So we've been a bit quiet for a while... because life, really. In the last quarter of last year I was doing a wellness course called My Good Life, and that took all my mental and physical energy to commit to. Plus, motherhood, seeing a few clients in my salon, helping at at Sam's school... and what was the other thing? Oh yeah. Being constantly fatigued.
We had a good summer. I should clarify that and say Sam had a great summer - he had an amazing adventure of camping, learning to ride his bike, swimming at the school pool, play dates, birthday parties, meeting some alpacas, lots of reading, bike riding, scooting and an awesome 6th birthday outing to Jump trampoline park. It was a long 7 weeks but it was only really in the last week that he started to get ratty with what I assume to be the lack of routine & need for more kid contact and I started to wish for school to start up again. We had a good time the two of us, he's now at an age where he's often self-sufficient so I was able to have time in my day for my mental wellness routine, to have easy starts to the day. The best part of the holiday for me other than spending more time with my number one boy was not having to battle to get him to school in the morning - anyone who has had challenges with a kid not wanting to go to school will know what I mean!
The other thing I enjoyed was the clear identity I had - I was his full-time mother & carer. I had a purpose, a defined role. Not once did I feel guilty or useless. I was exhausted sure, and I had to pace myself, but Sam was ok with slow starts, with long stretches playing Lego or board games, with only managing one activity every day, some days none. Plus, having a pool key meant I could take him there and sit on the sidelines while he tired himself out. It was the best summer weather-wise and mental-health-wise I've had in a long time.
Mentally, I had just finished this 9 week course where we'd done a lot of "mind-shift" stuff - re-learning ingrained behaviours, changing my internal voice from negative to positive, embracing the power of gratitude. It was powerful stuff and I think it helped me go into the festive season relatively emotionally stable. In the course we learnt that childhood rejection of some sort has shaped us to have certain beliefs about ourselves that frames how we see ourselves and how we relate to stress & trauma. That to move forward to be the healthier version of ourselves we had to dig deep into our sub-conscious to re-learn behaviour, correct those negative "truths".
For me, one of the first and most significant changes was my internal voice - my biggest critic. Now, I knew from my psychologist sessions that I "should" be talking to myself with kindness, the way I would talk to a best friend. But was I doing it? Well, clearly not. It was always easier to talk to myself in a negative critical way because I'd been doing it for so long. So I created a personality for my negative voice - I called her Joy, ironically. I would have conversations out loud with Joy - "Come on Joy, that's a bit harsh", "Joy, that's actually not true - you did your best", "Joy, it doesn't matter if that person thinks you're weird - that's their issue, why do you care?". Slowly I started to change my internal voice, and now, 3 months into 2019 it's not often that I have to tell Joy off. Amazingly I have employed this same strategy with Sam to try and give him a way to deal with moments he feels anxious, particularly about school to great success. His internal voice is called JT (?? Who knows where that name came from, but isn't it interesting that it's the reverse of T.J?) & he has conversations out loud to JT. Sometimes I remind him - "Remember, JT is just trying to protect you, that's his job, so you say "Thank you JT, but I'm safe right now"."
On this course we had weekly homework on our mind-shift stuff, and sometimes is was incredibly confronting. Sometimes enjoyable - like the gratitude ritual, which quite frankly, just makes sense. Apparently, if you're in a negative pattern of thinking, gratitude is one of the most powerful emotions to help you re-programme those negative neural pathways. Again, I had tried gratitude in the past. I had tried a daily gratitude journal but it hadn't stuck. Maybe it wasn't the right format for me, or maybe I just wasn't ready to embrace it until late last year. But once I added the gratitude ritual to my day, and once I was guided what I need to put into it to help change my beliefs - I started to feel lighter. The gratitude ritual is really simple, you do it every day for about 5 minutes. You think of something you're grateful for - say, your amazing husband. You visualize that person (or object) - what does it look like, what would it feel like to reach out & touch it, what does it smell like, taste like - whatever of the 6 senses are appropriate obviously. Then you imagine your gratitude getting bigger until it's bursting & then you let it go, thanking it. You do it with 3 things. Simple.
For me though, I was grateful for Nick, grateful for Sam, sometimes for Richie the dog, sometimes for the weather, sometimes for our house. But it wasn't until Morella, one of the coaches, made me see that my guilt & grief over having one child wouldn't change until I was grateful for only having one child - for the amazing life the 3 of us currently have and could have in the future. Being grateful for us a a trio has changed things dramatically for me. It took some tears, breaking down in front of the whole group, confronting some uneasy truths about why I've been holding onto my negative story, but I am starting to feel grateful and lucky for having an only child rather than lacking.
The other area I'm working on is being grateful for my body. That's a really challenging one as I felt it had let me down in the past. I didn't recognise it, couldn't connect with it. I still struggle daily with this as my health isn't where I want it to be. But I'm trying to be kind & accepting of my journey and my challenges rather than disconnecting from my body. It's bloody hard though!
So that brings me back to my current headspace and why I decided today was a good day to write a blog post. I realised that in the 5 or so weeks since Sam has gone back to school my mental energy has dipped down again. I now have uninterrupted time in my day to meditate, do my gratitude ritual and some yoga without having to remind a small human that slamming into the room isn't relaxing. But my internal value has dipped - my identity and self worth seem to be tied to how much I can achieve in one day. And right now my energy is still so low that the smallest things are exhausting. We're working on it physically, the Doctor & Naturopath have me on a regime to try and heal my Chronic Fatigue, but it's a slow process. In the meantime, having extra time in my day feels like a curse - if I fill it with activities and chores, I have nothing left for Sam & Nick. If I rest, I feel incredibly lazy and unproductive. I remind myself daily to treat myself with kindness and just accept the current situation. That working on my mental health is actually incredibly exhausting but so so important. But the best part of my day is 3pm when my role becomes clearly defined - mother, caregiver. And the best part is that Sam doesn't mind if I don't have a lot of energy as long as he's fed, paid attention to and cuddled (see, I'm so grateful for that one mostly well-behaved child, imagine me trying to cope with my current state with two kids?!).
So until 3pm my self-worth fluctuates and it's incredibly challenging. I think there is an ingrained view that women need to be copers - to be superwomen. Especially now when it's expected that mothers will work (and actually most need to to live in this expensive city). And while I do work, it's sporadic and I can't over-commit myself or risk letting people down or doing an average treatment when my energy runs out. But I'm also not a super house-wife either, with the house-husband doing the lion's share of the washing & vacuuming & 90% of the dishes. So what value do I add then? It's ridiculous in this society, where mental health problems and suicide are such an issue that I can't allow myself to have a simpler pace of life and embrace all the good things I'm doing because I don't fit into a category that can be explained. When people ask me what I do, it seems like a lie to say Beauty Therapist because it's so part-time, does it even count? And if your child is at school 6 hours a day, 5 days a week can you be a full-time mother? Is full-time Recovering-From-Trauma-and-Working-on-my-Wellness-to-be-the-Best-Mother-and-Wife-I-can-be a thing? Is Trying-to-get-my-Energy-up-so-I-can-Find-Some-Enjoyment-in-Life a role? And because the medical world - the public health system, the medical insurance companies - don't recognise my current state as actually being worth supporting, is it all in my head? I know it's not, I know that I can't get better without doing a heck of a lot of hard work. But in the meantime, it's not a recognised state of anything, by anyone other than the people close to me who love me and don't judge me for what I'm going through.
But because I know better and have the insight to see how ridiculous my guilt and lack of self-worth is, why can't I feel good about myself just the way I am? Life huh? Nick read over this post and told me he thought I should wrap this up, make it more hopeful at the end. But I think my exact words were: Nah, fuck that. This is where my life is and I don't have all the answers. I think those of you who have been reading from the beginning will know that we have always been honest, sometimes brutally so. So while I don't want to leave this post feeling helpless, because I'm actually not at the same levels of low I've been in the past, I also don't have a nice way to conclude this. I just hope that something in this resonates with someone - that they have that moment of "Yes, it's not all in my head!" or "I'm not alone!".... because truthfully, I think we all struggle sometimes with our identity and self-worth.
We are a family of 3. This blog is the story of how we almost became 4, why we didn’t, and what we are doing to recover from that experience.