I have been a stay-at-home mom for 12 years.
The first years were exhausting, fulfilling and challenging. But, as the years went by and the kids needed me less, I began to grow restless to embark on my own adventures.
This year was to be the first year that all my kids would be enrolled in school for full days. Even as I dreamed of my upcoming time alone, I knew that, like all transitions, it wouldn’t be all sunshine and rainbows. I needed a plan, a direction, a goal.
I explored career options, thought about going back to school, and started writing every chance I got.
It wasn’t long before I realized that I could make a decent amount of money freelance writing. My excitement about having time to myself grew even stronger. I imagined days spent sitting in coffee shops chatting with interesting people and writing thoughtful articles. September couldn’t get here fast enough.
The first few weeks were every bit as glorious as I thought they would be. I devoted three or four hours every day to writing and submitting my articles. For the first time in years I felt like I was doing something just for me…and getting paid for it to boot. Life was grand, exciting and getting better every day.
But four weeks into the school year, the pleasures of time alone have faded and I’m finding myself in a terrible rut.
You see, while I had planned for a way to earn money and be creative, I hadn’t factored in the isolation that can come with spending seven hours a day alone with my own thoughts. So I’ve decided to re-visit some of the things that have cheered me up in the past. Here are the 10 best rut busting techniques I have used in the past.
1. Talk to strangers. The harried mom in the grocery store, the mail man, the cute young college student next to me in line. Anyone with an open heart and a few free moments will do. And while sometimes small talk is enough, a real conversation is so much more fulfilling. This morning I saw the lady behind me in the coffee shop struggling with a whiny toddler and we had a 10 minute conversation about how easy it is to lose yourself in parenting. That warm glow of human connection stayed with me for hours.
2. Compliment. Friends, family, strangers. As long as it’s sincere, giving compliments never fails to make my heart swell. I have been known to tell the cashier how lovely her hair looks or the librarian that his jokes make my day. Saying nice things has a way of sending out good vibe ripples that boomerang back to me and make my heart swell with joy.
3. Eat yummy things. I had a brownie for lunch today without an ounce of guilt. Certainly, it wouldn’t be good to eat like that every day. But every now and then something sweet and warm is exactly what is needed to change my perspective.
4. Listen to happy music. My first tendency when I’m feeling down is to listen to weepy songs of loneliness. And sometimes that is necessary. But I make sure to follow it up with some light happy music, preferably something with a beat so irresistible I can’t help but dance…which brings me to the next thing:
5. Move! I know many people get a real charge from exercising. I happen to not be one of those people. In fact, the very sight of a gym depresses me. But, after hours sitting at a desk writing, my mood can quickly turn dark. What seems to work best for me is to take a walk. Even better if I’m walking in a place where there are other people. Fresh air, exercise, and exchanging smiles with passerby all serve to cheer me up.
6. Ask for help from friends. It doesn’t take much, just a few minutes reminiscing or even complaining can do the trick. I hesitate sometimes to contact friends when I’m feeling down. It can seems self-indulgent or whiny to dump my “not so big” problems on other people. But then I remind myself that if I don’t talk to my friends when I am feeling down, then they won’t feel comfortable to come to me when they are having a hard time.
7. Help others. This is perhaps the one that is most relevant to me right now. I am ridiculously fortunate to have this chunk of time to myself. Whenever I catch myself feeling blue or lonely I think of all the women I know who have no choice but to work full-time. Instead of feeling guilty about my good fortune, I should be using my time to the full potential—writing, yes, but also giving back. And not just for other people, but for myself too. The times in my life that I’ve been most satisfied were when I worked to make other people’s lives better. Teaching at an inner city preschool, working at a group home for adolescents, even just nurturing my own little ones have all given me a deep sense of fulfillment. So, today, I spent an hour looking for local volunteer opportunities. Which I hope will also lead me to the next rut buster:
8. Community. Community is difficult to find when you don’t work in an office or belong to a religious organization. In the past I have relied on other stay-at-home moms to fill in that gap. But even that wasn’t really enough. I need a regular group of people that I can see on a daily basis. We don’t have to be best friends or even have much in common. Just the comfort of familiar faces can be reassuring. I’m hoping that volunteering will bring that to me.
9. Art of some sort. People reveal things in art that they are reluctant to talk about in everyday connections. They show their ugly, vulnerable bits in a way that helps me realize that I am not alone in whatever dark thoughts or situations I have found myself in.
10. Laugh, Cry. Repeat. Over and over. Every day. Life is tragic and beautiful and funny and mysterious and complicated and sometimes utterly hysterical. When I give myself permission to allow my whole self to react to whatever I’m experiencing, I feel so much better.
I cried in the car this morning. Full on weeping. Because I was hurt by a friend, because I was lonely, because life just feels a little stagnant right now. I’ve been holding back those tears for a long while because none of those things are the end of the world, because it felt silly, because I’m a big girl. But today I gave myself permission to just let out all the emotions and tears and mess that’s been building up inside me. And I’m glad that I did. It’s what allowed me to chat with the harried woman in line, to tell the cashier that her hair looked nice, to enjoy that decadent brownie, to sign up for volunteering, to write this article, to take the first steps of getting out of my rut.
Author: Lela Casey
Editor: Caroline Beaton
Photo: Flickr/Francesca Luna Barone