My mental health hasn’t been great for the past week. I couldn’t put my finger on what was going on, I just knew I was struggling. My whole body felt like I was squeezing, holding in the building tension of life, trying not to burst on innocent bystanders in my path. It took me days to finally clue in that it was my anxiety, a handful of little things combining to create a perfect storm. The endless cycle of sickness hitting my family, parenting pressure, and pain from past trauma.
In retrospect, I guess it wasn’t little things at all, but I thought I was coping well. I convinced myself I was OK.
I was doing just fine, maintaining . . . until I wasn’t.
Last Saturday, I was in it deep. I was depressed and my anxiety was reeling. I spent the day floundering around trying to pick myself up and do something, only to fall back into bed and wallow in my thoughts. It was like I was in a pit, and I was so frustrated with myself. I had plans! After a week of being sick and falling behind on housework, I planned on getting stuff done. I was tired of feeling overwhelmed in my home and I was excited for the rush of dopamine that comes with a productive day. I was anticipating the sweet relief of stress that comes when your laundry baskets finally aren’t overflowing and your counters are empty, but that didn’t come.
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Instead, I felt like I was sinking. I tried to relax, but nothing appealed to me. Try as I might I couldn’t calm the storm brewing inside of me.
As the day wore on I grew more and more tense, and I became angry with myself. I was mad that I didn’t do enough around the house and I started dinner too late. And despite the fact that I had spent the morning coloring with my kids and going for walks with my daughter, I felt guilty for hiding away in my room. For once again failing to be present. I was angry with myself for being so cranky, and that all the little things with my kids were setting me off.
Most of all, I was resentful that I just couldn’t get over it.
That I couldn’t just shed all of the anxiety and sadness and move on. That no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t climb out of that pit.
But now I realize that’s not fair.
In fact, it’s ridiculous.
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When I was sick with a cold last week, I didn’t resent myself. I wasn’t mad at myself for still having a sore throat. I wasn’t frustrated with myself that the pots and pans piled up on the counter because I was too dizzy to stand and wash them. I didn’t feel guilty for napping instead of playing with my kids. There was no question in my mind that all of that was OK because I was sick, yet I begrudge myself for having tough days with my mental illness. Instead of allowing myself to rest guilt-free, I weigh myself down with pressure.
It’s a sneaky form of stigma that subtly seeps in for so many of us that struggle with mental illness, this message of, “Get over it!” We would protest it with anyone else and recognize the obvious hypocrisy between expectations for mental and physical health, but when it comes to ourselves we struggle to extend the same grace.
We don’t give ourselves a break, because the lie seeps in.
The internal narrative becomes, we NEED to get over it. Why CAN’T we get over it? SNAP OUT OF IT ALREADY! We feed our illness with guilt and anger. We sink deeper as our shame weighs us down because nothing is worse for mental illness than a lack of grace. Guilt exacerbates our struggle, it makes everything worse, yet for so many of us, guilt is our default.
Our mentality needs to shift. As the saying goes, “It’s OK not to be OK,” and we need to start treating ourselves with compassion when we are struggling. Shame doesn’t do the dishes. Guilt won’t help you to be more present and calm with your kids. Most of all, resenting yourself won’t fix anything.
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So give yourself a break in every sense of the word. Allow yourself to rest, guilt-free. Extend the same compassion to yourself that you would your friends and family because sometimes your brain just needs a sick day, or even a sick week. Sometimes it’s all too heavy and you need time to mentally heal. And that’s OK, just the same as it is when you’ve got a bad flu bug or cold.
The truth is sometimes the best thing you can do as a mom is take a break until you can regulate.
So breathe, mama. Feel all of your feels, wallow and weep if you must. Hit pause and soak in the rest you so desperately need to heal. I promise, there is no shame in allowing yourself to get better.
And when the guilt creeps in, remember that allowing yourself to heal is a gift to your whole family. You are doing the work so that you can love them better, so go ahead and pause so you can finally heal.