Anyone who knows me or my story knows that I lost myself in those early years of motherhood because I didn’t know how to process my transition or what to do with feelings I never expected to have. At the time, I read dozens of articles looking for ways to help me adjust to a reality far different than anything I had ever known. I perused books on motherhood, childcare, and mental health (I thought I was going crazy), all in an attempt to “figure it out.” I couldn’t find one book, not one article, not one television show that comforted me with information that directly addressed all the feelings and thoughts I was having.
As I saw it, my “problem” was that I didn’t adopt a total posture of “mom” as soon as my first baby, Leigh Ann, was born. I mothered her and cared for her in all the ways she needed as my love deepened, but in many ways, I remained postured as I had been prior to her birth. I believe I subconsciously perceived myself to be the same person who was able to live the same kind of life in the same way. In short, I desired the impossible (e.g., former freedoms, relationships, autonomy, lifestyle) knowing full well it wasn’t possible given my new circumstances. This conflict lay dormant for years. In the meantime, I had given birth to Laura (sixteen months after Leigh Ann) and then Daniel, who came along three years after Laura. By this time I was deeply entrenched in the world of children and becoming more and more incapable of denying or ignoring my desire for the autonomy, self-esteem, and sense of self I once knew. I felt completely out of sync with a life rhythm I had always known and enjoyed, and this feeling was making me increasingly anxious, depressed, and frustrated. I just wanted to feel familiar to myself and recognize the woman I looked at in the mirror every day.
I lingered in this “space” for several years. In retrospect, I wanted some sort of control in my life, yet I stayed in what I described in my book as grief; grief because I had not recognized, acknowledged, processed or reconciled with the feelings attached to losing several valuable aspects of my former self and lifestyle. In other words, despite my work as a grief counselor or my personal experience with grief, it never occurred to me that I was having symptoms of grief. I was grieving because I had lost someone—me! I had taken on the role of mother in a single instant and became so completely immersed in the lives of my children and the house in which they lived. Through the years of caring for them and neglecting myself, I became estranged from the person that I had been for the three decades prior to having children. I lost touch with almost everything about me that I once valued and considered familiar. In short, the “old” me was gone.
Remaining in this state of grief furthered my feelings of helplessness, frustration, depression, and anxiety. As a therapist, I understood that emotions generally motivate people to take action; it just took me a long time to integrate this concept. Once I did, I used grief to motivate me to act. That is, the emotions and feelings I was having caused such discomfort in me that I began to seek out the choices that were available to me, choices that would lead me to develop a new life rhythm, so to speak. I aspired toward a rhythm that incorporated aspects of my former self that I valued while considering the fact that I was the mother of three adorably delightful but needy children. With the possibility of harmony and balance at hand, I focused on what was possible and how I could make that happen; in other words, I recognized and embraced the fact that I was not choiceless; I was capable of making many choices that would affect me and my life in a positive way.
I started this process by accepting help. I suppose that was my first choice. I could hide in the attic and cry time and time again or I could agree to the help my husband offered when he found me sitting in the attic alone and dejected. The conversation began with my husband asking, “How can I help?” This simple question and the conversation that ensued turned my life around. Within days my husband introduced me to a fabulous young lady he met through some business associates. Although I was very apprehensive about having a “stranger” in my house with my children, I slowly let go of that anxiety as my spirits and energy picked up. With time and energy newly available, I was able to think about me. I thought about my life, what I wanted for myself, and how to achieve the things I considered most valuable to me. Focusing on my development was refreshing and insightful.
One of the many things I realized was that I couldn’t problem solve while in the crisis; I was too overwhelmed to see the options available to me. I also realized that my symptoms, conflicting feelings, and negative self-talk were dissipating as I directed energy toward my needs and wants. In satisfying key needs and wants, I was becoming more familiar to myself and less incapacitated by the symptoms that had only recently disabled me. A search and rescue effort was set in motion the day I met Irena and agreed to the help that was being offered. Irena worked for us for one year, which was enough time for me to reclaim my sense of self, take stock of my life, and complete a large portion of my book, Missing In Action: How Mothers Lose, Grieve, and Retrieve Their Sense of Self. A year may not be necessary for you as personal needs and circumstances vary. However, as I learned through experience, scheduled help is invaluable! Seek out and secure time in your week, every week, where you are completely off the clock. This will have a tremendous impact on your life.