I see you, Mama. You’re tired. You’ve been drained of every last caring-drop in your body. You need a full bath and an even fuller glass of wine. The bad news is, you’re usually the only one who knows how bad you need it. We’ve got to remind each other how important we are to our families. You, Mama, matter. And you have to take care of you. Right now. Cause they can’t live without you.
Summer Boredom Is Getting To Me
School's out, so I'm not running around getting lists checked off and projects completed. I'm stuck at home with my daughters who are incredible and amazing and I love them dearly, but they just want to read the same book twelve times and then play with playdoh literally all afternoon. I'm chauffering them to swim lessons, then to the park, then the library, trying to keep our days full and exciting to make up for the sudden lack in my own life.
Can I Be Really Honest?
I'm so bored. I'm not the kind of person who does well with free time because I tend to look at my to-do list and my open calendar and just push things off into one of the many blank squares. But I'm also the kind of person who needs to be working on something meaningful in order to keep on top of my mental health. The last three weeks have seen a significant and marked decrease in my mental health state. Writing, my number one self-care outlet, doesn't even have the same drive it usually does. I have a half dozen partially written posts for this blog in my line up that just aren't hitting the mark.
So I'm offering this.
This post, more of a rant really, a way to vent to you, Mama, because you've been around BohemiMama long enough to know I'm gonna be real with you and I'm gonna talk about the things us depressed, exhausted Moms need to talk about.
So, Summer Break...
Here's the deal: Summer break is long and hot and empty. Summer break is usually a time of entertaining our kids and sitting by a pool somewhere. If that's not your thing, then summer can be hard. I'm looking forward to a new year with new students and new lesson plans and all I want is to be in my classroom arranging labs for the coming school year. So summer feels like a chore. I can almost see all you working moms rolling your eyes at me right now. I know... And I'm sorry.
But Mental Illness Isn't Logical or Considerate
Mental illness makes us discontent with the lives we have. Mental illness makes us feel the weight of guilt as though it's been doubled or tripled. Mental illness makes us lose interest in the things we once loved. My mental illness leaves me feeling apathetic and lonely even in the best of company. I have a page in my bullet journal filled with ideas for when I'm in a blue place. It's full of projects because that's what makes me feel accomplished and fulfilled. So I'm painting my house right now, the entire interior. It's been nice to slap fresh new paint on the walls and watch the transformation, but it hasn't helped ease my writer's block. I'm open to suggestions and I see my therapist later this week, but until then...
Stay strong, talk it out, do something you love. That's all I can say today, Mama. This journey to mental health isn't smooth and it isn't really a destination you finally arrive at one day. So keep fighting and find the help you need to push through blue days or weeks like these.
Disappointment happens. Sometimes it's a small thing, like forgetting about and missing a coffee date with a friend. Other times, it's much bigger, like unexpectedly finding out you're pregnant again. Big or small, those disappointments can feel all the worse, even overwhelming, when you're already in an emotionally depleted state. Exhausted, lonely, depressed Mamas have the hardest time with disappointment because we're already functioning on less emotional energy. It doesn't take nearly as much to drain us completely.
Emotional Energy: How Disappointment Affects It
Imagine that you wake up each morning with one glass full of emotional energy. As the day goes by, you pour some out for your kids, some for your husband, some on work or other commitments; neighbors, friends, housework, bills, meal planning, etc. And some of that energy is poured into hopes, plans, or goals for future things, like those coffee dates or the things you might do once your youngest is in school full time. Fear, frustration, and sadness from a disappointing event can rob the remainder of your day's energy. But it can also rob you of the energy you've poured out and stored in those future plans and expectations.
Take that same glass of emotional energy, but now it's only half-full. That's what your emotional 'tank' often looks like when you're wiped out, dealing with depression, trudging through the loneliness of motherhood, or battling anxiety. That half-full glass is much closer to running dry, so when disappointments happen, one big slosh drains everything you've got. In my experience, that's been the hardest part about my depression. One little thing can steal the rest of my carefully budgeted energy and leave me wanting nothing more than to go to bed and start the day over... by 9 am! But fear not, Mama! There is a solution!!
How To Retain Your Energy After A Disappointment
Step 1: Give Yourself Five Minutes To Feel It
It's okay to need to vent some frustration or cry a few tears. Don't try to bottle up those emotions! Let 'em out! I give myself five minutes if I really can't hold it together. Alone in my room or the car, I'll let everything bubble up and over and cry as hard as I need to for five minutes. Then I can dry my face and move forward rationally. Sometimes you just have to let yourself really feel it. By acknowledging your feelings, you're allowing yourself to move on. (Makes me think of Sadness in Inside Out... Anyone else?)
Step 2: Salvage Your Energy By Channeling It Into Something Else
The energy you've stored in future plans and dreams is like a storehouse for your lowest days, the silver lining or the bright spot to look forward to when you're really in the trenches. When those plans change or get messed up by something outside of your control, your 'rainy day' fund of emotional energy can slip away and be gone forever. We can't have that! Being able to channel all that stored energy into something else you can honestly get excited about will salvage some, if not most, of your energy.
This is something my therapist pointed out to me and it has really, really improved my ability to cope with disappointments. I have a page in my bullet journal where I record things I would like to do or get done. These are things that make me happy and fulfilled and which give me purpose. I'm a doer, so my list is 90% projects. Your list might include crafts with your kids or manicures or cleaning tasks or reading or vacation planning or... Fill in the blank for you. When a disappointment occurs, say you miss a date with a friend, you can look at your list and pick something else to channel your expectant energy into.
Step 3: Recognize The Root of Your Disappointment
Later, after you've had time to cope and reflect on the thing that caused your disappointment, take some time to dig into why. Why did missing that appointment affect you the way it did? What is it that scares or worries you about being pregnant again? I'm not great at recognizing my own triggers, which is why I love my therapist. She has a way of asking questions that lead me right to the answer. A good friend or family member who knows you really well can accomplish the same thing sometimes. Once you know what triggered your disappointment, you can work through those emotions and prepare for the next time something might hit you similarly.
Prepare For the Future
Mom life never really goes the way you plan it to go. It might be a spilled cup or a lost shoe right before you walk out the door, or issues in your marriage or with your job. But we're Moms. No one is as good as we are at anticipating worst case scenarios. It's time we start anticipating the worst case self-care scenarios. Little annoyances can quickly become major day changers when you're running on empty. Big things, like relationships and careers, can suffer a ton if you've got nothing left to invest in them after all your other mom duties. Self-care isn't just a bubble bath here and a manicure there. Self-care is a lifestyle that enables you to be the best mom you can be because your emotional tank is full and ready for anything. By taking care of your needs before they become NEEDS, you allow room for life to happen and for you to keep your stuff together on the rough patches.
For more self-care ideas, click here.
For ideas on resetting with a weekend away, click here.
To find a therapist in your area, click here.
If you think life is just too much and you're considering suicide, please call 1-800-273-8255
Once a month, I drive 30-minutes each way to meet with a trained professional who lets me talk for an hour and occasionally gives me advice or explains why I may be feeling the way I'm feeling. She hands me tissues when I cry. She listens as I pour my heart out, complain, and even brag occasionally. My insurance doesn't cover it. I pay cash to talk to someone. And it's worth every cent. By most standards, I might not even need therapy anymore, but I have no plans of ending our regular meetings in the near, or distant, future.
Let me back up a year or so. Before I started seeing my therapist, I was in a really, really dark place. And I mean dark. I would often stand in the shower crying because I just knew my husband and daughters would be better off with someone else as their mother. I felt as inadequate as it is possible to feel. Hopeless, misunderstood, spiteful, and irrationally angry were a few of the dominant emotions from that time period. I hated myself. But I didn't understand why.
At First, I Was Too Afraid To Admit That I Needed Therapy
I tried calling a helpline to find a therapist. He started to make me an appointment with some counselor in my area, but I got really freaked out and hung up. I don't hang up on people, but I did that day. I hung up and I cried.
Why did I cry? Because I was so worried about what people would think. I couldn't swallow the idea that someone would know that I had to see a therapist. The label, Mental Illness, terrified me. I was sure that I would show up and sit on some dingy chaise with a condescending, pen-in-hand psychologist who would give me a load of drugs to make me numb.
So What Changed?
One day last August, I lost my $#!&. I don't mean that in the cutesy way that moms Instagram say it. I mean, I totally lost it. Basically, what happened (and this is pretty embarrassing to even talk about) was I wanted, no, needed to get out of the house but felt like we were broke. We weren't. I asked my hubby if we could go to Costco. Long (and irrational) story short, the conversation devolved until I screamed at one of my kids and stomped up the stairs like a fourteen-year-old girl, huffing and puffing worse than the big, bad wolf. As soon as I closed the door behind me, my violent anger turned to wracking sobs and I hit the floor of my closet on my knees. That's where my husband found me. It was the first time I realized how much my emotions controlled me.
Therapy Wasn't What I Expected It To Be
The very next day, I called the therapist my best friend sees. Six days after that I found myself on a comfortable couch in a relaxed, even cozy, room in a historic building a few towns over. She didn't write a single thing the whole time I was there. She smiled, she listened, she assured me that I didn't have to continue to see her if I didn't feel like we clicked. She sent me in for blood work to see if there might be something chemical going on. (I secretly hoped there was because that meant the solution was a pill a day and I would be 'fixed'.) She asked me questions when I ran out of things to say or didn't know how else to continue. And she never once made me feel like my problems were smaller than they appeared to me. She also never diagnosed me. My blood work came back normal, but she didn't make me feel like it was all in my head (like I told myself upon getting my results). In short, she was nothing at all like what I expected. And I couldn't have been more happy to be mistaken.
Therapy Isn't Just For 'Crazy' People
In my darkest days, when I wanted to wander out in a blizzard and never come back, I told myself I was just tired, that life was too busy, and I just needed a small break. I was lonely, I felt like I didn't fit in my body anymore, like the life I'd built around me was somehow too narrow and too roomy at the same time. So, on this side of my healing journey, I'm here to tell you that therapists and counselors are NOT only for crazy people. They are not only for those who have a diagnosable mental illness. A therapist may not be for everyone, but I am convinced that a therapist can help EVERY mom. I mean it. We are a lonely, exhausted bunch. Parenting advice is slung in our faces at every single turn and mom guilt served up each time we open our eyes. We give our entire beings to the tiny humans we co-created and then sacrifice our time, energy, attention, emotions, and mental space to the care and development of these little people.
Therapy Is For Every Mom
Add to that the fact that our children are nearly incapable of self-regulation and we are, essentially, training them to not need us anymore, and you have a recipe for burn out. So how do we combat all that wear and tear? We need to deal with it.
The way you deal with your burnout and the way I deal with mine are going to be completely different, even if they look the same from the outside. We might both need 'alone time' but how you spend your time and what helps you cope in the midst of anxiety or depression is going to be unique to you, to your personality, to your history. I can't blog about how to help you help yourself. I'm not a trained professional. I'm just a mom who's spent the last year healing with the help of a trained professional.
Therapy Is The Most Undervalued Tool In The Self-Care Arsenal
My journey has shown me that therapy is an incredibly undervalued tool in the self-care aresenal. I don't shy away from telling people I see a therapist because a year ago, it's what I needed to hear. I needed to know that therapy didn't make me a bad mom, that talking about my feelings wouldn't risk losing my kids to the state, that having a mental illness didn't mean I was broken. My depression and anxiety are just as much a part of my journey as my poor eyesight or my weak hip. I don't feel ashamed to see a chiropractor every month, so why should I feel ashamed of seeing my therapist? She helps equip me to fight the battle going on in my mind. She handpicks the most applicable weapon for the job and teaches me how to use it properly so that when those blue days overcome me, I can keep swimming, I can keep fighting, I can keep living.
For help finding a therapist in your area, click here.
For help choosing a therapist to work with, click here.
For the national suicide prevention hotline, dial 1-800-273-8255
Hello, my name is Jessi and I am a dreamer.
Raise your hand if that's you too. I knew it, I knew I wasn't the only one! I bet you've felt just like I have at some point (maybe even every day), that you're meant for more. I love my kids and I love being a stay-at-home mom, or rather I should say I love the idea of being a stay-at-home mom. I really do love being with my kids, but so many times I find myself bored or grumpy because I feel like I'm never going to achieve my dreams in the midst of the never-ending laundry, dishes, and diapers.
Maybe it's just me, but the first time I watched Moana I cried like a baby. I'm talking streams of tears down my cheeks sobbing. I felt so... so... understood. Now, I know the Disney giants want us to feel just like that (and let's just take a second to appreciate the power of their storytelling abilities... remarkable) but this movie struck something in the core of my being that nothing else ever has. So let's take a look at those moments today, shall we?
***Spoilers Ahead!!! If you haven't seen Moana yet, stop right now and watch it! I'll even give you the link to it: Watch Moana here. Ready now? You may proceed!***
6 Times Moana Said (or Sang) Exactly What I Feel
1. I'll be satisfied if I play along / But the voice inside sings a different song / What is wrong with me?
How many times have you heard the phrase 'fake it til you make it'? I don't know when I heard it first, but in the early days after both my babies, it was like a chant; Fake it, you'll make it. The idea behind it is that acting happy about your circumstances will eventually result in true happiness. I definitely think there is some truth to that, however, other times you just gotta move on, try something else, or ask for help.
When Moana stands on the top of the mountain and cries out to the wind, "What is wrong with me?" it was like my heart rose with her. Thankfully, the truth, and the point of the movie, is that nothing is wrong with me. Just like nothing is wrong with you. We don't all fit one mold or one lifestyle and that's more than okay, that's good. Embrace who you are and dance to the music inside.
2. Every turn I take / Every trail I track / Is a choice I make / Now I can't turn back / From the great unknown / Where I go alone / Where I long to be
Moana sings this haunting line as she sets sail from her home all on her own (and with her mother's blessing -- I love that!!!) She's setting out to finally answer this call she's felt for her whole life, despite her father's disapproval. Now, I'm all about respecting my parents and I was decently good at it growing up and still today. However, her father's rules were based on fear, not on Moana's best interest (see #6).
This line resonates with me so much because I didn't go to college right after high school like literally everyone expected of me. Instead, I joined Youth With A Mission (YWAM) and moved to England on my own. I remember talking to God about it and I knew He meant me to stand alone, that this was a journey that only I could take and only I was meant to take. Some things in life are like that. We don't get to go into holding the hand of someone else because if we did we'd miss out on some incredible personal development. So if you prefer to wear your baby in a sling 24/7 and so-and-so is telling you not to, do it! You do you, Mama!
3. They have stolen the heart from inside you / But this does not define you / This is not who you are / You know who you are
No one else can define who you are. That is up to you and you alone, Mama. Whether we're talking parenting, career, life, or anything else, you know who you are. I spent a lot of my life struggling to know who I was meant to be. And the incredible thing I'm coming to realize now, in year 30, is that I already am who I'm meant to be. I just keep trying to force myself to fit in a mold that someone else sets for me. You know who you are.
4. And the call isn't out there at all / It's inside me / It's like the tide, always falling and rising
This one... Gosh. Just thinking about this line again makes my heart kind of twist inside my chest. Like I said in the last one, this year I've finally started to settle into my identity and let myself be who I've always been. For so long, I thought my soul would rest if I could just land on that 'thing' I was meant to be doing. But, like Moana, I have learned that it's not something out there. It's my heart, right here, telling me to be me. If that's you too, Mama, let it go (not to mix movie references here...) and be who you are.
5. All the time wondering where I need to be / Is behind me / I'm on my own / To worlds unknown
I don't know what the future holds. I thought next year would be spent traveling the U.S. with my kids and hubby in an RV, but it's looking now like I might be teaching middle school science instead. (I'll let you know when I know for sure!) And I've found that like is like that more often than not. We make our plans and hold to these arbitrary expectations and then life happens, opportunities open up, things shift and we're suddenly heading in another direction. Rather than get side-tracked and constantly question whether I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing, I've learned to embrace the change. I know who I am, what I do is just that: what I do. My activities don't define who I am any more than what I had for lunch does.
6. Mind what he says but remember / You may hear a voice inside / And if the voice starts to whisper / To follow the farthest star / Moana, that voice inside is / Who you are
Okay, this one wasn't Moana at all, but Gramma Tala. First, can I be real? I want to be just like Gramma Tala when I grow up. For real. That woman is the real hero of Moana. She is fearlessly true to herself. She loves her family deeply and isn't afraid to stand up for what she believes to be right. On top of all that, she sees Moana for who she is, not for who she thinks Moana should be, and Gramma Tala gives Moana the tools she needs to be true to herself without labeling her according to what she sees in Moana. There is a balance in seeing a strength in someone and forcing them into a box according to that perceived strength.
What Would You Add?
Were there other moments from Moana which really resonated with you? I'd love to hear them in the comments!
It's been a while since you've heard from me. We just wrapped up an awesome month filled with amazing and helpful advice from other moms around the world. If you missed out on any posts, I've got them all stockpiled here so you can refer back to them anytime you need to.
I have to admit, I really missed being the one doing the writing! It was a great series, but it feels good to be talking to you again 🙂
How To Get The Most Out Of This Mother's Day
I have a story to share with you today, one I'm actually kind of embarrassed by, but I'm betting some of you can totally relate. Last year, I ruined Mother's Day. I know! It's Mother's Day, how could I, the mom, have ruined it? I'll get to that later, but for now, just know that I did... and I felt terrible afterward.
Mother's Day is a national holiday designed to help us remember and appreciate our mothers. But once you become a mom, it's a balancing act of appreciating your own mother, mother-in-law, grandmothers, etc. and being appreciated by your kids and, if he's a good one, your husband or significant other. Last year, I swayed way over to the me-me-me side of things. I bought my mom and grammy a hanging basket or something and then sat around waiting for my husband and two young daughters to make my day. And let me tell you, I spent the whole day feeling let down and guilty. I was disappointed because my priorities were all kinds of out of line.
Granted, I was in a much different mental health space a year ago than I am today. I was desperate to be seen, to be known and to know who I was meant to be. My health issues were at the root of my entitlement, but I wish I knew then what I know now. Mother's Day isn't the only day of the year to be appreciated. You are valuable and important, Mama, and your family wouldn't function without you on any other day of the year. So here are simple tips to get the most out of your day in May.
Cut Your Hubby Some Slack:
Your husband is working just as hard as you are, just in pretty different ways. He is not a mind reader, nor does he have the ability to change who he is for one day. Accept him as the man you fell in love with and try to appreciate the work he does put in. Don't give him a hard time for his last minute attempts or nag him to get you just the right thing. Here's my challenge to you: Don't even tell him what you want unless he asks.
Last year, I told my hubby exactly what I wanted for Mother's Day. As a result, he spent all of the Saturday before traipsing from one store to the next with our kids in tow looking for my very specific request. When I got that thing I asked for, it wasn't special. It just felt like he ran an errand for me. I was left feeling disappointed, and the worst part of it was he's naturally a really incredible gift-giver. He probably would have come up with something way better if only I had given him the chance. This holiday isn't about getting that new purse or a mani-pedi from your man. It's about being with your family and letting your kids love on you.
Lower Your Expectations:
If you pre-plan your whole Mother's Day in your mind before it happens, I promise you will be disappointed no matter what they do or don't do. Try to dismiss those expectations so that you can enjoy the day for what it is. So your kids made you breakfast in bed and it's soupy and burnt at the same time? They made you breakfast! How cute is that!? Let those moments become precious treasured memories rather than disappointments.
Hug Your Babies
The other thing I did last year to ruin Mother's Day was ask... are you ready for this, cause it was really stupid... for time alone. I did! I asked for time alone on Mother's Day. My kids were confused and, I didn't realize it until later, felt like they'd done something wrong to make me not want to hang out with them on the day they'd been told was their day to love on me. Don't make my mistake. Ask for time alone on a random Thursday. On Mother's Day, stay in bed a little longer and cuddle with those precious beauties. Let them brush your hair and massage your hands. Croon with delight over their drawings and hand-made gifts.
They'll only be this little right now. One day, they'll have babies of their own and your gifts may be limited to a call or mail order flowers. Hug them close today, while they're all yours. Cherish those memories while they're still moments to be lived.
Give Your Mom the Mother's Day You've Been Hoping For
If you've pre-planned your whole Mother's Day, take those plans and make them happen - for YOUR mom! Just because her kids are grown and moved out of the house doesn't mean she doesn't have these same wishes and desires for her Mother's Day. And just because you're grown and have your own kids doesn't mean you don't still owe your mom a debt of gratitude. I appreciated my mom a thousand times more after having kids of my own!! So this year, I'm doing for her what I wish my kids and hubby would do for me.
Make A List of All The Good Things The Last Year Has Held
If, despite all this advice, you find yourself still feeling deflated come Mother's day, ask your family for a few minutes in time out (for you, not them) and retreat to a quiet bedroom. Make a list of all the things that happened in the last year which you're grateful for. Spend just 10 minutes practicing gratitude and I guarantee you'll come out of that room refreshed and back in the right mindset for the rest of the day.
But Most of All...
Take a second to thank each of your kids and your hubby for trying. Whether they got you a full day at the spa or a new toaster, say thank you. Smile like you mean it. If your family is anything at all like mine, they show you how much they love and appreciate and need you on more days than just this one. Let's not make our families feel guilty for trying, even if they failed.
Have you ever ruined Mother's Day? I'd love to hear about it in the comments, if for nothing else than to make myself feel a little better! 😉
A weekend getaway can be a great way to reset
I've been in a pretty good mental space over the last couple of months but when the opportunity to go on a weekend getaway with my mom came up, I jumped at it.
We flew to Arizona to help my grandma celebrate her 75th birthday. It was really great to spend the weekend with them, but I had to leave my kids and husband behind. Three days without my kids. Three days of contact only through a pixelated screen. Seriously, thank goodness for technology! I was delightfully surprised to find that I didn't miss my kids nearly as much as I expected to.
The mom life is hard work
Taking care of your children, while fulfilling and important, is really hard work! You're on call around the clock and your needs usually fall somewhere behind everyone else's. Self-doubt, mom guilt, loneliness, and depression are just a few of the things you may begin to feel when you aren't making time for you.
Taking time off can sometimes be harder than not
I often take time away from the house for writing or meeting up with a friend, but when I first started doing that, it wasn't easy. I would spend hours debating whether I should call a friend or spend the time alone, whether I should go sit at a coffee shop or go for a walk or try to get a pedicure. I'd build up so many expectations that I would often return from my alone time feeling like I had wasted it or, else, find myself wandering around the grocery store rationalizing it as me-time.
When you give yourself a whole weekend away, you can get over those tendencies to use your alone time on errands without kids (lame!) and start using that time to rejuvenate your spirit, remember what you love to do, and do it!
How To Plan The Perfect Weekend Getaway:
Step 1: Stop planning for it to be perfect
Let it be what it is. Keep your expectations low, but plan to have a good time. Give yourself the freedom to nap (I almost always crash when I have a couple hours of downtime) or to eat what you want when you want or to do nothing at all. Leaving margin in your travel plans allows you to relax and go with the flow, which is exactly what you need, Mama!
Step 2: Be true to where you're at
If you can't spend a ton of money on a big getaway, find a way to do it on the cheap so you don't waste time feeling guilty about it (or worse, pay for it plus interest afterwards!) If you need time away from people, plan a solo or partner trip with someone who fills you up, like your spouse or best friend. There are times to plan around other people and there are times you may need to be totally selfish in order to really relax. Learn to distinguish between the two and be okay with putting yourself first for once.
Step 3: Put the to-do list away!
Plan and prepare for your trip and then put that expectation-inducing-list away for good. Let the weekend roll by. Let yourself relax, agenda-less, for at least a whole day. This time is about decompressing, letting go of responsibilities, and taking care of you and only you, Mama. Just chill.
[caption id="attachment_312" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Don't mind the blurriness #selfiefail[/caption]
Take care of you
Wherever you end up going and whatever you end up doing, make sure it's something that makes you happy and fulfilled and doesn't cause you a ton of stress. Some stress is normal when you're traveling, but don't let yourself get caught up in the little things. Only you know what makes you most relaxed so, while I can share some ideas, only you can decide what's best for you.
What's your ideal getaway weekend?
Try relaxing at the beach, soaking in the sun. Head to a snowy mountain cabin with a book and lots of firewood. Drive into the city and spend the whole day chilling in a coffee shop or browsing a museum.
Join a short-term missions group; see another place and give a little of yourself. Volunteer at an event or ministry where you feel needed and valuable. Visit an elderly family member and spend the weekend doing what they do.
Need A Change of Scenery?
Go camping or hiking. Visit a state or national park (and take loads of pictures to share!). Visit a nature preserve.
Visit family far away. Head into a big city, like LA, New York, or Vegas, and get lost in the hustle and bustle of humanity. Take along your best friends and/or your spouse.
Self-care is others-care in disguise
Whatever you do, do it knowing that a little break will make you a better mom. A happy mom can give so much more of herself to her kids and hubby because she has so much more of herself available. Your self-care is directly linked to your ability to care for others, so don't neglect you, Mama!
I just finished watching Taryn Brumfitt's incredible body image documentary, Embrace. Have you seen it yet? Wow! (warning: there are a few instances of language and some nudity--it is about body image, after all...) I just had to sit down immediately to get my thoughts on paper (or the screen, in this case).
I Take My Body Shape For Granted
First, I should begin all of this by saying that I've never had major body issue struggles and I absolutely take that for granted. Seriously, the things so many of you Mamas deal with make my insecurities seem ridiculous. In the same vein, our insecurities are crippling for exactly that reason: We compare ourselves to each other, letting guilt and shame dominate our emotions about our bodies.
The thing that struck me the most after watching Embrace was the fact that I never considered writing about body image here on BohemiMama. That's how often I think about it. But as I listened to other women's stories and heard these beautiful girls and young women talk about their bodies using words like 'disgusting' and 'ugly' and 'horrible,' I couldn't NOT talk about it! Especially since mental health is such a large part of what I'm so passionate about. How you view yourself is a major factor in your mental health.
So I'm going to talk about it today. I'm sharing my personal story and a few photos. I haven't been through a dramatic before and after apart from pregnancy. I recognize that my story is not woeful and I have not walked through the fire of body shame, but the story is mine. I'm certainly not looking for sympathy. Quite the opposite, in fact. I hope my story encourages you to find a way to accept and embrace your body. So please be kind with any comments and shoot me an email if you really have to get something off your chest. Thanks in advance. Also, this is a long one, so get comfy.
Body Image As A Young Woman
I'm the daughter of a teen mom. My mom has always been young and fit and beautiful. I grew up being constantly told how much I looked like her so, naturally, I perceived myself as young, fit, and beautiful. (Side note: This should tell us a TON about how our daughters are learning about their own self-image from us, their Mamas! Kindness to yourself is kindness to your beloved girl.) As a teenager, I was 5'8", 140 lbs, lean, and pimple free. I wasn't popular by any stretch, but I had a solid group of friends who accepted the real me, so I was able to maintain a relatively high self-esteem. I had my insecurities, of course. I've been in glasses since I was a year and a half old and contacts, despite my two attempts at switching over to them, just don't work for me. In addition, I had curly, frizzy hair, small boobs, and a high forehead.
Gaining the Freshman Fifteen
After high school, I gained the obligatory 15 lbs due to whatever mysterious curse befalls woman upon moving out of their parents' homes. I also developed mild adult acne by the time I was 20, leading to a series of different acne treatments, none of which worked particularly well. Diversifying my diet to more than Totino's Pizzas and Costco muffins helped me to drop those mysterious extra pounds. By the time I got married at 23, I was basically the same size and shape I had been in high school. I had my first baby at 25 and my second at 26 and I now know that I will never be the same. Ever.
[caption id="attachment_224" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Shortly after getting married, early 2010[/caption]
Pregnancy Changes Your Body Forever
A baby changes you. Two babies change you forever. I can't imagine what three babies must do. My hips are wider, my thighs are flabbier, my stomach has twice as much skin as it needs and it's scarred and stripped beyond recognition. Pregnancy wasn't easy for me. I always imagined being one of those women who adores being pregnant and walks around with a grin on her face all day long. Instead, I was too exhausted to enjoy it. I gained 60 pounds, the same weight as an eight-year-0ld kid. Miraculously, I somehow dropped all the weight in the 6 months between pregnancies (yay, breastfeeding and no, we didn't plan to have them that close) and then gained all 60 pounds back with my second.
[caption id="attachment_223" align="aligncenter" width="560"] Pregnancy One in 2012 (left) and Pregnancy Two in 2013 (right)[/caption]
The second time around, I felt just as wiped out, but I had a baby to care for. I had to take much better care of my own health, even denying the strongest of cravings: cream-filled donuts. I know! After my second, I had moderate post-partum depression and I didn't lose the weight as quickly or as completely as I did the first time. My maternity clothes were far too big and my old clothes were still too tight. One year later and 15 lbs over my old weight, I realized that this might just be the new me.
The New, Flabby Mom Body
I would stand in front of the mirror pinching my stomach skin, daydreaming about how I used to look, wishing I had appreciated my old figure more. As my babies weaned and my breasts emptied, my over large nipples sagged toward the floor and I missed my small, but perky, youthful boobs. Knotted varicose veins run from my groin to my ankle on one side, though I am considering corrective measures for those. Ouch! Not to mention, the remnants of back pain from all the extra weight I had carried in the front.
I did everything right and still couldn't lose the weight. We ate a whole food diet; no white flours, no refined sugars, lots of fruits and vegetables. I ran around all day chasing my babies, working in the garden and cleaning a constantly messy house. I joined a gym. I started cycling, even completing an 85-mile ride over the Coastal mountains of Oregon. Despite my best efforts, those extra pounds clung on. In addition to my body image issues, the depression I had been dealing with since my early 20's was the worst it had ever been (probably contributing to my body image issues...).
[caption id="attachment_226" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Late 2016. This is a rare photo of me without a child or other person strategically placed in front of me. My wardrobe is now a medium instead of a small. But one letter on my label doesn't define me.[/caption]
Coming to Terms With My New Body
My depression climaxed just last summer and I finally started seeing a therapist. (Best decision ever! Seriously, Mama, money very well spent!) But even now that I'm mentally healthy again, my body still wears the scars of pregnancy. But I'm not unhappy about it.
In fact, I've grown to love my body. I really have. There are moments when I'd like to have firmer breasts or less jiggly thighs and I probably won't be going out in a bikini (not that I would have before anyway). But those aren't things I think when I look in the mirror. When I see my stretch marks, I remember the feel of my babies rolling inside me, the smell of their newborn hair, and the velvety baby skin that's unlike any other texture in the world. When I see the fine lines around my eyes, I think of all the times I've laughed with my mom, my husband, my girls, my grandmother, all the joy I've been privileged to feel. When I see the thick blue veins crisscrossing the tops of my feet, I remember all the places, the countries, the sights those feet have carried me to.
Accept the Body You Have
And so, I stopped trying to change my body. I still exercise and I still cycle and I still chase my babies around the house. But I don't do it to lose the weight. My priorities don't lie in what my abs look like or if my stomach skin will ever shrink back to normal. I do it because it makes me feel good and it keeps me healthy. I realized that unless I was willing to work out almost obsessively, I wasn't going to be able to significantly change my body. And, honestly, there are many other things I'd rather do with my time. To those of you who love working out that much, I think it's awesome. Keep up the good work! That's just not me. I'm a writer. Instead of changing my body, I just went shopping. I bought clothes for this body because it's the one I have. And it's worth it.
Embrace Your Body - It Helps You Do the Important Work
The most important thing I have to say today is this:
You, Mama, you are beautiful, but more than that, you are important. You are valuable. You are irreplaceable. You, Mama, are doing the best work on earth. You are needed. You are intelligent. You have gifts and goals and dreams that are unlike anyone else's, on the whole planet. You are unique. You are bold. You are courageous and capable of more than you know. Your body is the thing in which you dwell and which enables you to do the important things.
To quote Taryn, Mama, "Don't waste a single day of your life being at war with your body. Just embrace it."
Thanks for sharing your journey as I share mine.
Blessing upon blessing,
How can we help each other to embrace the bodies we have and learn to love them for what we can do with them?
Whether you're battling depression or just having a bad week, these tips can help you find your happy place again.
(Please note: If your funk has lasted more than a few months or you're thinking scary thoughts, then please, please, please stop trying to pull yourself out of it and go see someone! Talk to your doctor, get recommendations for a good therapist in your area, or call 1-800-THERAPIST for a confidential recommendation.)
10 Tips for Getting Out of Your Funk:
Rest Those Hardworking Muscles! As a Mama, your number one complaint is probably lack of sleep. Am I right? Girl, put that phone down and go to bed! I know how hard it can be to get to bed on time. With littles to care for (who may or may not still need you in the middle of the night) or older ones with homework and sports and unending time in the car plus household tasks and quality time with the hubby and all your other commitments... It all adds up and before you know it, you're folding the laundry at midnight, crying quietly cause you just want to go to sleep. Well, I'm here to tell you: For your sake, put the laundry down! Aim to get at least seven hours of sleep. If a tiny cry will interrupt your beauty hours, then plan to stay in bed as long as takes to fill up on sleep. If ever there was an encouraged use for iPads, it's during those early morning hours!
You Are What You Eat: Food plays such an important part in every aspect of your physical and mental well-being. Make sure you're getting enough calories every day and that most of them are coming from whole foods. That means cut down on those processed foods and refined sugars, Mama. I know you only want to eat ice cream in the middle of the day... grab an apple instead. Your body will thank you!
Check your levels: It's always a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor and have them run blood tests. Deficiencies in iron, magnesium, vitamin D, and others can all contribute to suppressed moods.
Get Moving: Exercise has been shown again and again and again to improve depressive symptoms because it increases your dopamine and serotonin levels, two major players in the mood game. Plus, sweating is a great way to work out aggression for things you might not have any control over. Many a good rage has been dispelled with weights in my hands.
Go Outside: Ever wonder why sunshine makes people happy? It's because the sun helps your body produce vitamin D! Not to mention it's warm and comfortable and invites you out into the fresh air and wonderful, wide world where birds sing and children giggle and moms get tan. Oh, February... I wish you were July... This Pacific Northwestern girl is missing her some sunny days and poolside outings right about now!
Create something: Take time for yourself and make something you love. It can be a painting, a drawing, photos of your kids or nature, one of the many DIY projects you've been pinning for 'later'. Make later today.
Use all your senses: Smell is often left off the list of self-care to-dos but, I'm telling you what, diffusing my favorite essential oils or lighting a tantalizing candle can really shift my mood quick. Essential oils have many benefits, the most significant of which is known as aromatherapy (which doesn't have a 'therapy' in its name for no reason). My favorite oils for blue days are Quiet Time, Bergamot, and Cinnamon.
Practice gratitude: Gratitude has more beneficial effects on your body than I could ever list here! Stop for a minute and think of five things you are grateful for. Or better yet, make a list and post it somewhere you'll see it again.
Find the thing that makes you happy and prioritize it: If you love gardening, set aside time to be outside with a shovel and some seeds. If you love writing, plan to have Hubby put the kids to bed so you can write or journal without interruption. If you love hiking, then dust off your boots and get out there. If you love... You get the idea. If something makes you happy and you can shift your schedule or let something else go so you can do that thing, then do it! A happy Mama is an effective Mama.
Let some things go: Thanks to Facebook and Pinterest and, ahem, mom blogs, there's a TON of pressure to be awesome at everything, especially if you're at home during the day. It's easy to feel like you've got be on top of everything from whole foods to organization to a spotless house to the newest parenting trend to fashion to... the list goes on. Mama, you can't do it all. Let me say that again. You CAN'T do it all. I can't either. And we're not even supposed to. So pick your battles, fight for what's important to you, and let the rest of it go. Let it go, let it go... Now it's going to be stuck in your head all day. Sorry 'bout that.
That's my list. What would you add? Tell us in the comments!
Blessing upon blessing,
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