Looking back now, so much of that time seems foggy. Some days I wasn't really living, I was just existing.....
photo : Chelsea Klette Photography
Our readers who have been following for awhile may remember my post last year paying respect to Bell's "Let's Talk" media campaign raising awareness for mental illness. I have the utmost respect for this campaign. I feel like while there are lots of gimmicky things out there, this truly does open eyes in the right way.
Last year I came out to the vast and judgmental internet world on this very blog and disclosed that I have Bipolar 1 disorder. Like, the real deal. I know a thing or two about mental illness. I know what its like to be treated, educated, and extremely functional; and I know what its like to be untreated, uninformed, and have no idea what kind of animal I was dealing with.
Flash back to my late teens and early 20s... I would suffer either crippling bouts of panic, anxiety, paranoia and depression, or I would go on a manic trip when I was a really good time, and loved to recklessly party, spend a lot of money and make generally poor life choices without ever considering the consequences. #hotmess
In fairness, I'm still a good time and I still like to spend a lot of money. Wine and shopping anyone? To that extent, no matter how in control I am, I still have to evaluate how I'm doing on the regular and do some self-reflection. I've recently been under an extreme amount of stress and realized as a result, I was a starting to lean the wrong way on the batshit spectrum. I had to have a laugh at myself, remind myself I'm smarter than that, and to and to get myself in check. I often get myself in check and clear my head through exercise and I think I've put over 40km on my treadmill this week alone. I wouldn't have done that before. I would have just boarded the crazy train and found out where it was headed later. Happy travels! Not.
Since I've become quite open about having BP with the #1 reason being helping others, the most common thing I hear is "Really?? You would never know!" No, you wouldn't. I know my body and I know when I'm headed for a low or a high, if a panic attack is coming, and more importantly, how to deal with it. I know to trust the feeling of anxiety and use it as a compass as to what is going on and what could be coming. For instance, if I wake up in the night with a song running through my head, that's a clear indication that a panic attack is coming. I've learned this many times the hard way. I know that trying to breathe it out, or trying to go back to sleep won't work. I get my ass up and take a little orange pill designed to cut that sh*t off at the pass. Back to sleep, crisis averted. Modern medicine is fabulous, don't ever discount that.
It's 100% true. Unless I told you, which I just did, you would never know. I'm living proof that you can live life as a normal, totally functional, successful person. I make poor decisions and do dumb stuff just like anyone else, but they are almost always a result of too much wine and have nothing to do with my illness. Let's be real, I keep Kim Crawford in business... and girls? We be cray. Its in our DNA. #whoruntheworld?
The thing is, in my job I talk to people all day. I mean it. All day. I'm even known to answer my emails while on the treadmill, which is both difficult and nauseating. Whether it be via phone, text, email, instagram, facebook, snapchat... its always ongoing. The physical act of holding my client's hands or trusting their bodies to me head to toe during appointments, capturing the moments between them and their loved ones, or putting faith in me to make them feel their most beautiful on their most important of days... I get to know people more than anyone realizes. It makes me understanding, wise, sympathetic, intuitive, empathetic, and I've become all but a master of figuring out what makes people tick. I firmly believe trying to understand others makes you a better person, so ask questions and really listen to the answers.
That said, getting to know people in that capacity has taught me something very valuable. Mental illness, as we've come to know it in the media, isn't always a diagnosed condition. A specific ailment. Trust me, I'm the last person to downplay a diagnosed disease (yo, I have one), but people without these lifetime genetic, chemical ailments suffer too.
Perhaps you've suffered a crisis in your life and you've been shaken to the point of unbearable stress, or something epic has taken away your ability to trust others. When these things rock your world, then your actual mental health also suffers.
If you've endured day after day of stress at home with your kids, job, or partner that leaves you really tightly wound, your mental health will suffer.
If you find yourself lost because you can only identify with one role in your life, be it your career, as a mother, or a spouse, you may start to feel unfulfilled and it will eat away at you without even realizing it.
Don't even get me started on money, post-partum, sexual assault, domestic abuse, childhood trauma, critical illness, or PTSD. The list is f*cking endless.
Regardless of the reason, if you are struggling with anxiety or depression, don't discount it just because mental illness has become all but a catch phrase in the news. Talk to someone who has been through it and has come out on the other side. They will understand, trust me on that one. That's where you will get the seriously honest and effective advice. An expert on coping with mental illness is undoubtedly someone who has one and manages it; empathy is a powerful thing.
One thing I know for sure is that when your mental health suffers, your physical health will follow suit and vice-versa. Just like everything in the world, it's all connected. If you are going to get down to brass tacks, you have to take care of yourself. There are 4 non-negotiable pillars that connect mental and physical health. I can attest to this because I've put them to the test time and again. (Except hygiene that is, hot showers are the best and I love dental floss.) The keys to the kingdom are this:
It's easier said than done to keep all four of those in check all the time. You may think you do but are you getting 45-60 minutes of exercise that elevates your heart rate every day? Do you have a balanced diet within your calorie range? Do you catch enough zzz's? Do you drink enough beer? Oops, did I say that last part? See? Harder than it sounds.
All that said, I've learned over the years that the effort it takes is well worth the outcome, so keep those things in your back pocket and remember them.
Its ok to not be ok. What isn't ok is accepting that you have to live like that. You don't. Its ok to have a layover in Crazytown (its a popular place, kind of like Vegas...) but don't unpack your bags and live there. You are ultimately the only one who can take control of how you choose to live. Life can change in a heartbeat and you have no idea what kind of plot twists are on the horizon. Don't be afraid to take risks, do some dumb things, laugh at yourself if you're acting batshit, and roll with the punches. And never, ever be afraid to ask for help.
No matter the circumstance, you are worthy of happiness. The world is at your fingertips, so grab that sh*t and make some magic happen. You deserve it.
Until next time, remember that you are never alone and the only way out is through.
I recently attended my first women’s retreat just outside Saskatoon, SK. It was a wonderful getaway filled with crafting, laughing and connecting. I have never spent that kind of time with a large group of women before and I was blown away by the similarities between all of us despite all our many differences: when asked “who are you?” 17 out of the 19 women started with “I’m a mother of (number of children), (name) is (age) and (name) is almost (age).” The second similarity I found was this: every single one of them could name 4+ flaws about themselves but yet, they struggled to name one positive thing that made them special. The third similarity I discovered was that they all loved so deeply but were almost cursed by it because they felt either taken advantage of, felt guilty for taking personal time or felt it wasn’t reciprocated the way they wanted. The fourth, and maybe saddest, similarity was each women’s confusion when asked what made her happy.
I started calling these similarities "the curse of woman". Over 98% of us identified ourselves as mothers first. We all felt lost trying to find a special quality and we were quick to berate ourselves. Most of us saw our loving nature as both special and flawed. Few of us could remember what made us happy.
If that many women felt that way in that small room, there must be more of us.
Think of how many people you know whose entire existence revolves around motherhood. I’d bet she feels guilty for doing things for herself. I’d also bet that she gives and gives and gives and has a cup that seems to always be dry. I bet she’s exhausted but happy to dote on her children. I bet she doesn’t spend much time away from them. She probably feels guilty for leaving them with Dad or Grandma or a babysitter. I bet she doesn’t know what makes her happy anymore because she’s been trying to help her kids find theirs. I bet she feels happy that they are happy but utterly lost when she takes a small, fleeting moment to contemplate her own. This is the curse of woman.
As mothers we have the most important role in life. It’s our job to keep them alive, fed, clothed, hydrated, healthy and clean. We ensure they use their manners, do their homework and try at least one sport a year. We kiss them, cuddle them, tickle them and sometimes want to throttle them. We are trying to teach them how to be functional members of society while also fostering their innocent wildness so they become the unique individuals they are destined to be. We are the teacher, the moderator, the voice of reason, the judge, the boss, the discipliner, the nurturer, the driver, the coach, the rememberer, the confidant. It is exhausting. But want to know what’s more exhausting? Trying to do all that on the fumes of the person you used to be. This mom guilt over self-care needs to end now. We are no good to anybody if we haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in months or haven’t had a shower in a week. You need energy and vitality and, even more than those, you need a life you don't want to escape from.
I don’t berate mothers for putting their role as mothers first. It’s important and special and wonderful. For some women, it becomes more than a role. Motherhood is their life. Motherhood is their identity and reason for living. That’s a beautiful sentiment and belief. BUT, is she also making time for herself, as a women, as an individual or even as a wife? Is she setting a good example for her kids if she’s frazzled and unkempt and not doing anything outside of motherhood to benefit herself?
Also, the flaws! Goodness, the flaws these women see in themselves is bonkers! When asked what made them special, many floundered and couldn’t come up with anything to say confidently or with surety. But when asked what their Darkness was, they had lists.
Is it human nature to do this? Is it societal influence that’s molded us into belittling ourselves? Has some collective unconscious shift happened that makes us focus on our Darkness instead of our Light?
It seems we all do it. And those that don’t get judged as conceited or arrogant or self-absorbed. It’s a lose-lose, really.
When prompted to acknowledge their special attributes, many said their ability to love. Is the influence from motherhood or the Divine Feminine running through our blood that makes so many of us love so fiercely? We love our partner and our children and our families and friends and pets so hard that sometimes we look at the actions we’ve taken in the name of love and wonder, was it worth it? Was giving my all in that unreciprocated friendship worth all that time? Or did it benefit me to lose half of myself in that man? Did dedicating myself so fully to motherhood for so long leave me bereft of pieces of the person I use to be?
Which leads to the last similarity: few women could confidently list what makes them happy. It’s understandable when you’re so busy raising children; Who has time to focus on what makes them happy? Even when we know, we feel guilty for indulging in it. It’s a common story for moms who spend so many of their hours dedicated to their family. We spend a lot of time putting others first. Actually, it may be fair to say we spend all of our time putting others first. What is happiness on a personal level when you’re wanting your kids to be happy and maybe also your husband, pet, co-workers, boss, friends and/or neighbours?!
These curses all tie together.
Does that resonate with you? It sure does for me!
I used to feel guilty for wanting alone time. I used to feel guilty for spending money on myself. I feel like motherhood has given me so many blessings but has taken a lot from me. My freedom is gone, my carefree lifestyle is gone. My independence is gone. I obviously wouldn’t trade it for the world but there’s this dark side to motherhood we rarely discuss openly, let alone on a public forum like this! I’ve spent so much time focusing on my husband and his business, my daughter and her upbringing, our new house and maintenance, my business and its success that sometimes when I stop and reflect, I’ll think, “Kelsey, are you still in there? What can I do today to love you?” Lately, I've been committing to small steps that lead towards my best life. I'm cooking for pleasure more. I read more books and do yoga in the living room where my daughter can see me. Sometimes I just like to scroll social media and watch Instagram stories. The guilt will attempt to weasel its way in but I can quickly squash it because I know that it’s important that I make time for myself now. Self-care is more than escaping the chaos. Self-care is doing little actions that have big benefits, specifically long term. My dream life requires a lot of work so self-care is a priority. So my mornings consist of exercise, yoga, journalling, working on my business, planning blog posts, cleaning my house and/or snuggles with my daughter. My family knows when I’ve been putting my self-care on the back burner; it shows. So I also make conscious efforts to spend time with myself. From bubble baths to daytime naps to having a hot cup of coffee before the rest of the house wakes, I am loving myself by filling my cup as best as I can. My advice, despite my lack of expertise: take more bubble baths. Find a monthly women’s circle. Massage your own feet. Read ten pages of a book each night before bed. Walk in the forest. Show your kids how amazing life is. Make time for yourself. It’s allowed. Hell, it’s welcomed! There should be zero guilt when you are teaching your kids the importance of loving yourself. Lead by example and the kids will thrive in their own journeys towards self-fulfillment, self-love, success and self-care.
So it’s time to break the curse of woman. It’s time to love yourself like you are your most sacred, most beautiful best friend in the entire world. You need to love her like she deserves to be loved. You need to be able to confidently and loudly say, “THIS is why I’m special. And this is too. And that too. I am all kinds of unique and awesomeness.” The time has also come to accept our Darkness. You can’t have Light without Dark, nor Dark without Light. We are imperfect beings. We always will be. Trying to shine Light and illuminate every single little flaw will only drive you crazy with self-loathing and be a waste of your time. So own your flaws. The people who love you know them and accept you for them regardless. More often than not, your good qualities will far outweigh the bad. If they don’t, well, that’s another post! It’s also time to welcome acts of self-care into your world. Motherhood is hard; motherhood is harder when you’re running on empty. Ignore the guilt that tries to encroach upon you and see the benefits to everyone around you when you fill your cup. Your filled cup is what paves the way for an incredibly full and vibrant life for many around you, especially your children. Self-care shows them the importance of doing the crappy little jobs that lead to big rewards later (like saving 10% of each pay cheque or getting up at 6 am everyday)! It teaches them the value of honouring your body. It's teaching by example how incredible life can be when you work towards the things you want and desire. It's so much more than bubble baths and chocolate -- although, both are wonderful!
The time for the Woman to rise has come. It’s time we rise up to meet our full potential and embrace the dirty, messy, glorious, wonderfulness that is Her. Mothers are the most special creatures on Earth; they deserve the bubble baths and girl's nights out and make-out sessions and sleep-ins and yoga memberships. So rise, Woman. Be the divine, loving, happy woman who shines so brightly, others want to know her and are inspired by her. Be your best self. Do it for your family, your community and more importantly, do it for yourself.