When Leyna, my 2nd, was a baby, I remember laying on a quilt on the floor with her as her toddler brother whizzed around us, Nick Jr. playing in the background, and thinking, “You don’t ever have to actually leave the house. You can just stay here with them all the time. They are fine. You can do activities here. If you never leave the house, they’ll never get hurt.”
That inner dialogue was not sarcastic. It was the completely serious voice of my anxiety, and in that moment, it sounded like a great plan.
Of course, it was a horrible plan, not at all sustainable, not fair to my kids, not fair to me and my mental wellbeing. And after getting on meds for postpartum anxiety, I could see it for the self-preservation tactic it was. I eventually found myself out and about with my kids for all kinds of adventures, as I gradually added one, and then two more to the mix.
4 kids on my own has never been easy, certainly not when it was a mix of newborn and toddler and kids who sometimes still needed help with seatbelts and car seats. But there was a time when it was hard because of logistics and not because I had to fight my body and my mind to move. It wasn’t hard because I could hardly get out of bed. It was hard because I had to bring a huge diaper bag and the baby seat hurt my back as I schlepped it around.
I remember waking “early” when we were on the road in the RV, with every intention of being a normal, productive adult, and then sitting on the couch, my stomach like a magnet, pulling me as far down to the earth as I could go, stuck. Clenching every muscle as I curled up into a ball, trying to drink more coffee, thinking I just needed to wake up. This was usually after 8-9 hours of (somewhat interrupted by co-sleeping) sleep.
WHAT. IS. WRONG. WITH. ME. I would repeat over and over in my head. I could not shake this odd kind of exhaustion that wasn’t a feeling of sleepiness, but a feeling of danger and fear, a feeling that only crawling back into the covers could keep me safe from.
I struggled A LOT on the RV trip. And considering that whole wild leap was my idea, and considering I had convinced Scott to leave his steady, well-paying job because I thought I could keep us afloat financially, the shame I bathed myself in every day was a heavy, toxic, self-loathing stew, that’s still stuck to me in places, despite working HARD for over a year to get it off. I only recently deleted the 7:30 am alarm I titled “Dreams Don’t Work Unless You Do.”
Fuck that hustle culture bullshit.
I’ve learned a lot over the last year about how your body physically responds to stress, trauma, anxiety and depression. I can see now that because I was insistent on not listening to my brain, my body was sending the signals for it. I was burnt out, I was overwhelmed, I was scared, I was sad, I was mad, I was a lot of FEELINGS that I was refusing to FEEL for a very long time. And it turns out that when you put yourself in a super intense situation with a lot of pressure on you to perform, your body is going to SHOUT at you until you break. It’s going to REFUSE to get on board with your “hustle harder” insanity.
So I’ve been trying to put myself back together ever since then. It’s terribly hard. I feel very broken most days. And, without a doubt, the biggest challenge is keeping myself out of that shame stew. Everything you hate about yourself is just you trying to survive– I try to remind myself this often.
It works most of the time, until I’m with the kids. Because now, adventures with all 4 of them aren’t hard because of all the hand-holding and potty breaks. They are hard because when they are all together, and I’m all alone to keep them safe, my anxiety tells me to stay home, and my body tells me not to move. The magnet in my stomach shows up, my muscles tense.
These adventures are also hard because I see the effects of years of parenting while anxious play out in my kids. They are quick to yell at me and each other when they get frustrated, scared, sad or upset. They mirror back to me all my worst moments trying to get through overwhelming situations with them over the years.
It would be very easy for me to say, no, I can’t do things with them all alone. It would be easy to rationalize that to my body & brain, but I know part of the work I have to do to put myself back together is to re-teach myself how to be uncomfortable parenting them, and still keep going.
The answer is not to put on a happy face and pretend to be a loving mommy who makes our experiences magical. Instead, it’s to know that they are going to behave in ways that test me, make me mad, make me sad, and to show up anyway. I get to show up with them and let them see what it looks like to be frustrated with someone and not yell at them (it’s still really hard, don’t get me wrong). I get to let them see someone work through their emotions & anxiety. I show up, and I feel, and it’s not always comfortable or fun, but we still get to do the thing.
- Hard Things Make A Great Foundation| A Lodgewell Staycation - September 13, 2021
- Show Up Uncomfortably – It Matters - August 23, 2021
- Let’s Talk Painful Periods And How That Shouldn’t Be A Thing You Live With - July 9, 2021