We need to talk.
Not about how my daughter is doing, but about how we are doing. You. Me. And all the parents out there who are trying their best when best never seems to feel quite good enough, no matter what we tell ourselves.
Because this raising a child thing? And the being supportive thing? And the trying to keep it together for everyone around us thing?
It’s hard work. Damned hard work.
And sometimes...sometimes, we just get tired.
Tired of being strong. Tired of being the ones who look after everyone around us. Tired of being the referees, and the advocates, and the cheerleaders, and the negotiators, and the supporters, and all the other roles we take on because someone has to.
A few weeks ago, I got tired like that in a major way. The kind of way that meant I didn’t just hit a wall, I’m pretty sure the wall collapsed on me. I’ve had slumps before, and at first, that’s what I thought this was, too. I thought I could take a couple of days off, read a good book, go for a few long walks, and all would be well again. But after seven days in, that hadn’t happened.
I may have panicked a little at that point. We have our share of mental health issues on my side of the family, so I know what depression and anxiety and burnout look like. But in all my 56 years, I've never had to face them personally...and I think a part of me believed I was immune, because in my life, I've always been the strong one, People have come to me to talk, relied on me to help them sift through their issues or lend a shoulder, and just generally expected me to be there for them...heck, I expected that of me because that’s how it’s always been, as far back as I can remember.
I never expected to need them in return, and I certainly never learned how to let them know I needed them...which resulted in a conundrum for me. A dark, scary, can’t-breathe-right, can’t-seem-to-stop-crying, I-think-I’m-falling-apart-but-I-don’t-know-how-to-tell-anyone conundrum.
Fortunately, a few people around me noticed. In retrospect, it would have been pretty hard not to notice, because I more or less came to a screeching halt. I stopped cooking (and cried about it), stopped cleaning house (and cried about that, too), and stopped being able to do favours for others (and really cried about that). In fact, I cried about pretty much anything and everything—and nothing—for several days. In response, my husband shouldered the extra burden without complaint; my youngest daughter nagged me into taking the herbal mood balancing supplement that she takes (it has helped immensely); and my other daughters provided emotional and moral support—and reminded me of what I’ve always told them...
it’s okay not to be okay.
Slowly, with my family’s encouragement (once I was able to get dressed and leave the house), I reached out to friends who met me for coffee (and handed me napkins when I cried for them, too) and/or understood when I just couldn't face being social. And slowly, the feeling of overwhelm began to lift. But it took four weeks to do so. Four very long weeks that offered me ample time for reflection and introspection. Four weeks in which to recognize that this was the closest I had ever come (and ever want to come) to total burnout, and that perhaps—just perhaps—I’m not Wonder Woman after all. I know...shocker, right? ;)
In amongst all that introspecting, it occurred to me that I’m probably not alone in my misperceptions. Too many of us, I suspect, believe we must always be stronger, tougher, more than those around us. We think (wrongly) that no one else can do what we do, and we’re afraid that if we falter in any way (including so much as talking about it), the world might come apart around us.
This, despite the fact we’ve likely never expected any of that from anyone else. I know I haven’t. In fact, I’ve always told the people in my life the exact opposite...that they need to look after themselves, too; that the world won’t end if they take a day off; that it’s important to ask for help when they need it; that they need to talk about it; and that it’s okay not to be okay. Fortunately for me, the people in my life were paying attention and able to reflect my words back to me when I most needed to hear them myself...and for that, I am supremely grateful. I'm also much, much better. And I've stopped crying. ;)
So do I really think of myself as Wonder Woman? No. I don’t think any of us really believes we’re superheroes, despite what we might tell our children. ;) But I do think that sometimes we’re so focused on the needs of others that we forget to pay attention to our own needs, our own frailties...and our own humanness. In the past four weeks, I’ve learned that simply acknowledging those aspects of ourselves is enough to lift some of the weight of a collapsed wall from our shoulders...and that many of the hands we’ve helped in our lives are eager to ease our burden if we’ll let them.
So please, from one mighty parent to another, remember that it is okay not to be okay...and to do what you need to do to get through this crazy-ass thing we call life. I promise the world won’t come to an end if you skip the housework, or give your kids cereal for dinner, or admit to your friends and family that you need help...or all of the above.
In fact, doing those things might just be the start of a whole new world for you. A better, lighter world—one in which a wall doesn't collapse on you.
Because in the end, we are all human: moms, dads, sisters, children, friends...even we superheroes.
So yes, let’s talk, shall we? I started...now it's your turn. <3
P.S. While I've been able to come through this with the support of my family and friends, you may not have have that same support network in your life...or things may have gone too far and you just can't find your way back on your own. If that's the case, please, please talk to a professional. It will help. I promise.