Mental Health Awareness Deserves More Than One Day or Month

Mental health awareness day (October 10) and month (May) always hits me a little strangely. For most of us, every month and every day is dedicated to mental health awareness, because the fight never fades. To those who may not be aware, this might sound overdramatic. I can assure you, it’s not. Some people carry their loads more effectively than others and may not understand that for mental health sufferers, every second can be a burden–especially on a bad day.

I don’t typically like publically delving into the state of my mental health, but providing a snapshot could help people understand what their loved ones may be struggling with. As with most people who fight battles within their brains on the regular, I’m a productive citizen who easily socializes with people. I love talking with and helping others, and I love teaching. Though, if something adverse were to happen during the day, my anxiety has the tendency to agonize about it long after an appropriate length of time. At its worst, my anxiety can cause me to second guess and over analyze every single social interaction and nonverbal cue. With some cognitive behavioral therapy and conditioning, this has dramatically decreased in frequency over time. It’s actually nice to think that this part of my mental health is no longer nearly as big a burden.

When I’m alone, things are typically worse. First there’s the health anxiety (which we would traditionally call hypochondria) which leads me to believe that everyone I love along with myself is going to die of a terminal illness…in the near future. Kid’s got a cough? Lymphoma. The other kid has a persistent rash? Leukemia. Husband has a mole? Melanoma. I have stomach discomfort and back pain? Ovarian cancer. Every single moment of fussiness and health anomaly is transformed into a dire worry. This is something we’re clearly still working on in my therapy sessions (there is no shame in this), and staying mentally occupied with projects along with self-talk and evidence based fact charts are mostly effective for now. 

Daily routines are especially difficult. If I fall into too much monotony, there’s more room for anxious thoughts and worry to creep in. However, when I plan activities, there’s more room for error, as unplanned tantrums and needs can occur with my children. What if I miss an ideal nap time? What if someone needs to eat? Oh well, might as well just wait to go somewhere after the kids are asleep. When they’re asleep, I’m exhausted, so it’s best to just stay home entirely. Then there’s the fun activity of self deprecation after I do stay home because I feel like a complete failure.

Even typing this seems ridiculous to me, because I know there are simple remedies to these issues. I do worry about disturbing naptime frequently, though, because naptimes are SACRED. That’s beside the point. At its worst, my anxiety can cause me to make a lot of excuses for not going out with my kids. This is a hurdle I frequently have to talk myself through.

Most issues are ones of which I can get through with some affirming self talk and some quick journaling. The problem is that these obstacles are constant in someone who suffers from anxiety. Medication can definitely help take the edge off in that they are not quite as debilitating. (For example, I can remember feeling literally paralyzed by my anxiety when I was younger and so full of worry and dread that I couldn’t move. Thankfully this is no longer the case.) 

For now, there is just a tremendous amount of daily mental work to be done. To stay healthy, I must get adequate sleep. Having two kids under four makes that challenging. Having an empathetic and understanding husband with a more flexible work schedule helps. I also need to exercise, take my medicine regularly, see a therapist, and stay on top of things at a reasonable pace so I don’t feel like I’m completely overwhelmed by the daily grind in addition to my anxiety. Yoga helps. Writing helps. 

When my immune system decided to rebel against my body last year, self care grew more difficult. Lengthy flare ups of exhaustion and pain made for a body that could not keep up with a racing mind. I’m still learning how to deal with it–another new hurdle. Planning and staying motivated by projects for others or around the house can keep my mind in a healthy frame whether or not my body cooperates. Planning projects surrounding my kids are even better.

Simply put, mental health is a never ending journey. Parts of my life that improved with time yielded to other aspects that only worsened. I’m working on it all at once. And I am ACTIVELY  working on it too…on top of being that productive citizen with two children. Most people who suffer from mental health issues are. Many are doing a ton more than I am. They deserve all the respect and all the awareness. Mental health awareness deserves more than a day or month.

The Aftershock

Most of my morning was spent in silence, my thoughts like a blank page. I played with our youngest, and her smiles and laughs helped some; but the shock of the news of 29 people dead in less than 24 hours could not be waved away with some laughter and smiles. These events that continue to occur uniquely in our country are so unbelievably heavy for us to bear. They’re too heavy. With them come fears and lasting anxiety with every venture into public, whether it be a mundane shopping trip, a church, or a crowded festival. Even though the odds are still in our favor to die of numerous other causes, the statistics are overwhelming–251 mass shootings in the 216 days of this year (according to USA Today ), 292 in 216 days (according to Quartz

 I don’t care about the difference in numbers. It’s still too damn many.

I needed to talk about it today but didn’t know how. I wanted to talk about the fears. I wanted to know how to raise my kids in this world. I couldn’t even get the words out. No one else seems to want to discuss it either. I posted a question in a SAHM’s forum about how individual families address these issues with their children, if at all, and my post wasn’t even approved for the public.

I get it. People don’t want it to get political. They want to go on living their lives. They don’t want to be brought down. Unfortunately, I don’t think that we as a public can go on with our heads in the sand. I don’t think that over 1,300 fatalities from mass shootings in 2019 is political either (Quartz, 2019). I think it’s a public health crisis. I think it’s a domestic terror crisis. There needs to be more action in our government in the name of public safety, but unfortunately public safety clashes with money, guns, and power. I could easily elaborate here, but this is not the place.

I’m here to navigate motherhood. I’m here to continue living life in the face of fear. That’s what we all have to do. Work still goes on. Life still happens in the tragic face of sudden death.

We can’t quit. 

It’s just difficult to continue at the same pace, venturing out fearlessly. There aren’t many readers here, but I will still send my questions out into the void. How do you do it? How do you show your kids that this world can be beautiful–that life can be beautiful–even when there are people sitting behind screens, seething, plotting to take all of it away from as many people as possible? 

My sister and mom are phenomenal role models. My mother, without any hesitation, responded to my question, “No. You can’t live your life in fear. Yes, it is a really scary world. But it’s also a beautiful world that we should enjoy.” My sister responded similarly but with decidedly more caution in regard to her children, “My plan is to point out that for all the scary things they hear about, there are so many more good things that happen everyday, and go with that. I mean, I don’t need them burdened with all that at their ages. I have to tell myself that too.”

So that’s what I will attempt as well. And that’s what I’m guessing we all should attempt. Yes, we should have plans in place for safety, but we should also keep showing our kids the beauty and pleasure we can experience in this world (while we are fighting with our government for a safer country). Even though we as parents may carry the burden of fear, we should let our children be free in their ability to experience life as it happens–wherever it happens–without a second thought.

Thirteen Months Later

Last June we packed up our small home and moved just a few miles away to a much larger, more comfortable house for our family of four. We unpacked the necessities quickly, as we had many family members offer to help organize and watch our children. We filled the rooms easily and had the luxury of a huge basement to house any extras.

Throughout the past year, however, I’ve found myself getting so overwhelmed and frustrated because a large quantity of our belongings still remained in the moving boxes in the basement. I was still lifting rubbermaid totes to find everything from books, movies, and construction paper. We had created a nice workout space in one side of our basement, but the other three quarters was a disarray of stacked moving boxes, totes, and garbage bags.

Finally, I had enough and came up with some organizational solutions for all of our junk. We ordered cabinets and shelving, and then we carved out a day where my parents could watch the kids. Three additional cabinets, two extra shelving units, and countless broken down moving boxes later, the basement became a totally functional space. We had a special place for all crafting materials, spillover kitchen items, and sporting goods. I even made a great work space out of an old stainless steel kitchen table and chairs from my late grandparents. The girls have a nice area to play, and now their toys are organized. Even though our basement is unfinished, it’s nice and livable.

There’s only one problem.

I still can’t find certain things from the move. We’ve lost tennis rackets and other personal items, which I’m sure is normal. It’s just difficult for me to let go of the desire to search for them until I find them. Also, we still have two more closets of items in their boxes, which leaves this itch for more organizing. I’m trying so hard to pace myself. Unpacking and the subsequent organization is time consuming and expensive–especially if new furniture is needed to accommodate the items in their new spaces. It’s been over a year now, and I’m impatient. Then I remember the stacks of boxes that remained in my parents’ house for years after we moved when I was a child.

I wonder, how long does it truly take to move into a new space for everyone?

Bodies after Babies…

It’s been 15 months since giving birth to my second sweet girl. You would think that’s long enough for things within the body to settle down, but NOPE! With craziness still happening within my thyroid, literally anything is possible.

Because of breastfeeding, stress, and probably thyroid issues, I lost an unhealthy amount of weight by the time we reached the nine month mark. My yoga pants were scary loose. My doctor husband even told me to eat as much as possible, whenever I wanted. For a while I even thought I was dying.

Then finally after a non-threatening diagnosis and a difficult decision to wean my baby earlier than I wanted, my body started feeling better again. I gained weight while maintaining a healthy workout routine and went back to eating a normal, semi-healthy diet. There were definitely health setbacks with having an autoimmune disease, but c’est la vie. Pre-baby body was definitely coming back…

…except that it got weird. Really weird. Fast forward to swimsuit season, and the changes were glaringly obvious. Some things came back but in much different proportions. Nothing fit like it did after Baby #1. I needed to do some shopping. I googled tons of tips on how to buy a bathing suit for my new figure, knowing that while I couldn’t change it, I needed to accept it and hopefully (and eventually) celebrate it. I went shopping for other garments as well, knowing that my self esteem had definitely spiraled downward in the past year partly due to my evolving appearance.

Armed with my purchases from Amazon, Target, Macy’s, Loft, and any other retailer I have frequented, I was determined to feel good about getting dressed again–whether it be regular clothes or bathing suits, or simply a bra and underwear. Yeah, I know it sounds vain, but we owe it to ourselves to want to look good especially after our self esteem (about our looks) hits rock bottom. My husband has always told me I looked great, but I wanted to believe it for once.

And that’s okay.

Along with everything else, this is a journey. I’m working on acceptance every single day. I owe it to my daughters to do nothing but emanate the message of body positivity. They deserve a mom who will wear whatever she feels right wearing. They deserve a confident mom, and I am working on it.

My youngest and me, June 2019
(My 3 year old can NOT be bothered to stand still for pictures)

Work in Progress…

I’m still working on building this blog/site, so there are many things I need to include that are current. I plan on including some kid stuff in the next week, because I have tried a lot of things with my two in terms of activities and cooking and have plenty to share on what has worked for them and what has not.

The self care stuff continues to elude me, but I’m working on taking it one day at a time. It’s cliche, but I have this awful habit of assessing my success on an all or nothing basis. For example, if I have a bad few days in the land of self-esteem or my worth as a parent, I chalk it up to it all being awash and forget any of the good I’ve accomplished. I don’t know if that hits home with anyone or not, but it’s a terrible habit I’m working on breaking.

Something I have figured out, however, is how to feel a little better on the days when I feel like I’ve done nothing: make a list of every minute task or activity from morning until nighttime. It seems weird but finding any small, good thing can be enough to change my attitude about the day. In doing it, I may have found that I played with FP Little People for an hour with both girls or had read more books to them than I realized.

I think an overarching theme in my struggles as a stay at home mom is finding balance. I know it’s like hunting for a unicorn. It’s never going to happen. There is no such thing. I recently had this discussion with my sister, and saw it on a friend’s Instagram page shortly after. I guess I’m just searching for some sort of “normal.” What do families do to clean house, spend time together, go on dates, find peace within themselves? How do people get laundry done? Does it sit in their baskets for days at a time before it can be put away? (Mine doesn’t either, just throwing out hypotheticals (-; ) I feel like a complete loser sometimes that I haven’t seemed to figure this out yet at 35 and with two kids, but I have a sneaking suspicion that we’re all just winging it and hoping for the best.

Here goes…

July 1, 2019

I’ve been writing for years, but recently I’ve had the desire to go a little more public with writing again. It always seemed to help me with accountability before. And now, with not having much of a career on which to focus my never ending waterfall of thoughts, I need some sort of project that is solely mine.

When I first resigned from my teaching job, I had a math blog and website attached to my Youtube channel. (I still offer my services for homework help in person and in videos.) However, that project became too detached from my identity, especially after having my second daughter in the spring of 2018. At that point there was no question that I’d be sitting out of my career for a few extra years while I spent this crucial time at home with my babies. 

Though I miss my career, there is nothing drawing me back now. I love breakfasts with my girls, staying in pjs and playing while I drink my coffee in the mornings, rocking the baby to sleep, and reading books with both of them on my lap. This is what works best for my family in our current season of life.

That being said, I have a tendency to feel like I’m losing my mind out of isolation and lack of direction. (I have a part time job and do plenty with it during the school year and even keep up with it over the summer, but it’s not anything too consuming.) Having a history of generalized anxiety does not help, as I am often trapped inside my head, drowning in worries. This new “project” of blogging can hopefully help. I also hope it can help any readers feel somewhat less alone in navigating the ever-changing landscape of motherhood.

About Me

My name is Erica, a former educator and current SAHM. I have been writing for a while now, under different blogs and personal journal entries.

I should start this by saying I’m not here to sell anything–not a revolutionary product, lifestyle, or brand. I’m truly trying to navigate life as a mom. Having been so used to being a workaholic, the mom life with only a leisurely part time job has proven to be a completely different identity for me.

So here I am, three years after becoming a mom, still trying to put all of the pieces together to this identity. They’re never going to fit perfectly, but writing (and therapy) has always helped me to at least see things in black and white, roll with the punches, and be a little more at peace with my life.

If nothing else, I hope that my ramblings can help others feel less isolated and alone in their thoughts and emotions.

Thanks for stopping by.