If you look up self-care and mental health on the internet, you’ll get a pretty muddled definition. You’ll find articles with images of beautiful women in bubble baths or doing yoga at sunrise in tropical locales. These articles will talk about manicures, spa days, wine, and treating yourself. At some point, they’ll discuss meditation and mindfulness practices, and just like so much literature from the fitness industry, they’ll present an unrealistic and unattainable image of what fulfilled motherhood and womanhood look like.
If I’ve noticed anything since becoming a mom, it’s how few depictions there are of real women with real struggles coping with daily life. We’re all going through it, yet the images of motherhood we’re presented with are the stuff of manicured Target ads, overly saccharine sitcoms, and the ‘real’ housewives of whatever upper class metropolitan area they’ve chosen this season. When shit gets rough -- and it does, for everyone -- it’s too easy to feel isolated and alone. It’s too easy to think you’re the only one going through it. It’s too easy to compare yourself to the meditating models in magazines and think that no one else has ever felt the way you do.
I was diagnosed with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety when my first child was seven months old. For those seven long months before I got help, I suffered silently, swallowing my longing and unhappiness and my crippling fears. I had a happy marriage and a beautiful, healthy new baby. I couldn’t figure out why I was so miserable, lonely, and sad, or why everything made me feel like a failure or sent me into a full blown panic attack.
I thought maybe I could exercise my way out of it or talk myself off the ledge with positive affirmations. I bought all the self-help books. I set all the goals. I trained for and ran a half-marathon, started meditating, got frequent pedicures, bought new clothes, and spent plenty of ‘me’ time trying to figure out why none of it was making me happy.
As it turns out, I felt unhappy because life is not a fucking Pinterest board. You can’t DIY your problems away, and even more than that, you can’t pretend that outside objects and accomplishments are going to bring you a sense of peace or joy when something is broken inside. I think I understood that a long time ago, back before I had kids and started putting everyone in the world before myself, but I forgot it somewhere. I forgot what it was like to be, independent from everything else.
Self-care isn’t the superficial images we see online. It’s not about mom’s night out or spa days or new clothes -- at least not directly. Self-care is about getting in touch with who you are and what you need out of your life and creating space for those things. It’s about getting in touch with your mind and your soul. It’s about putting on your own oxygen mask before you start helping everyone else with theirs, if I may be so sickeningly metaphorical. How many of us truly do that once we become moms? How many of us are suffering as a result of not doing it?
There’s this pervasive myth that women should adore motherhood and always have more to give, but the truth is sometimes we don’t. Sometimes it’s just so hard and you feel like you’re failing and you miss freedom and the person you used to be. That’s okay. If we never acknowledge our struggles or admit the ways we feel like we’re failing our families or ourselves, we also avoid the necessary work of repairing and nurturing ourselves. We ignore our internal voice and never learn the importance of self-care because we think, wrongly, that if we were doing it all right we wouldn’t be struggling in the first place. Nothing could be further from the truth.
You’re a good mom and a good person, even when it’s hard, and self-care isn’t selfish. Needs and wants aren’t selfish. Being a whole person and carrying that identity with you through motherhood isn’t selfish. Whether you’ve dealt with depression or anxiety, or even if you’re just burned out, there’s nothing wrong with carving out space for yourself and getting in touch with who you are outside of work, kids, and your family.
Mind Over Mommy is a column built around the idea that, regardless of the many roles you play, you’re a person first. You’re a woman before you’re a mom, and that unique identity you carry around inside of you can’t be ignored no matter how hard it is to make room for it. I chased a societal ideal of happiness and fulfillment for a long time before I finally figured out what those words mean to me, and I know firsthand what it’s like to struggle with anxiety, depression, and the isolation that too often accompanies the demands of family life.
My hope is to be a source of encouragement and someone other moms can relate to, but also to create a resource for women who are facing hardships, fatigue, depression, and other mental health issues. I come to you not just as a fellow mom, but also as a woman with her own demons, dreams, shortcomings, and goals, who understands the importance of self-preservation. In the face of so many demands and expectations, sometimes the most selfless thing you can do is put yourself first.