Taking Care of My Mental Health Wasn't on My Motherhood To-Do List
I’ve always prided myself on being an exceptional multi-tasker. I love having tons of projects going on at the same time. Even when my life becomes stressful and hectic, there’s nothing better than the feeling of relief and accomplishment when I can check off my to-do list. I’ve always worked two or more jobs and had a side project going on. I just love being able to do it all.
My son and I had a really rough delivery. Everything after that just seemed to get harder and harder. As we struggled through not being able to breastfeed, I tried to cope with the immense guilt of feeding my precious newborn formula. His relentless cries brought us to the doctor and emergency room more times than I can count. Finally, a doctor recognized he was struggling with reflux, not colic (like we kept being told by multiple previous doctors).
We moved twice. I had surgery, my husband was taking nighttime classes and I started working from home. Our bills were piling up, cars were in desperate need of repairs and no one was sleeping. As a new family, we were seriously overwhelmed.
When my son was around 10 months old, we started to notice some developmental delays. Early Intervention services started as soon as he turned 1, and then, suddenly my schedule went from busy to super busy. Determined to make it all work, I adjusted my days constantly around his care, my husband’s study time and my part-time job. With help from my mother, I even had a few hours allotted every week just for chores.
While items on my to-do list were getting checked off every day, the most important item I was overlooking was growing larger and more complicated by the minute: my mental health. Lingering feelings of guilt from not breastfeeding to not spending enough quality time with my son were slowing brewing a destructive sense of self. I constantly thought about all the things I could have possibly done wrong that could have caused my son’s delays. I was holding onto anger at those who made judgments about me as a new mother. I was in constant fear of pushing my husband away because of my raging hormones and constant state of exhaustion.
Yet, I didn’t have time to deal with any of this. I needed to be strong for my family. I just needed to get sh*t done. I just needed to stay focused. Stay awake. I didn’t have time to cry about any of this. I didn’t have time to breathe.
My catch phrase soon became, “Please, not another thing. I just can’t handle one more thing.”
I don’t even remember what the last “thing” was that pushed me over. It doesn’t matter. I was already running at way over capacity, while trying to ignore my inner soul crying and screaming for help. Eventually, I lost it. I had rationalized the unthinkable. I had written letters. I had a plan in place that would save me from drowning and more importantly (I thought), save everyone else from getting dragged down with me.
I truly believed I was the root of all my problems and all of my family’s problems. I didn’t want my husband to have to deal with a crying, unstable and angry woman every night when he got home. I didn’t want my son to grow up with a mommy who was too tired and sad to get off the couch. I wanted to save them from me.
Yet, I am so fortunate that horrible world I had convinced myself existed, didn’t. My husband and my family saved me from completely disappearing. I spent many months in therapy and started taking antidepressants so I could finally deal with all of the raw emotions I had been ignoring for more than a year.
I finally had to admit I couldn’t do it all. I couldn’t keep going 100 miles an hour without any breaks. I couldn’t collect my tears and save them for a more convenient time to deal with. It took nearly a year to realize none of this makes me a failure. The only thing I failed at was not asking for help.
I wish someone would have told me how life truly changes after having a baby. It’s not about sleepless night and dirty diapers. Becoming a mom involves dealing with guilt, all the time, about so many things. It involves constant worry and reflecting and greater love and feelings of responsibility than I ever could have imagined. It involves tears because I was sad and scared, yet so happy and in love with my baby.
I thought about growing up and all the things my parents did right and wrong. Every day, I looked into those big blue eyes, and I promised I was going to do better. Becoming a new mom added so many emotions I wasn’t prepared for, coupled with endless to-do lists that made me question myself constantly. I just couldn’t do it all and didn’t know how to ask for help.
I wish someone would have told me I don’t have to do it all. So I’m telling you:
You do not have to do it all. Take time to cry. Take time to just be sad. Take time to be completely overwhelmed with love for your baby and your partner. Take time to tell your family how you feel and have them come over to do chores while you sit quietly with your baby to just breathe. If you see yourself getting pushed further and further down on your own to-do list, tell someone immediately. You don’t have to disappear.
Image via Thinkstock.
This post originally appeared on Sailing the Spectrum.