4 words that are seemingly so easy to say, yet…not. It had been a little over a year into the pandemic, when the proverbial shit hit the fan for me. As I am sure it
4 words that are seemingly so easy to say, yet…not. It had been a little over a year into the pandemic, when the proverbial shit hit the fan for me. As I am sure it did for many of you out there. Of course, there were warning signs… but who has time to pay attention to those? (Apparently not me…)
I had always viewed myself as a person with a great intuition; of being somewhat self aware and intune with my thoughts. HA! I brushed off any of what may have been haywire hints like some fuzzy lint off my sleeve. And then… neatly tucked those thoughts away in a corner somewhere, in the hopes that they would just disappear and leave me alone. ( Again.. I say HA!)
For months, I shrugged away my unease, telling myself and others that it must be the lack of sleep causing this ruckus in my brain, or the renovations we were doing to prep our house for resale…or packing for when it was sold…or that the kids were being home schooled… or that the toddler was sick yet again and up all night. Months and months went by, and the excuses followed.
Sure, I had a lot on my plate… who didn’t?
So what if I was struggling to find balance with working from home, managing a household, working through what was happening in the world, keeping my kids from becoming internet zombies, and finding some time to myself?
Who wasn’t? “I should be able to handle it, and I will handle it” became my nightly mantra.
I mean come on! I had been through so much in my life, surely all of this should be a piece of cake? A walk in the park? Hell… a walk in the park WHILE eating cake!
Yet, as the weeks went on, the heaviness grew around me. I knew I wasn’t depressed, and that I wasn’t overly sad, yet at times I couldn’t stop crying.
I knew I wasn’t miserable in my marriage, or my job, or with my family obligations, yet all of them weighed on me enormously.
I couldn’t quite pinpoint my malaise, and because of that I figured it wasn’t worth talking about to anyone, so I just kept on trekking… putting on a smile while sweeping under the rug how I truly felt. And in all honesty, I thought I was doing a pretty good job in pretending that all was well.
“Thought” being the operative word here. My kids felt my short fuse, and my husband became my verbal punching bag as I struggled to deal with what I was feeling. The poor man had no idea what to do with my “angry one moment and sobbing another” rollercoaster of emotions. I was a hot mess!
That’s when the panic attacks started.
And of course they didn’t occur in the middle of the day, when it would be slightly more convenient…NOPE! Not only were they “wake me from a dead sleep, full body sweat, heart pounding, feel like I am about to pop off right then and there” kind of episodes; my midnight terrors often caused me to yelp out pretty loudly and scare the bejesus out of my husband too! So fun! (Please note the sarcasm here…)
But, despites my body’s best efforts, (and my husbands) I continued to keep quiet and do my best to move forward as if everything was peachy. And much to his credit, my husband DID try to get me to talk about it. He noticed my mood changes, and often asked me if I wanted to talk about what was going on. He was worried about me and wanted to help. My answer back? “ No no, I’m fine. It’s probably just because so much is going on!”
“It’s all good!” I would reassure him, because he too had a lot on his plate. Surely he didn’t need another stress like his wife having a mental breakdown to add to it?
And here is why I think I kept quiet; because if I actually ACKNOWLEDGED that something wasn’t right, then I felt like I would have been viewed as being a failure. Tack on the fact that then I would also need to FIND the time to seek help. Who had that?
Already I felt ridiculously overwhelmed; how could I possibly think about taking some time for myself when my world needed me… all of me?
“Me time” for a mom is like a Unicorn. I mean, does it really exist? Despite all the efforts we put into telling our friends and family “Make sure you make time for you… If your cup is empty you can’t fill others…” We never follow our own advice though, do we?
Then, on a cold, early spring day while on an afternoon walk with a close friend (yes..we socially distanced), I solemnly admitted to her that I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I didn’t know why I felt so…blah, when surely other humans were living a much more terrible life? How could I possibly feel like this when we had a roof over our heads, food in the pantry, and a healthy family? The weight was almost unbearable. And as we stood there in the freezing cold, she listened to me spill my guts out, and finally I sobbed out “I’m not OK!”
I told her about my shortcomings as a wife, mother, friend, and employee. I felt like I was letting everyone down around me as I kept dropping all the balls I felt like I should be able to juggle. It felt ridiculously good to be talking to another person. I mean, what with all the lockdowns and restrictions, the sense of therapy we used to get by just talking things over with friends was no longer a viable option to unload the little things. And over time, the little things became enormous.
And then she said something that stuck with me. “It’s Ok to NOT be OK. With everything going on in your life, it’s completely NORMAL that you are feeling overwhelmed!”
Huh? With everything happening in the world at the time, how could I be allowed to feel overwhelmed? I didn’t think I should, therefore..well… I couldn’t!
I let her words mull around my brain for a few hours. I practiced saying them to myself, hoping that I could gain the courage to say them out loud, to my ridiculously supportive, caring and also likely overwhelmed husband.
He too, had a lot on his plate.
I didn’t want to be that partner that couldn’t pull her weight in tough/busy times.
I didn’t have TIME to NOT be ok…
But I couldn’t afford to ignore it anymore, and slowly, I relented.
That night, I allowed the dam that held my most sacred secret crack. I admitted to my husband that I was not well. That I needed help. I couldn’t take it ( it being EVERYTHING at that point) anymore. And everything that had held me back from getting to this point so much sooner – the fear that he would be disappointed in me, or that he would think of me as less than, disappeared.
The admittance, the realization, the acceptance…of not being ok came rushing out.
Then the dam finally broke, and I couldn’t contain myself anymore. I crumpled to the floor, sobbing, blubbering that I was sorry, but I just wasn’t ok.
I still couldn’t quite understand the reason behind it, but I knew that now, I was at least one step closer to figuring out why. And the more I opened up to my friends, colleagues, and family the less heavy I felt. Everywhere I turned, I was treated with respect, sympathy and understanding.
The company I worked for offered me resources, my husband listened to me talk in circles, and my family offered support to step in so I can truly take the time I needed to feel right again.
Immediately I signed up for an online Cognitive Behavioral Therapy session that would connect me to a therapist, and provide me exercises and reading materials to help me determine exactly what was causing the ruckus in my soul. My first exercise was to recognize that I needed help, and here was the hardest part – to not feel ashamed about it.
Within a few quizzes, I was directed to a paragraph that explained in detail the symptoms of a Burnout. Every single sentence described me to a T. I was in complete shock! Never in my life would I have thought that I was experiencing a burnout. Seeing my emotions and reactions explained within a few sentences was an epiphany! I felt relieved and validated all at once. And even better than that? I was given additional resources and support to help me deal, move forward and better equip myself to avoid this from happening again. Now I won’t say that it was like Magic and POUFF all of a sudden I was better. It took time, determination, effort and a vulnerability I had never experienced to find my way out of the dark hole I was in.
As someone who has always dealt with anxiety, I am prone to developing patterns that could lead me down the path of another burnout, but thanks to my recent experiences, I am hopeful that I will be able to recognize the warning signs before I fall down that particular rabbit hole again.
The biggest lesson I learned throughout that whole experience, is that we need to work harder, collectively, to remove the shame associated with mental illness. It was the weight of that shame that prevented me from acknowledging that I wasn’t ok. Going forward, I have adopted the phrase “ It’s ok to NOT be ok” ( Thanks Carol!) and I have used it countless times over the past few months when speaking to friends or colleagues, and have found it a great gateway to open up the conversation on the state of their mental health.
To all of you reading this today, I challenge you to adopt that phrase as well. Let your friends and family know that you won’t judge them if they aren’t feeling their best, and that an InstaPerfect life is not realistic. Giving someone a little understanding goes a long way, and hearing this simple phrase may be the empowerment they need to realize that “It’s OK to not be OK”.
PS: The Canadian Government offers free access to educational resources, e-course and free counselling. If you need to talk to someone check out https://ca.portal.gs