Mental Health and Motherhood
Unbeknownst to me, this time last year I was running headfirst into a nervous breakdown.
I’ve always considered myself, for the most part, mentally healthy. Normal. OK.
Even though almost everyone and everything irritated me and my patience levels were at an all-time low, I was 'OK'. In fact, my ‘I’m fine’ narrative was so well established that I did not notice the warning signs like I was unusually judgmental and critical. Simple tasks were met with intense frustration. I set myself unrealistic expectations and worst of all; I was regularly losing my temper with my kids - in an ashamedly aggressive way.
These sweet little souls - whom I had yearned for for years, which I love more than life itself - were suddenly like leeches sucking my life force dry. Every whine, every request, every fight made me want to "throw someone out of a window". Last year, amid this impending breakdown, I wrote a brutally honest piece about my volatile state of mind and behaviour, and how I was trying to cope. “It’s normal”, they said. “You’re under a lot of pressure,” they said. They were right - I was, but looking back, I can see they were wrong too.
The truth is, I had let my life get to unmanageable proportions. Four kids in five years and I had willingly and lovingly disappeared into my role as wife, mother and supportive community member. I was at the very bottom of my never-ending to-do list. My mental load was so heavy; I hadn’t even thought to create a bit of space for myself. Late nights of Netflix and ice cream temporarily hit the spot but ultimately left me feeling gross and exhausted. I became my own worst enemy. It’s fine, I said. I’ll be fine. And yet, words like ‘crazy’, ‘useless’ and ‘lazy’ kept blaring in my mind. The battle was real, it was exhausting, and it wouldn’t stop.
Until one hectic day, after the intensity of the summer holidays with everyone home, followed by the month-long Jewish holiday season and then a family trip overseas, I collapsed in a heap of a panic attack during my nephew’s bar mitzvah. Thank Goodness.
Do you know when one plants a seed, its protective encasing must first disintegrate to allow germination and growth. Likewise, my engagement with the external world needed to breakdown entirely to reveal the potential for growth from within.
Anxiety is a normal human emotion. We all experience it. Regularly. Looking back, I can see that I created ways to deal with stress and anxiety, without necessarily knowing that that was what I was experiencing. I was a hardcore nail-biter, picker, often fidgeting with something. I felt the need to be strong for those around me while simultaneously seeking reassurance. I was a champion at ignoring stressful situations, and as soon as I was ‘old’ enough, drink and drugs took the edge off, all in the guise of having fun.
But that fateful night, it wasn’t just anxiety that brought me to my knees. That was a symptom. The cause was multi-layered. Let’s start with the self-sacrificing. Not speaking up for myself when deep down, I knew I should. Not speaking my truth or setting healthy boundaries and putting everyone else first. I succumbed to the guilt that permeated every aspect of my motherhood — crumbling under the immense expectations that I placed upon myself ( expectations that were based on nothing but a misinformed perspective of perfection). I found it hard to permit myself to say no, to say yes. To create some space just for me, a space to be me- to be creative. I had almost forgotten how. Without even realizing it, I almost didn’t know who I was anymore.
This past year has been a long, slow and compassionate one — my main focus; me. I have made space in my mind and my heart for healing. Healing I never knew I needed. I sought out professionals of different backgrounds to help me reveal more of myself to me. I saw my vulnerabilities and gave them space to be. I felt my pain, gave voice to my shame. I forgave myself, accepted myself and gave myself time. I drew myself boundaries and demanded authenticity from myself and others. I surrounded myself with women, who made me feel good about myself. I threw more money than I had at cleaning help, babysitters and massages. I went for walks in nature and stood barefoot on grass. I danced — a lot. I cried even more. What resulted was a journey I never knew I needed to travel. One of deep self-exploration and growth. It’s been intense and scary but worth every penny and every tear.
The average woman today bears a load too heavy to carry alone. We set ourselves unrealistic expectations and lifestyles that no ordinary human can ever live up to. Our perception is that everyone else has got it all together, but underneath the clean clothes, perfect job and waterproof mascara, who knows what is going on?
We need to know what is going on! We need to allow ourselves to be fallible humans. Humans who take the time to clarify and understand their hearts and desires, needs and boundaries. Once we know this, we can effectively help ourselves and those around us to navigate life in the healthiest and most meaningful and purposeful way.
To share our stories, our struggles, celebrate our successes and even re-evaluate what success means. Are your kids alive? Success! Do you wake up breathing? Success! Can you smile at a stranger? Success! Let’s lower our standards, give ourselves a pat on the back, put the kettle on and take some of the pressure off.
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