I feel somewhat sheepish when I say that this summer has been stressful because truly, it’s only been stressful in a totally first world privileged middle class housewife way.
Getting the house ready to sell, wrecking my van driving to Home Depot, trying to get things ready for an international move. These are the problems of the lucky and I am so very grateful. Truly I am.
Yet. Even with a keen awareness of how good I have it, at the end of of last week I felt empty. Dry. Completely exhausted to the point of feeling ill. I had zero tolerance for ANYthing. Anything. Like the sound of a three year old’s incessant demands made me wish that I could cease to exist. I had fallen deeply out of love with motherhood. Particularly the variety that involves mothering a small child. I can only compare it to the way that I feel when I am in the early stages of pregnancy. In 100% pure survival mode. When I’m in that sick sick sick as a dog phase I have no reserves physically emotionally or mentally for anyone or thing else. I am merely surviving. Growing a baby. Puking and existing. It’s the best. But at least then I knew that there was a really worthwhile cause for my lack of interaction with the planet and that I would feel better soon. Last week I was decidedly not pregnant and I was most decidedly OVER> EVERYTHING.
This next part is important. A few months ago I stopped taking all of my prescriptions. No more anti-depressants or ADD meds or sleep aids. I replaced them all with essential oils and nutritional supplements. I weaned very slowly and cautiously and it’s gone extremely well. I will never say never about going back on regular meds but I will say that so far these have worked far better for me than those were working for me. HOWEVER. Here’s the thing about ditching conventional medication, particularly of the “helping me not to be crazy and sad” kind and replacing them with essential oils and supplements…YOU MUST TREAT THE ESSENTIAL OILS AND SUPPLEMENTS THE SAME WAY THAT YOU TREAT THE MEDS. Which means ,taking them EVERY SINGLE DAY. ON A SCHEDULE. Just because they aren’t pharmaceuticals does not mean that you can mess around with them. DO. NOT> DO. THAT. No. NOOOOO. For the love of sanity and safety please do not do that.
I called Cindi one day last week and blurted out flatly. “I am so depressed. SO depressed. Like every breath takes monumental effort.” Cindi who had answered her phone (which goes to prove that God exists and miracles happen every day to little people just like me) said, “oh no! why?!” to which I said, “I do not know. I just am”. To which she said, “Oh yeah. I’m so sorry honey.” Which is why it was a great thing that I called Cindi because when you are so depressed that it is taking a ton of effort just to draw a breath, you just do NOT need to be explaining or justifying why especially when you have no idea why.
And then she let me
swear and swear and swear talk, and talk and talk and tell her what a terrible mother I was and how sad I was that my kids had me as a mother and stuff like that and by the end of the conversation I was laughing and thinking that maybe I wasn’t actually the WORST mother maybe just in the top 10. And drawing breath was so much easier.
And most importantly I was able to have enough clarity to remember that I had skipped taking my supplements and my oil routine for two days and that I must NEVER EVER DO THAT EVER AGAIN. And I also realized that I needed a break. I needed a change of scenery and to just. Do. Nothing. Except. Be. With. My. Family. For one, maybe two days.
This sounds so self indulgent.
Considering I just posted about another fun and fabulous family getaway we went on. But as fun and exciting as that was, it was very short and it was certainly not a “do nothing” kind of getaway. Not that this is a bad thing in and of itself, but I had actually forgotten the oil routine during that time and my hormones were super out of whack so by the time I got home I was all kinds of mental and messed up again. OMG. People. I know. I am a delicate flower. It’s a trial. I’m not even kidding.
Anyway, in the olden days people were sent away “to the shore” when “they had an attack of the nerves” and unlike how they used to bleed people and institutionalize them and such, I feel like they had the right idea with this particular remedy. Because I am incredibly blessed, and because this was to be our very last opportunity for a summer hurrah, and because the Tractor Pull was in town and our roof was being replaced, my sweet husband heeded my Tainted Love refrain (“got to run away…I’ve got to get away”) and was able to orchestrate a last minute family vacation weekend.
He rented a house on Lake Michigan and told me to pack a bag. And so I tossed everything I own and everything Ella owns into a suitcase-my packing problems discussed another time in another post (everyone else packed themselves more judiciously) and we just went.
And it was heaven.
Heaven. I say. There was no agenda. No obligations. No driving people around. No Shopping. There was no cleaning. Nobody needed to be at any practices. There was very little internet access. There was just sand. Water. Sky. Trees. Family.
I was with my kids and my husband and we just talked. A lot. And laughed. Even more. We laughed. And snacked. And laughed and laughed and laughed and snacked and laughed some more…
There were about 200 steep steps to and from the beach house so we got in plenty of exercise and when Ella needed to go potty she gamely peed in a bucket on the beach and everything was just so chill and connected in all the right ways.
The whole time we were there I felt like this: free and joyful. Even though Sunday was overcast the whole day (and don’t my boys look intrepid taking on the fierce waves;) there was sunshine in my soul.
I did so much thinking and praying and soul-searching as I ran and walked and floated and lay and dug and played.
On my last day I observed my toenails as I floated on the lake. My pedicure which had been flawless when we arrived had been almost entirely worn away by the sand and the water. My nails looked pink and bare and unassuming and young. My soul felt the same way. I felt stripped of all the gunk I paint on, my daily armour against the world and as I lay bobbing in the water with nothing but the horizon in front of me, I felt fresh and clean, sanctified, new and vulnerable and brave and healthy and hopeful. I felt like me.
On Sunday night before I feel into a happy and restful sleep, it struck me that it had been as flawless a day as days on Earth go. And so I wrote a list of things I/we had accomplished that day.
- Run on the beach
(These are actually Ella’s teeny footprints next to Aaron’s not as teeny ones)
- Fresh peaches for breakfast
- Rap-off with the boys and Gracie
(Gracie left this award next to my bed that night. The boys would disagree with her but she is a sweet daughter..)
- Walk with Gracie (and even inveigled her to chat about to me about her crush)
- Long uninterrupted chats with Aaron on the beach and floating in the dinghy boats
- Hot tubbing while watching the sun set over the lake with boys and Ella
- Badminton with boys and Gracie
- Charades with the whole family
- Cuddles with Ella
- Lots of laughs
- Finding pretty stones
- Watching the sunset together
- Sharing my favourite scene from The King of Queens with the kids. Writhing in helpless, silent laughter as the scene unfolds and overcome with delight watching as they laugh as much as me as at the scene. Sharing a sense of humour with my kids is my favourite surprise of motherhood.
- Reading and reading and reading some more.
(Read this book. That’s an order. Life.changing.)
People. Call me unambitious but that right there is my idea of a productive day! It was so fulfilling and satisfying. It hit all the most important things. Quality time and conversation with my family. Time spent doing what each person loved. Being outdoors and appreciating nature, stimulation of the brain and body, laughter. Water in many forms.
My kids were kinder to each other, they shared advice and anecdotes with one another. They laughed. Benj worked diligently to finish his Honours reading project during quiet moments without being reminded or admonished. He talked to me about the book which he found really thought provoking.
I felt so serene and grounded and patient. I was happy to do things for my kids. It did not feel like a sacrifice to stop what I was doing to do what they wanted to do. Yet at the end of it I did not feel drawn and exhausted and depleted like I usually do when I am derailed from my own plans repeatedly, I felt full and happy and satisfied and restored. I fell back in love with being a mother. I found my three year old delightful and charming and not at all burdensome.
(on the drive home, showing me the preztel turtles she made. Asking for suggestions for their names. She did not take me up on “Turdy”. )
I’m still trying to figure out what I could take from this perfect day to apply to the every day experience.
As we drove away from the beach house, our cell phones regained connection. I uploaded some pictures, checked my email and facebook feed and immediately felt a bit of my serenity slipping away. I noticed the kids starting to bicker more. The easy, playful way we had been having with one another was giving way to tension, sarcasm, snapping. Ok so idea number one…we all need WAY LESS EXPOSURE TO THE INTERNET. No surprise there.
But internet aside, with each mile toward home as I pondered what I needed to do, what lay ahead in the week, I felt like I was picking up one of the pebbles from the beach and placing it on a pouch carried on my shoulders. By the time we got home I felt burdened again. “Why can’t I feel the way I do on vacation?!” I wailed to Aaron. “I feel so stressed and overwhelmed already! Why?!” He looked at me and simply said, “because you are allowing yourself to feel that way. I feel the same as I did earlier.” Ok then Mr. Zen.
But really, is feeling stressed and overwhelmed sometimes a choice? A story we tell ourselves? Do we feed ourselves a big bowl of You Are Stressed Pudding, gulping it down eagerly, burning our mouths, swallowing too quickly and then walking around feeling heavy with an ache in our stomachs and a lump in our throats? I think Mr. Zen might have a point. I don’t think anyone ever felt less stressed by complaining about how stressed they are. And I do think I could definitely manage my expectations better. Do I really need to do this and that and the other frilly thing? Are all 37 things on my to do list today worth trading my sanity for ? Is it worth trading being kind to my children and sweet to my husband to have everything checked off on my Very Important List? Is each item critical or would someone in the family be better served if I just took a deep breath and Let It Go?
I know that my ability to be in a place that I can analyze and prioritize this rationally and realistically does rest heavily on the state of my mental health so I don’t for a moment want to suggest that everyone who is feeling stressed has brought it upon themselves and should just snap out of it. But it did strike me that Aaron was right. Nothing had changed in the few hours between Naked Toenail Girl Who Felt At One with the Earth and the Water and Every Living Thing and Shrieking Shrew Woman….. except for the location and my attitude.
Yes some environments and circumstances are going to really encourage peace or unrest more than others, but I do think that I am a bit of the glutton for the Stress Story Pudding and that I put a lot of stuff on my to do list that is trivial and self indulgent rather than for the greater good. So I’m going to work on that. This is important as I’ve had a couple of Unrealistic Unmet Expectation Epic Meltdowns this week but in fairness it has been Back To School Week. Meltdowns happen. More on that later. (Remember how we were not supposed to be here for that!?)
In summary. Sometimes the soul just craves the simple. I do like the look of painted toenails and there is certainly nothing wrong with a little colour but sometimes leaving them naked is healthier and frees up time to do things that make me even happier than glossy toes. Metaphorically speaking of course- when my toes aren’t wet they look pretty wretched unpainted. What is even up with that?
(I took this picture of Ella’s little footprint to put on my phone screensaver. A not so subtle reminder of how fleeting childhood is. I think it will help. )
How I love those sweet naked little piggies…