“I can’t do this.”
This thought ran through my head over and over again for years, but particularly the months after the birth of my three amazing babies. Interspersed with feelings of unparalleled love and deep devotion, came waves of frustration, of being overwhelmed, unable to cope. Then of course came the inevitable exhaustion, irritability and the all-consuming guilt for not being “fun mum,” “happy mum,” “care-free, easy-going mum.”
I had more “Arthur Fowler” moments than I care to mention. After leaving a fast-paced career in PR, being a mum was my full-time job. But even the long hours I had previously ploughed into my career had nothing on this new 24/7 role. Every day was devoted to providing my children with, what I considered to be at the time, the best possible care. But amongst this almost obsessive need to tend for my growing family I had forgotten one person that also needed looking after.
Not only had I lost sight of who I was, but I had also started finding it impossible to dedicate any time to myself. Instead I tortured myself with never-ending to-do lists and impossible expectations. No wonder I felt like a failure, I had raised the bar so high it had become unreachable.
I am thankful to say that through the fog I had a moment of clarity and reached out for help, and this has been in the form of regular CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) sessions. This has been a game changer for me. I had first become aware of the term after a friend had undergone treatment herself, and after confiding in her, she recommended I self-referred. I have now had eight sessions with my therapist on a weekly basis. I had suffered from anxiety and depression before and had sought help, but this form of therapy was different. Rather than delve into past experiences and spend hours unpicking childhood events, CBT was able to give me clarity on my core beliefs, which helped to explain why I was feeling the way I did. Finally I could truly understand that in order for me to look after my family, first I had to take care of myself. Whoever said, “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” was in fact bang on.
Over the course of the last few months I have made significant changes to my lifestyle, which I want to share with you today. Now I have to state here that other than a very basic counseling course back in my 20s, I have absolutely no psychotherapy training and I am not in a position to treat anyone suffering from mental health issues. Please, please contact your GP or an appropriate advice line such as the Samaritans or PANDAS Foundation if this is the case.
But for those who are perhaps feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, these tips have really helped me and I hope they help you too.
Sod the housework – this sounds ridiculous, but at the beginning of my treatment I could not stop banging on about the state of the house. Nothing set me off into a rage quicker than stepping on a piece of Duplo ten seconds after clearing it away. Often I would spend every spare minute in my day, of which there weren’t many, tidying and cleaning, only to find the house in a worse state post teatime than it had been in the morning. Soul destroying. Now, if my baby gives me a half decent naptime I watch Grey’s Anatomyand inhale a sarnie on the sofa. Instead I do the tidying at the end of the day – if I can be bothered. Yes my house isn’t a show home but I’m a darn sight happier for it.
Give permission to enjoy yourself – Ah mum guilt, we’ve all felt it. But loving your kids does not mean having to spend every minute with them. You’re entitled to a girls’ brunch, a date night or simply an extra half hour in the bath to read your book. In fact, it’s vital. Book yourself that trip to the cinema or cheeky massage and give yourself permission to enjoy it. You really do deserve it.
You’re not surviving, you’re thriving – I’ve often walked into a therapy session and declared I’m in survival mode, particularly after a crap night with the baby. First off, survival mode is just fine. Of course you want to sit on the sofa and eat biscuits whilst the kids watch a Nick Toons Loud Housemarathon when you’ve had bugger all sleep. But chances are, you’re not just surviving, you’re thriving. Are you kids loved and safe? Are they happy, warm and well fed? Examine the evidence and you’ll find you’re doing a stellar job.
Postpone your worries – When my anxiety is particularly bad, I can lose days worrying. I just can’t shake it. Obsessing about hypothetical ‘what if’ scenarios that most likely will never happen. I have learnt (although it is never easy) to postpone my worry by writing it in a notebook, distracting myself with something different, then dedicating a quiet time, when the kids are in bed, to concentrate on my worry later. If it’s a genuine problem, I will try and tackle it in a practical fashion. If it’s a ‘what if’, the distraction has often worked and I have moved on. Although nothing is a fail-safe method, this has saved me from reaching fever pitch a few times.
Don’t search Google – Name a mum who hasn’t googled their baby’s symptoms late at night, bleary eyed, desperate to find a solution or answer. Only to be scarred witless by what they find. For someone who is also prone to a bit of health anxiety, Dr Google is the devil’s work. Be kind to yourself and trust your own judgment and intuition. A mother’s gut is rarely wrong.
Talk – Anxiety can be so isolating, and it’s so easy to believe the voice that tellsyou everyone else is coping apart from you. It’s lies. And this is from someone who has spent far too long listening to my own internal critic. Please talk to your friends, partner or parents, or GP if needed. You shouldn’t have to suffer in silence and sometimes just voicing these concerns out loud can help relieve some of the worry. Please believe me when I say you are not alone, and talking is thevery first step to feeling better
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