I wasn’t sleeping. I was getting yelled at, sweared at and hit at work as a teacher for middle schoolers with behavioral disorders. I would come home, on edge, to my two children (and our two foreign exchange students) and make lunches, dinner, give baths, complete unfinished paperwork and end my day by trying to fix whatever damage I had done due to my forgetfulness. It was all piling up, yet when friends would tell me I had a lot on my plate, I would smile, shrug and say “it’s fine.”
Except it wasn’t. I would come home, snap at my kids because I was short on patience and exhausted. I was missing appointments. I was falling behind on paperwork. On the outside, I gave the appearance that I took it all in stride but inside, I was drowning. My perpetual feeling of being overwhelmed manifested itself as being mouthy, irritable and short-tempered.
I made an appointment with my doctor. I left work early and walked into the examination room. The nurse asked me what the purpose of my visit was and I just started crying. And crying. And crying. I couldn’t even tell her what was wrong. When I finally mustered the composure to tell her what was wrong, she just looked at me with sympathy and said “I’m glad you are here today.”
My doctor came in and I quickly ran through the list of things I had failed to manage effectively: my job, my home and, most concerning, my emotions. I was in that room admitting that I lacked the resiliency to handle the adversity that was being handed my way. Things I couldn’t say to my closest friends I was divulging to a near stranger in the white coat.
She immediately referred me to a psychiatrist and wrote me out of work for six weeks. That seemed extreme to me and I wasn’t comfortable with that plan. I told her I couldn’t leave my students for that long, they had been through so much. She looked at me and said “YOU have been through so much.” I left with a referral and a prescription.
I came home to an empty house and said to myself “something has to give.” I developed a plan to take control of my situation instead of letting it control me. So, overwhelmed mom, if you feel like you are about to become the sequel to “Postcards from the Edge,” try a few of these things that helped me get myself back together.
Put your oxygen mask on first
No one wants to think about it too much, but when you are on a plane they tell the adults to put their oxygen mask on first and then their children. This is because in order to be of assistance to your children, YOU need oxygen. Whatever your “oxygen” is, do it. Running, knitting, drinking wine … have something that you enjoy that is relaxing to you and make that a priority.
Channel your inner Nancy Reagan and just say no. Part of my feelings of being caught up in a tide of overwhelmed was because I wasn’t comfortable saying no to people. I guess I was afraid they wouldn’t continue to like me or, worse yet, cease to rely on me. For me, this meant taking a hiatus from some volunteer non-profit work I was doing. I loved it and I still very much love the organization, but I wasn’t able to put my full effort and attention into it. Saying no is just as important as knowing when to say no.
At first, admitting I was struggling with all the demands meant I had bit off more than I could chew and that I was not, in fact, a superhero. I’d give people hints here and there with little quips like “I can’t wait for this school year to be over” to just being honest and straight up confessed I was a hot mess who was nowhere close to having her act together. This helped those around me take things less personally if I forgot something (which I am always doing).
If it gets so bad that you can’t seem to find your way out, make an appointment with your doctor. It was nice to have an objective adult witness the damage the stress was doing to my body via an elevated blood pressure. It was a relief to hear that my doctor had seen more than one teacher that week. It was validating to hear “you’ve been through a lot” and have her help me come up with a course of action.
So many moms try to keep so much running smoothly that we become unhinged in the process. Take a step back, breathe, make priorities and most importantly — take care of yourself — first.