- We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated. Maya Angelou
It was 2.00 a.m. last Thursday morning and I was gripping my chest as I couldn’t breathe, trying to stay as quiet as I could and not wake the baby. My heart was pounding, my throat had closed up and I needed to sit down on the toilet before my legs gave way. This was the out of the blue anxiety attack that creeps up on you without warning and has you feeling like you’re about to die. I’ve experienced a few now that I know what they are and I can ride them out, but it doesn’t make them feel any less terrifying when they are happening. Panic attacks feel like you are having an out of body experience. The best way I can describe them is like having sleep paralysis, you are aware something is happening to you but you don’t have any control over your body to just get up and stop it. I know from experience I have to stop and breathe deeply and count to ten, trusting in myself that I am not going to die and I don’t need to call an ambulance. It is a really hard process to work through because you honestly believe it’s your time but that’s just the irrational anxiety talking, which you have to talk over and dominate in order to control and that is isn’t an easy task. Once I had managed to calm and down and get myself together I headed back to into bed to try and get some rest. Anxiety attacks are like sponges, they soak up every ounce of energy you have to leave you feeling drained and lethargic. They are seriously not fun at all!
The next morning I woke up and told my Husband what had happened in the night, he turned to me calmly and said: “are you surprised, you take on way too much and I constantly tell you this but you never listen. Now your body is telling you to stop”. I love my husband a great deal and as much as I hate to admit it, he is right. I am always trying to do something, I never just sit still and let life be. I think this has been the biggest issue since becoming a Mother. I haven’t adapted to Maternity leave very well, I’ve always worked, I’ve always been financially independent and I always have a project on the go. So to just stop everything that makes me who I am has been a shock to the system and something mentally I’ve been trying to fight. I wouldn’t say I feel like I have lost my identity as an individual since becoming a Mum, it’s more I’m struggling with having to give up anything that’s independently mine. Of course being a parent is all consuming, I knew that it was going to be hard work, I wasn’t under any illusions. I knew that there was going to be a lot of sleep deprivation and that my mental health at some point was going to be affected. And I knew that parenting pretty much solo with little help was going to be a huge challenge, but that is what I signed up for. But what I didn’t take into consideration was having to put everything of mine on hold. It has taken me 8 months and pretty much a full body and mind shut down to say, OK I give in. Parenting you win, I actually can’t do it all!
I would say from that the moment I bought my Son home I have been fighting to keep a part of my old life alive, I don’t mean going out, living a carelessly free fun life because we still go out as a family and as a couple and both scenarios I love. I mean the getting up in the morning and having a coffee in peace, working on being creative when ideas spring to mind. Spending time alone to meditate, even if it’s just ten minutes. I’ve worked so hard to create schedules where I can fit these things in between naps, as well as getting the housework and shopping done. But it is forever changing and you can’t really schedule being creative. That has to be an organic process over time. I mentioned to my husband about putting my Son in nursery a few hours a week so I can have a break and do my own thing, but it’s too expensive for us right now. I have been trying to cram as much house work and baby duties in to the days so I can have some me time at night or work on projects that really bring value to my life. The problem with doing this is that I am so exhausted in the evenings, sometimes too exhausted to even talk to my husband. And you can’t do much on a tired mind at the best of times, let alone try and work on creative projects. It’s so disheartening because the older my Son is getting the more time he demands off of me, I know that’s normal, that is what babies do and I adore spending that time with him but it just means that crucial time I need is forever slipping away. And the more I feel like it is slipping away the more I have been trying to do in order to compensate for the loss and prove a point to myself.
Well, that point has been truly proven as I lay in bed writing this piece. What started off as a panic attack has snowballed literally into my body and mind shutting itself down. The week before Easter I had projects I was working on, scheduled meetings, I needed to spend time raising my Social Media profile (for something I am working on in the background). My son was also really sick with a nasty cold so he needed to be looked after, as you know when babies are sick the sleep is awful. I was tired, not completing work that I had set for myself and working to other peoples timelines that were not realistic for me. I was putting, as usual, massive amounts of pressure on myself because I thought to be successful that is what it is going to take. Well, it wasn’t and there I was at 2.00 a.m. in the bathroom after checking my Son was OK having one of the worst anxiety attacks I’ve had to date. I knew my husband was right and I needed to start doing less. Parenting is a full-time job in itself, let alone doing housework and cooking. So to add anything on top with a baby under a year is hugely ambitious. And as my husband said I focus too much on the end result and it’s failure (before it’s happened) to not notice how far I have already come as a Mother and as a mental health advocate. Which by the way it’s astronomically far considering my Son is only 8 months old. The other thing to note is that we are not meant to parent alone, going back to the days where we lived together the community would look after the babies and children. It isn’t in our DNA to move away from family and handle all of this responsibility 24/7, isolated and alone. That in itself is a monumental feat, and I know I am not the only woman doing this. So, based on the decision to do less, I decided to cancel a host of projects I have been running bar one. I took a leave of social media absence and decided that I needed a huge detox from life. We booked a caravan and decided to go away, the only problem was the baby wouldn’t settle in the van and with no sleep, my body started to go downhill really quickly. I was getting so ill to the point I couldn’t leave the site. My immune system shouldn’t be this broken that I am constantly sick and to the point, I can’t even enjoy a break with my family.
That’s when I said OK, enough is enough I am not putting up a fight anymore. If this is what it takes not to put myself at risk of burning out all the time and be riddled with anxiety then I guess that is it. Why do I need to push myself to keep doing more when I am not even celebrating what I have achieved so far? Why can’t things wait, or go on hold until there is time? What I have had to look at and understand is that it isn’t a failure if you can’t get everything done. It just means that there is something that isn’t meant to be right now and needs to be put at the back of the queue for a bit. It doesn’t mean that you’re not competent at life it’s just some things need to take priority (of course parenting is always number 1) over others. I think taking a step back and just living a bit more of a simple life is the way forward for now and there is no shame in that. I do believe that things happen for a reason and they happen when they are meant to, so perhaps my anxiety attack was a wake-up call to stop and reflect on how far I have come and to truly celebrate the small wins. When it’s time to take more on it should feel good not like I’m going into battle scrambling for any spare 5 minutes I can get my hands on. My health has to come first in order to look after my Son and that is more precious than any project I could possibly work on. I guess the thing to remember is that in order to move forwards sometimes we need to take a step back to see the bigger picture for what it is and just be still for a little while. Being confident in the knowledge that even if you feel like you haven’t done something that feels productive for you, you have in fact been doing something monumental and that’s being a parent! Something I will keep reminding myself of every day.