I’m not going to mince words. I’m exhausted. Even as I’m writing this, I’ve been up most of the night finishing work, responding to school emails, catching up on to-do lists, doing laundry, and trying to figure out when I’m going to sleep next. It’s not that I don’t have the time now that I’m always at home and not commuting and doing school runs. It’s just that everything seems to be taking a little longer than usual. And that’s because I’m worried— about the pandemic, the economy, remote learning, not being around friends and family like before, and keeping up with a house that always has people—and three dogs—in it. Constantly.
I think about the times in my life when I was the most exhausted. When I was a new mom, I never expected the level and unique quality of exhaustion those first few months gave me. Life was surreal. I knew fatigue would be a part of new parenthood. Still, nothing prepared us for the sleepless nights, the never-ending chores, and the persistent lightheaded feeling of being so tired you forget the glasses you’ve been searching for over an entire afternoon were sitting in the middle of your face the whole time. I remember panic-calling my husband one morning, screaming that I couldn’t find my cell phone and yelling things like “Where did you hide it? This isn’t funny! I have a work call at 10! Maybe the baby threw it away! What the…” only to be gently told that I was calling him on my missing phone.
Let It Go
When my son was six, Frozen came out. Of course, we loved it like everyone else and listened to the soundtrack on heavy rotation for months. Little did anyone know that sometimes I would sneak out of the house and seek refuge in my car late at night. I was once embarrassed by this. That is until I came to understand that rage yelling/singing “Let it Go” while drinking a milkshake and crying was just one of the little ways I practiced radical self-care. Apparently, a lot of moms do this. And if you do, there’s no judgment here. I’m with you.
I was lucky to have a small group of women in my life who permitted me to let the little things slide. And by little things, I mean most things. Things that I once thought were important. Like separating whites and darks. Who cares? Over time, it became okay to acknowledge that getting everything you think needs to get done isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
You’re Not Superwoman
People like to call moms like us “superwomen” because we seem to do it all. Well, that’s just a lie. We’re not superwomen. We. Are. Exhausted. The good news is that the more you know yourself, the more your values become crystal clear. I value quiet time alone because it helps my nervous system reset after completing a work assignment or helping my son with a project. The tradeoff? My baseboards haven’t been scrubbed in five years. I value having fun with my son, so I don’t take on more personal obligations than necessary. I appreciate the healing powers of sleep, so I take naps instead of worrying about weeds.
Some days you’ll soar, and other days you’ll crash. You will feel exhausted. All the time. But it’s how you get up that matters. Forget the vacuuming. Say no to volunteering for that committee. Stick a frozen pizza in the oven for dinner. Nothing is more important than rest and checking in with yourself every day, every hour, or every minute if necessary. Ask yourself what you need right now to feel better. And ask for help. If you do this, your exhaustion will begin to fade. Remember, you are enough.
Are You Getting Enough Sleep? LOL.
You’re exhausted because you have a lot on your mind, and you’re probably not getting enough sleep. It can become a vicious circle. For me, stress and lack of sleep led to teeth grinding, which exacerbated my sleep problems, which left me exhausted and in pain. That led to a dental visit. It went something like this:
Dr.: I’m diagnosing you with a pretty severe case of TMJ.
Dr.: Because you’re an “8” on a pain scale when I touch your jaw muscles and other areas of your mouth and face.
Me: But you were beating up my face.
Dr.: No, I barely touched you. Just very slight pressure.
Me: Oh. So, what causes that?
Dr. Yes. Do you have any stress? Any trouble sleeping? Do you feel tired?
Me (falling out of my chair): HAHAHAHAHAHAHA
Dr.: So that’s a “yes”?
Dr. You’re getting a Night Guard.
Me: A knight guard? Like a shining knight who will guard me in my sleep?
Dr.: You’re funny.
Me: This is how I deal with stress.
Dr.: Not anymore.
The Little Things Can Deplete You
When you become a mom, you start to feel feelings through a haze of exhaustion in ways that can be described as surprising and sometimes weird. You begin to have epic existential conversations with yourself about your child’s health and happiness, the state of your own life, and the chaos of the world. You’re planning experiences years in advance while trying to stay as present as possible for your child. You’re pulled in a million different directions, and always working for those moments in the day when you can sit back and revel in the family and life you’ve created. You long for patio furniture and fire pits like you used to obsess about the perfect lipstick.
But, priorities change. As such, the stress of scheduling doctor’s appointments, making sure your child’s milestones are more or less on track, staying focused at work, and making sure the dog doesn’t get heartworms starts to breed something new: mental exhaustion. This is a concept most moms inherently understand because they live it, but they don’t have a name for it. It’s the exhaustion that comes with being the main person in the household that always “thinks of the little things.” And when I say “little things,” I mean pretty much everything.
If you don’t hear this enough—and chances are, you don’t— I want to tell you something important. But after you read this, I want you to reread it at least three times. And when you read this, please read it at least once out loud to yourself in a quiet place. Ready? Okay.
I am enough. I will be okay. It’s okay to ask for help. I will not judge myself. Nothing is more important than my mental health. I will show up for myself like I show up for my child. I will let things go when I need to. This is how I offer love to myself. I will rest. And then, I will rest some more.
Show Up For Yourself
That’s right. You are enough. Day after day, you show up for your child and give love in a way only a mom can. The reality of motherhood is that you don’t suddenly become an all-knowing, wise woman when you give birth. When you have a baby, you not only bring a shiny new human into the world, you give birth to a new version of yourself.
This new version grows and learns the deepest levels of joy, sadness, compassion, fear, and love. One of the most important practices a mother can master is to love yourself as wildly and sincerely and without condition the way you love your child.
Remember, at the beginning of this article, I talked about how exhausted I am? Sometimes, I need to take my own advice. We all need support systems to keep us on track, and sometimes just getting it out is all the reminder a mom needs to get back on that self-care track. So, I’m going to sleep.
Now, go rest.