Crafting this post wasn’t a decision I made lightly. More honest and vulnerable than anything I’ve published before, this is a continuation of my commitment to honestly portraying what my parenting journey looks like with the hope that it helps someone else not feel quite so alone. Judge if you must, you do you.
Depression is a sneaky little fucker and it snuck right into my life without fanfare. Quietly, masking itself as parental exhaustion, it nestled in and made itself comfy nearly a month ago. After a stretch of sleepless nights with the toddler, I found myself more tired than I’d been in a long time. Constantly stressed, rarely hungry and always feeling like I was on the verge of a meltdown, I called a friend and ranted about everything from my child to the fact that I constantly felt like a failure. After listening to my complaints about parenting, the never ending housework and the sense that nothing would ever be good enough for weeks, she was done and very lovingly pointed out that perhaps something bigger is going on with me. Initially I brushed her off. She’s not a mom. She doesn’t understand. Anyone who knows me (or follows this blog) knows I’ve experienced mental illness before. I’ve been depressed. This isn’t that. I’m fine. I just need more help. I need more hours in a day. I need a housekeeper. I need more money. Depression doesn’t look like this.
I wrote it off as the exhaustion that comes from parenting a two year old, a lack of funding for more daycare, a never ending pile of laundry and a new part time job that left almost no time for me to relax. I got more daycare and I felt worse. I met all my deadlines and saw much needed cash start flowing in. I felt worse. My kid was alternately adorable and insane. I felt worse. Suddenly, nothing was working anymore. I was feeling every hour of every day. I was watching my pride and joy be ridiculously cute and feeling a detached sense of moderate amusement. I was constantly complaining. I was lying awake in the middle of the nights staring at the ceiling and crying for reasons I could not articulate.
The tipping point came when my eyelid started twitching and wouldn’t stop for a week. That’s when I realized something was seriously amiss with me. I surveyed my surroundings and was stunned. It became immediately clear that while I was functioning, I was barely doing so. My son was being parented. Hell, we were crafting. He ate, bathed, napped, played and generally ran amok around the house. We went on play dates and posted to Facebook. But, in between those periods, I struggled to find an interest in anything. I struggled to do much of anything not directly related to keeping a toddler alive and occupied and wondered when the day would be over. Every day.
Compounding the ache of depression, guilt crept in. Who in God’s name am I to complain? Where is my gratitude? Look around, Lizi. You’ve got it pretty damn good. A healthy, happy, adorable child. A house in the ‘burbs. Money to pay the bills. A family you love… the list could go on and on. I’ve watched enough mom friends struggle through trials I can’t even imagine to know my life is anything but woeful. I’ve lived an unconventional life full of personal crisis and mental illness. The simple fact that I am successfully parenting and paying my bills is worlds more than I expected for myself. Why can’t I just enjoy the gifts that have been bestowed upon me? This guilt and self-hate did little more than work to eat me alive and leave me feeling even more depleted emotionally. And kept me from sharing my pain with anyone.
Finally, this week, I raised the white flag and asked for some help. Enlisting my mom to take the small one for the weekend, I watched as my mom and aunt got busy cleaning my disaster of a kitchen and struggled to pack my child up for the weekend because most of his clothes were in the wash – where they had been for days. Suddenly, it was incredibly evident to me that I was staring depression directly in the face and needed to call in reinforcements. Calls have been made to a therapist and this train’s path is on the way to being righted. But the experience left me desperate to understand how it happened. Where had this started and how can I prevent another bout in the future?
It’s no secret that I wasn’t 100 percent convinced I was cut out for momming when I found out I was with child. I also was not the only one harboring this concern. Multiple people have recently copped to wondering the same thing. In fact, a couple months into this parenting journey someone commented that I seemed like the least prepared mom they’d encountered. A comment that stung, for sure, but wasn’t lacking in truth. As a result, I threw myself into being mom. I jumped in head first and busted my ass to parent the hell out of my son. The fact that I have never loved anyone or anything as much as I adore that tiny human certainly helped! I mean, he’s pretty spectacular – if you ask me. But, I made him my world. So worried I would fail as a mom, I let every other aspect of my identity fall to the side. Slowly but surely, I stopped going out with friends. Given my son’s adorable dislike for sleeping through the night, I rarely read for pleasure anymore. Any free time for reading was spent devouring the parenting section of the library in a desperate search for all the answers to all the questions that came up all day. Suddenly all I concerned myself with was mom life and housework. Given the enormity of both those tasks, it was relatively easy to get lost in the day to day of keeping a home and raising a human. And, dammit, I parented like a beast and kept a fairly decent home.
On paper, I was succeeding. Inside, I was rapidly losing me. Anyone will attest to the fact that I’m a damn good mother to that boy. I live and breathe for him. I love on him all day. We play. We craft. We sing the clean up song and practice our letters. We repeatedly review proper etiquette for mentioning one’s penis (AKA: PLEASE STOP TALKING ABOUT YOUR PENIS!). I’d challenge anyone to take issue with my mommin’. On any given day, my home looks presentable. Is it spotless? Fuck no. But it looks presentable.
I needed a “me.” Having recently moved to a new state where I knew no one, I had done little more than make a few halfhearted attempts at making friends. Now, being an hour away from the comfort of the women I love, I was isolated and lonely and this lack of a personal identity was becoming alarmingly clear. I had become a hermit who rarely left her home. I had stopped writing creatively. I had stopped reading for pleasure. I parented. I worked. I cleaned my house and I slept. The end. Suddenly I understood what everyone had been saying all along. A happy mom is a good mom.
I’d been hearing this since his birth. “Your happiness is crucial.” “You can’t give when you have nothing.” “The bigger your life is, the better your parenting will be.” “Put your oxygen mask on first.” I’d nod politely and go about bathing in mom life. My son disliked sitters so I rarely went out. Bedtime was always a shit show so I insisted that no one could manage it but me and never went out before bed. Once bedtime passed, I was too tired to go paint the town red so I’d cuddle up with the latest parenting book until I passed out. Rather than ensuring I had funds to take myself out for a night or two, I’d make sure Mateo was enrolled in gym and music classes. And, I truly believed I was doing what was best for my kid. Until I looked in the mirror at 3am and realized I desperately needed an oxygen mask.
The last couple weeks have been filled with more “me time,” mascara and solo outings. A therapist has been called and I’ve opened up to close friends and family and have started accepting help. And I’ve learned a valuable lesson. We, as humans, are meant to be more than one thing. We are meant to have more on our resume than “mom.” Wrapping my entire identity up in my son is fair to neither of us and it’s my job to show my son what a whole and fulfilled woman looks like. If I’m his blueprint for what to look for in a woman, I need to make it my business to show him more than someone who circles around him cleaning and catering to his every need without any care for her own needs. It is my job to show him that women are more than Mom and do more than clean and sing songs. Here’s to finding a personal identity and reveling in it! I’ll keep y’all posted and stay tuned tomorrow for a new craft.