Friday, June 1, 2012

My Mental Health Sabbatical

So, I feel that something of an explanation is in order for my sudden three-month sabbatical from the world of blogging.  I've deliberated about whether I wanted to go into this in such a public forum, but I feel like it might be something that helps other parents, and especially Moms, out there.  So here goes.

I haven't been blogging because frankly, I've been pretty miserable for the last few months.  Not quite every day miserable, but more days miserable than not miserable.  Crying multiple times in a day several days a week.  Feeling irrationally angry and out of control.  Trying to put on a normal face when I'm feeling anything-but inside.

And I am telling you, this is not a nice way to live.

It is hard for me to understand why I have been so sad.  After all, I know enough about life and the greater world to know that I live a pretty stinking charmed life.  I know I do.  I can see all my blessings laid out in a neat line and recognize how lucky I am.

I have a truly good husband who loves me despite my imperfections and who makes me laugh. I have six beautiful kids who fill me with swelling pride on a regular basis both for their accomplishments and for their characters.  We are doing well financially.  I have a spiritual life that brings me peace.  I feel like I have all the things that really matter.

But somehow, knowing that you are blessed and ought to be happy and feeling happy and blessed are two different things.  Sometimes counting your blessings actually makes you feel worse when you are sad, because you have to add "ungrateful" to your list of reasons to feel bad about yourself :).

Now, I find that I have two choices when I am stuck in a rut: stay there, or start analyzing things to figure out how to get out.  How did I get in this rut?  What do I need that I am not currently getting?  What situations made me fall there in the first place?

I always find it interesting that when I am feeling down that other people's advice tends to be along the lines of "Take some time for yourself..."  I get that I need time for myself, but people say this as though shopping or manicures can solve real problems and real sadness.  I really do like shopping and even manicures as much as the next woman, but they don't solve problems of the soul.

However (and at risk of sounding too brightly optimistic when I am at best only tentatively so), I've figured out a few things I need to do that have helped me to start to claw myself out of this pit.  To be a happy person and a happy mom, this is what has been lacking:

  • Create order.  Have a system in place that creates better order in our home and in my life.  In short, be more organized and make sure my kids do their share.
  • Exercise regularly.  I have often figured that if I don't mind not looking like a super-model, that regular exercise beyond the demands of being an active mom was optional.  I do not think I am in any danger of looking like a super model any time soon (more's the pity), but I am learning that if I don't exercise for a few days, I get grumpy.  Who knew :)?
  • Feed my spirit daily through prayer, scripture/inspirational reading and thoughtful contemplation and journalling.  I can nearly always trace a horrible day (or week) back to a failure to do these things.
  • Check my expectations, and keep them in check.  Like a lot of at-home moms, I seem to think that I should be able to do everything right now--brilliant kids, beautiful home, perfect marriage, wonderful food, worthwhile volunteering, time to develop personal talents and career, etc.  Well, surprise--I can't do all of it, all the time--and that is absolutely normal and fine.  Keeping my expectations low seems like a lame cop-out, but it actually makes me happier with myself and my kids.
  • Let myself feel what I feel, and figure out how to healthfully process my emotions.  I need to be unafraid to be real with myself and with others, instead of trying to pretend that everything is fine when it isn't.  When I do that, I stuff all the negative stuff, let it build up and then it comes out in ugly and inopportune ways.  
  • Let go of perfectionism. Bottom line, the reason I even want to maintain a facade of perfectionism is due to unhealthy pride.  I like to be self-sufficient, and that is good.  But it is other people's realness that draws us to them, not their perfectionistic facade, and trying to pretend you aren't sad or that you aren't struggling is like trying to pretend you aren't drowning--it doesn't work.
I am still taking it one day at a time, corny as it sounds, but I can cautiously say that I'm starting to feel better.  It feels so very good to enjoy things again and have more of a sense of humor about life's downs.  I'm going to blog a little more about each of the things that have been helping me over the next few weeks. 

How about you?  What do you do when you find yourself stuck in the pit of despair*?                           * Princess Bride reference intended :)


  1. I don't have much to contribute to this, but I just had to agree with your point about how you almost feel worse when you realize how blessed you are, but are still unhappy. Yup. I feel that way all the time. Counting my blessings is borderline more depressing for me for that exact reason. *sigh*

  2. Hi Emily! I've realized that there is a good reason why counting your blessings doesn't really work if you are already sad. I read a book recently called "I Don't Have to Make Everything all Better" (yes, I've apparently turned into a kooky self-help book reading person). Anyhooooo:), it talked about appropriate ways to help others, and how the time for a pep talk or helping someone to look on the bright side is not when they are sad, but rather as they are coming out of their struggle or sadness. If you try to blast them w/ some "positive mental attitude" before they are ready, it has the opposite effect. Anyway, that's totally validated my own experience, which is that counting my blessing only makes things worse if I'm already depressed. When I'm already happy it can make me happier and more grateful. Bottom line, telling myself what I "should" feel (when contrary to what I'm actually feeling) never works. Thanks for corroborating (I'm not crazy--yay! :) ).

  3. Hi Erin.  I've wondered how you were doing ever since I read the blog about your Dad.  It's really not a surprise that you're emotions seem to be on a roller coaster.  Staying positive and grateful can be difficult even in the best of times, but throw in a heartbreak, or even just a simple loss or challenge and you can find yourself spiraling downward very quickly!  It's obvious even to someone who doesn't know you that you have "your head screwed on right" as my mom would have said, and it was inevitable that you would find your way back to a more positive outlook.  
    You've been in my thoughts and prayers, and will continue to be.  

  4. Thanks for your kind and encouraging words, Sue. It has been a whole cocktail of stresses that have led to this point. Ah, life :). It does mean a lot to know that there are kind people out there (even if I don't know them face-to-face) who are supporting me. Thanks again!

  5. Hey there!

    I can't believe I'm just barely seeing this-- I thought I was checking your blog every few days to see if there was anything new.

    Call me any time!!  (I won't even beg you to move back! Unless you want me to....)

    I know what you mean though by wondering why you're in the dumps sometimes even when you have a great life. I've been feeling that too lately and all of your ideas were great.  Most of all, having to check expectations and let go of perfectionism.  Ugh. So hard!!!  

    I'm here for you and I think you're fan-tas-tic!

    xoxoxoxoXOXOXOXxoxox  (Nacho LIbre style)

  6. Hi Erin,

    How did I miss this post? Aaaaargh! I feel so bad that I've been wondering about you being rather absent from your blog...and now I know why. I'm so sorry to hear how you're feelng. I remember after I had my first baby I felt terribly, terribly low. I twasn't for very long but long enough to know that depression isn't something you can just thrw off in the 'pull yourself together' vein. Sometimes, if I feel a bit low, I just try to ride it, knowing that it's probably hormone-related anyway. I just take it all very easy and try and e as gentle as possible with myself until the storm passes.

    If there's anything at all I can do help then please don't hesitate to email me.


  7. Thank you sweet Sarah! I really am feeling much, much better. I think I was expecting myself to be able to go 60 mph on an empty tank, and that doesn't work. I've got to meet my needs so that I can be the mom and wife I need to be.
    But it is good in a weird way to experience these times, because it makes me so much more aware and compassionate to others who are going through a low time. And I learn more about myself.
    Thank you for your kindness.


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