Shifting Forward to Self Care

Moving is unfathomably hard, and I say this having moved plenty in my life.

I don’t hold the history of a military brat who has been all over the United States or the world, moving multiple times and seeing multiple places. No. I grew up in the same town and lived there for 21 years. It was when I went to college that I began to experience the hecticness of moving. As someone who finds the place she calls home to be her place of comfort, her location of solitude and recovery from any of life’s stressors, having it be upended and relocated has always been something that I’ve struggled with even if it’s something I look forward to abundantly.

In college, I was excited to move into my dorm and then excited to move home at the end of each year. When my parents relocated to Pennsylvania from New York I was excited of the prospect of something new, then I left for the DC metro area and I was excited for that venture. I lived in five different locations during my time in DC, three locations were all within the span of a year, and every time I moved there was with an element of excitement for something new or relief at leaving the old. But it was still hard. I struggled with the boxes and my cherished belongings being lost in the mess of stuff we had. I hated the clutter, hated not knowing where things were, and wanted to just feel settled after the upheaval of packing and shifting locations.

Moving away from DC was a choice I had made many years ago. I found the area relatively toxic and hard to endure. I found that I enjoyed, purely, obtaining a career in copy editing but the culture of government contracting to be draining. The work life balance of the area was something I was not used to, having grown up in the suburbs in a relatively poor town where people often didn’t have the money for many experiences and generally would only save for a few at a time. The metro area was full of hecticness, children constantly running from one event to another, parents melting down if bad weather kept the entire family home for a weekend, and money being spent over and over again in an abundance. I witnessed coworkers dropping hundreds of dollars on the latest bags or designer dresses because there was a certain amount of disgust for those who didn’t try their hardest to dress up. I recall the first summer I was there, that I saw a man walking down the sidewalk with his dress shoes clicking loudly, almost like the sound of high heels on a hard wood floor. “That’s a status thing,” my first roommate of the area murmured. “It means his shoes are rich, he has more solid heels on his shoe, it’s a way to spend money.” I couldn’t keep up with it, nor did I really want to, but that didn’t mean I avoided the pressure of it all.

So I wanted to move, I wanted to leave, I desired deeply to have a better work-life balance and when my husband and I found ourselves expecting our first born, my desire to raise him somewhere outside of the privilege that came with DC living went high. I had grown up in the sticks and as I mentioned, there wasn’t a lot of money to be given out, but I learned to love nature. My husband had grown up in the suburbs and loved to have all the necessities to get by right at hand and after living there with him for a few years, I agreed the easiness of multiple store options right there was marvelous compared to my experience of driving an hour for simple necessities like back to school clothes or seeing a movie.

We looked into various towns and settled on upstate New York, in the Finger Lakes region, to Ithaca. An artistic community where environmentalism is extremely available and the region is drowning in scholarly resources if you were interested in acquiring them. With a prominent farmer’s market, stores, state parks, and museums there were countless things to do all year round–not just in the summer months. We found the inbetween of what I loved about growing up in the woods and what my husband loved about growing up in the suburbs and set forth on our move.

But we moved with a four month old. We moved to a town in which we didn’t know a soul. We moved and realized quickly how much we leaned on our support system in the DC metro area as our son began teething with earnest and my husband had to work, and we had an entire apartment to unpack.

I had left my DC job to be a stay at home mother. The way American society handles family care is horrendously awful, there are plenty of articles to side with that. If I wanted to go back to work I would have to find a job that paid extremely well to break even with the cost of childcare. We would also have to figure out a work schedule that would work for our family where one of us was able to drop off and pick up our son. It wasn’t feasible for me to go back to work, not now that we lived in an area where my salary for editing was much less than it had been in the DC metro area, but childcare was just as costly. So I became a stay at home mother, working hard to unpack and clean and sort through our belongings to make our new home feel like our home, while also caring for our steadily grumpy son who was seemingly in perpetual pain from the teeth he had coming in.

And it was hard. It is hard. I’m still in the throws of it all, although now we are finally settled in the sense of being unpacked. Our items are in place, everything is where it will now live as are we, but after feeling constantly set at “on” for over two months, I want to be turned “off.”

The further I get into motherhood, the more I learn about the nature of it. This seems like a give-in but it’s still astounding. For one, I have learned that I am similar to a car that needs maintenance every so many miles. If you reach the maintenance period of your car and your brakes are a little bit rusty and your tires are looking a little flat, but you decide to continue one without fixing anything, there’s a good chance it’ll all blow up in your face at once and you’ll end up spending a lot of money and time to fix the tires and the brakes all at once when, originally, miles and miles back, you could have perhaps fixed one thing then fixed another shortly after.

For me, I need the maintenance or in common terms “self care” every month. I need a chance to breathe, to relax, to do my nails and read a book without having to run around and do housework or tend to a screaming infant. If it happens frequently enough, two hours in an evening will be enough to make me feel replenished but if it’s put off and put off and put off, I end up needing a solid weekend to feel human again.

The longer I put off self care, the more time I need to recover. This became abundantly clear over the summer after we had moved. With stress from the move still running through my bloodstream and lack of sleep crushing my brain, my control over my emotions was lost. By the end of August, I was reduced to a sobbing mess. Hyperventilating and having a panic attack on a gorgeous Saturday morning because the list of things that needed to get done felt overwhelming and impossible for me to conquer.

Instead of taking a few hours to myself and feeling fully refreshed, I was left holding my son and sobbing as I told my husband that I needed, desperately, to take a break. He agreed, took my son, and left me to my own devices. This isn’t to say I tore out of the house and didn’t see my child for the remainder of the day. Instead, it meant that I went to take a shower and I didn’t rush through it. I swept the floor and my husband handled our son the entire time. I put my son down for a nap then settled in for a long writing session. We went to the park and my husband took our son for a walk and I sat beside the lake reading a book with only the wind, the waves, and the gulls to keep me company. In the evening, my husband made dinner while my son played in his highchair and I retreated to write some more.

I felt revived having this opportunity to breathe and go about doing some things that were solely my interest without having to worry about cleaning or baby watching. This was the self care I was looking for.

And maybe this is inaccurate, but to my understanding postpartum depression can and often does raise its head after six months postpartum and I think, or can believe, I know why. In the early months of motherhood there is a huge support system. People reach out with compassion, food, gifts, and offerings to watch the baby in case the mother “needs a break.” But those offers begin to dwindle after that time. The baby has grown into a roly-poly interactive chub of giggles and coos, the parents have gotten into the swing of things and appear to be getting better rest, everyone is back to work and seems to have a schedule figured out. Outwardly, it doesn’t appear there is a need to offer help to that mother who is six plus months postpartum. But really, it’s still so needed. It’s so necessary. That babe is becoming demanding in ways it was not as a newborn. That babe is more active, more opinionated, sleeping less, and possibly grumpier due to teething or frustrated because it wants to be mobile but can’t be quite yet (or is mobile and is running around constantly). The need for help is still there, the need for a break is still desired. Postpartum depression can’t just be fixed by having a day to oneself, I’m not proclaiming that, but I can see how it can develop. I’ve suffered from depression before and suicidal thoughts, and I can see those dark webs coming in the longer I go without a self-care day, I can see how not allowing myself a chance to breathe and relax can plummet me into a dark spiral.

So I say to you, those who are moving into their home, those who are new parents, those who are many months postpartum, I say to you to find a way to care for yourself. Find a way to date yourself. Make it a necessity and schedule it in every month. Do it. For your own sanity and also to be a better person overall. I know, personally, that I am such a better person when I’ve had time to myself. A better mother, a better wife, who is much less likely to bite people’s heads off for no good reason.

Moving is stressful beyond belief, but so is mothering. Put the two together and there simply is a lot to handle. Finding the utter joy in self care, that it can really turn my attitude around, was so essential. I hope other mothers are able to find that same pleasure and release.

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