Ever have one of those days when every person you talk to seems to be disillusioned about life? I have had many such days lately, particularly with women around my age.
For an introvert like me, dropping the kids off at school and making a beeline for home has become strangely thrilling. Six whole hours to learn, to dream, to create, to just…be.
It wasn’t always this way. I spent plenty of years filling my days with typical stay-at-home mom tasks like laundry, dishes, grocery shopping, pet care, meal prep, etc.
Then this feeling started to slowly creep in, depositing little drops of poison into my mind slowly over time. The feeling that I had started losing the mental sharpness that comes from being challenged.
I remember with particular horror one day many years ago when I was helping my young son type up a list of animals. Why I don’t know. He simply loved typing and he loved making lists. I looked at the word “fox” for several seconds, questioning whether it was spelled correctly.
This was an interesting paradox because as a stay-at-home mom I felt more challenged than when I was physically and emotionally depleted as a social worker who was also in graduate school full-time.
But it’s a different kind of challenge being a mom. Self-imposed and externally-imposed pressure to be perfect, to not only be everything to everyone but also to exude inherent parental knowing from the time of your baby’s birth. There’s no license to become a parent, no aptitude test, no do-overs, and in my case, no nearby family support.
I found myself stuck in this duality of wanting, NEEDING, to be there for every moment of my kids’ lives. Not only did I lose my mom when I was 18, but my mom also worked a lot of hours during my childhood, oftentimes on the night shift. Which meant that even when she was home at the same time that I was, she was usually sleeping during the day.
But as I was there for every milestone, almost all of the class parties and field trips, and nearly every meal at the table for my own little family, a part of me was splintering off inside.
Friends, books and articles in the media, and general common sense told me that I just needed more self-care. I just needed some time away.
But the thing about losing my mom in the sudden and unexpected way that I did meant that I felt I physically could not leave my kids for more than a few hours at a time without becoming anxious. Furthermore, I didn’t want to leave them.
What if something happened to one of them while I was away? What if something happened to me? I could already feel a tremendous amount of guilt at the ready, just waiting to be emotionally handed to me if something happened to either myself or to one of them.
I knew what years of heart-wrenching loss and pain felt like, and there was no way I would take a chance on putting my kids through that.
With my background in social work and psychology, I knew all of the head games that were taking place in my mind. I knew I had to make some changes…but how and where should I even begin?!?
There was also this other fear that was buried even deeper under layers upon layers of anxiety and unprocessed grief. The thought that even if I did manage to get some extended alone time away from my family, it would never be enough. That the cup I was trying to pour my energy from was so depleted that no amount of alone time could ever fill it.
When I entertained the thought of going on a little trip alone or with some friends, I felt as though I could never get away long enough to escape this feeling. It would just sit there patiently waiting for my return. Waiting to consume me with resentment for not being more grateful for what I had, for this life that I’d created and chosen to be enough.
I was unknowingly allowing this fear to steal my ability to experience true joy and purpose. To allow me to feel worthy of being the mom and wife my beautiful family deserved and needed.
After some deep soul searching and digging into the feeling one layer at a time, I came to the realization that this lack of belief in myself and my ability to just be content with things as they are likely started in my childhood. From my own mom’s belief that she was not worthy of me.
My mom was funny and beautiful, with her 80’s perm and penchant for wearing strapless terry cloth rompers and Bain de Soleil Orange Gelee in the summertime while she sunbathed on the deck. She was witty and sarcastic, and unquestionably loved my brother and me beyond measure.
And yet…I have these random memories that will occasionally surface, speaking to her own inner feelings of doubt, shame, and fear of not being enough.
Like her telling me that I should spend more time with my friends’ families because they weren’t crazy like she was.
Like her staying married to my stepfather even after they started having serious issues, having me help her throw all of his things into garbage bags, only to change her mind and take him back because she didn’t want to be alone.
Because she had always been under tremendous scrutiny and judgment from her own mother, she largely gave me the freedom to make my own choices and mistakes as I was growing up.
This was both a great blessing and a terrible idea in hindsight, as it taught me to be independent and careful in my decisions, but naturally, that came with a sharp and occasionally painful learning curve.
But back to that feeling…the one I had not been able to escape. I started to wonder if my mom had also had it. Why she obviously loved me and yet I could feel her pushing me away. I can’t be certain now what that was…if she was pushing me to go, to not end up as she had, to chase the dreams she knew I had but she had given up on for herself.
Or if she had also let her cup run so dry that she had nothing left to give. Most exasperating to me was that it became one of the things I longed to ask her but was unable to because I lost her too soon.
It took a series of changes and choices over the years before I realized that one day, the feeling just wasn’t there anymore. I no longer felt like I had to get away. Because I could never run fast enough or far enough to quiet that vicious little whisper anyway.
I had discovered how to appreciate where I was, who I was with, and who I could become.
I didn’t fully realize this until one recent day when I encountered so much disillusionment and unhappiness in the women around me. It washed over me, this feeling of knowing. Disillusionment is a choice. Trying to control everyone and everything is a choice.
To quote Jack Canfield, “You only have control over three things in your life — the thoughts you think, the images you visualize, and the actions you take.”
This certainly doesn’t apply to everyone, but for me making such a dramatic shift in my perception took a physical move from the place we had called home for over 10 years.
We had been living at the outskirts of the city near the foothills of the mountains. But the cinder block fences, the constant crime reports on the news, and the feeling of being closed in was something I just couldn’t shake.
I had grown up as a Midwestern country girl, wandering in the woods around my childhood home, swimming in a lake, and spending hours upon hours breathing in the smells of all things horse in the stable where I took riding lessons.
Living in the city felt smothering. When I would go out in the mountains of the southwest where we are now living to hike, I would feel like I could breathe again. The smell of the pines and the silence of the forest was soothing and felt like home in a way that the city never did.
To connect with nature and to feel my nervous system settle was like a gift from the universe, reminding me that I did not need to get away from everything and everyone. I just needed to get back in touch with being me.
A year and a half ago, we had the opportunity to move farther out into the mountains I love. Where I can see for miles upon miles and both the actual and mental cinder block walls of the city have become a distant memory.
This was not all it took to facilitate change, however. I created non-negotiable rituals to care for my body and mind. I started saying no to the things I didn’t really want to do (as a mom, that’s a long list and one of the most critical ways to create more emotional well-being).
I started listening to and reading things that filled me with possibility, hope, and inspiration instead of hostility and frustration like the local news. I consciously choose to spend time with people who are trying to improve the lives of others instead of those who tear people down out of their own unhappiness and feelings of inadequacy.
I found that although I thought she was gone, the real me remained in the mud and the muck that had been my mind. I didn’t need to fight for or resist what was, what should have been, or what should be. I could just come home to myself, to rest and settle into the comfort of knowing what is.