I continue to have periodic meltdowns when trying to leave the house.
Recently I had plans to meet a friend for coffee. I dashed through the house getting everything together and baby ready to go. Finally I was out the door, ducking my head in the rain.
I sat in the car only to realize I was missing the stroller cover, crucial for getting out and about on a rainy day. I realized I had no idea where it was. Alicia was tired, crying in the backseat.
I felt defeated as I sat, rain pelting the windows, fussy baby sounds weighing on my heart. I looked at her, at myself, at my messy car, at the clock. I saw that we were late.
I saw everything I hadn’t done: cleaned the kitchen, put on make-up, anticipated all of my child’s needs. I saw everything I hadn’t organized: my purse, the myriad baby items, my time.
Tears welled up as I heard my thoughts: self-critical, blaming, comparing. Really, you can’t make it to a coffee date?! You’re such a mess! Other people manage! Why can’t you?
I gave up and took Alicia out of her carseat. I sat in the backseat feeding her and called my husband for support. He listened, reassured me that I was OK, and told me to take it easy.
I texted my friend to try to meet up later. I went back inside, found the stroller cover, got in the car again, and finally left. As I pulled out of the driveway, the mental clamor continued apace:
You just missed out on a coffee date by being so disorganized! You say you want to make friends here and then don’t show up! Come on, Catherine, get it together!
Then I saw a bumper sticker on the car ahead of me. It said: WISE.
And I remembered. I remembered the wise women in my life and the strategies they have helped me to cultivate.
My wise women - mother, sister, therapist, friends - frequently invite me to take it easy and be gentle with myself. They say to treat myself like I would my close friend or my daughter.
I have heard those reminders for years. I agreed with the concept. I never understood the implementation piece, though. How can I change how I talk to myself?
A few months ago, my postpartum therapist taught me about realistic self-talk. She gave me a guide to keep on the coffee table, a list of statements like:
- I can do this. I have done this before.
- It’s OK to be uncomfortable for a little while.
- This too shall pass.
- I choose to focus on the positive.
That rainy day as I drove along berating myself, I saw the “WISE” message and I remembered.
- Yes. This is far from the first time I have struggled to leave the house with my baby.
- Yes. It is OK to be frustrated and disappointed! This is not the end of the world.
- Yes. This too shall pass, like water under the bridge. I won’t even remember this soon.
- Yes. I choose to think about what I did do this morning. I fed and clothed two humans. I wrote. I made the bed. I brushed my teeth and did my hair. I did get out of the house!
I remembered that I know what to do to calm myself down. I have done this before. And I will do this again.
After that particular difficult day, I started reading Kristin Neff’s work. Neff researches self-compassion, which includes treating ourselves with kindness, like we would a friend or a child.
She writes that difficult times can help us embrace our common humanity. When we are struggling, it can help us feel connected to others who experience similar challenges.
Reading that, I recalled a conversation between my two college friends who are stay-at-home moms. One said, “Yesterday we only made it to the post office- but at least we left the house!”
When I am in the thick of it, navigating a challenging part of new motherhood on my own, it feels lonely and hard. It feels like even if I told someone else, they wouldn’t really understand.
No one else is there with me, wondering what to do or what the right next step is. No one else has this exact set of emotions: confusion, frustration, guilt, embarrassment.
Practicing self-compassion reminds me that I’m not the only person going through it, though. That day, that moment, even, hundreds of thousands of moms are battling with the same thing.
It doesn’t solve the problem, but it does make it feel less lonely.
A week later, I found myself in pajamas and slippers at 2 p.m. on a gorgeous sunny day. I had spent the morning half-completing tasks and not fully accomplishing any.
I was frustrated and realized I was criticizing myself again: Why can’t you get more done? Why haven’t you left the house yet? You know you feel better when you go outside!
I dialed my husband for yet another reassuring pep talk. As the phone rang, I saw Neff’s self-compassion book on the coffee table and remembered - just in time.
Carlos picked up, patient and ready to help as ever.
I said, “Hi. I’m having a hard time leaving the house again. I have so many things to do and feel paralyzed by what to do first. I took care of the baby before I took care of myself. She’s dressed and cute and ready to go but I’m not yet. And you know, that probably makes me like most moms out there. So I’m OK. It is what it is. I’m going to get dressed and go outside now.”
He said, “Sounds good, glad you figured it out.”
We said goodbye.
I took a breath and got up to start again.
Food for thought:
Some examples of statements to use for realistic self-talk
Kristin Neff’s book on self-compassion (with great practice exercises)
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