There are few things as sacred in motherhood as having a door that locks. In my house that’s the bathroom door, so my bathroom has become the place I retreat to when I need to have a small nervous breakdown or a piece of chocolate I don’t want to share.
Considering that I have a lot of kids and a full-time job and a husband and a big old house and a dog and a body and a laundry pile and a fridge that never seems full, every once in a while I inevitably need to regroup by locking myself in the bathroom and having a good cry in a sad little pile on the bathroom floor.
This last time, as I was curled up having a grand old pity party, I couldn’t help but come face to face with the actual condition of said bathroom floor. I tried to remember the last time I had cleaned it, and couldn’t. It showed. And nervous breakdowns aside, I couldn’t be expected to enjoy my secret candy bars amidst dusty tumbleweeds and soap scum.
This is how we get to me, locked in the bathroom, disinfectant cleaner and a rag in one hand and a tissue in the other, just scrubbing and sobbing away. And lord, if that isn’t a metaphor for motherhood I don’t know what is.
So I said to myself: when you get to the point of having to multitask through your nervous breakdowns, something probably needs to shift. Maybe it’s time to ask for help.
One day not long after I had a headache, the kind that started in the back of my neck and wrapped itself right around my head like an unwelcome scarf, ending deep inside my ears. Lights hurt, sounds hurt, and breathing hurt. Not usually one to take a pharmaceutical remedy, I came up empty handed in my search for pain reliever in my own purse, and had no choice but to enlist the help of a friend. And as she handed me the ibuprofen, she asked me where the pain was, and when I answered, she told me it was probably a stress headache.
A headache caused by stress.
Considering what the last few weeks have looked like, this does not at all come as a surprise. When having a baby meets going back to work meets the regular everyday stuff we all muddle through, apparently the conditions are ripe for the perfect storm to brew. Right at the base of my head. And when the ibuprofen started to kick in and my vision started to clear, I thought of the lesson staring me in the face here:
When the pain became too much, I knew I needed help.
When I asked for help, I got it. And things got better.
So I looked around at my life, and I asked for more help. Yes, I am now having my house professionally cleaned. I am lining up some neighborhood girls to help me out with the baby on the evenings when my husband is working his second job. I’m allowing myself to buy pre-made meals from the deli without any guilt or judgement, and I’m forgiving myself the last five pounds of baby weight that won’t come off right now, no more questions asked. I’m waving my mama white flag.
Because I can’t do it all. I certainly can’t do it all well, and I probably can’t even half-ass it all. What I know I can do, because I have been doing it for a while, is try really really hard to do it all, fail, and then lament my own failure right into a pile of snot and self pity on my dirty bathroom floor.
So instead of scrubbing my floors tonight after work, I am going to hold my baby. And next week, while my husband is at work, I will pay a sweet neighborhood girl to do the same thing so I can nourish my older babies with pre-made food that I heated up with love and a side helping of attention that isn’t feigned.
It’s actually kind of exciting, once I got past the initial shame of having to admit I was kind of drowning and found myself able to take a deep breath. The headache is gone. I can breathe. The bathroom floor is spotless. And now I kind of want to shout what I’ve learned from the rooftops: I need help and that’s okay! And it’s okay if you need help too!
Life is hard, y’all. It’s winter and it’s subzero and it physically hurts to run from the car to the house. The Christmas lights are packed away and so is everyone else. This season is naturally quiet and reflective, and it’s so easy to feel alone and stressed and overwhelmed. We talk a lot about the body’s response to stress: that whole “fight or flight” phenomenon that we all know so much about. Eons ago, maybe that stress was being chased by a saber tooth tiger, but today, I think that stress is more often than not just trying to do more than we are physically – or emotionally – capable of.
For me that includes raising a lot of children and working a full time job, but that’s just who I am right now. For someone else that could be staying at home and raising children, or it could be trying to adjust to an empty nest, or it could be working a demanding job and trying to find time to sleep and eat. It could just be trying to find the strength to get out of bed in the morning and face another day.
For all of us, it’s trying to remember to carve out a little time for ourselves, on the bathroom floor or otherwise. Our bodies are pumping out the stress hormones in full force and thanks, mother nature, for equipping me to outrun a bobcat, but that’s not what I need right now.
What I need – what we need – right now is the courage to wave the flagged ask for help.
And maybe a chocolate bar.
I’ll be in the (clean) bathroom if you need me.
This article was originally published on LizPetrone.com.