My Friday Meltdown

Something extremely humbling happened on Friday. For most of July, I have been struggling. I imagine this will sound familiar to many of you, but basically, as someone who works full-time out of a home studio, I have been struggling with the demands of: 1) my full-time workload, 2) the fact that my kids do not have a ton of camps on the books (that is partly my bad, but also partly me tuning in to who they are), 3) the seemingly never ending stream of mental gymnastics required to know who is going where on what day, 4) being the point person every single day since I work from home.

Some days I have been fine and happy (literally, I have said, “Hey kids, fun mom is here!”) and some days, well, not so much (literally, I have said, “Hey kids, freaked out mom is here!”). I only have two weekday’s worth of vacation planned all summer and that knowledge was definitely starting to grate on me as the persistent juggle through July wore me down.

And then Friday happened. I got up at 5:30am to get in work time before everyone else woke up and all of a sudden my vision got blurry, I felt dizzy, started dripping with sweat, and felt like I was going to vomit (actually, dry heaving was involved...it's the worst). Jon came down to find me curled up in the fetal position, face down on the floor. It took maybe two hours for me to recover to a state where I could walk around.

I had a lot of feelings about this and wrestled with whether to share about this incident. I didn’t really know what happened; a lot of people suggested that it was a panic attack but I wasn’t panicky or anxious. Jon and I have been informally calling it a “stress seizure.” But whatever it was, I was embarrassed. I felt weak. I was worried that if I shared about it, I would appear unstable or “unhireable.” I wondered about mental illness (there is for sure family history). I felt sad and, again, embarrassed. I mean, seriously, what the hell? By all accounts, my life is really, really good. I’m in a supportive, loving relationship and have two wonderful kids, a fantastic support network of friends, and a successful career. I have a comfortable home and plenty of food. It just felt so first world and ridiculous.

But it was real. The soaked state of my t-shirt alone was an indicator that something was very wrong with me. And as much as I felt embarrassed, I decided to share about it on social media (see posts below) because I figured that if I could help at least one person make a choice to reduce internal pressure then MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. After posting, I largely disappeared and pushed all the non essentials off my calendar/to-do list and tried to refocus.

In a way, it was a blessing that this happened right before the weekend because it gave me a chance to hardcore unplug and recalibrate. I know it will be more of a challenge to carry these things through the weekdays so I wanted to share some specific things I did to help me shift my approach....both to help you and keep in my pocket as a reminder.

1. Make a happy list

Not surprisingly, I started by making a list of things that make me happy. And the reason it was so powerful to write it down was because I realized that I derive a lot of joy from really simple things that are right within my reach.

2. Take action on your easy happy list items

The top 3 things on my happy list were focused time with people, tennis with Jon, and reading. I prioritized all of these things over the weekend and it was not hard! Yay, immediate gratification!

3. Don’t let the big idea get in the way of the little ideas

As I mentioned, I only have two weekday’s worth of vacation planned all summer and I found myself getting extremely frustrated as I kept trying (and failing) to find a week where I could get away with Jon and the kids. I realized that while an extended vacation is nice, I also derive a lot of joy from little day adventures too. So I’m working on inserting days into the remainder of the summer where the girls and I visit favorite Boston attractions (or ones we’ve never been to) and enjoy other simple adventures (like family hikes).

4. Identify fun, creative projects

This one may not be for everyone, but one of the things I wrestle with as someone who works from home is that if I have a free window where Jon and the kids are doing something, I typically shift right to work, even when I really don’t want or need to work. I realized that it’s helpful for me to have a fun, creative project in the works, and as it turns out, we have recently moved bedrooms around and are creating a proper guest bedroom. My friend Paige is doing the interiors consult but then I will be implementing it all and I can say that: 1) I have never been so excited to paint walls, and 2) I don’t think it’s an accident that one of the walls is going to be sunshine yellow!

5. Start your day differently

If you have been super stressed out, change your routine. Not going to lie, I was very nervous to sit down at my laptop after my Friday meltdown because all I had done was open the lid of my laptop when I started to feel sick. Over the weekend I implemented a practice of not checking my phone first thing. Today, I had to start my day differently because I needed to leave the house at 5:30am to pick up Laurel in New Hampshire, but I actually looked at this as a blessing. It meant I wasn't going to start working at 5:30am, and instead I saw the sun rise while listening to WBUR and it was a totally awesome way to start the day. Moving forward, I will make my first action of the day something simple and grounded (e.g., 10 deep breaths, looking out the window at the morning sky) instead of diving right into work.

6. Eliminate mindless scrolling

OK, this is hard, I get it. I mean, social media is what I do for work! But I found over the weekend how great it was to limit the scrolling (no joke, I was probably online no more than 15 minutes total over the whole weekend) and as I’m writing this it is almost 2pm and I still haven’t gone on social media and that’s a solid thing to do from time to time. But listen, I still love social and being connected to people. My point is to turn to social when you are feeling happy and are looking forward to being connected, not when you're grumpy or bored (which is when I get completely triggered by people’s happy vacation photos and feel intense FOMO and dissatisfaction).

7. Enjoy the small moments

Some of my favorite moments this weekend were the small ones; for example, when I taught Violet how to play Sudoku, when I peeled and roasted the little beets that came up from our tiny backyard garden box, when I enjoyed sipping coffee as I read a book. Look around you and soak up all of those small moments that are right in front of you.

8. Prioritize something for yourself

We spend so much time prioritizing our kids’ schedules and activities so, whether or not you find yourself at a point of residual resentment, prioritize something for yourself. Just this morning I was hanging at the park with Violet while Laurel had a tennis lesson and I was like, “Hey, I’ve been fantasizing about getting a couple of tennis lessons and here is a really nice coach right in front of me.” I asked Laurel’s teacher if he would be willing to do a few lessons for me; he said he doesn’t usually teach adults but then he said, "OK, well why not?" BOOM.

9. Connect

As I mentioned, I felt very embarrassed about what happened, but it ended up being very powerful to connect with people about it. As the messages started pouring in from people who said that my vulnerability helped them prioritize themselves, I was like, OK, that was a good thing. I also so valued having a chance to talk to Asha and I was grateful that Laurel and Violet both had engagements on Sunday that resulted in a lunch date with Jon, during which we could talk through what happened and also -- thankfully! -- talk about lots of other things that did not have anything to do with my meltdown.

Take care of yourself, friends. I am rooting for you. 

 Are you struggling with the juggle? Here are 9 tips for how to deal with working mom stress.

Are you struggling with the juggle? Here are 9 tips for how to deal with working mom stress.