.“I’m not okay,” I whisper to my partner one night after putting my son to sleep.
It’s the first time that I’m admitting my real feelings to anyone, including myself. I’ve been doing a really great job at pretending I’m okay. I feel like I have to. Everyone is struggling right now, so what I’m going through isn’t anything out of the norm. Saying “we’re hanging in there, considering,” is my new go-to answer to how I’m doing. I say it so often that it’s second nature. And most of the time, it’s true. We’re doing the best we can with what we have. But the more I tell myself I’m okay, the more I realize I’m not. And I’m finally realizing it’s okay to not be okay, especially right now.
Since March, life has been really fucking hard. I was just coming out of a months-long depressive fog. Then suddenly I find myself thrust into a global pandemic. So of course that makes everything about a billion times harder, and makes my stress level skyrocket. My stress increase sent my anxiety through the roof too. Those first few weeks were manageable, but then April came and it slowly started to take its toll.
Like everyone else, my life was thrown into a tailspin — everything was upside down and I couldn’t put it right. It felt like life was just punching me down whenever I could get remotely close to the surface. Most of the time it still feels that way. And whenever I think I’m finally reaching a good place, something comes along to remind me I’m not.
I haven’t had much of a break since everything shut down. When this all started, I was a single mom. My seven-year-old is an only child and demands a lot of my attention. My work also demands a lot of my attention, so it’s a constant battle between the two. I spend half of my working time fetching fruit snacks, pouring juice and yelling to stop climbing on the furniture.
As his primary parent, he understands that I have to work, of course. But he’s a little kid; he wants someone to play with him. I’ve been pretending I’m okay to maintain some sense of calm for him, but it’s so hard. As much as I want to play with him and spend quality time, I simply can’t. I’m trying to divide my attention, but I always feel like I’m never giving anything the full attention it deserves. Then the mom guilt kicks in, making me think that I’m a shit parent and employee.
Pretending I’m okay to get through the day isn’t something new. Women, and more specifically mothers, have been conditioned to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. And we do it with little complaint, because it’s just what we do, even if we’re cracking. This year is relentless in terms of its demand on mothers. We need to maintain the house, keep the kids alive, and still be successful at our jobs. There is never even a minute to catch your breath. So forget having any time to yourself. It’s so fucking hard to be the one everyone depends on for everything — who do we depend on? Who is there to support me when I need it? No one. Because I’m not allowed to be anything other than available all the time. Moms are drowning, and there’s no one to save us.
My life doesn’t feel like my own lately. That’s why pretending I’m okay became my go-to. I find myself slipping into an endless loop of doing everything I’m expected to do without the bandwidth to do it. On top of that, I can never just shut off my brain and relax. And I’ve lost my ability to tune out the thoughts whirling like a tornado in my head. I barely get time to myself, and when I do I’m constantly thinking of all the things I should be doing.
I’m not okay because trying to take time to read or watch something feels indulgent. I know that self-care is important for maintaining my own mental health, but it’s hard. Right now I’m trying to reconcile my need to rest and my need to be productive. I’m finally burning out and shutting down, and I’m powerless to stop it from happening.
I constantly feel like I’m somewhere between treading water and drowning. Pretending I’m okay is getting increasingly harder. My partner is amazingly supportive — we haven’t been together long, but she has stepped up for me in a big way. I know that I wouldn’t be able to do anything without her by my side. I’ve tried and failed miserably. But I still feel like I’m shouldering so much by myself.
Everything is pulling me in a million different directions and I fear the day I finally just snap completely. I’m trying to find ways to give myself a little breathing room, which is hard. For so long, I’ve been the only person I can depend on, and it’s hard to break out of that mindset. Some nights I am so exhausted that I fall asleep immediately. Then there are nights where I can’t get my brain to shut the fuck up. I know I need a break, but I don’t feel I can truly take one.
One thing I keep seeing is a reminder to have grace with ourselves right now. We’re living through something literally no one has ever experienced. Life is currently stuck in arrested development, and we’re all just trying to take it one day at a time. When it all feels like too much, I try to have grace with myself. People will understand if I admit that it’s all too much. I’m allowed to be terrified and overwhelmed. There’s nothing to be ashamed of by admitting it.
I’m not okay, and chances are you aren’t either. And you know what? That’s totally okay.