I got a massage yesterday and it was actually very instructive. I knew I needed one badly when a tension headache developed and would not go away despite stretching or Advil. After I woke up with the pounding at 4am, I called to make an appointment.
The first thing I realized: I am judging myself constantly, literally several times a minute. I started by feeling guilty that I even need a massage. The stark contrast between the therapist (who is working hard at two jobs to support a family) and me just seemed ridiculous. Sure, everyone deals with life in different ways. But why on earth do I have such large knots of stress when I have ONE child and NO “work” work (you know what I mean… a demanding boss, a long commute, frequent travel, performance reviews, etc.)? So I was judging myself first for my lack of a valid reason to be so stressed and second for not being able to deal with said stress myself. What’s so stressful about going to a music class and then having a playdate? (The kind version of myself reminds me of the child who woke up at 11:45pm and didn’t go to sleep until 1:45am, the cranky pants I dealt with in the morning because of that, the mad dash to get out the door to be at music class on time, pulling over en route to go potty, the clinginess in class, the upset girl who didn’t want to rush home for her playdate, and the whininess all afternoon. Come ON, who wouldn’t be a bit frazzled after all that???) But I judge myself anyway.
Here is a common thought process in the course of one minute: “Crud, I forgot to buy floor cleaner for the housekeeper and she’s coming tomorrow. Maybe I could run out after bedtime. I hope my daughter sleeps better tonight. What are we going to have for dinner? Maybe I’ll just get sandwiches from the sub shop and give my daughter chicken nuggets yet again. It’s probably not so good for her. She should be eating more fruit and vegetables. How could I sneak them into her diet? If only I were the type to buy spinach and make smoothies with it. I should care more. She is eating too much sugar. I think the cat just peed on the floor. I’d better call the vet to make sure he doesn’t have an infection or something. Probably just that he’s 10 years old already. Oh no, I didn’t give them their medicine at the beginning of the month. Sigh. I am always forgetting to feed them too. They probably feel neglected. I’ve got to get the crumbs out of my car before we get bugs in here. I hate it when the other car at the red light is pumping the base so loud and my seats vibrate. There is visual noise everywhere… signs, cars, ugly buildings, advertisements, road construction. I wish this day were over.”
This leads me to the second thing I realized: I NEVER slow down my body or my mind. When the end of the massage came and I was loose and mellow, the therapist tapped me a few times on my leg (it seemed to me he was feeling sorry for me) and said something along the lines of “you have to take better care of yourself” before leaving the room and giving me a chance to let a few tears slide out of the corners of my eyes. I am such a taskmaster… I KNOW that I absolutely NEED quiet, space, and time for myself. Why wouldn’t I allow myself that nourishment? After I told my doctor the other day that I always feel guilty (there’s the g-word yet again) in “just” sitting and allowing myself any sort of peace when I “should” be paying bills, preparing our taxes paperwork, buying random housewares, taking out the trash, etc., she told me that self-care is not an option. She said I require it more than most and she has seen what happens when I don’t listen.
Throughout the massage, I heard my phone buzz over and over again in my purse with texts and e-mails. Unless it’s the babysitter, there’s nothing that is that important and I feel annoyed every time it buzzes. After a while, I want to literally scream, “LEAVE ME THE F… ALONE!!!!!” I feel attacked and anxious. I’m juggling too many balls in the air, I think.
The few times that I’ve really let go and relaxed, it just wasn’t enough. The first time I left my daughter was on a trip to Hawaii when she was 5 months old. It was a business trip for my husband, so it wasn’t all sun and fun like you are probably thinking. I developed two ear infections there and had many trips to the doctor for shots of penicillin, etc. I was also pumping and dumping milk every two hours so it was like there was an ever-present stopwatch limiting what I could and couldn’t do. Also, my daughter also got an ear infection so I was hearing about that from my mom via phone and feeling, you guessed it… guilty. AND, our drive up a mountain caused something awful to pop in my ear, making the ear infection much worse and causing me to not be able to hear out of that ear for a few days. Anyway, the very last day of the trip I felt better and really enjoyed the break from new mommyhood. I cried huge huge HUGE tears of sadness and regret when I had to return home, still out of it, temporarily half deaf, and lacking in recharge. We could have stayed longer but I had busted my butt to leave my daughter 7 days of breastmilk and she was running out. I was not ready to resume the helm of the mothership but yet I did and have every day since, whether sick or tired or sick and tired.
I don’t ever show my daughter that I’m feeling this way, which I realize is causing more internal strain because I’m not being authentic… I’m putting on an act of a patient, calm, soothing mommy with lots of fun projects up her sleeve. At the end of the day, I am wiped out from my role as June Cleaver. If I actually were June Cleaver, it’d be no problem, but I’m really more of a Lucille Ball whirlwind.
I feel absolutely terrible because at the end of my massage, it hit me that as much as I enjoy my sweet girl, I am constantly trying to escape her. I know these days are fleeting and I know I should cherish it all, but I have built up such a large deficit of self-care that I am starving for it. I give all my patience to my daughter and leave none for myself. That makes me so sad. I am literally trying to schedule preschool and babysitters so that I have a break every day. Yet, thus far, when I have a break, I am not using the time very well. See above.
I’ve stopped comparing my desires to what I am experiencing in the present. It’s all about expectations, right? I learned recently that if I stopped expecting to wake up every morning and sit quietly with a cup of coffee, I’d be a much happier person! I mean, who doesn’t enjoy shifting immediately from deep sleep to a racing heartbeat at the cry of “Mommy, Mommy,” hopping out of bed immediately to tend to someone else, and starting their day with a Max and Ruby episode? Ha ha.
I am going to be more conscious of balancing quiet time with the active chaos that is my motherhood experience. A loud playgroup with crying, kids in various states of neediness, conflicting adult conversations, etc. should lead to an afternoon cup of tea and a magazine (and that magazine does not need to end in a pile of torn out pages that require action steps in themselves – file this for later, see if the library has that book, ooh maybe do this decorative idea in the office). I MUST stop trying to justify it to myself and just do it until it becomes a habit. (I’m judging myself again right now… comparing myself to others who would laugh at me for being such a wimp… I’m thinking of classrooms in Africa without books, families without heat or with a soldier overseas. There’s that guilt AGAIN. Sigh.) It would be much better if I would cut myself some slack.
I really don’t want to fight crowds and noise to run to Target for My Little Pony toothpaste. I don’t want to try to look ok a the preschool morning dropoff so nobody will think I look either 15 years old (no makeup) or sloppy (shorts and t-shirt). I don’t want to have to think of what to make for dinner each night. I don’t want to listen to my own thoughts telling me to call the vet, schedule the tree doctor, make that doctor appointment, mail that book, add to the grocery list, post those pictures, and on and on.
So that’s what I’m going to do. Cut myself some slack. I hereby give myself permission to let the dry clothes sit in the drier for a couple days and live with the wrinkles. To order pizza for dinner two nights in a row and not care. To let the library charge us 10 cents for a late book. To stop feeling sloppy just wearing plain t-shirts when my friends look thin and beautifully dressed. To go to bed at 8pm without catching up on emails or the budget or even some nights saying hi to my hubby. To stop stressing about what my photography business (or lack thereof really) should be and just forget it for awhile. I am going to relax and see what happens.
I am going to let myself off the hook. Let the negative judgements go. Let’s see what happens. Let’s see how long I can do it!