Mothers and mental health: “As a mom, I can sometimes feel like a shadow of myself”
Photo above by Meiying Ng used by permission via Unsplash.
“There must be…”
The thought came to me at 3 a.m. as I made my way to the kitchen to grab a glass of water.
I looked down at my legs as they took each step down the staircase and felt blown away by the fact they were moving. I noticed the strength it took my eyes to open back up after a blink and couldn’t believe they made their way there. And those arms reaching out for the railing to support me through the dark house? HOW had they not given up after a full day of carrying babies and laundry baskets and dishes and car seats?
How was ANY of me moving?
Because after what seemed like dozens of middle-of-the-nights in a row of nursing a fussy, 3-month-old baby back to sleep, cuddling a toddler who would be woken up by her cries and praying my preschool-aged oldest would stay asleep in the bunk above him — I felt like I had nothing left.
“There must be …,” I convinced myself.
“There must be an autopilot button that stays inside a mother’s womb when her children are born to help her survive these long days.”
There just had to be… because I didn’t know know how else I was functioning. Yet, somehow, I floated my way down to the main level of our home and flicked on the light switch. I tiptoed the 20 feet from the stairs to the cupboard… not wanting my autopilot button to have to work overtime if a tiny human heard my footsteps.
And that’s when the image jolted me.
Right there in the middle of a small square of light cast on my kitchen wall — was my very distinct shadow.
It was so detailed, in fact, you could see the couple of rogue hairs coming out of my barely-hanging-on topknot. I marveled for a second at how clearly it showed my profile, before suddenly realizing I couldn’t move. All of the autopilot systems inside of me seemed to start shutting down.
With nothing left to fuel me, I sunk to the floor and quietly sobbed. Because right there in front of me was exactly what I had become.
A shadow of myself.
A shadow of the person I used to be before becoming a mom of three kids under 4.
Feeling like unworthy, incapable darkness, despite so much light and love around me. Knowing that I, too, had light and love within me but lacked the ability to find it in the midst of a clouded mind overwhelmed with worry, expectation and a fear that I would never be a good enough mom.
I had been letting this idea of “autopilot” help me survive for so long, I hadn’t slowed down long enough to realize how much I was struggling. How much this mindless moving through life had made me become nothing but a distinctly dark figure in a room.
The truth was, there was no autopilot button in me.
What was in me was an inability to ask for help.
What was in me was an impossible expectation that I had to prove to the world that I could not only “mother” on my own but do it well.
What was in me was a belief that taking care of myself meant I would be taking away from my babies.
What was in me was a hole where my spirit used to be… a spirit that I deserved to let thrive and my kids deserved to help raise them.
Today, I’m six years out from that shadow-casting moment.
It is no longer nights of sleepless toddlers and babies, but days full of sports schedules and homework and big questions about the world. And while I’ve made a lot of changes in my overall mindset about motherhood and the expectations I allow the world to put on me – I sometimes catch myself letting autopilot creep in.
I feel myself moving through life in a fog without stopping and asking myself what I need to do to step out of the shadows and into the joy of life both me and my kids deserve.
Because when that mom on the floor started paying attention to what she needed, she was no longer the shadow and she became the light.
When she started seeing a therapist for her anxiety, when she started letting in her passions again, when she started prioritizing sleep, when she leaned on trusted friends and family for help, when she started to believe that motherhood was not a quest for perfection … she was able to step out of that shadow and into her imperfectly authentic light.
And you know what she thinks now? “There must be…”
There must be another mama out there believing autopilot is the only way, too.
A mama just getting by.
A mama on her last drop of energy.
A mama who struggles to ask for help. A mama ashamed she can’t “do it all.”
A mama wondering when she will no longer feel like a shadow of herself.
A mama who needs to be reminded from someone who used to be in the shadows, too, — that she is still in there — and she is worthy and deserving of asking for the help she needs to step into her joy again, too.