About to become real vulnerable right now. Just pouring my insides out. I’m scared. A bit nauseous. But my gut tells me to share this. Even if one other Mom can relate…that’s enough for me. Deep breath. Here it goes.
When I became a Mom, 11 years ago, I believed down to my core, that putting myself first or spending time away from my baby was synonymous with being a Bad Mom. I never vocalized this to anyone. But I lived my motherhood following this belief. At the time, I had a full-time career requiring frequent travel on business trips – which “stole” me from my baby daughter. We had a full time nanny (who was a true gift from God and one of the best humans I know), but to me, my career was stealing motherhood from me. On weekends when I wasn’t working, I refused to be away from my baby. Dates with my husband, drinks with girlfriends, going to the gym…no thanks! The guilt, sadness, and emptiness I felt being away from her while I worked, Monday thru Friday, 8+ hours a day, and more when I traveled, shut down all my desires for a social life or “me time.”
Two more kids later, I left my career (very happily) and became a full-time Mama and entrepreneur (a fancy way of saying I started Wheee Get Fit & Play Stroller Fitness). This was my calling – to raise my children and be with them 24/7. Honestly, I continue to feel devoting my days to my family is following my dreams. The problem is, I left myself out – I forgot to devote anything to me! So even after leaving my career, I never shed the dangerous mentality that being away from my kids (even for a few hours), having a social life, or “me time” was selfish and made me a neglectful, Bad Mom.
Then we had our fourth child, and damn are we fortunate and blessed and thankful for our four babies. I look at their precious faces (particularly when they’re asleep and not talking back to me or arguing with each other), and think “how did we create such miracles?” When “4” was born, I was running my business, and already caring for 3 toddlers. I didn’t have much time to think, let alone analyze how I was doing mentally. I was running on autopilot. Just trying to get through each day. But behind all of that, inside my head and heart, I was enduring postpartum anxiety…or maybe just regular anxiety that I’d actually had my whole life. And the worst part…I kept it inside me. I pushed it down so deep telling myself “Katie, how selfish of you to worry or feel sad. You have four healthy children. Something so many women would give anything to have.” But inside my head, irrational anxiety was wreaking havoc.
Here’s what my anxiety perseverated on: fears of me dying and leaving my children without a Mom. That cut even deeper into my deprivation of self-care, denial of a social life or giving attention to anyone but my four babies. My anxiety told me:
“If you and Will are driving to a restaurant for a date with the kids at home with a sitter, you’ll get into a car crash and die and leave your kids motherless.”
Just one example of this is when my husband Will bought us tickets to a Zac Brown Concert taking place in Trenton (about an hour away). I knew about it for weeks. He was so excited for time with just the two of us. The anxiety inside me told me lies and said “Trenton is too far away. If both of you get into a car accident, you’ll leave your babies without parents.” The day before the concert, I lied and said the babysitter cancelled (a babysitter I had never even arranged because I knew from the start I wouldn’t put myself in the car and leave my babies).
I’ve cancelled on countless friends. I’ve avoided social events…not because I don’t love being social. But because leaving my children home without me means I’m a “bad Mom” and puts them at risk for being Motherless should something happen to me. I’d watch other moms post photos of “girls nights out” on social media, I’d envy them and their strength. But also wonder, how do they do that? Aren’t they scared?
Most of you know, I own a business, built upon the idea of SELF-CARE FOR MOMS. For the 5 years I’ve developed and nurtured Wheee Get Fit & Play Stroller Fitness, I’ve preached to my fellow Moms…
“taking care of yourself is part of taking care of your kids”
“self care is giving the world what’s best of you, instead of what’s left of you.”
These are my slogans! But I believed these words for all of the other Moms…not for myself. Intellectually, I realized that without self-care, we can’t survive this Motherhood “gig. But my anxiety didn’t allow me to look in the mirror to see that I wasn’t living what I preached.
Unfortunately, as so many Moms know, when we deny ourselves care, a social life, and breaks from the “brutiful” role of motherhood (beautiful + brutal = brutiful, a word I learned from my favorite author Glennon Melton)…we run on empty. And I know for the past 11 years, particularly the last 4 years, I was mothering on empty, wife-ing on empty, friend-ing on empty, existing in this one precious life I have…on empty.
“But, you’re always happy?” – Everyone. (even my own husband, sisters, mother, friends).
The truth is there are so many Moms (and women, and men, and children) living with anxiety or depression or hidden feelings, that can simultaneously be high-functioning and considered “successful.” All the while, secretly suffering inside. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been darn good at seeming great. Making a life that looks picture perfect. Even fooling myself. Like so many others do, I have the ability to “numb,” which to me means when those dark and ugly anxious feelings appear, I do whatever I can to not feel them…to numb them away. I get as busy as humanly possible. I run my kids all over the map to extracurricular activities, organize some closet or area of my home, scroll through social media, plant a garden, paint a room…whatever it takes to not have sit with the chilling feelings.
This past Fall, my life took a turn and forced me to sit with all the feelings I’d been stuffing down. And let me tell you, there was no more room to stuff the feelings…they were oozing out and ready to explode. It was a matter of time. So I sat with the ugly feelings. Quietly. I felt them…and it hurt. I listened to them. I talked about them with the small circle of people I treasure most. It was the first time I’d acknowledged how much my anxiety had been denying me life.
So here I am – pouring this out anyone and everyone. Why? Well, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from being surrounded by Moms during 5 years of owning Wheee Get Fit & Play…its that something happens to one Mom…it likely happens to other Moms. We are all living this brutiful Mommy “gig” together. And if we don’t open up about our sufferings and start a dialogue, we’re allowing each other to continue to suffer alone.
For the past several months, I’ve put myself into “time-out” so I can dig down deep. I’m looking inward and finally hearing my own needs, wants, and desires. It’s not a smooth ride, because there’s guilt (how have I let these anxious thoughts rule me for so long?). And sitting in the quiet with your truest feelings, it brings up all the old wounds. For me, that included the death of my Dad, a miscarraige from long ago, baggage from childhood – and that stuff can be hard to re-live – because usually, the pain is still sitting in you, raw as ever.
I’ve found myself a fantastic therapist who helps me dig through the layers (I’ve asked her to move in with me and guide me through daily life, because motherhood is just really hard. But she says that’d be a little over the top. So I guess weekly sessions will do). I’ve read amazing books, by authors like Brene Brown, Glennon Doyle, and Shauna Niequist (and by read…I mean listen to via audible. Because the moment a Mom sits to read or relax, little children subconsciously stop what they’re doing, and creep all over us). I’ve cut back on our family’s schedule because busy has been my catalyst for numbing and allowing the anxiety to brew and fester. Will and I have been on more dates than ever (even if we can’t afford a dinner at a restaurant, we’ve found sitting in our car together at a local park and just chatting, uninterrupted, is pretty enjoyable). We’ve even had a few hotel overnights (I’m talking a hotel a whopping 15 minutes away from our house. Which as a parent, fully counts as a vacation. And its been glorious!). I’ve had dates with girlfriends. We’ve been social with other couples. I started exercising for myself, not just instructing fitness classes for my business. And my most recent “performance”, I got myself onto an airplane (with the help of a few Xanax because the anxiety is still here folks…its not an overnight fix!), and vacationed for 4nights in Florida with my sisters and two best friends. I reconnected with myself during those 4 days and played the role of Katie…not wife, not mother, not business owner…just Katie. To some, this may seem minor. But for me…these are baby-steps to my truest, healthiest life.
I’ve cut back on our family’s schedule because busy has been my catalyst for numbing and allowing the anxiety to brew and fester. Will and I have been on more dates than ever (even if we can’t afford a dinner at a restaurant, we’ve found sitting in our car together at a local park and just chatting, uninterrupted, is pretty enjoyable). We’ve even had a few hotel overnights (I’m talking a hotel a whopping 15 minutes away from our house. Which as a parent, fully counts as a vacation. And its been glorious!). I’ve had dates with girlfriends. We’ve been social with other couples. I started exercising for myself, not just instructing fitness classes for my business. And my most recent “performance”, I got myself onto an airplane (with the help of a few Xanax because the anxiety is still here folks…its not an overnight fix!), and vacationed for 4 nights in Floridawith my sisters and two best friends. I reconnected with myself during those 4 days and played the role of Katie…not wife, not mother, not business owner…just Katie. To some, this may seem minor. But for me…these are baby-steps to my truest, healthiest life.
The anxiety is still here. The irrational thoughts and nightmares exist. But I’m able to sit with those fears, process them (instead of just pushing them down), and then…not let them stop me from living! My insides now match the “happy appearance” I always gave.
Some of you may think “wow…who knew Katie was so nuts?!” And I’m okay with that. To some this will seem nuts. But I know there are Moms out there who feel me. Who suffer this or something similar. I’m hoping by sharing this, my words can sit with you, and perhaps be the springboard you need to look inward. For those who made it all the way to the bottom of this, thank you for listening.