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Mama’s Mini-Mental Health Day

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Dear Reader, I wrote this on September 4th, 2018. Reading through it nearly three years to the day, I take it as a much needed reminder that every season of our life is just that - and then there is another. Today, I still work really hard but I’m not strung out, and I control my time. To apply perspective to your current situation is key- within the trajectory of your life as a whole and as you parent.

Love,

Cara

Strung out.

Hanging by a thread.

Going off the rails.

Ready to crack.

You pick. Any of these phrases, and the plethora more that share the same meaning, apply to my current state of being. I’m a caregiver. It’s my nature, and it follows suit that when I give comprehensive care to others my mental, physical, and overall well being becomes the last priority on my ever growing list of responsibilities. 

“Today is Cara mental-health day” my husband declared this morning over coffee. The kids are all back to school, the farmstand is closed, and it’s your day off from nannying. The rules are: you are only allowed to do things you want to do, and nothing that you have to.” 

Not surprisingly, the first word out of my mouth was, “but…”.

He raised an eyebrow. In our house, we call it ‘the hairy eyeball’. I looked away.

I finished my sentence. But, Claire has an orthodontic appointment this afternoon. I’m picking her up at 1:15 from school. 

His response? “Ok then, how about half of a mental health day?”

This was the decree from my husband who’d been watching me circle the drain for some time.

The term “strung out” had never applied more accurately. Truly, I do want to spend time with myself. To clock out from the world at large and melt into a safe, empty space for any length of time. What a lovely notion. Dreams of nothingness in the middle of a nature-based setting flitted through my mind. And yet, even as I was toggling between sipping an invisible cold drink that I’d yet to choose and emoting all my recent struggles into a google doc (much like this one), a to-do list started to form in my mind. 

“NO!” I told it. You’re not allowed today. Jeremiah said so. It dimmed slightly, flickering like a light bulb, then coming back stronger than ever. 

The reality is that I’m a list maker. And a list doer. I like to finish things that I start, and until ALL the checkmarks are all put in their little black boxes I can’t relax into anything, particularly nothingness.

I accept this about myself and realize that one solid hour of enjoyable “me” time is worth considerable hours of trying to settle into myself while my mind plays a looping movie of what I “should be doing”.

Recently I told my mother, “When I’m only doing one thing at a time I feel lazy”. Her response? “You need to work on that”. I suppose I do, but when stealing time for myself becomes a multi-tasking experience, I still consider it a win.

Case in point, I love writing. I find it cathartic, especially during times of intense stress. Somehow, when I sit and put things on paper they begin to sort themselves out. This is true for any emotion, from the gut wrenching traumas of my life to the most uplifting, hopeful moments. Yet another clique seems to keep me from committing to a daily journal time that’s all mine. It involves the T-word (time) and they’re not being enough of it.

Many people say this, but in reality it's the choices we make with our time that keeps them from doing what we really want, or need to. And, that’s true for me as well. The main difference is that the things that keep me in constant motion are seven-days-a-week are commitments I’ve made and the vast, often overwhelming size of them.

  • I committed to run our family farm to the best of my ability.
  • I committed to a full time nanny position.
  • I committed to being a present wife.
  • I committed to being a mother who gives her children full attention when they need it.

They’re big things. And I see my commitments through, feeling pseudo-successful if I know I’ve shorted any of them by exerting less than 100% of my best efforts. Parenting is such a fluid experience, encapsulating the past, present, and future of our children, that it can (and often should) be my only focus, especially when I’m responsible for raising more than my own biological children.

In fact, it’s what I was born to do, parent I mean, not farm. In many ways they’re similar experiences. Raising seedlings takes many of the same attributes that raising infants does. However, on the farm if we have a crop failure or a particular disease threatens the fields, we roll the land back over and start again.

Raising self-assured, independent, children into grown ups who can advocate for themselves even as they share compassion and empathy with the world is a B.I.G. job. I’m blessed that God gave me three girls of my own, then entrusted me to care for a myriad of others, encouraging them to be their best selves, regardless of their past experiences. 

And so, of the 16 hour day presented to me on a stress-free, silver platter I ended up making three choices for myself.

  1. I walked the boys I previously nannied for to school. Their mother was starting a new venture and couldn’t get there in time without help. 
  2. I asked my parents to lunch to belatedly celebrate my mother’s birthday and celebrate our daughter’s 18th birthday a few days early.
  3. I chose to gift myself an hour to sit and write whatever came out of my brain and onto the page.

The rest of the day was filled with grocery shopping, going to the pharmacy, filling wholesale produce orders, laundry, dishes, and all the other mundane daily tasks people site as frustrations.  Amazingly, being able to do all these things without a timeline, calmly moving from one to the next, made me feel like the queen of the day. I had time, however much I needed of it, to tackle each “chore”, complete it, and feel the accomplishment that comes from finishing something.

As I read over the list of “choices” I made, I’m fully aware that two-of-the-three were not for myself, but for other people. And honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Living for others is my favorite way to move through life. The trick, I’m learning, is to do for others without losing track of yourself. 

What have you done for yourself today? No matter how small, that brought you a sense of peaceful accomplishment?


Check out Episode 96 of the Transforming the Toddler Years Podcast, where Allie M. joins Cara to discuss journaling as a quick and easy self care idea for busy moms. 

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