Water: A Short Story for World Mental Health Day

I would like to thank Paula Andrews from the UK for her short story submission ‘Water’. A relatable fictional story, based on true events, reflecting the inner world of a mother suffering from mental health issues.

Around the world it’s World Mental Health Day today (or yesterday for us Aussies!) and where I live in QLD, it’s mental health week. I believe depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions are a a bigger part of many people’s lives than we know or can even fathom. Motherhood in particular can be an emotionally draining rollercoaster at times and many of us can suffer in silence for years, believing that no-one understands or could ever help us out of the dark abyss that threatens to steal every moment that was meant for joy.

But there are people who understand, those who have been there, those who are still there and those who may be there in the future. There’s no easy cure for mental illness but there is help. If you suffer from depression, anxiety or any other mental illnesses, please seek help through your local helpline. If your in Australia, Lifeline is a great resource if you’d like someone to talk to. Their number is 13 11 14.

Don’t suffer alone. From someone who has been there ‘there is a light at the end of the tunnel.’

Paula Andrews was born in Yorkshire (origin: England) and has lived in Scotland for 29 years. She is married to a Glaswegian and has two grown-up children (21 and 19 years) both born in Glasgow. She worked as a midwife for twenty-two years; having owned her own craft business, has taught arts and crafts to blind people and has been writing seriously for around eight years. She published her debut novel for teenagers (and adults) early this year, just before lockdown commenced! It is a time-travel ghost story called Oranges and Lemons, crossing modern day with the 1860s.

Paula tells us “I have had work published in Aquila magazine, Scribble magazine and Scottish Memories magazine and have taken first place and other placings across various genres in writing competitions at the Scottish Association of Writers and within my own writers’ group, Strathkelvin Writers’ Group. I have a website and blog dedicated to my writing, which can be found at www.paulaandrews.co.uk“.

This page contains affiliate links which may earn me a small commission (at no extra charge to you) should you click through and make a purchase. Affiliate links are how I keep this blog running, thank you.



Photo by Blanche Peulot on Unsplash

WATER

She hangs the small pink mac on its peg; she knows it’s the right one from the picture card on the wall, displaying a solitary polar bear. Ellie runs away from her. Excited. She’s running towards her favourite thing at the crèche: the water tray. She’ll pour and splash for as long as they’ll let her. A water baby. Like her. Solitary. Like her, too. They’ve identified this as being problematic, on several occasions, in reproachful tones, which annoys her.

            “She needs to play with the other children. And share. Can you work on this at home?”

            Suzie sees her daughter skip through the swing doors without looking back and feels a stab of sadness in the bottom of her chest. Little Ellie is happy yet surprisingly tuned in to her mother’s mood. Suzie knows Ellie doesn’t believe her when she says:

            “I’m fine, Ellie.”

            Because Ellie asks. Often.

            “Are you sad, Mummy?”

            “No, I’m not sad, baby.” Usually, those five words are all she can manage. It feels to Suzie, the less she speaks, the less she lies.

            Sam is at school. Two years Ellie’s senior. They say he’s an old man in a wee boy’s body. My fault, Suzie thinks. She sees it as a negative trait. Another solitary child. How could they be anything else when she’s that way? She should’ve taken him to more classes; art, gymnastics, Little Nature Lovers, everything time would allow, maybe. Well, money wasn’t really an issue. But money hadn’t magically cloaked him with an aura of cordiality at toddler group twice a week. She’d felt bemused when she’d watched him choose his play space: always a couple of metres away from the other children. He’d selected his toy and carried it off, looking back at the group; seeming to measure with his footsteps as he walked. Content with his chosen spot, he’d settled and played with that one toy for the entire session.

            Nevertheless, school seems to be changing him. She feels a detached satisfaction when she watches him run up to his friend, Leo, in the playground each morning.  

            On this morning, she drives home, barely observing the traffic, not using her mirrors. Staring ahead, feeling still but heavy; calm but sad. Sadder than she can even think about. There is no sound inside the car. Her senses seem flattened. Squashed between two heavy mattresses.

            At home, she fumbles with the house keys. For a minute she can’t remember which is the right one. It annoys her. She sighs and lets her arms drop by her sides. She sighs again and a wave of melancholy washes up from her tummy to her scalp and she’s glad of it. A feeling, however bad. Something that makes her real; not some automaton stumbling through this interminable cycle of life: feeding children; a spousal ‘have a good day’ on John’s way out the door each morning; school run; tidying up; washing pots; laundry; two pocket-money hours in the village bookshop every day; and sleeping, but never properly. The keys drop from her limp hand and when she bends to pick them up her knees are wobbling and she nearly keels over.

            She gets inside and sees so many obstacles. Slippers, a bouncy ball, John’s trainers, the tools he fixed the waggly door handle with last night; Ellie’s teddy lies forlornly on the stairs. She relates to the teddy: bedraggled, her clothes slightly askew like its ribbon, her hair and nails a bit grubby like its fur. She could lie beside it at an angle on the stairs and she wouldn’t care. She’d lie there all day. She’d stay there when the phone rang. She’d listen to the message on the answerphone:

            “Mrs Peters, Ellie’s here, waiting to be picked up. Can you call the crèche as soon as you get this message?”

            She wouldn’t move. Not during the message. Not after the message. Perhaps the teddy would turn and look at her, accusingly. Perhaps he’d growl and say:

            “Aren’t you going to answer that? That’s my Ellie you’re neglecting.”

            But instead of lying beside the teddy, she opens the kitchen door. In here, it’s clean and tidy. She filled the dishwasher and wiped the surfaces before the school run. She walks to the sink and turns on the cold tap. The sound of water settles her; it makes her feel clean and refreshed. She runs a bowlful and presses her hands to the bottom. She feels scratch lines radiating across the grey plastic. The dripping tap plinks as she examines her fingernails which are not grubby after all; she just feels that they are. It is so difficult to keep anything clean: the children, the house, herself. Everything feels messy, cluttered, disorganised; her thoughts, muddled; her sleep, disjointed and broken. A miniature bubble forms on the back of one hand then dashes to the surface and pops. I’m going to do that, she thinks. Rise up, all of a sudden and…burst. Unless…unless…


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            Her nose prickles and a tear forms in the corner of her right eye and swells rapidly, building into something monstrous like a tsunami. It’s still there, threatening to spill over. The left eye is starting too. Funny how tears form in one eye first. She looks out of the window into the garden but everything is dull and blurry. Like her sense of place. She can’t distil her purpose into anything meaningful. She can’t see the way forward to the bright future of fulfilment. She can’t battle herway out of the black mire she’s trying to wade through.

            John will know what to do. John, ever loving, ever kind, ever thoughtful, ever, ever, ever, so much it suffocates her sometimes.

            Please phone, John. Tell me what to do.

            But John will ask if she’s taking her medicine and she’ll have to lie. Because the medicine makes her sooo tired.

            John is busy; always in meetings. Please phone, John, she urges. She needs to hear his voice but the phone doesn’t ring and Suzie doesn’t move. Her hands are getting chilled; the ache is rising to her wrists. She looks at the ugly blue pipe of a vein with its jagged junctions. She lifts her hands out of the water and lets them drip on the floor. She looks around the kitchen. It’s a good kitchen. The children’s drawings are stuck neatly in a grid pattern on one wall and she hears Ellie’s voice:

            “Mummy, I’ve painted the sea for you. Because you love the sea, don’t you, Mummy?”

            The painting didn’t really look like the sea. It was a dark mass of flaking black, navy and grey with a swish of ultramarine at the edges where the colours hadn’t merged.

            When the phone did ring, it wasn’t John. It was the school, with their usual opening message.

            “It’s Carol Brown from the school office. Don’t worry, Mrs Peters, there’s nothing the matter with Sam. I’m just calling to check if you have Ellie’s birth certificate. We don’t seem to have received it when you brought her for enrolment. Do you think you could bring it in and we’ll copy it?”

            “Yes, yes, okay, I can do that,” Suzie mumbles, dabbing her eyes. Her voice sounds stilted. She clears her throat with a cough then puts the phone down.

            Did she say birth certificate? Or baptismal certificate? Birth, baptism, both connected with water and the flow of liquid.

            “Water. I need water,” she says. This time her voice is clear and Suzie thinks it sounds loud and intrusive in the house. She tries it again. Just one word.

            “Water.” She remembers she hasn’t spoken out loud for some time. Breakfast this morning had been hurried, the children both chattering and clattering. John had been in a hurry too.

            “Early meeting,” he’d said, kissing her on the cheek and striding, carelessly, obliviously, thoughtlessly to the door. “See you tonight, honey. Bye, kids.”

            The sound of her voice seems to spur Suzie into action. She looks at the clock. Nine-thirty. If she leaves right away, she’ll have time to get back.

            She has purpose now and it feels good. Everything here reminds her how crowded her life is. On the stairs, Mum’s gloves, left by mistake. On the spare bed, a tote containing John’s sister’s birthday present. Ellie’s room, stuffed full with bags; Ellie loves bags. She is always playing weird, solitary games which involve going on a trip and her bags contain random objects. Suzie picks one up. Green sparkly backpack, covered in sequins which are always littering the house, turning up in the strangest places: in John’s socks, trapped between the dinner plates, stuck on the outside of a jam jar in the fridge. Inside the bag are a wooden train (pilfered from Sam), a fabric flower, scrunched paper, a toy banana and a single stripy sock stuffed with plastic animals. God knows what flight of imagination this cornucopia of Ellie’s means. Only Ellie knows that.

            She moves to Sam’s room. His is more orderly: space books stacked on his chest of drawers; a picture he’s doing of a comic-book hero; his pencils; an Edinburgh Castle ornament that Mum bought him. His dressing gown is a big lump like some strange creature on the carpet. Suzie leaves it there.

            In her own room, John’s running kit makes a similar heap: he’d been out before work this morning. His jeans sprawl across the chair. On his bedside table are a collection of small toys waiting to be mended. From her own side of the bed, a mental health magazine lectures, soundlessly. He’d bought it for her. She doesn’t want it; its just being there makes her feel awful.

            People want to intrude in her life all the time.

            “I’m only trying to help, Suzie,” Mum said, impatiently, last week. “Because I love you. I think you should go and see Someone.”

            Suzie isn’t sure who Someone is but she doesn’t want to see them, whatever flavour of psychologist, psychiatrist or counsellor they are.

            She thinks of her brother, saying:

            “Come to mine for a couple of days, Suzie. We’ll go out. Have a laugh. You can kip on my settee.”

            The thought of going to Dublin is intolerable even though it’s kind of him to offer. Suzie can’t imagine anything worse for someone who already feels hemmed in. A few years ago, she’d have jumped at the idea. But now, it’s impossible. She’d suffocate.

            She tries to swallow then she forces her voice through the lump in her throat.

            “I need space. Don’t they understand? More space than they can give me. I’m a solitary person and I need to be alone. At least for a while until I can think and concentrate. I need to be away from here, away from all the noise and the mess and the confusion and all those voices and demands and opinions.” Her throat aches.        

            She leaves her phone on the kitchen table. When she starts the car, she isn’t sure where she’ll go. First, she’ll drive. Then she’ll keep driving. She needs to get far away.

            At four o’clock, she reaches a suitable place and she sits on the beach and listens to the sea. She’s free. She feels light. The freezing wind blows through her hair and her thoughts become clear. I’m solitary and free, like a polar bear. She thinks of Ellie’s peg at the crèche.

            Ellie, she thinks. Ellie and Sam. Someone’s children.

            She takes off her shoes and socks and leaves them on the beach. She needs to feel the water, bathe her toes. It’s cold. It’s good. It’s strong. It isn’t enough. She lifts her feet, one, then the other. They suck out of their sandy sockets. She wades forwards. A water baby. Like Ellie. Solitary too. Just like Ellie.



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My Mum Life Story: Part 3 – Depression and Divorce

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This is probably going to be the most open and honest post I’ve ever written (so far) and probably the darkest. It covers a decade of my life that I practically pushed under the rug in order to move past. A lot of the details are foggy but the feelings and emotions and life lessons are all too vivid.

If you haven’t already read Part 1 & Part 2 of My Mum Life Story, feel free to do so now or simply read on.

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I Had No Clue

I remember sitting on the cold plastic chair in the hospital waiting room, resting the clipboard on my ever increasing baby bump, filling in the form about my mental health. I very vividly remember thinking “I’m not going to get postnatal depression, I’m going to be fine”. Now I’m not the most optimistic person in the world so it still shocks me when I remember this.

I have struggled with my emotions most of my life, feeling every little thing deeply and constantly criticizing myself when I don’t reach the impossibly high standards I set for myself. Add to this the fact that I’d had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome since I was 7 and had been unable to work full-time hours because of it. Did I not realise that Motherhood was more than a full-time job? Had I not read about the effects of severe sleep deprivation? One would think I didn’t realise I was having twins, yes that’s right, not just one life-consuming addition to the family, but 2.

This must have been during the second trimester, that magical 3 month period where “the glow” is at its peak. The morning sickness had finally subsided, my energy levels had increased somewhat and my mood was elevated with joyful expectancy and a naive perception that the rest of the pregnancy would be just as enjoyable.

Whilst I was the type of person to make plans ahead of time in order to get organised and prepared, I was also the type of person who lived in the “now”, thinking on and dealing with the present and all the emotions and feelings that came with that. So because I felt good in that moment, I couldn’t perceive that things could change, and so dramatically, nor that my experiences throughout the coming years would redefine the type of person I was.

Postnatal Depression

As you can imagine, incubating 2 babies was an exhausting task. My energy levels plummeted pretty fast in the 3rd trimester and by the time they were finally born at 37.5 weeks, I was completely over it.

The euphoria of having 2 gorgeous little people, that were part of me, my flesh and blood, with my brown hair and brown eyes, was blissful to say the least. I think my favourite times in life have been those precious few days I’ve spent in hospital getting to know my babies (spoiler alert, I have 5 now) but after coming home, reality hit harder than a freight train.

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I struggled through the days, barely keeping my eyelids open and the nights were beyond horrible. For the first two weeks, while my husband was off work, he would help by changing one boy while I fed the other, but once he went back to work, I was on my own because “he” needed his sleep and apparently I did not. I would rush one baby through his feed while the other one was crying in his cot, but for some reason they both had a habit of falling asleep 5 minutes into a feed and I could not wake them. So I would put the first one down and grab the second one, change him and feed him.

Now, the boys were waking every hour and a half because if one woke up the other would also wake, plus since they were falling asleep 5 minutes into a feed, they would be hungry again not long after. I had had a c-section because twin 1 was breech, so getting up several times of a night was painful and difficult to say the least. After 6 weeks of 5-6 feeds every night, I was beyond tired and was feeling very defeated. The health nurse tried to teach me the twin feed, with one under each arm like little footballs, but every time I put one baby on, the other would slide off. She told me I had to keep them awake by tickling them or talking to them, but it never worked and the dynamics of trying to get two babies onto my lap (without tearing my c-section scar) when no one was around, was definitely a lesson in futility.

I became so overwhelmed and felt so completely useless that when someone suggested I try formula, I abandoned all dreams of exclusively breastfeeding (which I’d assumed would be the only way I could feel like a ‘real’ mum) and switched to bottles.

This made life a little easier, I had two bottles and two hands, life was sweet. They would drink the whole bottle and fall asleep for a few hours at least. Unfortunately since bottles aren’t warm on demand like booby milk, I would have to calmly handle the crying as I ran to the kitchen to heat the bottles, and as I changed two nappies and often outfits if they had leaked through. Calmly handling it, worked for a few weeks but as time dragged on my energy supply went beyond rock bottom and patience was something I could no longer find, no matter how hard I tried.

When they napped during the day, I was finding myself just enjoying the quiet and the alone time instead of catching up on sleep like I should have been, so by the time the boys were 4 months of age, I was completely exhausted and the strength it took to stay awake during the day was like trying to walk up hill on the bottom of the ocean. Unfortunately I wasn’t blessed with good sleepers and every technique I tried for getting them to sleep through the night either didn’t work or required more commitment than I had the strength for (It would be at least 2 years before they would sleep through the night, and by this time I would be pregnant again and in my 3rd trimester).

I was so completely shattered that even thinking about facing another sleepless night made me cry, in fact everything made me cry. There was no energy left in my body, I felt weak, drained, dizzy, lethargic, disconnected and miserable. Little did I know at the time but apparently having children makes Chronic Fatigue worse, and I’d just had twins. My body was protesting, my mind was protesting and my emotions were all over the place. I couldn’t see any hope of things changing (because I was that ‘live in the now’ person) and I wasn’t looking forward to anything at all. The doctor diagnosed me with Postnatal Depression, assuring me that it would get better eventually. Little did he or I know that it was just the beginning of 8 long years of mental torture.

Depression is such a difficult thing to talk about. When your in the midst of it, it consumes you completely, the thoughts and feelings associated control your entire being, sucking the life out of you and causing you to feel like a stranger in your own skin, but when your well again (like now) it’s hard to remember what was so bad, why you let yourself get to that point and how you could have hated yourself so much. I get small reminders of it sometimes when my youngest are sick and not sleeping or when circumstances get beyond my coping abilities but something changed later in my life that brought me to a much better place. (I will talk about this in Part 4)

This is where it gets real, and deep and dark. It’s hard for me to talk about what my mind went through back then but I think it’s important to share the raw realities of depression, so others can understand they are not alone, that there are people who get it, who have been there and come out the other side, stronger and happier.

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Pressure Rising

Not quite sure where to start with this, there’s so much that contributes to depression, so many thoughts and feelings and circumstances. I was overwhelmed to say the least at having two babies at once and even though I had a lot of help from my mother, I felt alone in it when it came to my relationship with my husband. I felt he was unavailable physically and emotionally and I was left to try and deal with the mental load alone. I always managed to find a smile when the camera came out but underneath it all I was dying inside.

When the boys were just 17 months old, I fell pregnant again. We were surprised but excited, thinking how nice it would be to have a little girl. I was incredibly nervous as I was struggling to deal with the first two let alone another one and I was terrified at our first ultrasound that we’d discover a second set of twins. I was shamefully relieved to see just one little peanut on the ultrasound screen! Out of 5 children this would be my one and only little girl.

Taking care of twins whilst pregnant was difficult to say the least, as the Chronic Fatigue worsened again and I suffered a lot of pain in the last trimester. Thank God I had my Mother there to support me, in fact we were living in the same house with them at the time as we were building a house together. My parents were a great source of support, but the dynamics of two mums in the house caused tension every now and then and added to the stress and anxiety that I was feeling.

The doctor had put me on anti-depressants that I would later discover were actually causing more depression and prolonging my symptoms rather than helping them. Plus my doctor failed to inform me that they would cause mild withdrawals in my newborn which sent me into a whirlwind of Mum Guilt that took months to get over.

The birth of my daughter was an exhausting one. I decided to try a natural birth and was in labour for at least 15 hours and had 3 epidurals which didn’t work. I ended up losing a lot of blood and after the umbilical cord had been around her neck, my daughter was not breathing when she was born. It took them working on her with the oxygen mask for what seemed like hours (in reality it was more like a couple of minutes) before she started crying, and I can tell you there was no greater sound.

After being awake all night in labour with an hour of pushing, 3 failed epidurals, 3 tares, a 2 litre blood loss and a very stressful birth, I had to fight immensely hard to keep my eyes open so I could hold my baby and give her her first feed. I didn’t get to sleep until that night and then I was awake every 20 minutes because of the withdrawals that made her want to suckle constantly.

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A difficult birth became a difficult recovery which would lead to two rounds of corrective surgery in the coming years. My daughter suffered reflux and feeding became a struggle that would force me to put her on formula at 3 months of age. I felt like I’d failed her somehow even though I knew it wasn’t my fault. I believed that breast feeding was best for my baby and wanted to continue it for at least a year this time, so there was a great deal of disappointment in that.

So with 3 children under the age of 3, I pushed through the extreme fatigue that came from none of my children being good sleepers (my boys gave up naps 2 months before my daughter was born) and the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome that drained me of all energy and joy.

My Darkest Days

It wasn’t all bad, there were many happy moments. Watching my children play with each other and grow and learn was an amazing privilege that kept me going. It gave me a reason to keep getting up every morning despite how intensely difficult it was. They were my life, my breath, my very purpose. God had blessed me with their care and I’ve never felt any greater love on earth than that of my love for my children, but with that great blessing, came great responsibility and I felt the pressure like a rock under thousands of feet under the surface of the earth. I didn’t want to let anyone down but felt like that’s all I did.

I put my children first in every way possible, I came last in my own mind and felt it was selfish to think about my own needs. It was an enormous effort to get out of bed every day, but I did, because my kids relied on me. I built up this idea in my mind of the perfect mum and it looked nothing like me. I did the best I could every minute of the day but couldn’t reach this impossible standard I had set for myself, so mum guilt, frustration, anxiety and depression became my best friends. We spent every moment of the day together, we became inseparable for 8 long years.

I was tormented day and night with despair and hopelessness, believing it would never get any better, hating God for what I believed was his plan, to put me through hell, give me more than I could cope with, give me a condition that made me exhausted and unable to gain any energy, allow me to marry a man I had nothing in common with and who didn’t seem to love or understand me. The thoughts that tortured my mind every minute of the day, wouldn’t allow me to enjoy anything. I couldn’t feel happy, ever. Sometimes I just wanted to die. I hated myself for not being who I wanted to be, who I believed I should be and wished God would take me away from the world and the life that I really thought I hated.

I would get so frustrated with my inability to cope with the chaos of 3 little kids. I would try so hard to stay calm but would inevitably blow up, then hate myself for it and end up crying in the corner of my room, telling myself I was pathetic and useless and didn’t deserve children or even to live really. I was unhappy in so many ways. Unhappy with myself, unhappy with my marriage, unhappy with life at home, unhappy with not pursuing a career first before starting a family, unhappy with my relationship with God and unhappy that I was so unhappy. I was angry, so angry with my life and with myself because I wasn’t finding peace and happiness in all the blessings I had. My world just got darker and darker.

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I tried so many medications, some made me feel suicidal, some made me feel jittery and weak and others made me feel completely numb, I could neither laugh nor cry, I hated this the most, not feeling at all. Eventually someone told me about a doctor in a private practice who was trialing an epilepsy drug with patients with depression so I decided to go and see her. She put me on the medication and it wasn’t long before I was feeling better. The antidepressants were not good for me and I truly don’t believe they are good for anyone. I believe they make depression symptoms worse, not better. This medication was so much better and helped me to be able see the bigger picture.

Whilst I improved, I wasn’t cured (not yet anyway). I could see things in a better light and could see where my problems were, but there were so many areas in my life that needed changing, one of them was my marriage. I tried to work on making my marriage better but felt after a while I was the only one trying to make it work. After a difficult recovery from a tonsillectomy my health declined again and I found I was getting a lot of pain in my joints and muscles. I developed a neuropathy that made my nerves hypersensitive and my scalp felt like it was alive with creepy crawly things. It was the most irritating, frustrating and painful thing I could imagine. Of course this didn’t help my outlook on life and depression began to steal my resolve once again.

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Battlefield of the Mind (Spiritual Growth Series): Winning the Battle in Your Mind

Divorce

In the midst of this I started doing some counselling and came to a decision about my marriage. I wanted out. I found myself hating him. We never talked anymore. I never felt we had any kind of friendship and I didn’t trust him. What he told me was not what he told others and he truly didn’t seem to care about what I was going through. Whether this was true or not, I don’t really know but I know that I felt like I’d made a mistake getting married so young and I was convinced that our relationship was the reason I was so depressed.

I had hated our marriage for a very long time but was taught growing up through the church that God hated divorce and I was under the wrong assumption that if I got divorced, I would go to hell. I tried for so long to make it work and to hang in there for the kids sake, but after hearing about other Christian’s who’d gotten divorced and moved on and reading some Christian literature about God’s grace after divorce, I decided it was what was best for me and (in my mind) him as well. It wasn’t until years later that I would discover the real reason our marriage failed (I will discuss this further in part 4).

So I moved out with the kids, into my parents house (the house we had all built together, before we asked to be bought out) with my husband telling me he would fight for our marriage (he never did) and I began a year of mentally bashing myself for failing to keep my family together. I thought I would be happier with a fresh start. I thought healing would begin immediately but I soon discovered that God was putting me through a gruelling process of refinement that would feel like punishment at the time but produce a shining diamond in the end.

It wasn’t long after we separated that my ex husband found someone else to date and I felt like I was right all along and I had meant nothing to him. I didn’t want him back but my feelings of worthlessness increased to the point that I began comfort eating. My weight increased as did the pain in my joints and muscles, I was always tired, always sad, always finding it difficult to keep up with the kids and wondering what the point to life was. Had God abandoned me? Did he hate me? Was he punishing me for my divorce and my inability to be the good person I wanted to be? Or was it me and my self hatred that was causing me to be in so much pain mentally and physically?

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Declining Health

I was referred to a neurologist and a rheumatologist and diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. Whilst it was a relief to finally know what was going on in my body, it was devastating to know that I had a condition there was no known cure for. They put me on very strong painkillers and anti-inflammatories but I found that this only increased my weight and made me feel even sleepier. I was now trapped in this cycle of treating the symptoms only to make the problem worse. I hated it and I couldn’t understand why this was happening to me. I never wanted my life to end more than I did at that time in my life. I stopped talking to God completely for a while because I was tired of asking him “why?” and not getting an answer. I was sure he’d stopped listening to me anyway and I felt like I probably deserved it.

Looking back now it was only the grace of God that got me through and kept me from turning to destructive habits and substances like so many people with depression can get caught up in. God was my rock, my foundation that kept me from self-destruction. Only my faith kept me alive and present so that my problems didn’t become my children’s problems.

It was whilst I was in the midst of the total despair and complete self loathing, that God brought along a friend who would introduce me onto the path that would eventually bring me back to him and allow him to transform me from a lowly, ugly caterpillar to a beautiful butterfly, flying free from oppression and darkness, taking me to a happier, lighter place of self discovery and purpose.

That, however is a story for Part 4.

There is so much more to my story than I can cover in just 4 parts but I will share bits and pieces throughout other articles in time. Some things have to stay private for a while, as for many reasons, now is not the time to share it, but one day it will all become part of my Life Story.

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I believe everyone has a story to tell and whether you believe it or not, your story could be an inspiration to many. Many who are on the verge of giving up completely or giving in to all the things that will lead them onto a path of self destruction. I know now there is hope, that nothing is ever pointless or useless. There is a purpose and a plan and a reason for every season under heaven.

Feel free to ask questions or leave comments in the comment section below. I love to hear from my readers.

 


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The pace and intensity of our lives, both at work and at home, leave many of us feeling like a person riding a frantically galloping horse. Our day-to-day incessant busyness — too much to do and not enough time.

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MUM LIFE BURNOUT: 10 ways to cool down

Mum Life Burnout PT 2 cover

So here’s a story most mums can relate to. I told my 3 year old and 20 month old the other day that I was just going to the toilet for 2 minutes and would be right back. Now I always leave the door open a crack so I can hear what’s going on in the other room, in case I need to bolt out to rescue a toddler under attack (see ‘Big Brother Syndrome’) or one that is under a ‘toddler attack’. Literally 10 seconds after I sat down to do what I needed to do, my adorably chubby toddler, barged his way in and presented me with a book which I was supposed to read to him. I was about to lose it (I mean can I not get just 2 minutes of privacy to do my business?) but he smiled at me with his precious little dimples and puppy dog brown eyes and I couldn’t help but laugh.

If he’d come in and started unravelling the toilet paper or tried to run off with the toilet brush again, it may have been a different story. My Mum Life Rage may have burst out of it’s metaphorical straight jacket and left a trail of smouldering debri in its wake, because it wasn’t the first frustrating event of the day, or week for that matter. I had been scooping him off the dining table at least 20 times throughout the morning, not to mention giving him numerous ‘time out’s’ inside the house every 2 minutes for continually throwing the sand pit toys into unreachable places. He’d been hitting his brother with wooden spoons stolen from the dish rack and turning his toys into projectiles, bashing both his brother and I in the head more times than I could count. To say I was at the end of my tether would be a gross understatement.

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The Effects of Mum Life Burnout

If you read the previous article ‘MUM LIFE BURNOUT: 5 Ways It Can Effect You & Your Family‘ then you’ll understand why my patience was thin and why I felt a second article was necessary. In the last article I talked about 5 effects Mum Life Burnout can have on you and your family, here’s the very condensed version of the list:

  1. Your more likely to get sick: If your so busy that getting a chance to rest is as rare as finding a matching pair of toddler socks in the clean washing, you could find that it takes much longer to recover and you could be more susceptible to recurrent illness.
  2. You can become less organised and productive: You just go with the flow, going into autopilot or survival mode and not putting effort into sticking to a routine or schedule.
  3. Your more likely to suffer from stress, anxiety &/or depression: Being overworked, under pressure and suffering Mum Life Fatigue can lead to all sorts of physical symptoms, from racing heart beat to fainting, palpitations, nausea, migraines, stomach problems, etc. A trip to the emergency department could be your Friday night out!
  4. Your at a higher risk of family separation and divorce: The unintentional pressures from family members, especially spouses can add to the burnout and if not dealt with, it can sometimes feel like the only option is to ‘get out’ of the relationships.
  5. You can lose confidence in yourself and your ability to be a good mum: When we put too much pressure on ourselves to be everything to everyone we will inevitably fail and this can lead us to feelings of discouragement and unworthiness.

So the effects of Mum Life Burnout are not at all insignificant and require some major changes to bring us back to a balanced, positive place.

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Why are we getting burned out?

I saw this video on CNN that talks about “the good old days” of parenting, when things were a lot simpler and we didn’t have the internet with it’s plethora of information about what parents “should do” and it really resonated with me. As I talked about in my article “Mum Life Guilt: A Breakdown (Literally)” there are far too many opinions out there about what a good parent looks like, not to mention all the perfect pictures on instagram and Facebook that give us a very false ideal to live up to. Our heads are filled with constant noise telling us that pretty much everything we are doing is not good enough.

On top of all that there is constant pressure on women these days to ‘have it all’, the perfect marriage, the perfect family and the perfect career. You need to be a professional housekeeper, nanny, chef, taxi driver, teacher, nurse, accountant, social media expert and the financial provider all rolled into one and do it without dropping a single ball.

As mums we are expected (including by ourselves) to be physically, mentally and emotionally available for every member of our family 24/7. The more family members you have the more time and commitment is required, and every member has different needs dependent on their personality, their emotional and mental development stage, their physical and mental capacities, etc etc. The role of Mum is so complicated and diverse that it’s like a thousand jobs rolled into one. Even the toughest, strongest Mums have moments where it all just becomes too much.

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10 Steps to cool down and get your sanity back.

So how does one combat Mum Life Burnout and regain composure? I can honestly say that I haven’t as yet worked out the perfect solution, but I know without a doubt that both “getting enough sleep” and finding “me time” are 2 things that are vitally important to our ability to cope with pressure and maintain a certain level of “self identity” that we can often lose as mums. As mums we feel it’s our job to take care of everyone, but who takes care of us? We need to take care of “us” if we are to be the best “us” that we can be and therefore have confidence in ourselves to “teach” our kids how to be the best “them” that they can be. 

After researching all over the internet (yes, that place that both creates and solves our problems) and digging into the deep dark recess’ of my brain where past conversations with my sisters in motherhood are kept till such times as they are needed in a blog article, I have come up with 10 tips on how to reduce the risk of Mum Life Burnout. 

  1. Get some sleep – It is oh so tempting to fall into that trap of staying up extremely late to get some time alone, to switch off the noise of the day and drown yourself in something you find either so mind-numbing its euphoric or so exciting it returns life to your zombified brain, but lack of sleep can cause all kinds of problems, from irritability, memory loss, confusion, brain fog, anxiety and depression to physical symptoms like impaired immune system, increased heart rate, tremors, aches, dizziness, migraines and weight gain. Getting enough sleep at night could not only save your sanity but increase the quality of your life.
  2.  Just say No – Come on practice it with me “No”, “Noooooo”, “N.O.” see how it just      rolls off the tongue. If your schedule is already overloaded and you know without a doubt you couldn’t possible add another thing to it, DON’T! I know this is easier said than done, most of us like to be able to help our family, friends and associates whenever possible but sometimes it’s just not possible. If saying “yes” is going to lead you to burnout then your not only going to be less helpful to that person but you’ll be under so much pressure that you’ll dramatically reduce the quality of your help in all the other things you’ve said “yes” to. 
  3. Take some ‘me time’ – Even though a month long European vacay would only just touch the sides of the empty glass that is your personal life, I’m sure most of us would do anything to get one. It’s not exactly realistic though when you have an entire tribe of villagers reliant on you as chief life planner, so a little bit of time here and a little bit of time there, is about all you can hope for. Make a regular time each day or week that is “your time”, time when you can do whatever you want uninterrupted. Whether its nap, read, write, make some pottery, go for a run, take salsa dancing lessons or plot world domination, you need this time to feel like a human being, a human being that is just as important as all the other human beings in your life.
  4. Delegate – I was going to call this one ‘get help’ but come on, lets face it, if there were more hours in the day, we could do it all because we are all capable, strong women who can do anything we set our minds to, but there are way too many responsibilities and not nearly enough time, so lets delegate some of that work to other family members (like our partner or older kids) or even pay someone (if you can afford to) to do those things that have been sitting at the bottom of the to-do-list for far too long. I recently noticed the pavers in our back yard had gone mouldy from a lot of rain and I thought to myself, I could go get a cheap pressure cleaner and spend 2 hours doing it myself or I could use the same money to pay someone else to do it. Once upon a time it would have been a no-brainer, I would have done it myself, but in an effort to reduce my Mum Life Burnout, I hired someone instead and it felt amazing to have the pressure taken off my shoulders to get it done.
  5. Spend time with your partner – If your blessed enough to have a partner, schedule regular date nights where you can spend time with just the two of you, behaving like adults (or not) for a while, just kicking back with your bestie, not talking about work or kids or how many bills you have due in the next week or so. Make each other a priority because that relationship is the most important one you have. If your family is to function well, you need to be working well with your team mate, the stronger your relationship is, the better you’ll be able to work together to lesson the load on you. 
  6. Be creative – Now you might say to me “I do not have a creative bone in my body” but creativity is simply something that comes out of you as an expression of who you are, so whether you like doing Maths equations, re-organising the linen cupboard, gardening, baking delicious sugary treats, sewing, writing, taking photographs, revamping old furniture or flipping houses, you have some creativity inside you that is bursting to get out. Whatever makes you feel alive and gives you satisfaction is what you need to do every now and then to express yourself and keep that ‘identity’ alive.
  7. Stop comparing yourself to others – No two people are the same and no two families are the same. Everyone is different and every family has different needs. No one knows your family like you do. Stop comparing yourself to the perfect photoshopped family on Instagram, you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors and chances are things are far less than perfect. You are your children’s entire world and they love you unconditionally, to them you are already perfect and they wouldn’t trade you for any one else in the world, so be the best you, you can be. Go technology free for a day and see what a difference it can make to your perspective and how much you enjoy your day without the distraction.
  8. Drop the guiltMum Guilt is all too real. We all suffer from this monster from time to time and it can be at times a great motivator to make positive change but at other times our greatest enemy, taking us down and out when we least expect it. We are never going to be able to make everyone happy, life happens and we deal with it the best we can. Things don’t always work out the way we want them to or believe they should but feeling guilty about it doesn’t help us to move on. Use the guilt as a reality check, if you can do something to change the situation, do it but if you can’t, let it go and move forward. 
  9. Don’t overschedule your families life – It’s great for your kids to have activities outside of school to develop their fitness or talents and giftings but if you have them doing activities every day and all through the weekends, then your going to be running around like a lunatic all week long with no opportunity for rest or for being spontaneous. Believe it or not, your kids will have more opportunities as adults to try all the things they didn’t get to try as kids. They won’t be deprived if they don’t have a wall of trophies by aged 12 or know how to speak 3 languages by high school graduation and chances are less activities and more rest or spontaneity will help your kids feel happier and more like, well ‘kids’.
  10. Be kind to yourself – Lastly, remember how far you’ve come. Take a mental note of how much you’ve accomplished and give yourself credit for being the amazing woman that you are. Your kids are alive, they are fed, they are dressed and they have a roof over their head, everything else is a bonus! Look after yourself and love yourself so you can better look after and love your family.



You can only do so much, so be proud of what you have done, enjoy your family, enjoy your time alone, do what you can and delegate the rest, don’t worry about the little things, don’t compare yourself to others or take too much of what other people say to heart. Be the best version of yourself that you are capable of being and your family will thrive! 

More

If you like to read there are some insightful books out there with helpful advice on getting “yourself” back.

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One of them is ‘Motherhood Is a B#tch: 10 Steps to Regaining Your Sanity, Sexiness, and Inner Diva‘ by the very successful business woman and Writer/Producer Lyss Stern. 

Description (from Amazon):  This guide tells it like it is and explains how women lose their sense of self once they have children and why it’s so important to reclaim it. Motherhood is a B#tch! tackles the toughest issues facing moms today and empowers you to regain your once fierce and fab self. In the end, you’ll be happier, healthier, and hotter than ever.

 

 

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How To Be a Happier Parent: Raising a Family, Having a Life and Loving Almost Every Minute. Written by KJ Dell’Antonia (former lead editor of the New York Times Motherlode blog).

Description (Amazon): Drawing from the latest research and interviews with families, KJ discovers that it’s possible to do more by doing less, and make our family life a refuge and pleasure, rather than another stress point in a hectic day. She focuses on nine common problem spots that cause parents the most grief, explores why they are hard, and offers small, doable, sometimes surprising steps you can take to make them better.

 

Mommy Burnout: How to Reclaim Your Life and Raise Healthier Children in The Process. Written by Dr. Sheryl Ziegler, a Mum of 3 herself, this book is described as the ultimate must-read handbook for the modern mother: a practical, and positive tool to help free women from the debilitating notion of being the “perfect mom,” filled with funny and all too relatable true-life stories and realistic suggestions to stop the burnout cycle, and protect our kids from the damage burnout can cause.

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MUM LIFE BURNOUT: 5 Ways It Can Effect You and Your Family.

mum life burnout article cover

So I recently went out with a few mum friends for the first time in forever. That’s right! No kids. No rushing little people out the door with a dozen bags full of spare clothes, nappies, wipes, snacks, drink bottles, etc. No wet patches on my clothes where I’d quickly scrubbed off spew, poop or food at the last minute.

This time, I had clean clothes, a face full of makeup, my hair was actually done half decently instead of just brushed through and dried naturally and I wasn’t dreading a night full of chasing little tornadoes around the table, cleaning up their inevitable spillages and half-eaten morsels of food that have been thrown on the floor with a cheeky giggle and mischievous grin, or the embarrassment as fellow diners cringe at my 20-month-olds fascination with squealing at a pitch that even a Galah would envy.

Instead, I walked out the door with a bounce in my step and an excitement about the prospect of being able to eat my dinner while it was still warm.

After a fantastic night of conversation (uninterrupted), laughing, drinking and dining, I realised that it was exactly what I had been needing for a long long time. I had convinced myself that I didn’t need a break, that the hour or so I had each evening after the kids went to bed (where I would work on my blog) was enough to keep me sane and the couple of days a week when I only had 3 teenagers (instead of 3 teens and 2 toddlers) was respite enough to start the crazy cycle all over again, but I was WRONG!

Yeah, take note of that because you won’t hear me say it too often, I was WRONG! Haha



A Full Life

I’ll break it down for you. In a nutshell, I am a single mum of 5 kids (2 x 16 yr old boys, a 14 yr old girl, and 2 boys 3 yrs and 20 months) I have my 3 teens full time and the 2 little ones 5 nights a week. If anyone has toddlers they know how full on they can be. I literally feel like I am cleaning my house all day. I once heard the quote “cleaning your house while the kids are awake is like shoveling snow while it’s still snowing” and I live by that statement.

My son keeps asking me why I don’t wait till the end of the day and clean it when they are asleep and then I only have to do it once. I tell him (and I don’t know why he still hasn’t got it):
1) I’m too tired at the end of the day to clean the whole house.
2) That’s my time to write, and
3) I like to be in a clean house, if I let the kids destroy the place all day, I’d be slipping on peanut butter sandwiches, tripping over toys and walking around in wet socks (because for some reason, even though they have cups with lids, their drinks always end up on the floor. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve washed the lounge room rug).
So I chase the kids around all day with the vacuum cleaner and a chux super wipe.

On top of cleaning, my boys have become very clingy of late. My 3 year old is constantly asking me to pick him up, play with him, tickle his hand, sing ‘spider-man’, ‘ABC’s’, ‘twinkle twinkle’ (although we change it to tickle tickle and I tickle him), and ‘God Loves you, and I love you’, not to mention numerous toilet trips throughout the day. My 20 month old is a little less demanding but he likes to eat, as often as possible, so we’ve had to put a lock on the pantry, plus locks on all the utensil drawers as he was forever throwing all the contents all over the kitchen floor.

Jetpack

Basically, when the boys are home I am on my feet all day. Between cleaning, changing nappies, wiping bums, picking up after them, spending time in educational play and getting them outside (including playgroup once a week) if they are awake, I am on my feet and working hard. If I sit down for even 5 minutes, they are climbing all over me, fighting each other for the best position, or asking me to come and play. I am often tempted to say “not now, I’m having a rest” but my mum guilt kicks in instantly and I feel like a neglectful mum for not being available when they want me, and so of course I get up and play with them.

When my little boys are not home, it’s teenager central at my place. My older boys both have girlfriends so I’m either running them all around town to various date locations or they are all at our place, or I take them out somewhere. I enjoy the company of all the teens (I’m not sure many mums can say that). I have amazing kids, they are a lot of fun to be with (although there are sometimes dramas to mediate and friendship dynamics to navigate), but it’s only a couple more years before they will be off living their own lives and making their own mistakes, so I want to relish every moment I have left and make as many memories as I can.

The twins (16 yr olds) have their learner driving licences, and so I have the awesome responsibility of supervising 100 hours of driving time, EACH! So that’s 200 hours of driving time I need to supervise before they can get their licences. On top of this the boys and I have begun construction on a pallet bed for my king size mattress. If anyone is confused, that’s a bed made from pallets. We are complete novices and are learning as we go, but we are enjoying the process and the time together, and hopefully we will be instant masters at it and can start another career in furniture construction. I know, I know, it sounds rather ambitious but I think we can do it.

Keep an eye out for the blog post on our efforts in a month or so.

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Last but not least we have Church commitments. There’s 3 services on a Sunday (we usually only make it to one or two though) and we help out on a fortnightly basis with whatever needs to be done with set up and pack up, etc. I am also going to start training for a bus licence so I can help pick up people who do not have transport. So as you can see a lot of our day’s without the little ones are full of busyness.

I say all of this, not to gloat about how much I do but to explain how I’ve let myself get to a place where I am so obviously suffering from Mum Life Burnout. I believe over the last 6 months, I may have put a little too much pressure on myself to be everything for everyone. I may have let the world and other people in my life, make me feel like if I’m not constantly moving, then I’m lazy and not doing enough. If I’m not constantly giving all my time to my kids, then I’m neglectful and selfish. If I say ‘no’ to anything, I’m mean and nasty and on the flip side if I say ‘I’m busy’ then I’m making other things a priority and my kids will inevitably feel like they are not a priority to me and in turn end up insecure and codependent on their future spouses. My goodness! With that much self-induced pressure, it’s not wonder Mum Guilt and anxiety where starting to steal my joy.

So what does Mum Life Burnout Look Like?

Do you ever have one of those days where you just feel like your going completely insane?

Where every little thing just ticks you off to the max? You find yourself ranting to every member of the family (and even the guy at the grocery store checkout) about how sick you are of being everyone’s slave, because you spend all day cleaning and at the end of the day it looks like you’ve done nothing (even worse sometimes). You could swear that your family deliberately make messes just so they can irritate you with unnecessary housework, your positive they are wearing their entire wardrobe everyday so that they can replicate Mt. Kilimanjaro with the washing pile.

You find yourself cursing the tv remote because you “once again” pushed the ‘return’ button instead of ‘ok’ whilst trying to let Netflix know for the 200th time that your still watching ‘The Wiggles’ (Well your children are) and the two buttons are just too damn close together. The cat or dog becomes your biggest nemesis, trying to trip you over with every step and your sure the vacuum cleaner has the same mind set. Life and the world just becomes too much to handle and you really wish Aliens did exist and one of them would beem you up and whisk you away to another planet.

If you have days like this then chances are your suffering from Mum Life Burn out.

To better explain Mum Life Burnout I’m going to reference an article from Gallup.com entitled “Employee Burnout, Part 1: The 5 Main Causes” (Gallup.com, July 12 2018) Yes this article is about burnout in the workplace but let’s face it, is there any worker that works harder than a mother? Our job is 24/7 and the pressure is all too real. The same basic principles apply.
The article states “A recent Gallup study of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found that 23% of employees reported feeling burned out at work very often or always, while an additional 44% reported feeling burned out sometimes. That means about two-thirds of full-time workers experience burnout on the job.” If this is the case for full-time workers, how much more would it be the case for mothers (or even dads, if you take on a lot of responsibility in the home)? Whether you work full-time outside of the house and come home to take care of a family, or you are home with kids full-time, your job never really ends so there is a high chance of experiencing ‘Burnout’ at some point in time.

The effects of Mum Life Burnout

The below table (from the Gallup report) briefly highlights some (but not all) of the effects of employee burnout.

The effects of Employee Burnout
Employees who say they very often or always experience burnout at work are:

  1. 63% more likely to take a sick day
  2. Half as likely to discuss how to approach performance goals with their manager
  3. 23% more likely to visit the emergency room
  4. 2.6 times as likely to leave their current employer
  5. 13% less confident in their performance

Gallup

Let’s break that down in terms of Mum Life Burnout:

  1. 63% more likely to take a sick day – Well wouldn’t we love to take a sick day occasionally? The truth is, there are no sick days in our employee contract as a Mum. If your sick, the best you can hope for is putting off a few of the household chores for a day or two but you’ll inevitably have to work twice as hard to catch up on it all. Most of us just keep working through, unless we are close to death and succeed in our pleadings for our other half or a family member to take over for a day. If you never get a chance to rest when your under the weather, you can become run down, it can take longer to recover and you can become more susceptible to illness in the future.
  2. Half as likely to discuss how to approach performance goals with their manager – Sometimes I wish I had a manager, someone who could organise my life and just tell me what to do and how to do it. The reality is as a mum you are your own manager. So I see this one as being ‘half as likely to spend time thinking about how to better manage and structure their time and activities with the kids’. So in other words we just go with the flow, going into autopilot or survival mode and not putting in the effort required to stick to a routine or schedule.
  3. 23% more likely to visit the emergency room – In all honesty a visit to the emergency room would be a welcome break. If you have someone to mind the kids, a visit to the emergency room could be on the cards, anxiety, stress and Mum Life Fatigue can lead to all sorts of physical symptoms, from racing heart beat to fainting, palpitations, nausea, migraines, stomach problems, etc. If you don’t have someone to take responsibility for your kids then you will inevitably feel like you just have to push through which can lead to more anxiety, illness and possibly depression.
  4. 2.6 times more likely to leave their current employer – Stress, burn-out, fatigue etc can put a lot of strain on a relationship and a family. Partners can sometimes unintentionally put more pressure on us by expecting us to be available for their needs whenever they have them. If your suffering from Mum Life Burnout, your unlikely to be able to give your partner what they require of you, leading to strain in the relationship. If this goes unchecked for a long period of time, separation can result or in the worse case scenario, leaving your family all together.
  5. 13% less confident in their performance – I feel this percentage is much lower than it would be in the case of motherhood. Motherhood is basically a one person owner operated business with the odd casual worker coming and going. You are responsible for every aspect of the job and therefore expected to be an expert in all areas of operation. The pressure can sometimes be overwhelming and with no holidays or sick days, there’s not much opportunity to take a load off. Most of us will eventually cave under such pressure and find that our confidence in our ability to Mum right, is dramatically reduced, by more like 80% than 13%.

From these results it’s easy to see that burnout can have a dramatic affect on work performance. It’s no different with Mum Life Burnout. Our job comes with a huge responsibility. Not only are we responsible for the safety and care of our little humans but they are watching us all the time as an example of how to act, how to cope with life, how to be a complete human and in the future a good parent. If you weren’t feeling the pressure before then here’s the reality. Everything we do matters!

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Or does it?

That said, not everything we choose to undertake, matters. Our actions, our words our responses matter, but there are some activities or objectives that don’t matter as much as we think they do. Having your house spotless all the time for example.

Sure, it’s important to have a clean house and to show our kids that keeping clean and tidy is both better for hygiene and for promoting organisation and productivity, but if we have the unrealistic expectation that we have to have a perfect house 24/7 then we are putting undue pressure on ourselves to reach a standard that is close to impossible with little children in the house. Kids don’t need to see a perfect house, they need to see a well-maintained but lived-in home that is clean but full of all the things that make each person who they are and give them the freedom to learn, explore, experiment and play.

We need to stop putting so much pressure on ourselves to be the perfect Mother and start making our health a priority so we can be the best Mother for ‘our children’ that we can be. Get out with the girls every now and then, be the you that you are when your not being a mum. Explore new hobbies or interests or simply spend time doing what you already know you love.

There are many ways that you can combat or prevent Mum Life Burnout, but that’s a topic for my next article ‘Mum Life Burnout: 10 ways to cool down‘ or some other super helpful sounding title like that.

Thanks

Thank you for reading this article. You can read more articles like this here, including ‘Mum Life Fatigue, Big Brother Syndrome, Mum Guilt: A breakdown (literally).

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How To Accomplish More In A Fraction Of The Time eCOVER WHITE

The pace and intensity of our lives, both at work and at home, leave many of us feeling like a person riding a frantically galloping horse. Our day-to-day incessant busyness — too much to do and not enough time.

With this ebook you will learn to approach your days in another way, reducing stress and getting results through prioritizing, leveraging and focus!

 

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Mum Guilt: A Breakdown (Literally)

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MUM GUILT! If your a mum you’ll know this term (if not the experience of it) all too well. It’s like a ferocious predator on the hunt. Even on the good days its laying low in the grass, watching its prey, waiting for the right time to pounce, keeping it’s victims on constant alert. Then it launches it’s attack, catching its prey when it’s at its weakest or most vulnerable. If you’re lucky you’ll make a narrow escape and come off with nothing more than a few scratches but if you’re anything like me and a million (I may be exaggerating for dramatic affect) other women out there, your predator will rip you to pieces and drain you of life, consuming your flesh and leaving your carcass for the vultures.

You may feel this is an overly dramatic analogy but others may relate to the overwhelming feeling that mum guilt can lead to. It’s that often overlooked element of Motherhood that we all try to pretend we are not experiencing because it may make us look like we are weak or not fit for this prestigious role of Nurturer/Carer/Teacher/Role Model/Mentor/Guidance Counselor, etc. It’s that wretchedly ugly, life threatening, self abusive demon called ANXIETY!


Get your FREE Ebook

How To Accomplish More In A Fraction Of The Time eCOVER WHITE

The pace and intensity of our lives, both at work and at home, leave many of us feeling like a person riding a frantically galloping horse. Our day-to-day incessant busyness — too much to do and not enough time.

With this ebook you will learn to approach your days in another way, reducing stress and getting results through prioritizing, leveraging and focus!

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What is Mum Guilt?

The dictionary describes guilt as: a feeling of having committed wrong or failed in an obligation. So Mum guilt in turn could be described as: a feeling of having committed wrong against one’s offspring or failed in a motherly obligation.

How does that apply to us? Because we wouldn’t ever do anything wrong by our kids or fail in any way to meet an obligation now would we? When we enter into the blissful wonderland of Motherhood we become perfect human beings in every sense of the word do we not? After all we are a representation of not just adulthood but womanhood and everything that encompasses, guiding the next generation of humans onto the path that leads to human perfection. Am I right?

No, of course not. No human being is perfect. Being human is hard. It’s messy, it’s scary, it’s ugly and its a journey of self discovery that takes practice and perseverance to simply become the best version of our imperfect selves that we can be.  So of course we are going to do things wrong or fail in an obligation, and guilt is inevitably going to result if we have any tiny morsel of empathy, sympathy or compassion toward our children.

Sometimes that guilt can be a powerful motivator, forcing us to make changes that create a better environment for our family and build better relationships but other times it can send us into a downward spiral of despair, hopelessness and self loathing that can leave us curled up in the corner wishing the earth would swallow our sorry selves and replace us with someone who would most certainly be better at doing what we need to do and handling it with all the class and finesse of a well polished british princess (or at least an unrealistically strong and courageous disney princess).

I can fall somewhere in between the two descriptions, handling it like a pro one minute and having a complete breaking down the next. My mind can wane between “I got this” and “I am a going to lay face down on the floor and die, if one more thing goes wrong.”

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Post Script (The Sequel to PS, I Love You) Buy it now.

Where does Mum Guilt come from?

When I read the dictionary description above, I feel an overwhelming sense that there is a staggering amount of circumstances that could be considered a slight, a wrong, an injustice or a down right tragedy and a plethora of reasons why those circumstance may lead to Mum guilt. 

How would you define a wrong against your child? Would it be the major things like, forgetting to pick them up from daycare one day (I fortunately have never done this by the way, but there’s a fear I might, so I’m constantly checking the time). Inadvertently booking a non-refundable flight for 2 for a romantic getaway with the neglected spouse, on the weekend of your daughters ballet concert? (all hypotheticals). Punishing a child (after accusing them of lying) for eating your once-a-month chocolate bar treat and then finding the wrapper under your own pillow? or in all-seriousness, not being able to provide for your child, whether it be physically or emotionally or mentally? Not being available (due to work, illness, or separation)? Exposing them (whether intentionally or unintentionally) to violence, abuse or criminal activity? All things that probably should cause guilt if you love your kids and want to change how you relate to them.

Or does your mum guilt like my mum guilt come from just about every scenario where your child might end up with a quivery lip, a shaky voice, tears in their eyes or a full-blown tantrum?  Scenarios including but definitely not limited to the list below:

  • You forgot to buy their favourite cheese, the kind in the individual plastic wrap, not the block cheese, the grated cheese, the smelly cheese or the one with veins in it.
  • You gave your child crackers in a bowl instead of directly out of the packet.
  • You refuse to press play ‘PJ Masks’ for the 200th time that day.
  • You ask them to stop throwing sand all over your head and down your shirt front.
  • You won’t let them empty all the contents of your cutlery drawer on the floor so they can find the wooden spoon in order to engage in a sword fight with their younger sibling in which you know fingers could be lost or at least severely damaged.
  • You gave them the wrong coloured plate, bowl, utensil, cup or straw.
  • You didn’t accurately measure the contents of the bowl or cup when dividing food or beverages between siblings.
  • You gave something to one child that another child wanted.
  • You spent more time with one child than the other.
  • You took 5 minutes to do something you wanted to do and ignored your child for the entirety of those 5 minutes.
  • You left the room momentarily to put some laundry away.
  • You dared to go to the toilet and not invite the child to join you.
  • Your dared to ask your older children to clean their rooms or do their chores.
  • You couldn’t get your teenager the latest iphone and instead they have to suffer the embarrassment of a pre-paid generic smartphone.

I could go on but I won’t as I think you all get the jist and don’t want to be reading my ramblings for the next century. The point is, does your mum guilt come from situations you can control and possibly avoid or is it coming from all the tiny little things that are simply products of this ever increasing out of control existence known as ‘Life’?

It doesn’t help that we live in a world that is critical, judgemental and sometimes down right nasty and we have now a universe of information blasting out of our computer screen or smart phone from a million different sources telling us who we should be and how we should parent.

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Too Many Opinions

Do you ever read an article or blog post and feel guilty because you never ever considered how textures and patterns had an emotionally stimulating effect on a newborn’s intellectual abilities and dramatically increased their chances of winning the nobel prize by the age of 20? I mean, how could you not have known that? What kind of a parent are you and why aren’t you stimulating your baby’s brain with copious educational pattern books?

Ok so I completely made that up but is it really that far fetched?

Once upon a time, back in the olden days (let’s say 200 years ago) when there were no such things as televisions, computers, the internet, radio’s or youtube, people relied on each other for both entertainment and information, imagine that! If you wanted to know something about raising a child, you went to your mother, or grand mother or even a neighbour. Your community was the only source of information available to you, if no one there knew it, you were pretty much on your own and had to just wing it.

I’m pretty sure most people survived, I mean, we still had Nobel prize winners, Presidents, Inventors, Medical Professionals, Government Leaders, Einstein, Men on the moon, the Hubble telescope, the Sphinx! The internet itself was created without the internet and the vast array of information it delivers every day, so why is it that these days we are relying on Instagram to get a picture of what the perfect family looks like, or facebook for all the opinions of the multitude or flicking through blog post after blog post (mine are acceptable of course) to find out what type of food can make our babies smarter or how many educational toys are enough to stimulate their cognitive reasoning without overwhelming their senses, or how many days at daycare they can do without becoming codependent needy adults with separation anxiety and addictions to alcohol, cigarettes, food or chocolate or all of the above?



The fact is that since the invention of the internet, there has been an enormous increase in not just the information available but in the opinions of others. If you want to know what someone thinks about a matter, just google the keyword ‘know-it-all’ (you can probably think of something better than that) and you’ll get a thousand blog articles, tweets or facebook posts about the topic filled with every Tom, Dick or Harry’s (or is it Tina, Didi and Hermeine’s) take on the subject.

Gone are the days when all you had to worry about was Aunty Joan’s comments at the Christmas party each year about how bottle feeding causes detachment issues. Now you can shake your head, roll your eyes and scoff at a hundred different people and their opinions every single day! There’s so much information available at our fingertips that you could search every minute of every day and it would take you years and years to get through it all.

Is it little wonder that we are feeling overwhelmed and anxious? Is it a surprise that we are never quite sure we are doing anything the right way? Can we ever be confident that we are doing what is best for our children when there are so many other ways to do things that could potentially be more beneficial for them? I mean surely that guy down the road who has never had kids but sounds like he knows everything and has a PHD in early childhood development would be correct if he said that co-sleeping was not at all beneficial for your child, even though you and your baby have never slept better since you started doing it, right? WRONG, you gotta do what works for you and your child.

We need to stop worrying about what everyone else’s opinion is because guess what? you have an opinion too and your opinion about your child is far more important than someone else’s opinion about your child.

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My Opinion.

I’m not saying you should ignore all the advice and research out there, but take it with a grain of salt. Read some things, listen to some people, try some things, but ultimately you are the mother and you have everything already inside of you to be the best mother to your children than anyone else can be, because YOU are their MOTHER, no one else is, they can pretend to be but they never will be. You know them better than anyone else, from their annoying little pet-peaves to their adorable individual little quirks and characteristics, you know them back to front and upside down and you know what keeps them alive, what excites them, what irritates them and what makes them laugh, cry, shout and jump for joy.

If you give them opportunities to learn, play, explore and experience and your doing the very best you can every day to keep them healthy and breathing, then your doing an amazing job. Stop listening to all the voices in your head that tell you your not doing enough, or your not giving them enough or that YOUR not enough. At the end of the day, when they wrap those little arms around your neck and kiss your cheek, you know your doing enough because they love you and love does make the world go around right? I mean if all they ever learn in their life is to love, would that be so bad?

Now all of this is of course, just my opinion as a mother of 5. That opinion is by no means the right or best opinion, because I haven’t got it all perfect and under control, I probably feel like I’m failing at least 50% of the time, I’m still working it out and still learning as I go after 16 years of being a mum, especially since my littlest ones (3yrs and 20mnths) are growing up in this world of information that was really only just beginning when my oldest ones were little. In my opinion, if you feel like you have to do it all, be it all, have all your plates spinning at once or juggle a hundred balls in the air, then you’ll inevitably fail. I don’t know anyone who can do all that without falling apart at some point, but that’s a blog post for another time.

A couple of other great articles I found from mums about mum guilt are ‘Calling Bullshit on Mum Guilt‘ from Mumming and Lifeing, and ‘Mum Guilt and Mental Health‘ from Motherhood with Added Extras.

Thanks

Thanks for reading this article, I hope it was helpful to you in some way. Feel free to comment or ask questions at the bottom of this post, your feedback is welcome and encouraged.

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Get your FREE Ebook

How To Accomplish More In A Fraction Of The Time eCOVER WHITE

The pace and intensity of our lives, both at work and at home, leave many of us feeling like a person riding a frantically galloping horse. Our day-to-day incessant busyness — too much to do and not enough time.

With this ebook you will learn to approach your days in another way, reducing stress and getting results through prioritizing, leveraging and focus!

 

ebook button


 

Photo Credits: ‘Eye with Tear Drop’ by Aliyah Jamous on Unsplash & ‘woman covering eyes’ by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

 

 

Separation Anxiety: A Parent’s guide to surviving time away from the kids.

A 5-Step Formula for reducing the severity of separation anxiety.

Surely the majority of parents in the world have at some point had to deal with Separation Anxiety. The screaming and the crying, the clinging and the tugging, the desperate cries and the begging to ‘Please stay’ and thats just the parents! Imagine how much harder it is when you add in the separation anxiety of the children. But that’s a whole other blog article (most likely someone elses). I want to talk to you about Parental Separation Anxiety, an all too often overlooked issue.

Have you ever just been so desperate for ‘time away’, for a ‘break’ from your kids, for ‘me time’, only to be smacked down with separation anxiety? You long for just an hour or two to sit in a chair without jumping up to rescue a toddler who thinks he can fly, or to clean up the babies spew before he decides to eat it again. You hunger for a meal that you get to eat while it’s still warm or for some long overdue romantic time with the other half but even the thought of leaving your little ones for a short time, causes your heart rate to increase and your palms to start perspiring.

What is it that makes us crave space yet fear it at the same time? Love, lets just call it Love. We love our children too much. They drive us crazy but we can’t get enough of their adorable little personalities that remind us so much of ourselves and our partners. We need separation but at the same time we struggle to be away from them, worrying if they are okay without us, if they are lonely, scared or anxious or if the person/s looking after them are as capable as we are. It’s an all too common dilemma facing many parents and it only increases, the more kids you have.

So how can this problem be overcome? How can we gain the rest and space from our kids that we need without creating more anxiety within us which can lead to long-term issues such as the ‘overbearing parent syndrome’ and the condition known as the ’embarrassing grandparent’? After having 5 children, three of which are now teenagers, I have learnt a few things about how to reduce the stress of separation anxiety when spending time away from my precious offspring. Here are 5 helpful steps you can take to lessen the strain on yourself and your children.

  1. Don’t go out for too long. If the idea of spending long periods of time away from your children is enough to send you sprinting into a corner and taking up the fetal position then start with short breaks. 10 minutes here and there, stretching it out to 20 minutes after a few weeks and working your way up to a couple of hours. This should only take you 6 months or so and make the transition that much easier.
  2. Spend half an hour saying goodbye. Nothing says “I love you” more than a long goodbye. Your child will be well and truly confident in your devotion to them if you spend a large amount of time fussing over them and making sure they know you really don’t want to leave them but have to for your sanity’s sake. They will be all the more excited about your return also.
  3. Call incessantly. Everyone has a phone these days, use it! Call or text at least every 10-20 minutes to check in and make sure everyone is still alive, babysitters and grandparents love this and your mind will be put at ease.
  4. Don’t have too many children. One surefire way to reduce the amount of separation anxiety you suffer is to have less children. Stop after 2 or 3, the risk of separation anxiety increases with the amount of offspring, so less is best.
  5. Never let your children leave the house without you. Separation anxiety can strike at anytime, not just when you leave them but when they leave you. Whether they are simply hanging with friends after school or starting their first job, just say no! The more independence they have, the more time they will want to spend outside of your company. This will only lead to greater anxiety and what’s known as the ’empty nest syndrome’. Avoid this at all costs, even if you have to home school them and restrict their access to driving lessons, bicycles and public transport.

You may never eradicate separation anxiety from your home completely but it’s quite easy to reduce it if you know how. This 5 step formula will have you relaxing and enjoying limited amounts of time away from your kids without putting undue stress on you or your children. For more helpful tips and entertaining articles, follow our blog at http://www.mumlifestories.com or send us a story of your own to mumlifestories@gmail.com

~ Jo Stewart