I feel like I’m in a constant state of overwhelm.
But my feelings are my feelings, and I’ve just got this aching, heavy sense of overwhelm hanging over me right now. I can physically feel this invisible weight pushing down on my tired, tense shoulders.
I’m a working mom of four young kids. My husband has a demanding, high-stakes, full-time job. We don’t have family at the ready to help babysit, pick up kids from school, or help out in a pinch. We haven’t built a local squad of people that we can entrust with our kids. To top it off, I have an anxiety disorder, so I feel stress and everyday pressure to a very intense degree.
I want to be a good mom. I want to be a good partner. I want to be a good boss and employee. I want to be a good friend.
My story isn’t unique. So many of us feel this way—the crushing reality of not living up to the expectations that we have set for ourselves, and also carrying the invisible mental load of motherhood that we can’t seem to break free from, even when we do have a strong support system.
You will often find me with my head in my hands, eyes closed, rubbing my temples. Not because I have a headache (though I do sometimes get those), but because my sleep-deprived brain is so foggy, and so spun out from all the sensory input that comes from having four kids, that I can’t remember what I wanted to say, or where I need to go next, or what I’m forgetting. I constantly have that nagging feeling that I’m forgetting something, and I typically can’t put my finger on what it is. The truth is, it’s probably because if it’s not one thing, it’s another. Literally.
You will also find me standing over the sink eating a piece of cold, leftover chicken, or eating cucumbers and cheese sticks at the stop light, because in my overwhelm I also forget that my body requires nourishment too, beyond my venti dark roast.
I’m racing to the grocery store, various appointments, and volunteering at the kids’ schools on my lunch break. Because virtually everything in the world must happen between Monday and Friday, 9am-5pm.
Exercising is the one thing (besides medication) that improves my mental health, so I hop on my spin bike a few nights a week. That 30 minutes usually means pushing dinner or bedtime back a bit, and we all know the ramifications of that. Robbing Peter to pay Paul.
There’s always someone or something that needs my attention, and I can handle my kids needing me, but it goes beyond that. I feel like I’m hamster on a wheel that will not—cannot—stop.
Don’t suggest self-care. I know all about self-care, what it means, why it’s necessary, how valuable it is, how worthy we all are of partaking in it. The thing is, my mind doesn’t turn off during those times, and constantly bearing the weight/anxiety of what needs to be done while you’re trying to enjoy a walk, or a bath, or a therapy session, is its own burden to bear. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek those things out, but it’s not easy for people like me to just “turn off.” Oh how, I wish I could just turn off. Fuck you, anxiety.
I’m not a martyr. I don’t wish to complain and diminish the value of my hard work or my beautiful family. It’s not that I don’t feel #blessed; I do. Because I feel so grateful and lucky and blessed is where a lot of my overwhelm stems from. This desire to constantly be giving back or accomplishing something to show how much I care.
I resent that the weekends are often consumed by laundry, errands, housework that has to be done. I am grateful for a partner who participates equally and without being nagged, but I long for that sense of being able to “let it go” that others seem to have mastered. I’m not there yet. I don’t know if I will ever be. I don’t think this means that I’m not making good memories or enjoying my kids. I used to beat myself up about that. I’m glad for the hard-earned growth that has brought me to this realization that I can be a good, engaged mom while also battling anxiety and the mental load of motherhood (womanhood, in general, to be fair).
Because there is always something. Not even “bad” things, just things that need to be done. Cross one thing off, and something else takes its place. There are holidays, birthdays, school and sporting events, appointments, work deadlines, house projects, car maintenance, and everyone always needs new freaking shoes. It’s not a ton of elective tasks that I’m heaping upon myself here. I’ve learned to be more selective.
Some of these things bring me great joy, but the sum of all of these things is still heavy. It feels defeating at times. It feels suffocating. I just want to nap, read a book, enjoy the sunshine with my kids without that mental checklist running through my trying-to-relax-and-enjoy-the-moment mind.
So much easier said than done. I won’t let the goal of truly learning to breathe go. I know all about the value of meditation, and all the apps and programs out there to help me achieve it, and I will continue to work at it. But alas, that’s another thing I have to add to my list.
The overwhelm — the exhausting mental load of being a mom — I wouldn’t be who I am without it, and I wouldn’t trade the experience and privilege of raising my children for anything, but that doesn’t mean I don’t wish some things were different. Lighter. Easier to navigate. It’s okay for us to feel like that. Even the best moms do.