Around the middle of last month, I felt off. Not sick, just cold: I couldn’t get warm and I didn’t know why. Maybe it was the weather change—from balmy to chilly—or the shorter days, that the holidays (and the end of yet another year) are here; maybe it was hormones.
But something about this feeling, about being cold, unsettled me.
And something about all the kids spontaneously and simultaneously growing out of their tennis shoes and wearing pants which were fine last week but are now too short, coupled with the schedule juggling I perform to get them to and from practices; topped by the myriad of emails and papers from school informing me of volunteer opportunities (that I typically say no to) or need to remember—pajama day on Friday!—all in a pile (literal or electronic), buried me.
Something about my house, dotted with second-hand furniture and randomly collected decorations and the responsibilities within it: an ever replenishing supply of dirty dishes needing to be washed, socks demanding to be matched, endless laundry, toys unwilling to stay in their baskets, bothered me.
Something about my new job, with a pull on my already spread thin time, worried me.
Something about my husband going for a run, on a day with zero plans, upset me.
Something about the world outside my physical home, the one that feels like it’s on fire, the one whose smoke takes my breath away anytime I opened the door (literal or electronic), requiring my attention for so many months on end, exhausted me.
Despite friends, family, strangers even, giving me assurances: this is a season, you’re in the thick of it, you still have young kids, what I’ve put off, for weeks and months and more—because I just needed to get through the right now—distressed me.
I don’t know what happened exactly—but something about all of this being on my mind, a confluence of normal, everyday variables, overwhelmed me.
I felt isolated. And I felt ashamed.
I must be the only woman who feels this overwhelmed by … life; I can’t admit any of this to anyone because, really, all I need is some perspective, right? Some gratitude. I just need to pray, look to Jesus. I mean, with the world falling apart (famines, hurricanes, racism, sexism, broken systems of power) I have no right to feel bad or sad or anything except thankful for my little life.
But I did feel bad.
And I didn’t know what to do with the sadness I was feeling.
“When you’re ready to tell me, I’d like us to talk. I want to know what’s wrong,” Chris, my husband, said. I’d been quiet for a few days. Unusually so. I couldn’t find words to say what was in my heart.
I found my voice late one night while sitting on our grey couch in the basement under a pile of blankets. Next to four loads of unfolded laundry, I started to talk. And I started to cry.
From too many emails to how my job will affect our life, to our budget and needing to re-claim time for myself, to how I hate going grocery shopping, to how I can’t keep up with the house or the laundry, to the fact I’m turning 40 in a few months (an age I have zero qualms about turning -- that is, until I think about my mom who died in her 40s and how my oldest daughter is the same age that my sister was when she died, and how young eleven really is to lose a mother), to my weight, to living away from family, to the state of the world and how ineffectual I feel about being a positive force for change in it. Not to mention: our kids aren’t babies anymore, our daughter needs braces, I’d like a new rug for the living room, we all eat three meals every single day and do you know how much planning that is?, I have to buy Christmas gifts, and I can’t find time to schedule a haircut let alone go get one.
I laid down every single concern, the big and the small equally represented, each holding identical weight, as if spreading out a full deck of cards across a table using every inch of my out stretched arms. “Fear about death” ended up right next to “we need more bananas.”
Chris sat on the floor, matching and folding socks, a task I loathe, as I sobbed into my bare hands.
I’d been careful not to add too much to my plate in this last year. (I know to give yourself time to adjust when you add another child to the family.) Yet I didn’t realize, in an effort to just get it done or because oh, I can do it, there were subtle but cumulative effects of all those little, simple things that mentally, physically, or emotionally, became “mine.”
My plate was overflowing with normal life. And suddenly, it was too much. The weight of the world—our world, the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world world—was all on me.
“Um … I don’t know what to do about 80% of what you just said. But thank you for finally telling me. I didn’t realize you had all of that on your mind.”
“That (sob sob) and more. (Sniffle.) There’s (sob) always (sob) more.” We sat in silence, minus my crying, until I said, “I’m just so sick of doing everything for everyone. I feel like it’s all up to me.” (Sob sob sob sob sob.)
He let me cry for a bit. Then said, “But it’s not.”
“Sometimes it feels like it, though.”
With nothing resolved, I went to bed.
The next day, and over the course of the following week, I was gentle with myself, as if recovering from an illness. Go slow. Take it easy. What will help me feel better? What absolutely needs to be done today?
I spent some time in quiet, being still. Praying. More crying.
The foundation of my life doesn’t change, regardless of circumstances. But I couldn’t ignore the truth of what was happening in my heart.
Then, shy and embarrassed (for this was hardly my normal), I told a few close friends, bracing myself for concern laced with pity and platitudes of the spiritual variety. But every single one affirmed that yes, this motherhood/parenthood/raising kids/life stuff is messy and complicated and complex and just plain hard. They shared their own stories of feeling taxed and tolled and being sick of doing everything for everyone (even during times when life was “good”).
Instead of embarrassment, validation. Instead of shame, I was seen.
I hate admitting this. I hate saying I got overwhelmed and that I couldn’t stop crying. I wish I could say: I cast all my cares at the foot of the cross and felt better.
But that’s not true, because I didn’t.
I wish I could say, I had a good cry and then it was was over.
But it wasn’t.
For days, I walked around with my thoughts, as if looking at that table of playing cards, and tried to figure out where each should go. I had to ask myself: If I can only hold a few in my hand, which will they be?
Slowly, with a tender heart, I collected the others into a prioritized pile.
The conversation with my husband wasn’t magic, nor were the “me too’s” from friends. There was no special prayer or verse or poem or walk in the woods which put me back together. I needed to acknowledge what I was feeling, and let myself sit with it—even though it felt awful—before being able to move on.
It doesn’t matter if you have one child or six. If you live near family or move every two years. Have a spouse who is incredibly involved or one that works long hours or is away a lot. Most of us get to a point where life just feels overwhelming.
Maybe we need to talk it out. Maybe we need to cry.
Maybe we simply need to let ourselves feel what we’re feeling, especially in the busy and hard seasons of a growing family in order to readjust and reset, before we can keep going.