It was a Sunday afternoon when I last hit bottom.
I’d been going strong, powering through weeks of emotionally draining situations with my children, muddling through holiday preparations and party-planning, and juggling multiple parent-teacher conferences and class parties (not to mention trying to do my day job) — and I just couldn’t handle it anymore. I was out of steam, which is what happens when I mom too hard for too long without taking care of myself.
I remember what it felt like to bottom out before I became a mother, and while it definitely sucked, it wasn’t nearly the gut-wrenching, “I’m ruining my kid’s lives because I don’t know how to parent” type of misery. Mothers shoulder so many invisible burdens — guilt, worry, responsibility, the emotional health of her family — which is why, when we burn out, things get ugly — fast.
Motherhood is a life I chose with intent. Each baby was born on purpose. We want to be parents, and for the most part, I used to be happy. But over time, something crept in and began choking out my joy. My husband works long hours, and I had allowed myself to spiral downward, past self-pity, and into another level of darkness. I resented my husband, I resented my children, and I resented my circumstances. The life we’d built together was no longer a source of happiness. I felt overwhelmed by it, drowning in a sea of other people’s needs, washed over by resentfulness (mine) and willful ignorance (my husband’s).
In the dark place I call “the pit,” when my children drop crumbs on the floor, it is on PURPOSE. When my husband leaves his dirty clothes lying around, it is INTENTIONAL. I start to believe that my family is doing obnoxious things just to make my life harder.
I start to believe that I am a victim of my life.
My husband knows that my days are long and our children are challenging, so he tries to be patient and extend me grace. He bites his tongue, holding back what he wants to say – and what he probably SHOULD say, which is to tell me to get over myself. Husbands like to fix problems; this was a problem he couldn’t fix. This problem could only be addressed by one person, because the problem was, and sometimes still is, my attitude.
Marriage and parenthood are two of life’s greatest joys, yes, but they can also FU*KING BURY YOU.
Sometimes, after being completely decimated, mothers rise up again, stronger and better than they were before. Victims don’t ever rise up from the dirt after life buries them. They just lie there and wither. That drowning feeling, the feeling of inhaling dirt, that’s what I was allowing to choke off my happiness. I sat in our playroom on a Sunday and watched the sunlight stream in, wondering how long I’ve been like this and how much longer the sadness could continue before someone carted me off in a straitjacket.
I called my friend, the one who doesn’t judge me when I say things like I don’t like being a mother today, and she said “I have something you need to hear, so let me know when you’re ready to hear it.”
“Are you kidding?” I screeched into the phone. “How long have I been like this? I hate feeling unhappy! FIX ME!”
She gave me a pep talk that I will never forget. “You are going to do this and you are going to get through this because you are already strong enough to do this,” she said, before going into the steps I needed to take in order to care for myself and for my marriage.
I was adrift, and maybe I still am, a little bit. But one thing is for certain: The only part of my life that I have control over is my attitude. I can’t control the choices and actions of my children. I can’t stop time and make my mother’s cancer go away. I can’t magically make my house not have popcorn ceilings. I can’t make my husband’s employer give him a shorter work day. But I can adjust my attitude, and sometimes, that’s the day’s biggest accomplishment.