“Mom Guilt” is a real mood killer

So I’m going to get a little real with this one. After all, it was always my vision with this blog to share the good, the bad and the ugly sides of motherhood and mental health – even when I’m the ugly part.

Maybe it’s all the holiday stress that inevitably catches up to us one way or another. Or one forsaken pathogen after another that snaked its way into the homes and membranes of my family, taking up its own sort of holiday in our immune systems since early December. Or, maybe it’s the speeding pace of life that has swept all of us into the third week of 2018 with barely the blink of an eye or moment of pause to be able to appreciate what was great about the year before.

Whatever the reason, I’ve no doubt been feeling off my mom-game, exhausted, and stymied in my otherwise generally optimistic nature and ability to pick up all the cheerios and snotty tissues with still a cheerful outlook.

Once the pesky clutches of depression sink their teeth into you, they have a funny way of coloring everything you feel in a negative-Nancy shade of blue and stripping the pep out of every step – especially when it’s up the stairs yet again to dose another midnight acetaminophen syringe.  What’s more, when depression sets in, it invades your mind and squeezes itself around every thought, wringing out any final half-full sentiment that may be left. Before you know it, life has gone to pot and you’ve had just about all you can take. Then, without any warning, yet another bout of stomach bug, or an unintentionally incendiary comment, or a setback at work lands in your lap, finally tipping the delicate balance of sanity until it simply cracks.

Somewhere in all the mayhem of Christmas for us this year, I too lost my grip on a positive outlook and cracked under the pressure, opening the door to self-doubt, self-loathing, and self-ridicule — a stairway that almost always leads to depression for me when it’s left unchecked. And although I should have known what was happening — I did after all just recently share some thoughts on the likelihood of depression at holiday times — once the seeds of depression begin to sprout, it can be pretty hard to reign in the roots.

As the course then typically runs, many tears were shed, a few extra hours spent in bed, and countless moments were lost to my fading faith in myself as a wife and mom. With the start of each new day I would commit myself again and again to a “do-over” to hopefully reset the scales, but more and more the daily routine began to feel like a drudgery that only reinforced itself the more I felt ashamed for resisting it. The truth is, even to a clinically trained eye like mine, depression can still be an elusive swirling fog that drifts into the corners of your mind so subtly that you don’t even realize it until you’re knee-deep in irritability and shrouded in an unbecoming cloak of hopelessness that you just can’t peel off. And when you’re mom who adores her family and wants to be the best mom she can be like me, depression can also be the worst guilt you’ll ever experience.

Thankfully, in my search for mom-guilt relief, I was able to find a piece by another mom who reminded me what I already knew but had somehow lost sight of on my way down. Her simple words reinforced how hard times can be for all of us moms at any stage of life, and more profoundly they revived my conviction in grace, lending permission to myself to feel like crap when I need to. Being a mom is hard, and it’s certainly not always an enjoyable job. And somehow, hearing another mom say it too helped me let go of the guilt I’ve been feeling for sucking at mom-life lately, which then helped me go on to work through some of the other deeper stuff in the bag as well.

So here I am hoping to share with others not only the words that helped me, but a few of my own too — to reassure all the mothers out there who may be reading this that life gets messy and our moods no doubt get trapped in the cross-hairs. And really, that’s OKAY. Because it would be impossible to be great mothers if we didn’t give 110% of ourselves – hearts AND minds – to the job we do for our families every day. And sometimes for that, our mental health stands to take the blow.

What really matters is that when we find ourselves on that same dark stairway, we look for and find our way out of the depths. Whether it’s with the support of family, friends, a professional therapist, or other community that lifts us up — we should never feel ashamed to admit that we’re not feeling our best, or to ask for help when it all starts to feel like too much.

At the end of the day, this motherhood thing may not always feel like the blissful life it’s cracked up to be. But it IS worth it. There ARE amazingly wonderful times that wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t have this life. And the really beautiful part is that we’re all in this – the good, the bad, and the ugly – well at least we’re in all of it together.

(Many thanks to WonderOak and her piece “Please Stop Telling Moms to Enjoy Every Minute” for inspiring the critical reflection and self-forgiveness that’s guiding my own way out today).

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