My mom is snoring from her hospital bed as I write this on the squeaky futon. I’m trying as hard as I can not to move so the noise from the plastic on the futon doesn’t wake her. As I typed these words she sprung up and almost fell off the bed looking confused and scared. As I helped her back into the bed she slurred the words, “I love you so much”. This is one of three sentences she can say that makes sense, and I’m over the moon happy that out of all the things she could say, she chooses to speak about love. The other two sentences are, “I have to pee”, and “yes, please” when I ask her if she wants coffee. I get my love for coffee honest.
As stressed as I am about my mom being in the hospital with 2 metastatic brain tumors, a lung tumor and nodules in the lung, I’m oddly at peace. If this had happened to me a year ago, I’m pretty sure I would have snapped. I’m 99% sure I would have coped in a myriad of ways that are not healthy. Most likely I would have coped by being uber OCD and taking care of everything and everybody in sight because that is my usual coping mechanism. I tend to over-function as Brene Brown calls it, and “take care of everything” in order to forget about my own pain.
This last year has been the hardest and yet happiest year of my life. Until my mom was admitted to the hospital this past weekend, nothing terrible had happened to make it such a hard year. Yet, it’s been so hard. It was hard because I experienced a third life crisis that led to the realization that I have a lot of self-worth work that needs to be done.
It all started after Max was born in September of 2017. Well, to really understand it all I need to go back to when my first child was born and I could no longer control everything in my household. You see, I’ve always been the type of person who throws myself into “getting shit done”. To be honest, I always thought it was a good thing. As in, I’m the type of person who can volunteer, work on the side, complete a master’s degree program, climb the workplace ladder, cook a home cooked meal, and still make it look effortless. At least that was who I was until I had kids. Once the kids came along I had a hard time getting it all done. When I did get it all done, it definitely didn’t look effortless. I often became frustrated that I couldn’t handle it all. Instead of stepping back and doing less, I continued to take on new things and then beat myself up when I didn’t accomplish them to the best of my abilities. I let the gremlins in my mind take over. Those gremlins would tell me that I was a terrible person because I was no good at making commitments or following through.
The truth is that none of those commitments or attempts to keep everything in order made me truly happy. The official third life crisis happened a few months after Max was born when I realized that there was no way I’d be able to keep my shit together and take care of three kids while simultaneously being happy. Something had to give. And give it did. It’s not like I had a real breakdown. It was more of a trickle. I slowly stopped trying to control every situation because I literally couldn’t control it anymore.
I’ve always known that I enjoy control. When my parents separated while I was in high school, I threw myself into control. I couldn’t control my parents, but I could control the cleanliness of my room. I could control organizations by stepping up as a leader. I become ridiculously involved in every school organization because it felt so great to be in control of a situation. I love this kind of control and haven’t stopped trying to control anything and everything around me until I realized that it didn’t actually make me happy. It was making me miserable.
I feel like I bring this type of control to a whole new level because here’s the clincher: I want to control situations so much but I also want to look like I’m doing it effortlessly. Don’t we all? No one wants to look like the crazy OCD person, right? In order to achieve this, I’d try so hard to look like I had it all together without any effort when it reality I was so unhappy trying to keep my shit together.
I started to realize how unhappy I was over the past year as I started to take things off my plate. I “let” Tom fold the clothes, clean the kitchen, take care of the kids, etc. I stopped trying to do it all. I told my priest no. Twice. I quit writing for Traveling Mom. I stopped committing to play dates that interfered with naps and my own rest. I started blogging the way I enjoy blogging instead of doing what all the experts suggest.
During this time of letting go, I decided that I needed to work on my self. I considered a therapist. I talked openly and honest about my feelings with friends. Then I somehow stumbled upon the book, Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis. I won’t say that her book changed my life, but it did lead me to a bigger awakening.
After reading her book, I was hooked on self help. I read a lot of self help books as a kid. After my mom went into recovery for alcohol when I was 7, I read every single Chicken Soup for the Soul book. I was the kid who hung out in the self help section of the book store. It was my jam and I’m wasn’t afraid to admit it. Because of that experience I always thought I was a little more self aware than other people. I mean, I read all the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. I might as well be a therapist, right?
My renewed interest in self help books led me to Present Over Perfect by Shauna Neiquist. I listened to it on Audible (with my free credit with a trial period). The forward was read by Brene Brown, the shame research expert who was made famous by her viral Ted Talk.
Two of my friends have been ranting and raving about Brene for years. Years. To be completely honest, I just thought they were less emotionally evolved than me and needed to read about shame. But me? I didn’t think I needed to learn about shame because I genuinely thought I had no shame.
Since my mom pretty much raised me in AA meetings, I know a lot about shame and guilt. My mom explicitly talked to me about the two growing up. She made it clear that when I did something bad, I was behaving badly, not that I was bad. I feel like growing up in AA and Al-Anon meetings clearly shaped the type of person I would become and how I talk to myself.
Since I clearly knew the difference between shame and guilt, I felt way too evolved to read anything by Brene Brown. I seriously thought I was too good. But when I heard her talk in the forward to Present Over Perfect, I was sold. I instantly fell in love with her and had to absorb everything she has to say. I downloaded two of her recorded speaking engagements for free on the Hoopla app: The Power of Vulnerability, and Rising Strong as a Spiritual Practice. After that I listened to The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly on Audible. To say I’m obsessed is putting it mildly.
Brene Brown changed my life. She gave my gremlins a name. She made me realize that when I feel unworthy when I can’t “get it all done”, it’s actually shame. I’m shaming myself and telling myself that I’m a bad person because I can’t do it all. I realize how ridiculous this may sound to you since we all have different shame. Some of you may read this and say, duh, of course you can’t do it all. But I truly thought I could and should and then when I failed to “do it all” I felt like a worthless failure. I would tell myself that I’m a horrible person for committing to do something that I don’t have time to do. Or I’d tell myself that if I can’t take care of one thing well, how could I expect to be a good mom or a responsible adult. I’d beat myself up for no good reason.
As a Christian, I’ve always felt inherently worthy. I didn’t really need Brene Brown to remind me of that. But what I did need her to tell me was how to recognize my gremlins, push past them, and remind myself that I’m worthy. She reminded me that if I love myself the most and take care of myself and realize my self worth then I will have more love to give to others.
The simple reminder to love myself has made all the difference to me. I realize now that for years I have been trying to control situations to prove to myself and others that I’m worthy. For 33 years I’ve been putting all my energy into this control and not letting myself truly love the way I should.
For the last 10 or so years I’ve hosted Christmas for my mom, sisters and brother. My family stresses me out because I can’t control them, especially my mom. She’s always been a wild card. She’s the exact opposite of me. She is never on time. Always flaky. And loves to go with the flow.
When my family visits, I over compensate for their ability to go with the flow by controlling every little thing. I never sit down and enjoy their company because their lackadaisical behavior drives me insane. Instead I throw myself into entertaining. I cook everything, I clean everything, I plan out every little detail and then I crash at the end of it because I’m overworked and over tired.
I’ve spent so much time trying to control my situations instead of living life and enjoying the people I truly care about.
I realized this just a few weeks ago and I talked to my mom about it a lot. I told her I was so sorry for all the times that I missed out on connecting as a family because I was too concerned about controlling everything. I told her I was sorry for giving the world and everyone else my positive and happy energy because I was trying to impress them instead of giving the people closest to me my happiness and energy. I’ve always put more stock into how “other people” view me as opposed to how my family actually views me. I used the excuse that my family has to love me, so it’s okay to treat them like crap when in reality I had it wrong all these years.
What other people think of me doesn’t matter. It matters that the people closest to me get my energy and know how much I love them. It matters that my kids see me at my best, not tired from performing an act for the world.
I am so thankful to God that I learned this very important lesson this year. I’m so happy that I broke down and experienced this insane third-life crisis. It was rough. It was shitty. But it was worth it to finally learn how to be present with the people that I love the most in this world.
I don’t know what is going to happen to my mom. I don’t know if she will be fine in a few months or if she is looking at a death sentence. I do know that the last few months I’ve spent with her have been so much fun. I’ve laughed with her. I’ve loved on her. I’ve spent real quality time with her. I’ve been more present with her over the last two months than I think I’ve ever been during my entire life.
For that, I will be eternally grateful. My third life crisis brought so much love into my life.