Before we go any further, you should know these things about me:
- I have a thing for alliteration. A true honest affair.
- I share my story with no judgment on where the reader(s) are, where they’ve been and I’m hopeful about where they are going.
- In sharing my story, I have to be honest so what you read is me, mmmmkay?
When I jumped at the opportunity to write this blog, it was right before my self-imposed bedtime (We will get to that in a bit.) and before drifting to sleep, I started thinking about what I was going to write and then it hit me: I honestly don’t know the definition of mindfulness. Then inadequacy, fear, panic, and more fear began to rise me and I took a breath. Then another. Then another. I acknowledged my feelings and talked to myself as I would talk to my friend. I told myself, “You aren’t scared because of what you don’t know. You’re scared because going in the arena is scary.” At that moment, I realized I know my definition of mindfulness: “Acknowledging your feelings and moving forward consciously.” That doesn’t mean those feelings go away. (For the sake of thoroughness and because we just met and I don’t blame you if you don’t trust my definition, I looked up what google had to offer and to my shock and awe, this was the second definition: “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” *pats self on the back*)
So, how did I get there? Oh, mama. Settle in.
As far back as I can remember, I have always played the role. Whatever it was, I was working for a Tony, Oscar or Emmy. If my role was a student, I had all the supplies, took all the notes, did the tutoring. Joined all the clubs. Athlete? You better believe I had all the gear, made captain nearly every year and never missed a practice. Skinny? Let me make sure I starve myself and make notes of what I ate today. All my life, I never stopped. It only got worse and the times when I thought I may be slipping out of character, well, a quick “get it together” stern talking-to got me right back in the scene.
My husband was the first person I was truly honest with and didn’t play a role with. That’s only because I had to be. Before we were even “a couple”, I made sure to tell him all my flaws via email with subject “in case you want to back out now.”
Playing all the roles led to anxiety and depression. After playing all those parts, I felt empty. Even after I played six roles in one day and then went and bought six pairs of shoes, I was empty. At one point, the anxiety got so bad, I was afraid to leave my house. Eventually, I did but only to play another role.
Then, I became a mom. Now, a sane person would think that motherhood would reconcile me, fill me, allow me to embrace myself. Sorry to disappoint, but motherhood only added more roles- protector, advocate, #boymom, #crunchymom, #specialneedsmom. It only added more anxiety. The pep talks I had to give myself to go to mom group and baby-and-me activities were downright sad. Then, I got pregnant with my second child and let’s just say things got worse before they got better… much, much worse. Watching a horror film and hearing the ominous music knowing something awful is about happen worse.
The postpartum anxiety that never ended with my first, carried over into pregnancy with my second. Then, I had postpartum depression that also never ended. I now had one-year-old and a two-year-old and I was spiraling. Annual checkups resulted in my OBGYN and Primary Care doctor telling me, “You can get help or be on medicine in two years to save your life.”
Don’t get me wrong-I heard them, loud and clear. I knew I was autopilot at this point because things with me, internally and externally, were horrid. I knew each day I lived like this was damaging but I didn’t stop and get help because I couldn’t let the roles drop. Picture a juggler juggling balls. The juggler is me and the balls are the roles I played. These aren’t light round balls. They are 15-pound medicine balls in weird shapes. Over the years, I just kept adding more balls, keeping them all in the air and never let one drop. If one slipped, I got it with my foot and threw in back in the mix. Sounds exhausting, right? This was my life. Most of the time I didn’t even sleep to keep these roles up.
Then, shortly after those doctor appointments, I had a breakdown. All of the feelings and emotions I didn’t deal with or made myself believe I didn’t have time for wouldn’t be forced back down. Before I knew it the emotional damn I had up, protecting me from dropping those balls broke. The balls fell. I was in pieces. I remember waking up the next morning confused because I actually slept. Then, panic because I had to get these balls back in the air. I tried. I couldn’t. It seemed, overnight, the balls deflated and were somehow even heavier than before so, even if could muster the strength of Hercules to get them up I couldn’t keep them in air.
Then, there was this new voice in my head, too. She was hurting, hungry and thirsty, begging me to take care of her. Saying things like, “This was bound to happen. It’s ok. You don’t have to do that anymore. The show is over.” While hurting, she was kind and this was different than the other person I listened to for years. Obviously, this new voice couldn’t be trusted. So, I listened to other things-podcasts, audiobooks, music. That new voice, the kind one, was me-not the voice that made me keep those balls in the air, drill sergeant style all those years. Those things I listened to filled me and helped me be able to trust my voice. Enter mindfulness.
You should know I grew up with a dad who meditated at least twice a day, did yoga and never missed an AA meeting. He was the poster child for self-care and self-love so what you read above, was not imposed upon me, I did it to myself and I had to do the work to figure out why and stop harming myself. My first steps to mindfulness were:
- Getting to know me-what I like, what I want, what I enjoy and of course, what I don’t. This meant I had to be honest, learn to say, “no”, “I need help” and “I can’t”- words I did not say before. I had to learn to listen to and be honest with myself. I had to talk to the girl in the mirror. I had to fall in love with her.
- Find Tools to Help- for me, this looked like doing free trials of meditation apps over and over again, applying tools from books, setting “emotional self-check” reminders on my phone to stay present.
- Making time to take care of me- I was empty, physically and emotionally. I began taking care of me by making sure I drank water and had food. My basic needs were not ever met because, although I did the grocery shopping and prepared meals, I never did it for myself. Being properly hydrated and nourished did wonders for mental and physical health. I made this a habit. I also got up early to exercise. I began journaling and I began writing again because the mind needs a creative outlet.
Now, how do I implement this in my parenting? For starters, I keep doing the three things above and set clear boundaries with my children so they can happen. I know the only way I can remain mindful is to be honest about what I am feeling. I also explain why. It is amazing what Mothers do and it is ok if your children know and respect what you need to make that happen.
With that, I was still doing so many negative things unconsciously, things I never wanted to do. Fear-based parenting, yelling to scare and change action, checking out by 4 p.m. because “I’ve already damaged them enough today”. I knew I needed tools. So, I got them. More books, more Instagram account following and more tools in my house. I signed up for free mindful, conscious and positive web-based parenting classes or saved and paid for them. I took the time to give myself tools and re-train me. It is not easy at all. I also have cheat sheets. I post reminders disguised as wall art all around my home.
I give my kids tools to be mindful. To start, I asses their sensory needs and give them the needed input. We have a calm-down corner from Generation Mindful and while I don’t have the competence yet (I have to finish all the courses) to fully implement it, my kids can see, know and voice emotions. Then, we have tools to help said emotions. I also have the book, Breathe Bear, that is a great way to teach mindfulness and virtues. I’ve started asking my oldest, “what is your intention for you today?” Then, reminding him of that if needed in a kind manner. I also make a point to give them an individual very specific compliment.
Lastly, and often the most forgotten, is grace. I give us all grace, myself included. There are pure apologies from me to them.
I’m sure I could do more but this is what we have and what works right now. I truly believe children to do what they see. I am vocal about myself checks. For example, If I am using the bathroom and a spider jumps four feet in the air causing me to run out of the bathroom, pants down, hands in the air while screaming and I’m about to run into a corner and hyperventilate, I say, “guys, I am going upstairs to breathe and take a break to help my mind process that.” Even if it isn’t something that traumatic and I know my anxiety is steadily rising, I say, “Mommy is trying to process a lot right now so I am going to take a minute to try and help my brain.”
It is not easy. It is hard as hell to not revert to the unconscious habits and just turn off. It is a great effort to be present and mindful, at least for me. I choose this because I know what the result of not being mindful is and putting in the work yields a better return.
Find Tenikca on Facebook and Instagram @hitswithemrs