They say it comes in waves… though in my situation, it felt like one big fat hurricane.
The past month has been intense, to say the least. My husband had just left for a very extended business trip, leaving me essentially a single mom for the next several months. All by my lonesome on the East Coast. No family around, no friends very close by. With a sweet yet maniacal two-year old boy and a slobbery Bullmastiff to care for, not to mention a full-time job and household to manage.
I felt like this:
I started out this new phase in my typical optimistic fashion. There’s nothing I can’t handle! You go on your business trip, hunny. We’ll be fine here until you get back. NBD. Right?
So far, wrong. Very, very wrong.
I don’t know if the universe is punishing me for my overly confident attitude, but we’ve just been slammed left and right—including but not limited to the following:
- The power goes out, several times, which necessitated several calls to electricians and our electric company to finally remedy the issue.
- My two-year-old gets sick for a full week. Which results in him having to stay home from school several days (and me miss several days of work). And lots and lots of throw up on the carpet. I can’t tell you how many late nights have been spent cleaning and scrubbing puke out of the floors and upholstery.
- Many near-sleepless nights due to aforementioned sick toddler.
- My dog got into an altercation with another dog. A traumatic experience for us all. Everyone’s okay, thankfully.
- I end up getting sick. After all of this, my body finally gave in. And not just with a little two-day cold. With an awful, feverish, achy virus that lasted over a week, and residual coughing + congestion that’s still lingering.
- Because of this, I had to cancel a get-together at my house that I’d been looking forward to for months, which made me feel even worse.
- Then, to add insult to injury, my dog proceeds to scarf down an entire bag of sugar-free cough drops that I’d left sitting on my desk. Again, luckily, he was okay. #dogwith9lives
After all of this, my wherewithal to stay positive had all but dissipated. I had fallen into a depressed, woe-is-me state that cannot be sustained when you’re the sole caretaker of a toddler. It was at this point I had to throw my hands up, wave the white flag, and take a “mental health” day to curl up in the fetal position in bed, and just REST.
I know that this is hard for Penelopes to do, but I usually find the only time I feel worthy of really resting is when I’ve hit DEFCON 1 — or, my burned-out breaking point. That point where my body is no longer my ally, but fights against me, forcing me to stop. It punishes me for pushing myself too hard for too long, refusing to let me continue.
WHY do I need to get to this breaking point to finally give myself permission to slow down?
Life is fast-paced and full of responsibilities, especially if you’re a single mom, a working mom, have multiple jobs, etc. etc. And if there’s one thing I know about being a Penelope, it’s that we go go go go go go go until we finally run out of gas and come screeching to a stop.
Here’s what we need to remember: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with making one day out of the week plan-free—for the sake of our health, both mental and physical. A day where we don’t feel compelled to clean the house, or do laundry, or squeeze a couple hours of work in, or heck, even exercise. A day where it’s OK to just sit there and give yourself permission to really relax.
In theory this sounds great, but I know in my case, not always possible. There’s no #deepcouchsitting with a toddler. But I want to keep this idea in the back of my mind. When I DO have the opportunity to just sit back and relax, I want to seize it. Without guilt. Knowing that this moment will have a positive effect on my physical and mental well-being.
Along with this permission slip to relax, here are three more very actionable ways to calm yourself when life is overwhelming and you’ve reached a redline mental state:
- Take life one step at a time. I’m all about long-term planning; however, when life has me feeling overwhelmed, I choose to forget the long-term picture and just focus on taking each day as it comes. Breaking a long period of time into small, manageable chunks makes it a much easier pill to swallow. I just have to get through today, to the best of my ability, and will start fresh tomorrow.
- Don’t hang on to a specific outcome. This is sage advice from Meredith that I hold close. Concentrate on being OK, knowing that you will handle whatever happens next. Release yourself from any particular outcome that you think “should” happen. This will enable your anxiety to abate a little bit, and allow you to tackle whatever life happens to throw your way.
- Ask for help. I don’t always do this, but think there is a strength in admitting you just plain need help sometimes. Do you have a parent, friend, sibling or nanny around that can help out? Even for just a few hours? That support will work wonders for your physical and emotional well being.
How do you deal when you’ve hit your breaking point?
Stay well, my Penelope sisters!