Hi friends. To be transparent I’m really struggling to find words to share with you today. I figured I would dig into the archives and pull something out to post but nothing feels quite right. So I was going to offer a book review or talk about my favorite throw pillows or something light but that felt like cheating and a lot like hiding if I’m being honest. The truth is I’m struggling.
My mental health took a hit in February when Molly started her next cycle of Maintenance therapy. She has to do a week of steroids at the start of each cycle and it is always extremely rough. She is in pain, her appetite is weird, none of us are sleeping, and there’s just a general stress cloud hanging over all of us. It is just enough to throw off all our routines and make us all pretty grumpy. Usually after steroids it takes me a few days to shake it and as we settle back into our norms we all come to. But this time I couldn’t shake it as easily. And now it is nearing the end of March…
There’s a laundry list of items that contributed to that feeling of increased stress and anxiety, and trust me I’ve spent an agonizing amount of time analyzing each thing, how I handled it, how I continue to carry it, what I could’ve done differently, etc. etc. etc. Perfectionism is a bitch when paired with high functioning anxiety, people pleasing, and unrealistic expectations.
After my therapy session last week I was recapping for Dan what I had talked about and what I was sifting through. I had spent the majority of the session digging into how stuck I felt and how I was realizing it was a lot of shame keeping me there. I’m used to feeling in a slump and then climbing out of it very quickly. But this one was different. It was a much deeper and darker hole. And because it was taking me longer to adjust and make progress to get out of it I was beating myself up. The amount of shame I was dumping on myself was causing a disconnect within myself. I lost sight of how to listen to myself, stay curious about myself, and care for myself. And I was suffering because of it.
I am so worried about being the best mom, caretaker, partner, friend, etc. and I am terrified of not loving my people well. So when I get in one of these holes and I know I’m not at my best I immediately go to shame which can end in overwhelm. I’m learning that my shame’s biggest goal is to motivate me, energize me, and keep me going so things don’t get missed or dropped, and to remind me of my priorities. But it’s also a bully. It has good intentions with extremely flawed methods. And these methods often result in forcing me to over perform because I could never risk under performing or failing. I would rather run myself into the ground or into this depression slump than risk failing to love my people well.
I have been so berated by my shame that I become numb to it. It keeps screaming and I just keep plugging along (unproductively). I have made a lot of assumptions about this shame in the process. I usually think of my shame as a hard core, badass, with an unflinching voice. When in reality if I were to create enough space to listen to it I would recognize there’s a gentleness and vulnerability there. Again, the intentions are good. But my shame is so afraid of losing its edge and therefore ability to motivate me that it has to keep up the facade. So the shame just continues to yell.
The problem (one of many) is that once I’m in the hole I’m not performing well. I’m not loving my people well because I’m exhausted and dark. But I’ve never learned another way and to make a change is to accept risk. Risk of it still not working. Risk of it being a jarring transition. Risk of losing steam. Risk of choosing the wrong starting point. I don’t think I have enough trust in myself yet to know I can make a change and still find motivation and still keep things moving in a way that I want and that feels good to everyone in my home. I don’t trust myself to offer care or find motivation outside of shame so I continue old habits and continue being mean to myself and continue feeling pretty awful.
But, you guys, that’s such bull shit. As I was recapping all of this for Dan he (very kindly) pointed out that it wasn’t just my shame keeping me stuck. It was/is my perfectionism too. I wanted a perfect plan with a guarantee. I wanted to choose the perfect starting point so things would perfectly snowball and result in perfectly stable and reassured mental health. Wouldn’t that be glorious and…perfect?! If only. So my very reasonable, very grounded, very lovely husband pushed and encouraged me to just pick something to try. I decided to choose recommitting to my early mornings and moving my body. (I know that’s technically two things but they go hand in hand.) I set three alarms for 5:00, 5:03, and 5:05. And I got my butt out of my bed. I walked on the treadmill for 45 minutes which meant I still had 45 minutes before my kids would be downstairs. So I ate a good breakfast, drank my coffee hot, and had my head on straight before they came scrambling down. And I felt great. I was so proud of myself. And that carried on throughout my day. I even texted one of my best friends just to tell her how proud I was and how it was working and how much better I felt even just after one morning of trying something. Then Friday morning I got up to do it all over again, once again feeling so proud I was awake and out of bed and taking care of myself, then I injured myself…
…and I have been on the couch basically ever since. It wasn’t a perfect plan. Because they never are. It didn’t end well because sometimes that’s how it goes. Life is messy and complicated and unpredictable. But you know what? Having that one great day was enough for me to remember. To remember there is more available to me. To find just a little bit more hope and reassurance that this is temporary. To reconnect just enough with my own curiosity that I know even if movement isn’t available to me anytime soon that I am capable of listening to myself and making choices that make me proud and prioritize myself. (Don’t get me wrong. I am pissed about the injury. It feels twisted and “unfair” that I was just trying to take care of my stupid mental health and I ended up hurt and unable to sit upright or walk. But when I’m not throwing a tantrum about it I actually feel like I just explained. I really am convinced that it’s ok, that I’m ok, and that there’s more available to me.)
It is so cliche to say “you can’t pour from an empty cup” or “you have to put your oxygen mask on before anyone else’s” or every other self care quote that’s often tossed at women/mom’s who are struggling. And yes, they’re true. But for me, when I’m deep in shame, they were also reinforcing and reminding me that I didn’t know how to do that. I was so disconnected from myself that I didn’t know what that looked like or meant. My perfectionism had me convinced I didn’t know what I even needed. Instead, what I needed to hear was “Take a deep breath. Just do one thing, one single thing, that you can feel proud of. Just do one thing, one single thing, that connects you with your body. Just do one thing, one single thing, that brings you joy. And then let yourself celebrate it.” And even if that one thing crashes and burns and you end up with a likely torn labrum, at least you know you’re capable of doing it again the next day in a different way. You just have to start somewhere.
Thanks for reading.
With so much love and gratitude,
*Originally published March 2022 and republished August 2023