the posts about taking the day off or treating yourself, and the many blogs about motherhood. I think most women are familiar with this spiral, but we don’t talk about it. We make comments that motherhood is hard, we laugh about it and share a glass of wine. But often we don’t acknowledge the real and raw idea of what it looks and feels like when it happens.
So, let me give you a hypothetical example of what this downward spiral might look like:
“It’s the end of the school year and there is something extra to remember for both your kids, every single day on top of the usual craziness. Colorful sock day, tie dye day, teacher appreciation week, bring a flower day, send an extra snack day, donate a book day, celebrations of learning, school musicals, end of the year projects, and all the while your child has completely checked out and is in full on summer mode (and to be honest, so are you). When you forget one of these things, your child tells you that he was the “only one” in the class that didn’t participate, and that goes straight to your heart. It stings. You tell yourself it’s not a big deal but that little kernel of mom guilt sneaks in and does a number on you. You’ve also had a tough week budget-wise and there are other big emotion items on your mind. Everyone knows a woman’s brain never stops, so you’ve been mentally chewing on these things well into the night. You’re tired. So you snap at your 8-year-old for whining about “being out of everything” when you’re just trying to get through the week. The mom guilt increases.
In addition, it’s allergy season and you feel an ear infection coming on. Instead of going to the Ear Nose and Throat doctor like you know should, you go to the General Practitioner and just see the nurse because you’re in a hurry. The kids have practice and you need to get ready to go out of town for your blossoming jewelry business, quite frankly, you don’t have time to drive into town. You ignore the obvious signs this is not going to go well. Over the weekend you end up having your friend drive you to urgent care with a ruptured ear drum. Now your body is tired, and fighting an infection, and you’re in pain, and you feel very sorry for yourself. You start to question yourself in situations where you’re normally very confident. You become needy and looking for outside reassurance, when in actuality you’re competent and secure in who you are. One night you finally lose your shit and announce you need to take a walk. You’re literally stomping around the block, and your brain is fuming and furious at everyone and everything and telling you your entire life is just a house of cards. Without warning you’re crying and talking to yourself like a crazy person because you realized, as you stomped along, you WEREN’T EVEN BREATHING. You take in a great lungful of air and realize your self care meter has fallen so low, you’ve forgotten to breathe.”
I mean, this is all hypothetical, of course. I’m just saying. If you’re not careful, it could happen.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why does it have to get to the point where we can’t breathe before we realize we aren’t checking in with ourselves? I’m the first to tell my friends they need to take some time and take care of themselves. But I rarely remember that for myself until I’ve spiraled all the way down. I don’t know why we do, and I don’t know how to stop it from happening. But I’ll tell you what I decided to do different immediately. Rachel’s six steps back to sanity I call it.
1. From the wise advice of a friend, I came home and sat down to my computer and did the thing that gives me life and centers me more than anything. I wrote. I wrote and wrote and wrote and pretty soon had typed up thousands of words over pages and pages of single space type. A lot of it was ugly - emotions I didn’t know I was holding in that I most likely will never show the world. But I can’t keep them inside of me or they will eat me alive. I hadn’t written just for myself in so long. I’m trying to make it a regular practice now. Whatever the thing is that centers you, do that first. Get all the ugly out, all the emotions, all the pain, all the worry. Find what lets you release those feelings and thoughts so they don’t stay inside you rotting.
2. The night of the walk I texted a friend and simply said, “I’m not ok”. We talked, and she told me to write because a good friend knows what your thing is. The next day I went to my counselor and cried for an hour. With both of their help I was able to name my emotions and look at them one by one, and figure out a plan to deal with them. I had to remember I’m not alone, and even if I sound like a broken record, the people that love me will still listen. That’s what we do for our people. And if you need some professional help, please get it. Most counselors will work with you on a sliding scale. I know because every single time I’ve gone to counseling they’ve worked with me. There is no shame in asking for help. Counselors can give you tools to help you. Sometimes we need both friends and professionals, and that is 100% ok. Don’t try to do things alone when you know damn good and well you can’t. Lean on your support system, let people love and help you. Relationships are something I pride myself in maintaining and nurturing, but I often forget to let people do that for me, too. I also want to say that I think everyone, like, everyone, should go to counseling at least once in their lives. We all have baggage we carry, and a good counselor can change your life.
3. I went to work out and stopped eating crap. I know I don’t do well on gluten and dairy, and that I shouldn’t have wine every night. But when the stress creeps in, I want comfort food. For me, that’s carbs and wine. My body loves to remind me every time that this is a really stupid idea and I will kick myself later. But in the moment, when you’re not listening to your voice and can’t hear it anyway, that waffle looks pretty comforting. Physical movement, sweat, being with other people, all those things make you feel better, look better, and be more confident. No, I didn’t want to. I still have a damn ear infection and I couldn’t do any of the up and down moves or hear very well, but it was a balm to my tired body and hurting soul. I only get one life and I’m not getting any younger. So, I went to my boot camp and though it was really hard, I felt more like me than I had in a week. Self care is not only mental. It’s also physical. When we eat what we should and exercise and CARE for the body we’re given, it makes stress easier to manage. Take the time to physically take care of yourself.
4. I meditated. I like to do simple, short guided meditations. I also like to walk and just think. On a normal day, one where I’m breathing, a walk is centering. Being outside with the sun on my skin and music in my ears is one of the more cathartic things in life for me. Basically, I was QUIET IN MY BRAIN. It’s not easy for women to do. And lo and behold, I could hear myself again. I remembered my voice, and my wants, and my opinions. I remembered I like myself and most of the time believe in myself. I am capable of what life throws at me. I am strong, I am a grown-up, damnit, and I can do this mothering and life and adulting thing. I can do it well, and I can consciously create it to look the way I want it to look. Spend time in the quiet. In your own head, with your own thoughts, listening to your own voice. You’ll be surprised what you will hear.
5. Finally, I gave myself a good mental slap across the face. I do not believe in being a victim. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in crying, or that I won’t ever get overwhelmed again. I will. But at the end of it, sometimes a good self ass kicking is just the thing to breathe in deep and get moving again. I told myself I was being an idiot (but with love and patience and humor and a long-suffering sigh) because I know me. I’m not an idiot. I am confident, I am capable, and it serves no one for me to forget that. Sometimes, a good long look in the mirror and being sick of hearing yourself whine is just what you need. Get up, put some lipstick on, and go back out there.
6. Do something fun, just because you love it. This particular timing worked out well for me because months ago I bought tickets to see Todrick Hall’s Forbidden Tour with my niece as an 18th birthday present. I know I seem to overstate it, but that performance was life giving. It lit up my smile and was 100% a happy place. The music, the people in the crowd, the whole vibe of believing yourself and celebrating other peoples’ Shine just reminded me the world can be very beautiful. You just have to remember to stop and look. Don’t be afraid to just celebrate life and have a good time. Find artists, musicians, writers, adventurers, anyone that creates and just enjoy the beauty of their creation. Oh, and there’s another blog post coming about Todrick soon.
I’m writing all this down because when I forget to breathe again, and I will, I can refer to this and hopefully remember these 6 things, and shorten the cycle back to myself. Maybe someone else needs a reminder too. Also, since it’s Mother’s Day and we hear a lot about taking the day off and “self care”, it’s been in the forefront of my Facebook feed and my mind. Self care is not a bubble bath, although sometimes those are super helpful. Self care, to quote something I read, is creating a life you don’t regularly need to escape from. It’s taking time for you, and the things you love, from the beginning. It’s making yourself strong mentally and physically, so you can put your best foot forward. It’s remembering that you are worthy of the same love, care and attention you give to the rest of your people. When I do that, I can be a better mom and my kids see me prioritizing my health and happiness too. Someday, when they are adults, I hope they will remember that and do the same for themselves. Making yourself a priority does not mean putting yourself ahead of those you love in your life, it’s simply making sure you’re breathing too. It’s putting on your oxygen mask first, so you also put theirs on. If I’m the best version of me, then I’m the best mom and friend and woman I can be. And that’s something I want to be, Every time and All the Time.