How Letting Myself Break Down Helped Get Me Through

by Stacy Firth
file404 / Shutterstock

I just want to TAKE A SHOWER, the voice in my head rages.

I just want to shower, and pee by myself, and fold laundry without someone hanging off of me.


Wait, no. I DON’T want to fold laundry.

When did my days get so tedious and unimportant that my ability to FOLD LAUNDRY is the barometer? DAMMIT.

That voice. It’s often belligerent. Out of control. It’s not even me.

Except it is, obviously.

It’s my secret mom voice, the one that plays in my head on repeat when I’m at my lowest. Days when my preschooler is completely contrary. When the baby is teething. When deadlines and dinnertime loom over my head.

And when I go there, it’s so hard to get anywhere else.

I walk through the kitchen. My husband does a double take: “Are you crying?”

Silence. Then finally, I respond: “No.” I’m lying though. I am crying, or at least, I have been. But I have no idea how to explain myself, and the kids are looking at me. So I say no.

The day goes on. I recover, or at least I think I do, but I’m as transparent as a sippy cup.

“What’s going on?” he asks tenderly.

I can’t keep it in. I can’t and don’t want to. I spill over, even as exhaustion has hollowed me out.

I don’t remember what I say, exactly, but it’s something like this:

This is so hard.

We used to have this big life. I used to go places and talk to people. I used to get dressed up, and go grab drinks with friends, and chat until midnight. I had things to talk about. We climbed mountains together on the weekends. I danced in the front row as you sang in the band. The bar was filled with people we knew. I used to shower every day. The house was clean. I had energy.

I’m not sure I know who I am right now. This house we bought with such excitement has become the size of my life. I live here. I work here. I mom here. It’s all here. Getting out is a struggle. There’s naptime and breastfeeding and tantrums, so what’s the point of disrupting all that just to get out? Get out and do what? Be that mom in Target? The one with spit-up as a fashion statement, dry shampoo as a nod to all those showers she’s missed, chipped nail polish as a sorry ode to the vibrant girl she once was?

My life has become so small that I can’t even justify a trip to Target, and I am just done. This isn’t me, this isn’t what I expected, and I will go crazy if I have to keep doing this.

We’re outside, doing chores in the yard as the kids nap. The ocean sounds of our son’s noise machine drift through the monitor. The rhythm of the waves has become a soundtrack for my life. I barely even notice it anymore. I’m having a full-on breakdown in the driveway. Neighbors drive by as I sob into my husband’s arms.

“What do I do?” he asks softly.

The tenderness in his voice makes me feel better and worse all at once. Better because I know I’m not as alone as I feel. Worse because I hear that he’s as lost about how to fix this as I am.

Neither of us are used to me having unsolvable problems.

I go inside, pick up my laptop, and begin to write. Writing has always been the best answer for me when I’m sure that there isn’t one.

That was months ago, and what I know now is this: The only way out is through.

Motherhood is exhausting. Having a baby is hard. The toddler years are baffling. Let’s not pretend otherwise.

But maybe there is beauty in the breakdown.

Because that breakdown, at its heart, was about the powerlessness I felt. The isolation, the loss of self, the extreme responsibility of caring for tiny humans. Bring that into the light, and you realize those are the dark themes of motherhood.

And if it’s a theme, at the very least what it means is that you are not alone.

At a time when you don’t need another challenge, it’s a call to rise up.

I wish I could say I turned a corner right then, but really, I spent the next hour writing and crying and trying to fight off that mad mommy voice in my head. And then I left. I went out, got a coffee and a book and wandered around Barnes & Noble, aimless but alone.

That day was a turning point though. I couldn’t escape the biggest breakdown of my mom life without some serious reflection and change.

So now what? I asked myself over and over. Is this going to be how it is, or are you going to do something about it?

My answer to myself was clear: I was not going to lie down in my misery, weaving it around me until it became like a second skin. There’s always something to be done — that was both the problem and the solution.

There’s always something to be done. The responsibilities I have taken on as a mom, wife, homeowner, and self-employed woman will never be completed. There’s always something on the to-do list.

There’s always something to be done. You can always do something to help yourself — always.

I had to embrace both sides of that phrase and learn some important lessons. Being a mom does not include the number of picture-perfect moments I expected. I straddle the line between working mom and stay-at-home mom. Neither side is glamorous. Neither side is “easier.” Both sides are strewn with guilt, uncertainty, a little bit of fear, and lots of laundry.

Instead of worrying about how high the pile of laundry was, though, I needed to rethink how piled up my expectations were.

And where had I placed my own needs on that endless to-do list? I cannot expect anyone to give me what I need. I have to ask for it, I have to take it, and I cannot feel guilty. I need to be easier on myself.

It sounds so simple, but it’s been a process of letting go, compromising, and reconsidering. My kids are little. I have many more years of this balancing act ahead of me — and if I lose myself, what happens to me when they grow up and leave? I don’t want to be able to answer that question.

I can’t tell you that I have it all figured out. I can’t say that being a mom will ever be easy. I just know that when I asked myself, What are you going to do now?” I found my strength. I regained my sanity. I banished my mad mommy voice and stopped fighting so damn hard against the inevitable chaos of motherhood.

When I find myself losing sight of this lesson I’ve learned, I go back to the initial question: What now, Mama?

One thing’s for sure — there’s always something to do.