In my final weeks of maternity leave I have been making sure to focus on some “me” time and schedule some really lovely days while the older kids are in dayhome. As I write this I have a sleepy 3 year old on one arm and a baby army crawling across the rug toward my foot. As this is an in-the-spur of the moment blog post, it is unedited and free-flowing. So bear with me, I get to the point.
I am pretty motivated to start experiencing some great days not only because it’s the last 6 weeks of leave, but also because I was suffering.
The gift of suffering is that it motivates us to take action. That’s some Tony Robbins Life Coach stuff right there.
Like many of you, I was in such a funk this winter. Even though I LOVE winter, even though I got outside and enjoy winter sports, I found that my mental health really started suffering in late January, I was in the doldrums in February-March and in April I was wondering if I was having a depressive episode. I was exhausted, sore, withdrawn and had zero motivation to do pretty much anything. I was also experiencing some PTSD symptom recurrence as well as dissociative behaviours.
When you are in a funk it affects everything. From the way you sleep to the way you talk. I felt lonely, sad, anxious. I found myself framing things negatively, and my internal stories shifting. I was consumed with a handful of shitty memories of childhood and ruminated on one absent parent. It was just kind of a crap time for me internally.
I decided to start working with a psychologist again biweekly to process some of these tough childhood memories that began bubbling up during this funk, (many of them were memories that I had forgoetten about and was reexperiencing again with renewed intensity.) I also wanted just a glimmer of motivation to climb myself up and out of the doldrums.
Funks aren’t about what you are not doing.
I find that funks are more about why you can’t just get yourself to do what you need to do.
Part of my internal recalibration process has been recommitting to doing things that make me happy. I was getting too bogged down in human “doing” versus human “being.” I was becoming a robotic to-do list champion and felt kind of emotionless and detached. I would brush off something simple like drawing. Here’s my brain’s response: “Why would you draw? It doesn’t contribute to anything productive. It’s useless. And I have laundry to do.”
I’d even brush off going for a walk (which I LOVE doing on mat leave) or doing self care things like brush my teeth. Because when you are in a funk, its like you discount all those things and think “ugh, that’s so cliche, doing something like a walk, or writing on paper, is NOT going to change my entire internal landscape!” and you just care less about everything.
I KNOW this because I do it in funks. I KNOW this because my students at the University do this in their funks. Everyone does this!
I hate when you get a pamphlet on mental health and it gives you a checklist of things to do. We all intuitively know they will help. The issue is our shitty attitude and that we convince ourselves none of these things are powerful enough to fix things. It’s like your rational brain has been hijacked by pirates that take that pamphlet or list and burn it, cheering.
What confounds me is that following all of those checklists on ” mental health” DOES work. Why do we eye roll and discount the very things that will get you back on track?
Pirates. Definitely the pirates.
*IF* you commit, you do them, and slowly add more practices, then a month or so later you’re back to loving life. You climb up and out the hole.
Truly, you have to tell yourself to stop listening to everything your brain is saying and JUST DO IT. Your little pirates will make you want to roll your eyes at the pamphlet and think “ugh, that is so cliche,” and toss it in the recycling.
So, ignoring the pirates, I made a list of things that I know make me feel good. Even while my shitty mind was like “meh.”
- I started walking again
- Sleep in darker and colder room (improve sleep quality)
- Go to bed earlier, no screens 90 prior to bed
- Stepped up trail running (best form of mental therapy for me!)
- Treated myself to some clothes and got my hair done and started doing makeup again.
- Consciously put time into crafting, drawing and painting.
- Less time on my iphone (a malfunctioning battery is really helping with this.)
- Read some books with good energy to them (Wayne Dyer is a great one!)
- Practicing mindfulness with family *not taking my iphone was crucial for this one*
- Spent extra time in nature, among other things.
Ignoring my mid, I started DOING THEM.
It took me this long to get to the main point of my blog post….
I wanted to write about one of the most powerful things on this list today
One of the best ways to climb up and out is by reconnecting with things you enjoyed as a child. If you make a list of fun things like the above, and one of them has been around since you were a kid, start with that one!
I absolutely, 1000% swear by this. If you commit to this for 2-3 months you can get back to a place of joy.
Coincidentally, this is also one of the most effective strategies if you are beginning to feel the need to re-discover (or even discover, period) who you are outside of motherhood and partner-hood. Go back to childhood.
It turns out that, as grownups,
we land not too far from the apple tree of our childhood.
I took to my journal and made a list of all of my favourite things, or things that made me happy as a kid, and there were tons. It took me a good 10 minutes to get into the flow of it, but then the ideas started coming. So please, if you do this, be gentle with youself. It honestly takes a good 10-15 minutes of sitting there, then finally the pipes open and you get ideas.
Flowers in the garden. Crafts. Playing in the forest. Running through puddles. Drawing. Climbing trees. My bmx bike.
Ahh, yes my BMX bike. I really, really, REALLY loved my bike.
Tapping into that (and the fact I wistfully watch mountain bikers on the trails when I am running) I decided this was something I would try.
In the spirit of “just do it” I decided that my husband and I would have a date day this week. I consulted a few mountain biking acquaintances, chose a trail and committed. We dropped those kids off, packed up our shit and went. There were a few “buts” and a few “maybe we a nice paved pathway instead” moments but I tapped into my determination and stubborness (Taurus trait) and committed.
We drove to West Bragg, hopped on our bikes and began the ascent up the bragging rights trail.
Whenever we try something new our ego goes to town. Have you noticed that?
On the ascent I had to hike my bike up every hill and man oh man, it got started.
You look like such a noob! (I forgot my bike shorts and wore my lulu running crops.) Those are terrible gear changes (clunking on uphill.) This is scary (rocky rooty downhills) Or this gem, you don’t belong here, everyone is really good and clearly a fit mountain biker. What if you fall off ? You can’t afford that with your back. You’re not in shape to do this. this is probably making your organ prolapse worse. You won’t make it all the way back. That one came up allloootttt as I hopped off my bike and pushed it uphill, because I was sucking wind like crazy.
So aside from pushing my bike up hill, I was taking each of these ego messages and one by one, interrupting them, disempowering them, and pushing them aside. I was working out my body but believe me, on those uphills I was working out my mind too!
“you’re not in condition to do this.”
wtf! That’s a nasty one from the my old friend Ego!
I’m sorry ego, but nobody rides their bike up the entire hill unless they are a competitive athlete in this area. Everyone else has to push it up at some point too! Even the experienced people, because they don’t want to gas themselves.
This loop was recommended by a friend of ours that is an ex olympian- mountain biker and he described it as hard work, FFS.
So why the F is my ego beating me up and judging me for walking my bike up a hill, that an olympian would describe as a workout.
Isn’t that ridiculous? Yeah, I think so to. Stupid ego.
So I let that one go and declared, on the spot, out loud, that I would be gentle on myself and have no more judgments of walking my bike up hills. (I also figured talking out loud would scare any bears away, a perpetual fear of mine lol.)
Mountain biking was a particularly cool experience because it is a constant push and pull between work and reward, work and reward. Work pushing the bike up, reward rolling down through the forest, wind whipping through your sweaty helmet, feeling like a child.
Cruising down the descents, the ego would silence and I would enter the giddy, smiling, free and easy days of my childhood, cruising down through forest, the wind in my hair and happiness in my heart. And, honestly, feeling pretty badass.
And at the end? Fatigue but good, relaxed fatigue. And probably the best beer I’ve ever had (Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc btw.)
Ironically, a sport that makes you focus intensely on your external environment helps you reset your internal environment. By focusing on roots, rocks and the pure somatic experience of mountain biking, you are able to recalibrate your internal environment. It’s like a reset button.
I said to my husband that I understand why firefighters love mountain biking so much!
Also, if you are afraid of biking in West Bragg or getting hurt, or bears, or whatever, don’t be because 75% of the trail users were firefighters!
So, mountain biking. It was a taste of how my regular internal life should be, what we should work towards, and it was good enough that it left me craving more, more of this glorious feeling of being a kid again and silencing that internal dialogue that has plagued me of late.
I want to feel like this. This is how I have committed to showing up in my life – happy, energized and present. This is the best version of me for my family.