Mummy Burnout. How I Rediscovered My True Self When I Just Let Go.

It had been a LOOONNNNNNGGGG time since I had felt the total freedom to just sit, breathe and be by myself.  The feeling was really quite overwhelming, as I sat on the beach watching the sun set over Dubai’s city skyline.

That’s right I was alone.  I was a married Mum of a 4 and 2 year old, and here I was, on a beach in a different country.  OMG.  How did I end up here?  Was it a work trip?  Did I need urgently to visit someone in Dubai?  No.  I had DECIDED that this was something I needed.

Mummy Mode

As many of you will relate to, it had been 4 years since I had spent a single day without my kids.  Oh apart from 1 night away with my husband in Manchester last year.  I’m always in Mummy mode.  I dream about them, I think about them all day long, my coat pockets contain their snotty tissues and the odd raisin, and I often find random items like their socks, knickers, toys or nappies in my handbag.

Did I mention I have spent these last 4 years looking like a mum too.  No, not the ones you see on Cheshire Housewives wafting around in leather leggings and heels, with perfectly coiffed hair and red lips.  I just looked like shit.  Every day.  Like, totally frazzled.

Motherhood wasn’t part of my identity.  It was who I had become.  In fact I had gotten to the point where I was so lost that I couldn’t even remember who I was outside of that role anymore.  Being a mum was all consuming, and there was always this nagging feeling that there was so much more of me dying to come out.

Unfortunately I was too busy and too drained to do anything about it for way too long.

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How Did This Happen to Me?

I had always been wildly ambitious and strived for growth in every area of my life… constantly.  I’d always told myself that I’d bring my A-Game to motherhood whenever that time arrived, and I’d set up my life with my own business, so I would have the flexibility to earn money AND be there for my kids 24-7.

I’d still dress really cool, I’d be perfectly groomed, I’d still have clients when it suited me and I’d spend the rest of my time having fun at playgroups or outdoors with my darling kiddies.

Sounded simple to me.  But then I didn’t have kids then, so what the f*** did I know. LOL.

Nobody ever mentioned to me the 3 aspects of having kids that changes your life overnight.  It happens fast, and it’s crazy intense.

  1.  They NEED You

It starts quite innocently when they are newborns.  They NEED you every minute of every day.  You kind of know this logically, but nothing prepares you for the sleep deprivation, the torturous crying, the confusion and complete overwhelm.  You feel the weight of this responsibility to your core.  It’s quite an overwhelming and all-consuming thing to come to terms with.  You have to submit to it.  You come LAST.

2. You have NO Time

In addition, there’s always a chore to be done – milk preparation, endless washing, tidying the thing that used to resemble your house, none of this includes actually taking care of yourself at this point – it’s all about them.  This is in addition to the little person to feed / clothe / burp / ween / play with.  You think this will get easier as they get older, but the demands never get any less – they just morph in to different ones.  You continue to be just as busy.

3. You have NO Freedom anymore.

Now don’t get me wrong I LOVE my kids.  I LOVE spending time with them.  I LOVE being silly and ridiculous with them, and exploring new adventures with them.  It brings such huge fulfillment to my life….NOW.  But when I was feeling empty, drained, tired and completely unfufilled because I was putting everyone else first, I wasn’t enjoying ANYTHING.  I was completely depressed.

To want to just go and get a shower or bath, or have a full night’s sleep and know that you are probably going to have to wait another 3 days, is a lot for a person to deal with. I mean we’re talking about basic human needs here – eating, sleeping, washing – but the reality of motherhood, is sometimes we aren’t even meeting these needs for ourselves.  Let alone fulfilling our hearts, minds and souls!

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Human Doing

One day when the girls were 4 and 2 I realised I had gotten ‘used’ to doing everything for everyone, every minute of my waking day and was completely and utterly drained.  Not only that, but because I was getting it done, everyone had gotten used to me doing (and expected me to do it).  Oh and I resented it – BIG TIME.  Angry Mama – not a good look for me.

I resented that I couldn’t even recognise myself in the mirror anymore – not physically, emotionally or in spirit.  My eyes were empty, my body flabby and my skin was grey. I was just a shell.

Luckily I realised this when my kids were 4 and 2, however it’s so easy for me to see how many women can spend probably 20 years doing this without realising that they’ve never put themselves first.  It’s such an easy trap to fall in to.  Days as a Mum – or a working mum – or a working mum to a child with additional needs – are ridiculously jam-packed, and often highly emotional and stressful.  Keep doing this for a few years and it’s going to grind you down.

Signs of Burnout

I was sleeping with fists clenched and jaw grinding (to the point I whittled down a tooth!) or not sleeping at all.  Some nights I would lie awake ALL night.   I would find myself holding my breath sometimes.  My chest hurt.  I was tired CONSTANTLY – even if I did get sleep.  I ached.  My back hurt.  I overate or ate nothing.  I was angry.  I was sad.  I was depressed.

But like you, I had no choice but to keep going….

Running a household, kids, a business, fighting for educational rights for our child, day to day routines, learning to be a good parent to 2 very different little girls with very different needs, trying to understand Autism so we could better understand and communicate with our daughter – being mummy, wife, chef, daughter, sister, lover, friend, therapist, boss, social organiser…. and a woman in there too…..

I wasn’t actually doing anything very well.  I wasn’t doing anything with energy, with love or gusto.  I was just in survival mode.  I smiled when I needed to on the outside, to appear normal, but inside I felt nothing.

Even when somebody gave me a few hours to just ‘relax’ – I couldn’t!!! I would do chores, tidy, go and run errands.  It’s then I realised….

I’d totally become incapable of just BEING for a second.

I had become a human doing.

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The Joy Of Life

I was struggling to feel any positive emotions.  This was honestly the scariest place I have EVER been in my life.  Depression is so terrifying.

As a human doing you find it pretty much impossible to enjoy life anymore.  It’s a horrible place to be.  However you are drowning in so many to dos, and your energy levels are at 0, and you’re too drained to see a way out. You don’t have the energy to even fight for a way out.

I felt totally under-appreciated, misunderstood and alone.  I couldn’t see my own worth anymore as an individual.  I was just a machine doing, doing, doing.

You can imagine what this was doing to my relationships, my energy, our finances, our progress and joy as a family.  Mummy’s depression was seeping in to every single area of our lives – I HAD to get this sorted.

I needed to reconnect with myself and recharge.  The things I had been trying to cram in to my day – exercise, meditation, counselling appointments with a therapist, time with friends – only served to make me more stressed!  More things to do!!! ARGGHHH!

Mummy’s Time Out

The decision to book a break just for myself felt absolutely HUGE and very scary.  I felt terrified of leaving the girls.  Frightened for how they might miss me and what it would ‘do’ to them.   The fear was very, very real.

I was also scared to travel alone!  It had been about 10 years since I had got on a plane alone – I used to do it often in my 20s but when I met my husband, we always then traveled together.  So the journey alone felt like an ordeal bearing in mind I had suffered from anxiety in public places and a total lack of confidence for 4 years.  This really annoyed me.  I knew better than this.  I had always practised The Secret, I used to meditate, and I lived life through a positive lens.  I realised that I was now approaching my whole life with fear.  I needed a new approach.  Fast.  I was going to have to face the things that felt scary in order to change.

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The Why.

When you are trying to face a fear, or something causing you anxiety you need a very clear WHY.

You need to be able to answer WHY this is important to you??  

Take it further – WHY is this is a MUST for you? WHY MUST this change / happen? 

Where will you be in 1, 3, 5 and 10 years time if you don’t change?

What will it do to the people who you love?

For me, it was SO important that I showed my girls that you should NEVER feel bad for giving yourself what you need in order to re-energise yourself.

Without positive energy we are just shells.  With positive energy we are vital, happy beings, and I know exactly which one of these I want for my girls.

This is especially important for our eldest daughter who has Autism and who has very specific and complex sensory needs that are sometimes not understood or accepted by society – I never want her to feel ashamed or ‘less than’ when she needs something particular to make her feel like herself again.  It’s crucial I lead the way and teach my girls to respect the signals that their body’s are giving them, rather than teaching them to self-medicate through food, booze or any other unhealthy addiction (like I was!)

First Steps

So after putting off booking the holiday and procrasting ….. read more on how to beat procrastination here….and racked with guilt, fear, anxiety, apprehension; finally with my husband’s support and encouragement, I picked a hotel in Dubai and booked a flight to return 4 nights later. YIKES!

I wanted to add as much luxury as possible to this trip so it was truly something I was looking forward to as much as possible (whilst dealing with all the fear) so I did what I would have done years ago – I booked first class 😉  Damn right.  GULP.  That was the first little glimpse of the old me that re-emerged.  The girl who loves luxury raised her head slightly, and I found myself standing a little taller.

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Letting Go Sounds Easy.  Not if you’re Holding on to the Side of a Cliff.

The biggest fear I had was letting go.  To say ‘things will be ok without me for a few days’.  As Mums we feel better when we’re in control.  We can keep everybody safe that way.  I do believe it’s part of a maternal instinct.  However I wondered if this reluctance to let go, was really holding me back, and possibly could even hold our kids back in the future.

As I went through this process I realised that I was facing major fears here in many ways.  Old traumas were emerging, I was having crazy dreams, and I was so anxious as each day passed

I had set up our life and daily routines really carefully around the girls – always putting them first.  Our eldest child with Autism has had a number of developmental challenges, and I realised that I was absolutely terrified that if I didn’t ‘do it all’ every day, she might stop developing.

So all in all, I was deeply terrified that her progress would halt, or even regress, and it would all be my fault.  I realised that I was still blaming myself for the fact that my child had Autism, and feeling like I was the only person who could and should help her – it must be my fault.  I knew this was totally irrational when I thought about it, but as parents some of these beliefs just take over in our sub-conscious and we simply don’t realise that we are still being held back by them.  We don’t realise sometimes the amount of guilt we are carrying around for us for ‘never being enough’.

So another positive lesson that came from this experience, is that I started to realise all I really needed to do for my daughters was love them.  With everything I had.  It wasn’t about what I was doing FOR them that mattered.  All that was needed was unconditional love.  And us Mums have that in bucketloads.

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It Takes a Village

So my own Mum and Dad, my lovely husband, my mother in law and sister in law, all encouraged me to get on that plane; and assured me that between them all, they had it covered.  I’m so lucky that I had such a great support in place, otherwise I don’t know if I would have made it to the airport.

The thing is, when I was depressed and overwhelmed,  I felt 100% responsible for my children (forgetting that it takes a village to raise a child).

Even more poignant was that I had convinced myself, through my own lack of self-worth, that I was only worthy of love by doing all the stupid daily stuff we all do as mothers and wives.  The stuff that in the end, our kids and partners won’t ever remember or care about.

They just want Mummy to be happy, healthy and strong and emotionally present.  LIGHTBULB MOMENT!

A Change In Perspective

All of a sudden it was easy to change my approach to focus on myself.

I would teach my children that you can love with a whole heart and STILL be a whole person.  You should never have to edit / remove / stifle a true part of yourself to be worthy of love.

Some people say to give yourself ‘me time’ if you want to recharge as a mum.  However this is extremely difficult to do, if you are already feeling drained and low.  It can feel like yet another thing to plan and organise.

So instead don’t focus on what you need to do.  Focus on the person you need to be for yourself to feel joy.  Everything else will fall in to place.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from recharge time alone – you are worthy of love just as you are.  You don’t have to DO anything.  Just BE.

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