Last week I was chosen to be part of collaboration thought of and organized by With Love From P. I, alongside a group of incredible women, was asked about being a woman and being vulnerable. After writing that post, I was inspired. I decided to expand on that topic for this weeks blog post. Hope you all enjoy. What makes us vulnerable makes us strong; it makes us unique, it makes us beautiful.
I fear the feeling of being vulnerable. I loathe it.
When it comes to my feelings, I have always handled everything on my own and never depended on anybody. Not even those the closest to me. I can deal with it alone for months because I am too embarrassed to share that I am vulnerable.
Whether it was a person who used my vulnerability hurt me (we all have that ex, right?) or a stigma in our society that has made me think that I should keep quiet because it would make me a persona non-grata. I was hurt enough times that I equated vulnerability to weakness.
That stopped though when I realized my vulnerability was part of who I am, and I wasn’t going to let anyone’s opinions make me feel ashamed because of it.
The time I have felt the most vulnerable was when I was battling postpartum depression. The day I finally admitted something was wrong I was in deep. It was the scariest thing to admit to my family, but the most freeing once I did.
After months of therapy, medications, and incredible family support I was finally feeling strong enough to speak up about my PPD more publicly. I started with people who I cared about and knew well, or so I thought.
Most people were kind, sympathetic, and understanding. They listened to my story, some had gone through PPD as well and told me their stories, other who hadn’t were more open to learning more about it.
Then there were others who believed the negative stigma that anyone with PPD was a lousy mother, a broken person, and a monster.
There was no sympathy, just judgment with those people. They didn’t want to know what I felt, and it didn’t interest them to learn more about the subject.
I explained to them that I had felt my emotions were not there, and how at my core I wanted to have that perfect postpartum love and happiness, but I couldn’t get there. How I went through all the motions of being a mom without feeling any of the emotions I so desperately wanted to. I even pulled out the statistics of how many people go through this after they have kids and different facts about maternal mental illness.
I told them everything I went through and how thankful I was to be on the other side.
Instantly their expression changed from happiness and smiles to shock and disgust. Then I got questions, “Why you be sad after having a baby? I was never sad after having my kids, it’s incomprehensible? How could you not love being a mother? How selfish of you, some people can’t have babies, and you are sad?”
Once again I was hurt because I was vulnerable with the wrong people.
Hearing all those things from people I cared about made me want to put my wall back up around that time in my life, and never let it come back out.
Then I thought about it and decided…NOPE NOT TODAY! I realized that the support I got from those who were kind, outweighed the judgment of those who weren’t. Yes I was vulnerable, yes some people weren’t pleasant, but it doesn’t make it a bad thing. I could let them hurt me, or I could take their comments and let them go in through one ear and out the other. I decided the latter.
It had finally hit me that it was ok to be vulnerable and those who judged me for it are people I shouldn’t want to be close to anyway.
I finally learned that I could be vulnerable and be strong.
In life, we can’t control other peoples actions, the only thing we can we can only control is our reactions. Sometimes it’s intentional, and sometimes it’s not. Either way, we can’t keep people from using our vulnerability to hurt us, but we can choose to walk away.
We should be comfortable admitting when we are vulnerable. We are human. The more honest we are with ourselves and those around us, the better off we are in the long run.
I know it’s scary to feel someone might use our vulnerabilities to hurt us, but we shouldn’t keep hiding them because we are scared. They are part of what makes us who we are. There are people out there who will listen, and who won’t judge.
Surround yourself with people who have seen you at your most vulnerable and tell you “it’s ok.” Be with the people who appreciate your strength in being able to open up about it. Focus on the support you get from them to help you get through the encounters with the judgmental people.
Always remember that what makes you vulnerable doesn’t define you, but it is part of what makes you the unique and remarkable person you are!
Admitting we need help doesn’t mean we are weak. It does not make us “less than” to ask for help. Just the opposite, it makes us stronger to admit when we need support. It’s also vital for our mental health!
I don’t know why we feel we need to do everything on our own. We have to prove to someone, or ourselves, that we can handle it all on our own. We think about what asking for help ” looks like'” but we don’t consider how it will make us feel. Spoiler alert you will feel completely burnt out, and that can lead to a scary emotional state. I am not saying it causes depression, but depression does feed on that burnout.
When you burn out as a mom, you burn out bad. It’s bad because it doesn’t just affect you, it will affect your whole family.
Whether you need help with day-to-day things or emotional support, you have to find a way to overcome your pride or whatever it is that is holding you back and ask for help. The same goes for accepting help.
Looking back there have been so many times I know I should have asked for help, and I didn’t. Be it from a therapist or those closest to me, asking for and accepting help has never come easily to me.
The lightbulb finally went off recently. I finally realized asking for help wouldn’t make me weak. When we moved stateside, I thought I could do so much more than I actually could, and that I completely burnt myself out.
Trying to do it all and making sure everyone else was ok kept me so busy I ignored my own delicate emotional state.
It affected how I acted as a mother, as a wife, as a person. I was exhausted which I led to being impatient, angry, and anxious. I was falling back into that dark hole I had avoided because I didn’t have the energy or time to pay attention to myself and where I was going.
I didn’t register what was going on within me because I didn’t have the time. Correction…it wasn’t a priority, so I didn’t make the time. Not making sure my cup was full first was a big mistake.
The same day I learned it was ok to say no was the day I realized it was ok to accept help. When I got sick I had no choice, either I took the help, or my kids weren’t going to go to school because I couldn’t leave my house.
Saying “yes I will accept your help'” the first time was like ripping off a band-aid. It was hard to do, but once you got over the sting, everything was fine. Nobody thought me weak or “less than.”
Since then asking for help when I need it has become easier. I still need reminding that it’s ok, but each time it gets easier to let go.
We moms feel the pressure of being “super moms.” What does that even mean? Think about it. Ask someone else what they think it means. Chances are the answers are different. Ask a person you consider a super mom. I bet she has her, different, idea of a super mom. She probably doesn’t even consider herself a super mom. I bet she has another person she considers a super mom. We don’t feel we do enough. We don’t feel we ARE enough. Why?
Needing help is ok!
Let me put it this way. Ironman has Pepper Potts, the Avengers, and all his fancy gadgets to help him and people don’t think him as a “less than” superhero. He just as awesomely saves the planet every time.
We look over the fence and think, “Other moms can do much more than I can…I should be doing the same.” The thing is we don’t truly know what is going on with anyone else. They might be “doing it all,” but maybe their “all” isn’t the same as ours.
Each of us is different. We all have different limits, and just because your limit might be different from the person next to you doesn’t make it any less valid.
I repeat it’s ok to ask for help. The whole “it takes a village” thing is real! We might need help from family, friends, therapists, and that’s ok. It’s better than ok. It means you are aware and strong enough to know you need support.
We should all be ok with accepting help. Be it something simple like organizing a carpool, or something deeper like asking someone to listen before we break. Our mental state depends on being aware enough to know when we need help.
It doesn’t make you a bad mother, a bad wife, or a person who is “less than” anyone else if you ask for help. We are all supermoms doing the best we can. Like I tell the kids you can’t do more than your best.
We have to learn when to say NO.
Wanting to be there for everyone, for everything, all the time is a wonderful thing… but it will drain you very quickly. I learned that after our move to the US. Then I learned something else…
People who care about you will not love you less if you don’t do exactly what they want.
Those who do are people you shouldn’t let be part of your life anyway. Those people get their ego hurt by you saying no because they can no longer control you.
A few months into our move I felt I should say yes to everything. Well, not everything. I didn’t actually do a lot of things I WANTED to do because I was saying yes to so many things I felt an obligation to say yes to.
I was not only physically drained but more importantly, I was emotionally drained.
By the time I realized it, I was in deep. Stress and anxiety consumed me because I felt I had to pull through or I would disappoint people and if I disappointed them they would reject me. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was going back to the exhausted overwhelmed zombie I was in when I had PPD. It had to stop.
I was spread way too thin.
When I finally realized I was spread too thin it was by force. I got physically sick and couldn’t do anything else for a while even if I actually wanted to.
I made phone calls to cancel things I had committed to doing and what I heard back were voices of concern and well wishes. Even though people were disappointed, they were ok. What they thought of me didn’t change. I said no and they weren’t upset. This was life-changing. That wasn’t always the case though.
I remember one call specifically, it was one of the first calls I got. They said they hoped I felt better and then after I proceeded to explain how I would be cancelling different things I had planned because I couldn’t leave the house. Then this person proceeded to ask me if I could do something for them since I was no longer busy.
My “no” came out from deep within me. It was like my body was just done with it. When I said no there was complete silence on the other end of the line. Shock. They were offended. I felt the shift in their attitude, but they hoped I got well soon and promptly said “see ya”. The end result? It worked out fine. I still see this person and we are fine. Our relationship changed a bit but it is fine. It is where it needs to be.
We think people will be disappointed with us if we don’t do what they want.
That just isn’t true. People who really care about us understand if we can’t.
You can only spread a tablespoon of peanut butter on so many slices of toast before there is nothing left. Each slice you get a thinner layer of peanut butter. Until you don’t get any. Just as with each thing you do, people around you get a thinner and less fulfilling layer of you.
Do things with purpose. Know when you start to feel you are dragging you can say no. You should say no. Saying no when you are depleted is what is best for you and those around you. When you feel you are dragging it means your tank is getting dangerously close to empty.
People who don’t truly care about us might get angry, but really I see that as them doing me a favor. They are showing their true colors so I know where they should be placed in my life.
So even if someone gets offended, the world will not implode. You are not a bad person for making sure you are ok first.
I was flooded with awareness of what I was doing to myself. I made myself physically ill because I was trying to please others, and not of what I wanted or what would please me. Not only was I physically ill, I was emotionally done. Looking outward I realized my poor family, the ones I cared about the most, had to tolerate mood swings and a person that was not wholly me.
Realizing you can say no is incredibly empowering.
After that first time, I said no after such a long time of trying to do everything for everyone else…I took a breath and realized I could breathe deeper. I hadn’t even noticed the tightness in my chest.
When you keep trying to do everything it slowly consumes you. You think “sure I can fit that in…and that…and that.” All of the sudden you are dragging yourself all over trying to be present, but not actually being present because your mind is on the next thing or something you wish you were doing instead. Maybe your mind is wishing you were at home in bed, or hanging out with friends, or on a secluded island where you don’t have to worry about anything except making sure your tan is even as you sip on your strawberry daiquiri.
I am not saying to say no to everything. It’s important to say yes to things, but I also know how important it is to know when to say no.
Sit back and think about the last month. What have you done because someone else asked you? Of those things, think about one thing you could have said no to? What did you NOT do that you wanted to do because you had another commitment? Was your presence at that commitment impactful enough that it was worth missing the things you missed out on?
I am very careful to not spread myself too thin anymore. Whenever I start to feel I am dragging I stop and make sure to take a break. I do things like saving errands that can wait for later (if we don’t have bananas for 2 more days my family will survive). I also look at activities. Can I stay home and rest on a Saturday and let my hubby take the kids whatever activity they have going on? Yes, I can!
Again, when I spread myself too thin I become zombie me, then I become overwhelmed, which then leads to me not wanting to get out of bed. When I keep these things in mind I remember to focus on keeping my days balanced.
You eventually find your balance.
Overcommitment weighs us down and the only person who can fix it is looking at us in the mirror.
I thought about how I had moved over 20 times in my lifetime, I was always fine. This time would be no different.
Apparently, that was not the case. It was very different to move when you are a daughter or a single adult than moving when you are a wife and mother.
My plan was to be the superwoman who didn’t need help and all my choices were going to turn out perfectly.
In 2015 my husband, son, daughter and I packed up and moved from Colombia to Florida.
We went from living pretty much on our own to being surrounded by almost all our extended family.
In Colombia we had a staff of housekeepers and drivers. Yes, I did spend time with my children. I knew what they were doing all day, I helped with homework, was home with them when they were sick, went to all their school events, etc.
I am not saying parenting there wasn’t work, I am just saying you could put in as much or as little as you wanted.
“Sometimes you don’t know until you know…” -Uncle Joe
Everything went by so quickly. When we finally got stateside we were already exhausted. Then, in our zombie state, we had to go house hunting.
We decided to move to an area that was 30-40 minutes from family, school, and work and thought that was fine because we came from spending hours in traffic on a daily basis (on any given day it could take you 30 min to go 5 blocks in Bogota).
It was also a very quiet suburb (we wanted to try a change from big city life).
It was all going to be wonderful and everything was falling into place.
Except it didn’t.
What we thought was going to be a 40-minute commute for my husband turned out to be an hour plus.
I would take my kids to school (30 minutes away via highway), then run a couple errands and then pick up my daughter. We would go to a park or the grocery store or drive around so she could take a nap until I had to pick up my son a couple hours later and then off to after-school activities. I also kept working from home.
I would spend at least 4 hours a day going to 3 different grocery stores, 2 of which were nowhere near my house because I was just unorganized. I remember sitting in each aisle googling what cleaning products were best, or translating cuts of meat to english.
I was also trying to do right by both our families so I made sure we saw them all at least once a week. Which meant at least two 45 minute trips (without traffic) at some point between Friday afternoon and Sunday.
We were nomads.
Like the gas tank of my Acura that I had to fill up every 3 days, all I was doing was running on empty. I hadn’t found time to rest. Even going to yoga became a chore because I wouldn’t actually enjoy it with my mind racing.
This was not going to work.
My brain hadn’t completed the transition
I was dragging myself down to a depressing level of exhaustion. I was like a shell of myself, I physically looked like myself but inside there was just emptiness.
I was missing my friends. All the feelings I had suppressed before we left in order to help me power through the move were now flooding, no more like tsunami-ing, my brain.
Sad and angry I had no patience with my children and yelled a lot. I second, third, and fourth guessed everything I did. I was not me.
My husband and I argued a lot. I tried to snap out of my funk, he tried to help me snap me out of my funk. Nothing was working.
I was doing the exact same things I did in Colombia so why wasn’t it working? Was I not cut out for this lifestyle? Was I failing at being the superwoman?
First identify the problem
Firstly, I was trying to live based on the experience that I had, and that experience didn’t fit our new lifestyle. I didn’t take into account that in Colombia I had house staff to help me at any given time.
Secondly, I never gave myself a chance to slow down and take a break so I could register the transition emotionally.
Things needed to change. I realized I had to do something to get back to myself.
Lesson Number 1
I needed help.
Accepting help, or asking for it, once we moved stateside was probably one of the hardest lessons to learn with the move. I never really needed it before. I never wanted to burden anyone so I always figured something out.
I started to ask for help because if I didn’t start taking care of myself, I was going to implode from exhaustion.
My husband would help take the kids to school once a week at least so I could sleep in (to his credit he had offered way before this, I was just too stubborn to say ok).
Lesson Number 2
I needed to keep things easy. I didn’t have 6 other people to help on a whim.
I was living like I was used to living on vacation and had to make sure to see everyone we had to before we left, except this time we weren’t leaving so there was no need to cram family time into every weekend.
I started to keep the weekends open for fun with friends or time for the four of us. Friday was still alternated between both families, but if we had another invite from someone else for Shabbat dinner, we went. We chose what we wanted to do, and if people didn’t like it so be it (turned out nobody cared, that was all in my head).
If there were no tangerines on Wednesday, well the rest of that week we had no tangerines. I started going to the grocery store max twice a week.
We moved much closer to the kids school (now it’s a 15 minute commute) and to what we needed on a daily basis.
As soon as I realized it was of the utmost importance to simplify my life as much as possible and asking for help didn’t make me weak, I felt a big weight float off my shoulders.
I stopped being the mom who yells and started to be the mom who laughs and plays and has fun!
I am confident this move was the best choice for my family. I even found a way to hire a housekeeper 4 days a week without breaking my budget!
I am not saying everyone who moves will experience the same things, but the point is any transition can be hard, especially when as a mom you are the one your family looks at to know everything is going to be ok.
If I had just taken the time to re-energize by simplifying I might have had a completely different experience. I thought to be superwoman meant that I had to be able to do everything alone, but really it meant I had to have the humility to know when I was stretched too thin. Being humble doesn’t make you weak, it makes your strong.