“Maybe it’s time for the fighter to be fought for, the holder to be held, and the lover to be loved.” ~Unknown
I was breastfeeding my infant son when he bit me. That bite set the stage for a deeper unraveling then I could have ever imagined.
I unlatched him, handed him to my husband, and got in my car. As I was driving I began to lose the feeling in my hands and feet. My vision started to blur, and my breathing was fast and shallow. I was terrified I was not going to make it back home. I pleaded with the powers that be to allow me to safely pull over to the side of the road.
I was about a mile away from our house, but that mile felt like eternity. My vision continued to blur and my whole body was starting to tingle.
When I got home, a miracle not lost on me, I couldn’t shake this fear. I couldn’t be left alone. I was afraid if I was alone, I would take my life.
I couldn’t reconcile this. How could I so badly want to live and be afraid I’d end my life at the same time? What an interesting, terrifying place to be in: a place where you can no longer trust yourself to keep you safe and alive.
Turns out what I had in the car was a panic attack, and what I was feeling at home was suicidal ideation.
My sister and brother-in-law drove down to Southern California in the middle of the night to be with me and insisted I seek help that next morning. I was incredibly reluctant because I had a huge project due at work and didn’t want to let my team down. They didn’t care.
I went to see a doctor the next day, and that landed me in a treatment center for mental illness. I reluctantly admitted myself into an inpatient program.
I had to go on medical leave, just three weeks after returning to work from maternity leave. I was so afraid of how that would impact my career. What would people think? Would my boss resent me? Would I ever be able to get promoted? Even though this was truly a choice of life or death, it was still one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. I was terrified of the outcome.
What I received in treatment, albeit begrudgingly, was more than just mental health support. I also gained a healthy dose of perspective and clarity. This wasn’t just postpartum anxiety. This was trying to balance work and life and leaving myself out of the mix. Not only that, but I didn’t feel worthy of taking time for myself.
I realized I no longer knew who I was. I had become everything to everyone and there was no space for me. I felt empty and defeated. I had exchanged every last piece of me to fulfill the roles that were prescribed to a woman of my age.
This was a shocking realization, as I’m a self-proclaimed feminist. I spent most of my life keenly aware of the loss of identity that mothers often face once they have children. I didn’t want kids for that exact reason. When I met my partner, that piece changed, but I was dead set on making sure I didn’t lose myself in the process.
It’s funny how that works. You can be acutely aware of what you don’t want in life and still end up smack dab in the middle of the exact situation you swore would never happen to you.
When I thought of work/life balance I always thought of it as making sure I was showing up as a career woman and mother in the most balanced way possible. But where was the room for me in that? Where did my needs and desires come into play?
After treatment, I began working with a life coach in addition to continuing to take care of my mental health (it’s important to note that life coaches are not medical professionals). In working with my coach, I was able to integrate more of myself into my day and reconnect with my needs and desires.
I was held, supported, and cared for, and that empowered me to care for myself and feel worthy of taking up more space in my life.
I took the time to reconnect with who I was before I became a parent, and I brought that version of me into the fold.
I created a list of non-negotiables that I would implement in my daily life. For instance, I go for a walk daily. No matter what. Movement is a literal life saver for my mental wellness. It doesn’t matter what is going on at home. It’s happening. And, I do it guilt-free!
I also keep a journal by my bedside. Every night, before I lay my head down on the pillow, I write out what I got “right” that day. It’s so easy to focus on all the ways I came up short that day. For me, my mind defaults on the negative, so having to come up with a list of at least three ways I showed up for myself is a powerful way to end my night thinking of the positive.
Do I think that we can do all of the things all of the time? Absolutely not. I feel work/life balance is a bit misleading. I don’t think we can evenly split work, life, and self-care. One will constantly outweigh the other, even if just by a small margin.
But what we can do is try our best to fulfill our needs and desires so that we can show up for each aspect of our life as grounded in our authenticity as possible. If we can remain grounded, we can remain fully present. And for me, being fully present is balance.