The more I observe, listen and open my heart to mothers in my community, the more I’ve come to realise that we seem to be walking on a tightrope called ‘coping’. It’s gotten to the point where if we’ve made it through a day without yelling, threatening or feeling like we’re going to explode, then we’ve had a great day. Forget that it’s possible to have days filled with laughter, joy and love (seems like too much of a stretch doesn’t it?). At the end of the day, if we’re coping then we’re kicking ass.
How did keeping our shit together become our gold standard for living?
I think it’s because we don’t see that everyday pressures, rising emotions and exhaustion build up in us. We just adjust and keep walking along our rope. We don’t realise we’re on a serious lean. It doesn’t matter if we’re inches from falling into an abyss because after all, we’re still upright, we’re still putting one foot in front of the other and we can still say “I’m fine” when asked how we are. We’re doing just fine until suddenly, we’re not. It can take just one little remark, incident or unexpected outcome to give us the tiniest nudge and down we go. Like a feather landing on one end of our lop-sided balancing stick, it becomes too much and we go into free-fall.
I’ve managed to break the cycle of coping in my life, most of the time. There are still times that I fall into old patterns. I don’t often realise it until it’s too late and a trigger has sent me reeling into the depths of depression. That’s when the tears flow, the rage spews and the self-damaging thoughts flood in to the point where my husband finds me curled up in the bathtub, the water long since drained away, unable to motivate myself to move.
It happens to so many of us. We blow up at customer service clerks who look at us like we’ve lost our minds (we have). We yell at our partners who didn’t do what we asked and they yell back at us in defence confirming the horrible thoughts we have in our heads about ourselves. We slump against closed doors while little hands beat on the other side. But life moves on. We pull things together and get back on the tightrope. Sometimes we even convince ourselves that we’re better now and won’t ever go through that again.
I’ve done years of personal development work, at least 10. I used to delude myself into thinking that there would come a day when I would never be triggered again. I’ve come to accept that life just doesn’t work that way. It’s not that those 10 years of inner work count for nothing. I let go of a lot of pain, embraced forgiveness, changed beliefs and found passion in my life. I just don’t think it’s my destiny to sit on a mountaintop in constant serenity. I have a desire to be a part of a human collective that works together to build a more compassionate and connected world. That means staying on the ground, among people and their pain. If I’m going to continue to interact with people, it’s a given that I’m going to experience triggers. My focus is on finding a way to guide myself through those moments of trigger without hardening my heart against others.
So how are you doing mamas? Are you in the ‘coping camp’ or the ‘not coping camp’? Anyone wanna try my new camping spot? I have to warn you though, we’ll have to trek a bit to get there and we’ll have to build the site from scratch. Bummer. I know, we’re already worn out, tired and got enough on our plates. Seriously Bron, you want mums to do even more? I know, it sucks to take full responsibility for your well-being. Now and then I still have tantrums about it. I just want to be appreciated, supported, acknowledged and loved. I just want someone to take care of me for once, is that so much to ask? Well, that depends, who are you asking?
In the past, it was my partner that I wanted these things from. However, I learned that if my strength and ability to face the world is dependent on a specific person (or people) behaving a certain way, then my happiness remains in their hands. I’d remain stuck in misery until people did what I wanted them to do (good luck!). Also, I thought about how I would feel if my husband was to say to me that it was my responsibility to make him happy. I don’t see myself being willing to take that burden on. Of course, I want to play a part in his happiness but I’d never be able to fulfil his every need, I’d almost always fall short. We can’t be everything to everybody. So, after a bit of stomping around, I resigned myself to the fact that my emotional, spiritual, and mental well-being were my responsibility (damn it).
That’s when I started getting curious about me and about ways to look after myself. I don’t mean in a ‘go to the gym’ or ‘eat healthy’ sort of way. I’m talking about my personal path to healing my relationship with myself. I found my way through exploring spirituality. I’d always had a fascination with spiritual concepts. I visited various healers, read scores of books, did workshops and researched the realm of quantum physics. I’m still learning and growing to this day. The camp I’m building is based on self-compassion, self-acceptance and eventually, I’ll construct some steady self-worth. Note to reader – this takes time. There is no silver bullet or 10 easy steps to a better you. I found it best to treat it as a life-long journey of discovery and adventure.
You don’t have to spend a lot of time and money on silent meditation retreats, guru books or life coaches. I’ve learned loads from getting books at the library, watching YouTube videos and finding local interest groups that meet up and explore concepts that excite me. If you have the means, sure, book some sessions with practitioners who use techniques you’re interested in. Whatever you decide to do, I implore you to do it now and not wait for the people around you to stop being assholes (hell might freeze over).
Walking down your path of personal growth is a great thing to do if you’re in the ‘not coping’ camp but strangely, I think it’s even better to do it if you’re in the ‘coping camp’. You might be thinking like I used to, that doing work on yourself when you’re in a good space is a waste of time and it’s better to wait until things are falling apart. But how good is that space you’re in really? Wouldn’t you rather be doing better than just okay? Just surviving? Just coping? Trust me, you’re going to be in a better place to receive the information and healing benefits of that self-investment if you’re not simultaneously locked in a period of intense self-loathing.
I’m so sorry to all the tired, overburdened, at their wit’s end mothers. I’ve been you in the past and I have no doubt I’ll be back where you are in due course (especially once my third baby arrives – any day now). It doesn’t feel fair to suggest that you do anything more when things are already so tough. Like me, you probably don’t see your saviour in the mirror (mostly I see wrinkles and a few grey hairs). The thing is, the alternative seems to be continuing to walk that tightrope called ‘coping’ and I believe there’s much more to life than that. We have every right to pursue joy and passion for ourselves. We don’t have to just survive, we could thrive. The more we build ourselves up, the more likely it is that we’re going meet challenges or triggers with courage, compassion and love. So forget the tightrope and go camping, there is so much more to life than coping.
Retired tightrope walker