I’m having a day. Feeling like you are not in control of your own emotions is incredibly daunting. I have Attention Deficit Disorder and Generalized Anxiety. Neither are debilitating, thank goodness, but impact me. How?
Anxiety meds take the edge off of my anxiety. It is like I am able to take a minute to process my feelings before reacting, instead of just reacting. It’s like the intensity of my feelings are taken down a notch. I feel in control of my emotions instead of my emotions controlling me.
Attention deficit disorder means I lose things regularly. Like my anxiety meds. Which have been missing for a week and a half.
Therefore, those emotions I was referencing, feeling pretty intense.
So, I’m having a day.
The difference between this day, and other days in the past, is that I’m owning it. It took me a long time to own it, but I am.
If I were sick with the flu, I would let my kids and husband know that I’m not feeling well. I need to rest, and take care is myself, and I’ll feel better soon. Why don’t we do that with our mental health?
So, I told my husband exactly what was going on, that I didn’t feel in control of my emotions, didn’t feel right and needed support.
I let my kids know that mommy’s brain doesn’t feel good. It will be fine, it’s just feeling a little run down, and I need to take some time to take care of it.
Need some help figuring out how to own your mental health struggles? Here are five things I have learned to do to normalize my struggles, and get the support that I need.
Normalize it in Your Every Day Life
Treat your mental illness like you treat all illnesses. If you are somebody who tells the whole world when you have the flu, then do the same when you have depression. I shared openly with a colleague that I was not currently on my anxiety meds and that my brain was racing a little more than normal. Just like I probably would have shared with him if I had a stomach ache.
That goes the other way too. If you aren’t somebody that shares openly about things, treat your mental illness the same way.
Make Self Care a Part of Your Daily Life
They say it takes 30 days to build a habit, right? If you can build small self care activities into your daily life, you won’t feel as desperate when things are bad. You will have the habits set in stone, meaning it won’t be as hard to practice self care when things are hard.
That Part About Talking About It
Do that with your doctors too. I get it, it can be tricky to find a doctor you can trust. It took me some time too, but I finally did. It didn’t start there though.
I needed to get real with myself first. If I continued to pretend that I was fine, my doctor would believe be. If I was honest about where I was struggling, my doctor would know how to support me.
When I was struggling with post partum anxiety, I knew what was happening, but I was nervous about trying meds. My amazing midwife looked me in the eye and simply said, “Jennie, it’s time.” She was right.
Don’t Shy Away From Hard Conversations
If you notice others are struggling with their mental health, lean in. If they want to talk about it, talk about it. It doesn’t have to be awkward. If somebody was telling you how hard things can be with a broken leg, you would probably listen. Do the same with their mental health.
Be Honest About Your Hard Days
Especially in times of COVID, we are talking about our physical symptoms. I have a sore throat, a cough and a runny nose. How about bringing I’m having a hard day, I’m super anxious or I’m grieving into the conversation. Yes, some people may struggle with hearing this at first. But, the more we talk about it, the more natural it becomes.
So, yes, I’m having a day. My mind is racing, my emotions are a bit of a roller coaster, and I’m pretty irritable. But, I’m writing, which is part of my self care.
Millenials have a bad reputation among other generations, specifically the Baby Boomer generation. We are known as snowflakes, fragile and entitled. Every generation has its stereotypes. Are there Karen’s in the boomer generation? Absolutely. But, is every white woman in that generation a Karen? Of course not. Although there are definitely entitled members of the millennial generation, I’m here to provide a different perspective. Millennials, specifically Xennials (those of us born between the late 1970’s and the early 1980’s), are incredibly tough, resilient and compassionate.
Our collective trauma as a generation has created a unique perspective unlike generations before us. Our continual tragic experiences have allowed us to become resilient, compassionate and emotionally intelligent. When these qualities butt up against the boomer “suck it up” generation, there is inevitably conflict. These characteristics, however, do not indicate fragility, but instead have created a unique mental awareness and toughness.
The Challenger exploded on live television when I was three years old. I do not know if I actually remember this event, or if it has been ingrained in my memory by seeing it replayed throughout history on tv. Either way, it definitely had an impact on me. I do distinctly remember sitting with my Kindergarten class in 1989 watching another space mission. I was nervous watching the rocket launch into space. I imagine now that somehow the tragedy that occurred with the Challenger had made its way into my subconscious, and was the first traumatic event that began to define my generation’s experience.
The next few years provided a typical white Elementary School experience. I had a relatively safe experience in Elementary School, and little concern in the world. This started to change as I entered pre-adolescence. On April 19th, 1995 Timothy McVeigh bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City. This rocked my world. I was on Spring Break at the time, and had parents and grandparents who were avid news watchers. Being old enough to understand what happened, but too young to understand why, was terrifying. Was somebody going to bomb my school? My parents reassured me that my small town school was not a target, but the anxiety stayed. An anxiety that foreshadowed future events, and began to mold my existence in our society.
On April 20th, 1999 I was a sophomore in High School. On this day Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed many of their fellow Columbine High School students. Now it was painfully clear that my parent’s argument of “that can’t happen here” was no longer valid. There were not that many differences between my High School and Columbine High School. If it could happen in Columbine it could happen in my school. It was terrifying. For the first time in my school career, I did not feel inherently safe.
The reaction of our school, along with many schools across the nation, was to increase safety measures . Of course that was their reaction, but as High School students we knew exactly why this was happening. Dreams would haunt me about streaming out of my High School with my arms up, just as I had seen Columbine students had done. High School students around the world had experienced a collective trauma. Though clearly not as traumatic as those attending Columbine, we did not have the resources to properly deal with this trauma. Our parents and teachers did not have a great understanding of trauma, and therefore did not have great resources for supporting us. This became another event, in a long line of events, that would create feelings of anxiety, insecurity and fear within our generation. Going to school was genuinely fear inducing.
Life goes on, and in 2001 I graduated from High School. I went to a local community college and on September 11, 2001 I was watching the Today Show while getting ready for class. A report came on that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center buildings. I yelled downstairs to my mom, thinking this must be some crazy accident. Very shortly after it was clear that this was not an accident. Sitting there watching the television as a second plane crashed into the second tower, I was numb. It was clear that this was an intentional act.
I got ready, and listened to the radio on my way to class. My Anatomy and Physiology professor very clearly did not understand the gravity of the moment, and held class as usual. He let us know that it probably was not as serious as it seemed, and it was important that we get our material for the day done. For the first time in my life, I had a trauma response to an event. My brain was foggy, I could not concentrate, and had a lot of anger towards my professor at that point. Shortly after this class ended, the college shut down classes for the day. I remember feeling the need to “do something” and immediately donated blood.
September 11th changed our society as a whole that day, but for my generation it was another event in a long line of events that taught us of the insecurity of the world around us. We continued to experience significant traumatic events, without living in a society that knew how to support us through these events. Many of us pushedr emotions down, “sucking it up” and moved forward. Looking back, as a generation we were developing anxiety at an alarming rate, but as young adults did not yet know how to support ourselves.
Throughout my 4.5 years of undergraduate school it felt as though tragedy and violence in our society continued to grow. More school shootings, other violent events, and Hurricane Katrina. I entered graduate school knowing much more about staying safe than I thought I would, but much less than I do today.
As I entered graduate school I, naively, felt as though college campuses were an exception to the rule. We were inherently safe, and why would we be a target anyway? Despite the traumatic events my generation had lived through up until this point, I had developed a sense that I was still in a safe space. That all changed on April 6, 2007.
On April 6, 2007, students and staff at Virginia Tech were injured and killed in another mass shooting. Yet again, my world was shaken. Just as with Columbine, I now understood that my perceived safe haven was not that. As a graduate student at a major US University, I was keenly aware that I could have been a Virginia Tech student. I was paying close attention to my classrooms, coming up with escape plans, and strategizing how I would stay alive in the event of a mass shooting.
Between the shooting at Virginia Tech and 2012 mass shootings and other violent events became more and more the norm. As an adult in my twenties I this was extremely traumatizing, but I was also feeling a bit of invincibility common to young adults. These events were scary and traumatizing, but surely they wouldn’t happen to me.
That mindset changed significantly with three major events for me. The Sandy Hook shooting in 2012 was significant given that it involved Elementary School students, and I was a High School Counselor. When the Aurora Movie theatre shooting happened, it proved to be incredibly anxiety provoking. Movie theaters were an important part of my social life, and I was scared.
I made the transition from my twenties to my thirties, and violent mass shootings were becoming normal. School shootings, such as the one at Stoneman Douglas High School were happening regularly, and I knew my vulnerability while working in a public school. The shooting at the Pulse NightClub in Orlando, FL, and the shooting at a Music Festival in Las Vegas secured in my mindset that literally no location was safe. As a new mom, I was now incredibly aware of my surroundings, and consistently aware of escape routes in places like Wal-Mart (especially after the shooting there in 2016).
Looking back, my childhood and early adulthood were marked by national tragedies. My twenties and early thirties were marked by these tragedies becoming common place. We have grown into adults and parents in a world marred by insecurity and trauma, without the resources to support us. This led to significant rates of anxiety, but it also created a unique perspective on the importance of mental health support and compassion.
Many of my peers are now parents to young children. Just as our childhood and young adulthood had been marked by unprecedented tragedy, so has our journey into parenthood. At the time of this writing, I’m a mom of a six year old and three year old,. I am now parenting in the midst of a pandemic, incredible racial tensions and political tensions like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. This past year has been exhausting, traumatic and overwhelming. As a mom, it is my job to keep my children safe. The pressure of keeping them mentally and physical safe during this pandemic is incredibly anxiety provoking. Working from home, keeping afloat financially and educating our children from home sometimes puts us over the edge.
As a Millenial (and Xennial) every developmental stage has shown us tragedy and/or violence. It is naive to thinks this does not have an impact. These tragedies molded who we are, and are part of our collective existence. They have set the foundation for anxiety, which some see as fragility. Being aware of how these have shaped us, and the anxiety they have created, however, is not fragility. It is the epitome of strength.
Two days ago I watched a breach and attack on our Capitol Building. I watched this event occur live, and I was more than aware of the fact that I was yet again living through a national tragedy and a terrible historical moment. Fortunately, I have yet to become numb to these events, and am saddened and outraged each and every time a terrible event happens. Unfortunately, for a generation raised in national trauma, it is another contributor to our collective anxiety.
All of these events have led to a unique identity for our generation. To others, we may appear fragile, but in reality we are incredibly strong. We are a generation raised through tragedy and trauma. Yes, this has created challenges, but it has also created compassion, leadership, and a priority on mental health. You may see us as snowflakes, but it’s actually self-advocacy. Maybe you think we are entitled, but many of us are keenly aware of the needs of others. All others. This means recognizing the impact our own trauma has had on us, and taking that information to support others in trauma.
I sincerely hope that as a generation we have an opportunity to live in a world free of trauma and tragedy. I have a lot of faith in my peers, and have seen incredible activism, compassion and support as we approach our 40’s. I’ve seen us break stigmas, talk about mental health, stand up against the status quo and work on our own personal growth. For those reasons, I challenge you to take a good long hard look at how you perceive us. We are the next generation of “old people”, and we are prepared to take our collective experience and use it to continue to challenge the status quo. We have the opportunity to change our story, and are more than prepared to do so.
The year 2020 was a butt kicker for me. I have, however, already covered that. If you need a good read on how this year was super challenging for me, I encourage you to read my previous post. To counteract that post, though, I think it’s only fair to recognize all that went right for me in 2020. I teach social emotional lessons to middle school students on a weekly basis. The summary of many of my lessons is how we have to intentionally find the achievements and positivity, as it’s very easy to get swallowed up by the negativity. This is my opportunity to do just that, to recognize that 2020 was not an entire poop show, and did have some positive outcomes. By recognizing those positive outcomes, I hope to center myself, and not live in the poop show.
So, this is a bit of a brag post. Brace yourself, it’s a long one, but that’s a good thing, right? It’s not to brag about my accomplishments to you the reader, though. It’s more of a brag post to myself. If, amidst all of the craziness, I can stop to notice my accomplishments it helps me to remain centered. I hope by reading this, you can stop and do the same thing. 2020 may have been a royal poop show for you, but were there accomplishments that have been drowned out by the negativity? Take a minute, and do the same. I can almost guarantee it will help you feel more centered as well.
As I did in my last post, I want to recognize the privilege involved in this post. Especially with the frivolous nature of some of it, I am aware that some of this frivolity is a direct result of the privilege I have in my life, and I want to honor that. I have a lot of privilege that others do not have, and I want to honor that.
So, below is a list of ten accomplishments that occurred in 2020, and that I am proud of. Listing it first, for those who do not have the stamina for the entire post. I appreciate those of you who are supporting my journey, and read along wifth me as I go.
This summer I took a course on marriage, which I’ll reference later. One key to this course was focusing on self-care. You can not be a good wife, mother, employee, etc., if you are not taking care of yourself. I always knew that this was the case, but never really knew how to make it a priority in my life.
This course encouraged making a list of twenty things that you consider self-care. Some of these things may be hard things that make you feel good. This might include working out or catching up on the budget. Others might include things that are simply for pleasure. For me this includes taking a walk, taking a bath, listening to a podcast or watching a show on Netflix. The point is, when your bucket is full, you feel better. When you feel better, it’s easier to cope with life’s challenges.
My goal every day is to accomplish three things from the self-care category. This may sound daunting, but self-care does not need to be large earth shattering activities. Self-care can mean taking five minutes to breath before turning your computer on in the morning. One simple example for me is walking to pick up my son every day from his after school program. It takes about 10 minutes to get there, which provides time to clear my head, get some fresh air and move my legs. When I’m working from home, I still try to accomplish a quick walk. It fills my bucket, which is something I have learned to appreciate in 2020.
This is one category that I am incredibly proud of. Since 2014 we have been on a debt free journey. With the help of a good friend, the budgeting program You Need a Budget (http://www.youneedabudget.com) and Dave Ramsey (http://www.daveramsey.com), we have slowly made progress. When I say slow, I mean slooooowww, and at times it has felt like we were crawling towards being debt free. Many times I wanted to give up, but we kept at it.
With all of the hardships that 2020 brought, we were also fortunate enough to have some financial windfalls. I know how fortunate this is, as many people have lost work and have been hit hard financially. With some of these windfalls we were able to make significant progress in our debt free journey.
In addition to the typical debt that we pay in a year, we were also able to pay off both vehicles, and my husband’s student loan. This progress feels absolutely amazing, and allows us more money to work towards other debts. At the time of writing this we only have our mortgage, my massive student loans, and some credit card debt. The credit card debt is next to go, and I’m so proud of the journey we have made towards financial freedom. The fact that a good chunk of our progress happened during 2020 matters to me, as it is a big deal for us, and something positive to remember about this year.
This is by far the most frivolous part of this post. It’s all about vanity and beauty, so if that bores the heck out of you, feel free to move on. Since August of 2019 I have made conscious decisions to take care of aspects of my life that I previously had not. These areas were 100% due to vanity, and I’m not ashamed of it.
In August of 2019 I was beyond frustrated with my hair. It was brittle and breaking, no matter how I styled it, it looked dry and damaged. I could literally use a half of a bottle of conditioner, and it was still incredibly dry. I have naturally wavy hair, but in the 36 years of styling it, I had absolutely no idea what to do with it. Therefore, I either straightened it or wore it in a pony tail every single day.
This led to incredibly dry and damaged hair. Add to that, I was coloring it monthly. My hair was rebelling, and for good reason!! I recognized that I needed to break up with my straightener, but had never figured out how to embrace my waves. I somehow stumbled upon the Curly Girl Method (more info here) of hair care, and it changed my relationship with my hair almost over night. From that day forward I started embracing my curls, and only partaking in styling that was beneficial to them.
To say it was a long haul, was an understatement. I almost gave up regularly, and transitioning damaged hair back to wavy hair can be quite ugly. Finally in February of 2020 I made the big chop, and cut it some what short. This was a game changer, and my natural waves started flourishing. Then, I did not color it for 8 months, allowing the gray to sneak in. My hair has never been healthier, and I am so confident rocking my wave. The single best part for me is how little effort it takes for me to do my hair in the mornings. My routine has been cut from about 20-30 minutes, to less than two minutes. If you have naturally curly or wavy hair, I implore you to invest time in this method, it is a life saver!!
On the point of vanity, let’s talk skin care. In February of 2020 my baby brother got married. It was an awesome day, amid an awesome week of travel through Georgia and Florida. The one downfall for me was that I could not believe how old I looked in the pictures I was taking. Yes, I was tired. I was vacationing with my family of five, and my two youngest had just gotten over the flu. However, I looked way older that I felt, and knew that I must be able to do something about it.
After some research, I put serious effort into changing my skin care routine. At 37 years old, I knew that things were not going to get any better if I didn’t really make some major changes. So, I did. I started slow, and then each month or two added another product to the arsenal. I thought it would be overwhelming and time consuming, but it’s not. It’s also a daily form of self-care that I make a priority as often as possible.
Ten months later, I can not believe the difference in my skin. I have always had uneven toned, acne prone skin. The only way I knew how to manage it was to cake on the foundation, and would not even go to the store without it. I have not worn foundation since April. In fact, I hardly wear any make up at all, and my skin looks way better than it did when I was wearing it regularly.
My make up routine now consists of brow filler and mascara. That is it. Bonus points, it literally takes me two minutes to “put my face on”. To look in the mirror and see beautiful skin that I have worked hard to achieve does not make me feel vain, it instead makes me feel proud that I have taken the time and effort to take care of myself.
I have been pretty honest about the fact that our marriage has had its ups and downs. What I haven’t opened up about is the work that has been involved in getting us to a place of peace. Early 2020, things were going better, but it still did not feel like we were at our best. The book The Surrendered Wife by Laura Doyle was recommended to me. I was extremely skeptical, as I am the last thing from “surrendered”. Laura Doyle wrote another book called the Empowered Wife, and that is a much better name. This book took me to another level in my marriage.
This book teaches six skills that tremendously improve relationships, specifically marriage. The gist is to let go of control, become the best version of yourself through self-care, and be thankful for the gifts you have in your life. I listened to this book on repeat for weeks in a row, and then signed up to take the adjoining course. The adjoining course helped to make the hopes of the book into a reality. It provided me with a step by step guide on how to integrate the six skills into my life, and maintain stamina with it.
Due to the skills I learned through this program, my marriage has hit the next level. The self-care alone has made me a happier person, and easier to be around. Combine that with no longer feeling “in charge” 24/7, and letting go of control, my mental health has improved. My husband loves this new version of me, and we are now the happiest we have ever been. I can’t believe this all happened through me reading one book, but it did, and I couldn’t be more thankful. For more information on these skills visit Laura Doyle’s website at www.lauradoyle.org.
In 2019 we started renovations on our oldest daughter’s bedroom. This was long overdue, as her room was incredibly dated and worn out. The process took longer than we expected, but turned out absolutely beautiful. We finished in July of 2020, and I’m proud that we were able to stick with it despite the uncertainty of the pandemic.
For Mother’s Day this year, my husband built me the back deck that I have always wanted. It was a simple floating deck, as the costs of lumber rose, but it has added to an already great back yard experience. I can sit under the shade of our canopy and watch my kids play, or drink coffee admiring the beautiful view. My favorite activity is dinner out on the deck, allowing the kids to run and play when we are done. It’s been a great addition to our home, and I’m incredibly thankful for it.
For a few years now, we have considered adding chickens to our family. In March we became the proud owner of 6 pullets (essentially preteen chickens). Unfortunately, we lost two to coyotes, but have proudly kept four alive ever since. Our chickens started laying eggs in August, and they have brought nothing but joy to our lives. Our children love to feed them and take care of them. I love having fresh eggs every day, and the process of caring for them and keeping them healthy. They have been an amazing distraction to the ever present ominous nature of 2020, and for that I am extremely grateful.
I have also always had a huge desire for plants in my home. I’ve been drawn to them, but had no idea how to care for them. Our stay at home orders in March gave me the opportunity to dive into becoming a plant mama. I asked around trying to discover the easiest plants to keep, and became the proud mama to a few aloe and spider plants.
This led to more and more plants, and at the time of writing this my house is full of greenery. This makes me so incredibly happy and proud. To go from having a black thumb, to have a house full of greens is incredibly fulfilling to me. I still do not know the in’s and out’s of plant care, but I’m proud of keeping my plant babies alive, and continue to be obsessed with growing more and more.
We have been wanting to buy a pool for our children since our oldest was 7 years old. She is now 14. All three of our children have summer birthdays, so we decided to go all out and buy them a pool for their birthdays. The problem was, everybody else had the same idea! We could not find a pool anywhere as it was a highly sought after pandemic item.
We finally found one from a friend who had bought it and was planning on returning it. We purchased it from her, and set it up in early July. This proved to be one of the best things we could have done for our family, and provided many moments of family bonding throughout the summer. It is only four feet deep, which is perfect for our two youngest children. They were hesitant swimmers at the beginning of the summer, and became extremely confident by the end. In a year that provided many challenges for both the adults and children in our family, this gift brought a great deal of joy as well.
To have the opportunity to write about travel in the midst of a pandemic makes me feel incredibly blessed. We had two opportunities to travel this year, and are incredibly grateful to have made them work.
In February of 2020 my brother and sister-in-law got married in Georgia. At the same time, my parents were on their annual vacation to Florida. We were able to attend the wedding, and then spend the following week with my parents in Florida. The community that they stay in is extremely relaxed and family friendly, making it the perfect vacation. We enjoyed lots of beach time, relaxing on the porch and swimming in the pool. Looking back, it was an amazing last hoorah before the world shut down, and we feel incredibly blessed.
In July we were also able to make a family camping trip work. We spent a few days at Fair Haven State Park, just outside of Oswego, NY. This park is right on Lake Ontario and offers an amazing beach, playgrounds and views. We were able to take advantage of all of these things while social distancing, and it helped bring a sense of normalcy to our summer.
We currently are in the process of growing two small businesses. Our first business was in year three at the beginning of the pandemic. We have been renting our tear drop camper as an investment to building and renting larger custom built campers. Although the rental side of our business was slower than typical this year, we were able to generate enough revenue to finish our first custom camper build. Both of these campers will be available to rent in the summer of 2021, with the hopes of generating enough revenue to complete the third.
In late summer, I also decided to take the leap and turn one of my hobbies into a small business. I have played around with my Cricut machine for a few years now, and felt confident enough with my skills to start making products to sell. I started with custom face masks, and quickly moved on to more clothing and home decor options.
I had absolutely no idea how this would be received in the midst of the pandemic. I was blown away by the amount of support I received, and am starting 2021 with the confidence that I can grow even more. I’m thankful for those who supported me and helped make this dream a reality.
Flexibility is probably my biggest accomplishment of 2020. I have always been somebody who needs a plan, thinks years in advance, and gets rattled when the plan changes. Due to all of the uncertainty of 2020, I have done a complete 180. My work life changes quickly and regularly. More than once I have found out that I will be working from home within 24 hours. I have learned how to pivot quickly, and not get wrapped up in planning ahead. There is no point in planning ahead, as there is no way to tell what the future holds. For somebody who is used to planning years, months and weeks in advance, this has become quite the accomplishment.
I am proud of all of these accomplishments, big and small. In a year that felt like one disaster after another, I can honestly say that I have also had a lot of joy and fun. 2020 has definitely changed my perspective on life a lot, and I’m proud to say that many of the positive changes are definitely going to stick. I have a newfound appreciation for a lot of things in my life, including many of the small things that I have detailed here. I’m proud of the life my family and I have, even if it has been flipped on its head due to COVID. I know that we will be on the other end of COVID at some point, but I truly hope that we all are able to take some of these positive points with us as we move on.
If you are looking for a sappy “look at all I accomplished and all the growth I made” end of the year post, this is not that. I will post one, as positive reflection is important. This, however, is a tribute to the pure struggle that was 2020. 2020 kicked my butt, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. It may go down as the year that kicked my butt the most in the last 38. I hope that it’s the biggest butt kicker of all time, but that remains to be seen. In the meantime, let’s honor all of the butt kicking ridiculousness that was 2020.
Before doing that however, I want do a quick privilege check. My life has continued to be devoid of many challenges. I know many who have lost loved ones this year, and not just due to COVID. I’m fortunate enough to not have that happen. We continue to be blessed financially, I continue to have a loving supportive family, and of all the challenges that I have had, the color of my skin did not provide additional challenges. It is important to me to keep all of that in check while I write, and I encourage readers to do the same. There was definitely some butt kicking going on though, and I think many readers can relate.
Fear took over in March. I am not somebody that makes decisions through fear. Keeping it in it’s place has always been a strength of mine. March 2020 took fear to a whole different level though. With so much unknown about COVID, I took it pretty seriously. Schools (which means work for me) were closed, the youngest didn’t go to daycare, and we barely left the house. In fact, my children didn’t leave the house for two months. My husband was essential, which meant I was terrified that he would bring germs home. I cleaned like I had never cleaned before, while experiencing a fear like I had never experienced before. As the mom of the family, I felt an immense pressure to keep my family safe, and at times that felt debilitating.
At the time of this post, 9 months into the pandemic, the fear still exists, but it’s different. I believe that’s for two reasons. First being, I felt like we got a break from it during the summer. Our numbers were pretty low, and that combined with good weather, allowed for a modified version of normal. I was able to see some friends, and my parents, and we were able to get out. That, combined with decreased work expectations for me, was good for our mental health. It felt like a bit of a reset.
Second, we have adapted. We have learned how to live with COVID, and to find a sense of normalcy within it. Even though, at this time, the numbers are high, it feels more like I know how this works. So, even though it’s still exhausting, it’s not quite as scary for me because it is less unknown.
Holy crap has this been a hard year to parent. Never in my life had I imagined my son going to school at home, especially while I was working from home. When we first stayed home, I also didn’t dare send my daughter to daycare. So, there I was, working from home with a 5 year old and 2 year old under toe. To say that it was impossible is an understatement.
From March to June I cried at least once a day. This happened while I was putting serious effort into self care. I felt like I needed to focus on work, but could not because my children needed me. Then, I would say screw work and try to focus on my children. Which inevitably left me feeling behind at work. Many nights I would be up too late trying to catch up on work. It was like trying to run a marathon through quick sand. Hence, the tears.
Again, things felt better during the summer, and again into fall as we returned to in person learning. As we transitioned back and forth between in person and remote, I changed my approach a bit. Right now, my now 3 year old is consistently staying in daycare, whether I’m working at home or in person. I’m also sending my 6 year old 2-3 days a week. On the days that he goes, school work gets put on the back burner. We do what we can to get it all done, and sometimes that means it gets turned in late. I can only do so much, and them going to a safe regularly sanitized daycare helps me stay a little more sane. It’s still so darn hard, but I have found little things to help me keep it together just a little bit better.
I jumped right on that “I’m going to better myself” quarantine train in March. I was going to train for a 5K. Losing weight was going to happen! After all, I was stuck at home, what did I have to lose? In my defense, I did start strong. Running became a priority again, for about two weeks. After that, I walked daily. It was a great form of self care after a long day home with the kids. I did not initially gain any quarantine weight. I didn’t lose any either, though.
When I thought the quarantine was going to last 4-6 weeks, I totally thought I could use it as an opportunity to better my health. Things weren’t terrible healthwise, but one can always do better. What I didn’t anticipate was the mental load that COVID would place on me, and the lack of room available for making significant health changes. I just could not take on one more thing, so I let go of paying attention to my weight.
To be honest, it really wasn’t that bad for awhile. Yes, my drinking increased. My coffee intake did as well. But overall, we tend to eat healthy. We didn’t eat out, and I was cooking most nights. I was able to maintain this throughout the summer.
When fall came, and the next round of staying at home followed, I found myself having a harder time maintaining any healthy choices. We started eating out more, as I didn’t have the energy to make dinner. I was not doing a great job of packing lunches when we were in school, which meant I was snacking all day long. It all boiled down to complete and utter exhaustion, which led to a lack of caring.
At the time of writing this, I do not know my weight. By feel, I’d say I’m at my heaviest, which I’ve been at before. At 38, though, this is much less of a concern as it has been to me in the past. It does not help that my husband likes this version of me, and prefers some meat on my bones. All of that being said, I do take my health seriously. It is much more important to me to be healthy than how I look, so I do want to refocus. I am hoping to recommit to some healthy habits in 2021. That definitely sounds like a New Year’s cliche, but I have set some small measurable goals to make baby steps. Time will tell if this is a change that I can manage right now, and I will update readers as time goes on.
Politics and Marriage
What an insane year politically. It has definitely been brewing for a while, and many things came to a head this year. This was incredibly stressful for me, as I have become quite passionate about several things wrapped up in this election cycle. The most stressful part, however, is the toll it has taken on my marriage. I am going to, intentionally, write in generalities regarding politics. With the divisive nature of politics right now, it’s easy for the message to get lost when one becomes aware of political beliefs. The important part is the message right now, not the belief system.
When my husband I met, we both held somewhat moderate political beliefs, leaning either way depending on the issue. Neither of us were too politically inclined, and it honestly did not enter our conversations regularly. When it did, we were fairly close in agreement on almost everything.
Within the last four years, I found myself leaning more and more one way. At the time of the election cycle, I was firmly planted somewhat far away from moderate, and was more interested and passionate in politics than I had ever been. My husband was the exact same way. The problem, however, was that we had made our way to opposite ends of the political spectrum. We had some common ground, specifically human rights, but had very different ideas as to how those ideals should be addressed by our government.
Our marriage had already gone through it’s share of trials and tribulations. After years of hard work, we were finally in a place of peace and mutual love and respect. Things were going great, but then politics started to creep in. We were debating daily, and both of us thought we could convince the other they were wrong if they would just listen to us. The daily debates turned to regular fights, and hurt feelings. It was hard, stressful and heartbreaking.
Enter our 6 year old. One day in the car, he was in tears. When I asked him what was wrong he told me he, “Couldn’t decide if he should like Joe Biden or Donald Trump.” That stopped me right in my tracks. After explaining to him that this was not something he needed to worry about, I immediately decided to stop talking politics with my husband. After I told him what had happened, we agreed to call a truce.
The amount of pressure that was removed from our marriage when we did this was palpable. At this point, politics will still enter the conversation occasionally. When I notice it drifting that way, I will do a quick check in with myself. If I don’t have the mental energy for it, I stop the conversation immediately. On the other hand, if I think I can have an adult conversation, I do. I listen to my husband, and try to play devil’s advocate where I can.
Although I disagree with his political leanings, I understand why he believes what he believes. When I can find facts to show my point, I do. If I can not, I listen and try to help us both think critically whenever possible. It’s not easy, and sometimes it still feels like it might bring me to my knees. But, my marriage is more important to me than political debates. I will not alone change his political beliefs. If I am able to engage in adult conversation, I may be able to plant some seeds on topics that are important to me, but that is all. Therefore, in an attempt to preserve my marriage, politics is much more taboo in my house than I ever thought it would be.
I have alluded to this in other areas, but my mental health took a direct hit from the changes that COVID brought to our lives. COVID hasn’t directly impacted my mental health, but indirectly impacted me with all of the changes that took effect. So much happened that made it hard for me to keep my mental health at the forefront.
I always have had underpinnings of mental health struggles, specifically anxiety, ADD and depression. These have all been things that I have managed to work through on my own without medication for the majority of my life. Although I knew they existed, they never caused challenges that I couldn’t overcome by myself.
This changed after my youngest child was born. I struggled hard with Postpartum anxiety, but was unaware that it was a thing. I had no idea what was going on with me, nor how to manage it. After some research, I discovered that I had symptoms of PPA. Just knowing what was going on, helped me to manage it. I was able to get things under control on my own, but still had an increased baseline of anxiety as my daughter was approaching 3 years old.
For that reason, I started seeing a counselor. We were just getting to know each other when life shut down due to COVID. At that point, she was only offering tele visits. I could not manage tele visits in my life at that point. Therefore, after only a few sessions, we stopped. Then the anxiety increased and increased and increased. To the point where I felt like I was right back where I was when I had PPA.
The difference was that I did not have the mental energy to put into tackling this beast. My mental load was so high that I could not even verbalize that I needed help, or how people could help me. My husband knew that I wasn’t doing well, and was a great support, but I was not great at accepting and asking for support. I was in full on survival mode, and was going through the motions on everything. I felt completely numb, and dead inside.
After many days of being awful to be around, and yelling way too much at my kids, I recognized that I needed help. With the full support of my husband, I made an appointment with my midwife, who I trust implicitly. When I described what was happening, she let me know that I was not alone. The feelings that I was feeling are feelings that mom’s often feel, and that more mom’s were feeling due to the weight of the pandemic. As I was in tears, desperately wanting help, she said three words that I will never forget, “Jennie, it’s time.”
What she meant was, it was time to accept that this was a battle that I could not fight on my own. With that, she prescribed me a low dose of an anti-anxiety medicine. I had been so resistant to this for so long, but it felt like I had to take drastic measures to improve my mental health. I let her take the lead, and that is the best decision I have ever made in my life.
Three months in, I feel so much better. Life is still incredibly hard, and I do lose it sometimes, but my ability to manage has increased dramatically. I feel like myself, just a less stressed out version of myself. I am happy, and truly a much better mom and wife. I do not know if I would have gotten to this point had it not been for COVID. What I do know, however, is that I am incredibly grateful to have resources available to help me cope with the stress of COVID that can be suffocating at times.
If you are struggling with your mental health, I encourage you to find support. It has changed my life, and it can change yours as well. Your physician or another trusted health care provider can be a great place to start. If you aren’t sure where to turn, you can also find a licensed mental health provider in your area at www.psychologytoday.com.
So, yes, 2020 kicked my butt in many ways. I know that I am not alone, and I hope by reading this you know that you are also not alone. I so wish that when the clock strikes midnight on January 1st, 2021, this would all be put behind us. I think many of us are fantasizing of that, but the reality is that it’s not that easy. The struggles that we are experiencing on December 31st, will still be there on January 1st. I do, however, have hope that we are starting to be closer to the end of this than the beginning.
With that, I am going to continue to take baby steps to help myself. I am not the same person that I was in early March 2020, and my expectations of myself have lowered significantly. I’m one hundred percent okay with that, and if anything, that is something that I have learned from 2020. I can not tackle all of these challenges overnight, but I can take small steps every day towards betterment. 2020 has been a magnifying glass on issues that were already there, and now that they have been magnified I have been forced to meet them head on. I have certainly not solved any of these challenges yet, but step one is identifying them, and I can honestly say that I have done that..
Peace to all in 2021 and beyond. My positive thoughts are with all of you, especially those who have been even deeper impacted by the challenges that 2020 brought with it.
Times are tough right now. 2020 has impacted so many people in so many different ways. Moms in particular have been asked to take on a huge load this year. Many of us are not doing well, and in not doing well we often make decisions that come with a lot of mom guilt. I have heard over and over again in the last few month, “Give yourself some grace, you are parenting in a pandemic.” Well, that sounds good in theory, but grace is not something that moms are particularly skilled at. Mom guilt is real, and the pressure to raise tiny humans is intense. But, our mental health is important too. If we don’t practice giving ourselves grace, then we aren’t the best versions of ourselves for our families. It takes practice, but there are simple things you can do every day to set yourself up for grace.
I know, you hear this all of the time. You know what else I hear all of the time, though? I’m stressed or I’m burned out. Maybe it’s, why in the world don’t my kids/partner/ co-workers pull their fair share? I hear that consistently, mostly from women.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. They don’t pull their weight, because they don’t have to. They know that you will be there to do whatever it is that needs to get done. Then they will be relaxed and stress free, because they didn’t over work themselves, and you will continue to be burned out.
So, by saying no, you start creating your own mental space. When somebody makes a request, actually take a minute to think about it. Will this request set you over the edge? Will it take away from your ability to enjoy yourself? If the answer is yes, then say no. If no is hard, start with I can’t. Trust me, it might be a shock at first, but they will get used to it. And low and behold, they will start doing more for themselves, and requesting less from you. Leaving you in a place where you can focus on you, and have less guilt or things you need to give yourself grace for.
Make Yourself a Priority
This one is hard, especially for the ladies. But, if you are married (especially to a man), does it seem as hard for your partner? Does he get to the gym on a regular basis? Does he get to shower when he wants, or spend time with his friends? Does he ever feel guilty for any of this? Probably not.
Then why do you? You are just as important and valuable. Your relationships and me time is as well. Don’t get mad at your partner for making their needs a priority. Instead, do the same for you. Go to the gym. Your partner can handle the kids. Make that lunch date. If he can’t be available, then he can also help find a baby sitter. You are not the sacrificial lamb. You deserve your time as much as the next person, but you have to take it by the horns and make it happen.
And guess what? When you are taking care of your needs, you are more likely to go easy on yourself, thus making it easier to give yourself grace when appropriate. The link below from Psychokogy Today provides some insight on simple ways to incorporate more self care into your life.
As human beings, we tend to lean toward the negative. You can get ten compliments in a day, but one criticism will stick with you. Add that to our own self criticisms, and it’s hard not to get wrapped up in criticism and negativity.
If you pay attention, though, you will notice that there is typically much more positivity in a day than negativity. We often don’t even notice it. That means we need to intentionally look for it.
Practicing gratitude means noticing and intentionally paying attention to the positive things in your life. Finding a time every day to appreciate and be grateful.
I have started doing this right when I wake up in the morning. I was in the habit of reaching straight for my phone, often getting sucked into a negative loop. I still reach for my phone, but before I do I take a minute to think about what I’m grateful for. It sets the tone for the day.
Finding a time to incorporate it into your routine will help it stick. Remember, research shows that people who practice gratitude are happier than those who don’t. The benefit for practicing grace? It’s harder to participate in self criticism when you are intentionally paying attention to the positive.
The following article from Mindful.org offers more information on the benefits of practicing gratitude, abd tips to get started.
Nobody is going to make you a priority if you are not going to make yourself a priority. Read that again. You have to teach others how to treat you, and you do so by showing them how you treat you.
I’m not saying it’s easy. I imagine it’s probably even harder if circumstances mean you are parenting by yourself. But, you have to be selfish and take care of your needs. Nobody else is going to do it for you.
What do you need? How do you get it? Is it a half hour by yourself? Maybe that means leaving the kids at daycare, without guilt. Is it a regular gym time? Maybe that means your partner is responsible for the morning routine. Guilt has no place here, you need to speak up do what you need, or you are going to burn out.
Also, it’s not your job to figure everything out. It’s okay to say, “I’m going to start going to the gym at 6:00.” Period. End of sentence. Obviously, you are a decent human and would pick a time that doesn’t cause a major problems. But, it’s not your job to figure out all of the nitty gritty details for them.
That being said, if you have a partner, the only way this will work is if you allow them to parent. Sometimes we get caught up in micromanaging everything. Your partner may not do everything exactly the way you do it, but there is good in that. Our children can learn from different styles of parenting. So, let it go and go to the gym. Taking care of your needs, makes you less irritable and cranky, meaning you’ll find less reasons to beat yourself up. Aka, less reasons to give yourself grace.
When all else fails, cry it out. Life right now is hard. Many of the hard things are completely out of our control. As parents, we often have to hold things and and compartmentalize for our children. The problem is, if we don’t address our emotions, they build up like a poison. If we aren’t paying attention to the build, it can be very challenging to regulate our emotions. This makes us cranky, and therefore taking things out on the people we love. When we do that, it’s hard to feel good and give ourselves grace.
So, if all else fails, let those emotions out, and cry. Let it flow. There is plenty to cry about, and it’s a great way to get the emotions out. Once they are out, it’s much easy to self regulate.
As you can see, giving yourself grace actually is more about setting a foundation of good vibes. If you feel good, and your needs are met, you are less likely to put yourself in situations where grace is needed. Also, when your tank is full, it’s easier to forgive yourself when you screw up. You are less likely to beat yourself up when you are feeling good.
It’s been a really challenging year to be a parent. Take care of yourself, ask for help when you need it, and remember to give yourself grace.
Everybody has that one friend, right? The one who has the most ridiculous stories, you wonder how they could possibly be true? Well, I’m that friend. The stories of the crazy things that happen to me are endless, and more and more (after peeing their pants from laughter) my friends tell me I should write a book. Well, how about a blog instead?
The thing is, I wonder if I subconsciously choose challenging situations, which then result in the crazy stories. For example, I chose to marry a man with a daughter. Step mom stories? Yep, I’ve got them. I also chose to be a School Counselor…in a Middle School. Really? I’ve got middle school stories too. How about adding a toddler to the mix? As I write this I have a 16 month old who is discovering his personality…and some days I hope he discovers another one. You want to commiserate in toddler hood? I’ve got those stories too.
So join me as I navigate working a demanding full time job, step momming a pre-teen and momming a toddler. I hope on your difficult days you find company, but more important I hope you laugh at my adventures. This will be a new challenge for me, but like everything else I supposed I’ll jump in with two feet.