Updated: Aug 16
Anyone who struggles with anxiety, depression or other mental health issues, probably struggles with putting themselves first. This has always been a huge struggle of mine. I let everything else in my life consume me to the point where I no longer cared for myself beyond my basic needs. I had a problem with saying no. I NEVER said no. I found myself constantly taking care of everyone else, but me. I started spending more and more time at work, because my employer knew that I would accept whatever extra project they had and didn't feel like completing themselves. After a while I realized that I was spending much more than my scheduled 40 hours a week at my desk. I would pick my son up from daycare, only to grab him a quick happy meal and a laptop for Netflix streaming so I could spend a couple extra hours trying to get through the completely unrealistic pile of work I had for the week. I started spending my nights and weekends at the office, not only neglecting myself, but my son as well. The more time I spent there, the more depressed I became. After spending 10 hours at work in a day, I would then have to return home and complete the responsibilities I had there and take care of my son, all with only an hour of precious daylight left.
Between that, I also had/have a schizophrenic brother who lives on the street. No matter how hard we have tried, we couldn't get the state to help, to pick him up and force care on him. I was watching & am watching him deteriorate, and fast. My parents don't live in the same town and I noticed that I took it upon myself to spend hours looking for him so I could check sometimes almost daily. To locate him, feed him and try to get him into fresh new clothes. Because if I wouldn't feed him and make sure he was warm/cool, not dehydrated, ect… who would, right?? I let the stress of his life keep me up at night, because I knew that if I were in his situation, I would be miserable. Yet oddly enough, thinking this way was making me miserable anyways.
The first night I asked my son's dad to take him on a night that he was supposed to be with me, was rough. At least at first. It had been an especially rough day, at a job that I literally hated. I didn't want to/couldn't go home and care for someone else. I called my sons dad, my stomach in knots with guilt and anxiety and asked if our son could spend an extra night that week with him. He happily took him and planned a guys night, my son was completely indifferent about the whole thing, he didn't feel abandoned by his mother at all. Still as I pulled into my driveway, the carseat in the back empty, I sat in my car and I cried. A lot. I felt like a terrible person. A mom should be putting everything into her child! How dare I discard him to care for myself! (All thoughts I was saying to myself, and completely not true.) I eventually was able to drag my ass into the house, plop on the couch and turn my favorite episode of “Always Sunny”. Within an hour, something strange happened. My guilt melted away. My son was safe, he was happy, his dad had activities planned that I knew 100% my son would be happier doing than sitting at home trying to watch me cope with my brutal day.
That was a turning point. I felt better. You cannot cope, grow, learn and change if you cannot set time for yourself. I put myself first, and it felt good. Afterwards, and after months of listing pros and cons, I pulled out my savings and quit my insanely overwhelming and demeaning job. I had worked my ass off at the job for 5 year, with 3 promotions in those years. I had thought it would be my career. But it was killing me. So with enough savings to last me about six months, and a few interviews lined up, I put in my two week notice. It was terrifying. Once my notice was in, I was scared, I was stressed… but the unknown was so much less stressful than living a life where my happiness didn't matter and I was neglecting everything I enjoyed. All of my goals and hobbies were pushed aside because I put everything else first. **
The hardest part was letting go of my brother a bit. I still check on him regularly. But I have limited it down to 3-4 times a month, not 3-4 times a week anymore. Because of him I have learned that I am not able to change the paths of others, I cannot force him to voluntarily get help. He seems to always have access to food and water and seems genuinely happy. You can't control others, but you can show them you care and show them you love them. It was hard, but I told myself once a week I would spend an hour or so looking for him, if I can't locate him at that time, I will try again the week after. I had to learn that I cannot let other people's lives control mine either. I may not like, or agree with his lifestyle, but accepting that it's out of my control has changed my perspective of it. He isn't going to think I don't care about him because I don't spend my free afternoons trying to feed him and stock his supplies (half of which he doesn't take anyways). He didn't want help, he didn't want to change his life. He is aware that he is different but he is a survivor who for the first time ever, seems happy to live the nomad lifestyle that he created for himself. My job is to show him I care, and to be there when he needs me, not to save him from this lifestyle that I deemed wasn't okay.
My son is still the most important person in my life of course, that won't change just because I need a day here or there to myself. He spends an extra day a week with his dad every week now, allowing me to have a little extra time to continue to learn about who I am and what I need in my life to overcome my struggles and learn to truly be happy. I have found that I no longer need the whole afternoon to cope after a bad day. Instead I have learned that little things add up. Simple things like taking a bath after work to reset, or putting my headphones in and listen to my favorite true crime podcast while doing the dished (YES even doing the dished has become a part of my “me” time), or taking my son out for a quick afternoon walk, these add up to have a huge impact on my mental health. Self care can come in a wide range of forms, anywhere from a total career change, or a simple 10 minute meditation. You just have to learn which form fits the problem you are facing. Now would I quit my job because I spilled a coffee in my car on the way to work… no.. but a quick walk around the block can make the world of difference. It's learning what fits the situation.
Last year I was miserable, depressed suffering from what I now know is PTSD from childhood traumas. I was working 6+ days a week, neglecting myself and my family. Self care was a joke to me. I am now working part time and have returned to school to complete my degree. I dreamed of a degree in psychology but told myself to settle into the career I had already had. I have decided this wasn't good enough for me. This wouldn't make me happy in the long run. Sometimes large life changes are a form of self care. And I get to be home while my son homeschools this year (thanks COVID). Putting myself first has made me a better friend, daughter, employee and most importantly, a better mother.
Please feel free to reach out with any questions, or comments, or issues you want to share, I am 100% open and honest :)
**Side note: Not recommending you quit your job without a plan/savings. I planned and had a good chunk of savings.
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