“What’s up this week?”- How to quick plan to reduce stress and anxiety

Amidst my toddler yelling incoherent jargon, mental fog from pre-coffee wake up, and a sink full of dishes, a lightbulb went off. No, not the one in the ceiling light—that happened last week and is still burnt out—it was the light that flickers when one has a moment of brilliance.

Holding so many things inside my head was taking up so much mental space, and Lord knows I don’t have much of that left anymore since having a baby. Mommy brain is real.

My mind is always so busy spinning in circles, trying to remember events, appointments, and lists that I find my anxiety is frequently running high. But this morning was different. Today I decided to try something new. After my kid was settled in his high chair with breakfast and the Keurig was heating up, I pulled one of the rarely used magnetic note pads off the fridge and grabbed a pen.

I named the page the first thing that came to mind: What’s up this week?

Then I began to make bullet points. Things like Go to Costco and Put away laundry were things I wanted to get done, while Schedule dr appointment and Clean bathrooms were things that needed to get done. At first I didn’t differentiate between need and want, I just transferred the swirling thoughts from my head onto the paper to get them out.

The list wasn’t that long or life-changing, but it gave me a sense of direction for the week and could guide what I would do next. It helped me feel organized, clear-headed, and, most of all, sane. That’s huge for any busy woman.

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Feeling in control of your day and week is never easy, and what I do find to be very easy is to let things get out of control pretty quickly. Sometimes it feels like everyone else but us is dictating our lives. For me, a little basic organization reigns the control back in. A few minutes of tidying in the morning and evening, basic lists, and a paper calendar with everything going that sits open on the counter top are a few ways that I’ve found to keep sane.

These methods work for me, but might not work for you. What other basic organizing could you do? Chore charts assign a specific cleaning task to a specific day, ensuring everything gets done in a timely fashion. Family calendars on the fridge with color codes to each person may let you plan ahead so that your life isn’t a last minute rush. One mom I know writes everything on sticky notes and creates an orderly grid on her fridge that allows her to quickly find important things to do, appointments, and future scheduling. So easy, but something I never would have thought of myself.

Making lists or charts might seems like the last thing you want to do on a hectic Monday morning, but planning the week ahead before it starts is guaranteed to make you feel in control and capable of taking it on. With a cup (or two, or three) of coffee in hand, of course.

 

What are some ways you’ve found to help keep yourself organized?

Dear son, sometimes I forget how little you are.

Dear son, sometimes I wonder if I’m doing motherhood right.

When you’re clinging to my leg whining. When you cry if I take away your toothbrush. If you pinch my cheeks, hit my arms, and bite my legs. If I get frustrated because I don’t know what you want and can’t help when you have a tantrum over it. When you wake up at night, or can’t be soothed when you’re sick. When I get frustrated when you won’t lay still for a diaper change and I throw up my hands in exasperation.

Dear son, sometimes I forget how little you are.

You don’t even have two years of life under your belt, and you don’t know a better way. I forget how hard it is for you to communicate to someone who has been speaking for 31 years. I forget how hard it is to be so small in a world so full of big people and things. Sometimes I forget to look at the world through your eyes, and see that sometimes it’s the little things that can cause big tears, but also big happiness.

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Photo via The Milkleech, all rights reserved. No reuse without permission.

Dear son, you make me a better person.

You teach me to slow down and enjoy every moment, because you show me that change happens daily and you won’t be small forever. You show me that some germs and dirt are okay, because nothing is more fun than crawling around a playground or digging for worms in the garden. You remind me how beautiful a single dandelion on a warm spring day can be, or how wondrous it is that a giant metal bird can fly through the sky with the ease of a real one. You demonstrate to me what it means to have one person to be your world, because I am yours, and—truly—you are mine.

Dear son, sometimes I forget how little you are.

So I will try harder every day. Try harder to laugh. Try harder to be patient. Try harder to take a step back. The one thing I don’t have to try harder to do, though, is to love, because my whole heart swells with joy in every smile you give me.

Dear son, I love you.

20 months and counting: when does postpartum depression end?

I’ve heard the question over and over again, and every time it strikes a nerve: “Well, T isn’t a newborn anymore so is it really postpartum depression?”

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The answer is still “Yes.” Why? Because it’s not really any of your business. Okay, defensiveness aside, because that’s what the medical professionals told me. Postpartum depression can crop up within two years after having a child, and even when it lasts it is still a depressive episode triggered by the changes women go through in pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum. Voilà, postpartum depression.

If you’ve read some of my other posts about postpartum depression and anxiety, you will have read that I didn’t get help right away. I suffered in silence for over a year. I didn’t want to be that person, that mother, who couldn’t handle motherhood and would forever be labeled as “depressed.” Of course, that was just the depression talking. Now I can see life so much more clearly, and realistically. Depression doesn’t define me as a mother or a person, it just is something I have, like having a freckle or a funny looking toe. It definitely isn’t a favorite attribute, but it is so important to know that it isn’t who I am, and it is something that gets better.*

I’ve been going to therapy and been on medication, and it makes a world of a difference. You know when Dorothy steps out of the fallen house into a world of Technicolor? Yeah, it’s kind of like that.

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This isn’t to say that I can’t backslide. Depression and anxiety is something that is like your shadow; always present and pretty hard to be rid of. The good thing is the more light you shine in your life and on yourself, the less formidable the shadow becomes. Being proactive and pushing my comfort zone has been an integral part of my improvement. Social activities, organizing the house, painting, writing, and scheduling personal alone time are all key elements in keeping me [mentally] healthy.

So, no, I’m not really sure when postpartum depression ends and just plain ‘ole depression starts. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is that I keep moving, ever forward, in my journey and that I don’t want to ever become “that mom” again. It’s not about what people think or the labels they might stick to you, it’s about being the best mom to your child possible.

 

 

*If you are struggling with depression and/or anxiety and need help, contact your primary physician, ob/gyn or check out: https://ppdsilencesucks.com/

The truth about motherhood: It really doesn’t matter.

Breastfeed your baby to sleep so they are comforted. Don’t breastfeed to sleep or else they will be dependent. Breastfeed for the minimum of a year. Formula is just as good as breastfeeding. Hold them as much as possible as infants. Don’t hold them too much or else they won’t want to be put down. Help your child so they feel supported, but not too much or else they won’t learned independence. No screen time is good for kids. Unless its Facetime or teaching shows. Stimulate your baby with new experiences. Too much stimulation may make your baby cry more. Let your toddler eat whatever they will eat so they get enough calories. Don’t feed your toddler whatever they want or else they will be picky eaters. Expose your child to many new experiences. Don’t overwhelm your child with too many people and places. Your baby doesn’t need to go to the doctor for every little sniffle. A little sniffle can turn into a double ear infection, or need nebulizer treatment, both of which you won’t know they have because you aren’t a doctor.

Instructions, books, suggestions, advice, guidelines, rules…the list goes on and on. How is a new mom ever supposed to wade through all of the bombarding differences in opinions? For every question I asked, I got three very different answers. Sometimes I Googled, sometimes I asked the doctor, sometimes I asked mom friends, and sometimes strangers or people without kids would give me unsolicited advice. Sometimes ideas worked, and sometimes it made the situation worse.

So seriously, what is a mama supposed to do?

Here’s what I learned in 19 months of being a mother. It doesn’t matter. Okay [for the most part] it doesn’t matter. Of course there are the safety rules you should follow—car seats, rear facing, no bumpers, back is best—but then the rest? Really. Doesn’t. Matter.

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It’s not that motherhood doesn’t matter. No, not at all. It has been the most soul-completing, love-gushing, ooey-gooey (sometimes from poopy) experience of my life. I found a new and improved version of me in motherhood, and it has given me a different purpose in my life.

When I say that “It doesn’t matter” I mean that your kid will turn out all right. A-okay. Just dandy.

When my baby was small, I was obsessed with clean floors and not letting him eat a single thing that touched the ground. What happens now as a toddler? He dumps his crackers on the floor and eats it faster than I can get to him. He also likes to try dirt if I’m not fast enough. You want to know the difference between my breastfed baby and his formula fed friend? Zip. They both play with the same toys and are walking and starting to talk, and do dumb and weird toddler stuff like lick windows. Some babies cry it out, some don’t. Some sleep. Some don’t. Some are advanced in walking or potty training, and other aren’t.

What matters is that you try your very best to do right by your baby, while also preserving your sanity. You are no good to anyone if you are on the verge of a meltdown. Your child needs you at your very best, so do your best for yourself and for them, and you will do just fine. Give them love. Give them kisses. Involve them in your day to day tasks. Ask what they think, then nod and agree vehemently even though you have no clue what they just said. Shower them with affection, then let them play on their own a little while you check Instagram.

Here’s the real truth. None of us have any idea what we are doing. It’s like trying to fold a damn fitted sheet over and over every day, but it never turns out straight, but it’s good enough because it’s the best we can do. Parenting is a lot like that. We do our best, and kids turn out just fine. So yeah, my kid might only want to eat blueberries for dinner sometimes. He might throw a tantrum when I won’t let him play with the toilet. But at the end of the day when we look at each other with pure obsessive adoration, I wouldn’t have him be any other way.

It happened this morning: The three little words I never thought I’d say as a mother

So, I don’t usually start my posts with an introduction, but I feel like this one needs it. This is a post that I’ve been sitting on for more than a year, because I’ve felt too ashamed to write it. Reading the post again makes me feel like the ultimate failure as a mother. It is raw, honest, and painful. Today I am deciding to share it because I am in such a different place mentally and emotionally, and I’m hoping that looking back at that devastating moment with a newborn might help another mother feel like she’s not alone. Maybe she will feel like there’s hope for tomorrow. Maybe it will get her through another day, and then another. Because the truth is it does get easier. The newborn phase has been the hardest experience I’ve ever had to endure, compounded by my postpartum depression and anxiety. So, without further delay, here is my most shameful moment yet….

It happened this morning: The three little words I never thought I’d say as a mother

It happened this morning. I said those three words I never fathomed that I, or any other mother, would ever say about their offspring. “I hate him.”

I was standing at the side of the bed, having just pulled myself out of it, rolling him off my arm where I had been trying to get him to go back to sleep. My husband groggily looked up at me from his side of the bed. “Want me to take him?” “No” I dutifully replied. I immediately changed my mind. “Yes,” I had said, “I need a minute.”

As I left the room I could feel hot tears threatening to cross my lid brim into reality. He’d been up most of the night since 6:30 the evening before. He woke every 30-90 minutes. Sometimes he was starving, sometimes he was just seeking out comfort. Maybe typical for a newborn, but not for a 5-month-old.

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I went downstairs into another room and flopped down on the guest bed like a ragdoll. I guardedly let the tears fall, not allowing myself to succumb to an actual crying fit. My husband woke me what felt like a minute later, informing me that he had to get ready for work; I hadn’t realized I fell asleep.

I was stuck again with the sleepless monster. A monster that on any other day had the ability to make my heart melt with this toothless grin. On any other day his crying sound of “maaaa maaaaa” made me a love-gooey puddle. But not today. Today in the still twilight I hated my son.

Stuffing away the feelings I strapped him into his high chair to continue our usual routine. I ate my cereal. We started at each other in silence. He looked as tired as I felt. I knew we were at our breaking point. We wouldn’t be ourselves today.

I called his doctor’s office, hope dangling by a thread that she could help me. “What is the appointment for?” the receptionist asked. My answer gushed out in hasty breath, and ended with “We really need some help.” My voice sounded broken, even to me.

After an unusually short and ungratifying nap for both of us, I relegated him to his prop-up chair and turned on cartoons. After moments of indecision, I settled on a shower. It didn’t help. After pulling out clothes that would fit my post-partum body from the laundry pile that never seemed to make it back to the dresser drawers, I was rewarded for my personal time with crying.

I returned to see tears streaming down his face. I didn’t feel anger anymore; I didn’t feel anything. Maybe this was what giving up feels like. I decide to strap on the elaborate baby carrier, clicking buckles and tightening straps that pull my son closer and tighter against me—a last ditch effort of peace and an attempt to finally feed myself.

We stare at each other without exchanging a sound. I wonder what he’s thinking. I wonder if he wonders the same thing. He finally gives up, puts his head down on my chest, and falls asleep. I feel relief pour over me like the hot water of my shower had in what seems like an eternity ago. Where do we go from here?

I pray that the words I had spoken in the early hours were out of frustration, and not my heart. I pray that my son never knows how I felt towards him at that moment, fearing an eternal scar upon his tiny mind.

Where do we go from here? I continue on my path of motherhood, holding his small hand along the way. Perhaps tomorrow will bring me that toothless grin I so cherish, bringing us back in sync within the most sacred bond of nature between mother and child. I’ll hold on until then.

On aging and grace

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“You look great for your age!…. Whatever, um, age you might be.”

Did you just call me old?

I stared at the teen something girl in the clothing resale shop, perplexed for the first time as the reality that I wasn’t in the “20-something” category anymore sunk in.

Up until this point, I didn’t really see myself that differently from any other 20-year old. And now, unintentionally (I hope), this girl was basically telling me that my style isn’t “teen” enough to buy, my clothes bought too long ago to purchase and resell to today’s discerning youth.

Why was I so rattled? I don’t particularly want to dress as a teenager—those crop tops and printed pants aren’t really my thing anyway—nor do I want to behave as a 20-something year old anymore. At night, I’m too tired to start getting ready at 9 pm to go out. By that time I’m getting ready for one thing only: bedtime. I don’t recover the same way after a night out of drinking (not that those kinds of nights happen much anymore). I don’t really get Coachella, or any summer festival in the blazing hot sun.

I think what this experience really showed me was who I am becoming. A little over a year ago I became a mother, and a few months after that I turned 30. With these changes brought so many other things, from postpartum depression, self-reinvention, blogging, and a self-confidence and security that I never had as a teen or 20 year old. So much has changed in my life.

I take my belly ring out for the last time, it’s pink jewel catching the sunlight as I put it away in my dresser drawer, the glint almost seeming like it is winking at me as I shut it away, another chapter in my life closed.

I smile to myself. I don’t dress the same or wear the same size I used to. I spend a lot of the day crawling after a toddler and wiping dirty hands, doing laundry and dishes repeatedly. My favorite scene isn’t at a bar, but instead is watching my son and husband play. My favorite activity isn’t very social; it’s the quiet moments when my baby boy—although not so baby anymore—grins at me and flings his arms around my neck for a big hug that warms me to my very core.

Change is good. Change is healing. Change is revealing to who we really are, what is important to us, and who we want to be. Bring on the changes. I am ready for them.

The other side of motherhood. The one that no one talks about.

Motherhood is hands down the greatest experience of my life. I’ve never been so in love with this little cherub that has blessed my days. The kisses, the unanticipated hugs, the unsteady swagger of a new walker; I wouldn’t change becoming a mom for anything.

But motherhood also has its dark parts. The things no one likes to talk about. The day to day experiences that aren’t glamourous or sexy. If I took a selfie it wouldn’t be Instagram worthy. On these days I wonder how I will make it through the vast time spans until bedtime. On these days I do laundry (again), dishes (again), and try to tidy my ever messy house (again). I wonder if I made the right choice leaving work, or wonder if it is time to go back. I find myself fantasizing about an hour alone for lunch, uninterrupted bathroom breaks, and the availability of other adults to talk to. Today, though, I might stay in the bathroom an extra few minutes, just to have some space for myself without a little leech clinging to my leg. My patience sometimes wears thin, much to my chagrin, and I sometimes physically grit my teeth before trying to catch a melody for Twinkle Twinkly Little Star while I’m trying to change an alligator-rolling toddler with a poopy butt. Why didn’t anyone tell me about this part?

Why doesn’t anyone tell new moms about the extent of the baby blues? The depression and anxiety? The isolation? The loneliness? Why didn’t anyone tell me?

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The most important thing that I’ve come to realize is that this is okay, and I truly believe I’m not alone when I hit these speed bumps in the road of parenting. Well, at least not alone metaphorically. Physically, it’s a one woman show over here. Like everything else, motherhood has its up and downs. It’s just that no one talks about the other side of motherhood, the one where you feel so lonely that you want to run up to the next stroller-pushing stranger you see in the street and make friends. Or when you turn on the tv just so that there is another adult human voice in the house because, frankly, a stuffed Elmo telling me about his favorite letters just aren’t filling my void for linguistic interaction.

A mom once told me something that sticks in my mind: “The days are long but the years are short.” And it’s totally true. Even though the days can seem endless, time is really passing by quickly. So whenever I have a rough day, or my little dude and I just aren’t hitting our stride, I remember that tomorrow always hits the reset button and will bring some new development that signals that my little boy is growing up too fast. So yes I’ll get the laundry done and load the dishes, but first I make playtime my priority so I don’t miss a minute. Until mama needs a minute, then Elmo the entertainer can take a turn.