Every now and then I hear people talking about “living intentionally” or “intentional living.” I did not understand what exactly it meant so I just brushed it off, lived my day as normal. I devoted all of my time and energy into taking care of my husband and my daughter. I love those two and would do anything for them and after spending years doing this, I neglected to take care of myself. Of course, I didn’t realize the extent of my self-neglect as I thought that’s how all wives and mothers should feel: depressed, tired, overwhelmed. After all, they say the mother is the backbone of the family and without her the family would fail to function properly. So, I attempted to wear my overwhelmed feeling as a sort of badge of honor. One day I broke. I couldn’t saddle everything anymore. I needed help, and I completely dissolved in my husbands arms. (You can read about that story in my open letter, “Dear Husband: Thank You for Saving My Life.”)
With his assistance, I was urged to seek help from a professional counselor. I just wanted an outlet to know I wasn’t alone in this journey and assurance that what I am feeling is completely normal. I expected to be told that there’s nothing I could do to change what was going on and it was simply what happened when you became a Mother. What I received was the complete opposite.
After just two sessions she determined that the root cause of my anxiety and depression is the fact that I do not take care of myself. I do not ever put Heather first. I spend my days so entirely caught up in taking care of my household and alleviating any burdens that I can from my husband that I end up shouldering all of the responsibilities – and I do not have to do that. It was as if the proverbial glass had shattered and I finally heard what my husband had been preaching to me for years, “you don’t have to do this alone. You need to tell me what you need help with. I’m your partner and we’re a team.”
She took the time to explain what intentional living really is: living a life that is meaningful and fulfilling to you. To do this you must actively engage in your life instead of going through the motions in order to take care of everyone else. By changing your thought pattern, you can allow yourself to wake up each morning and say, “How can I make this day great?”
She began by giving me small challenges. The first one was to try to change my negative thought patterns by doing cognitive behavioral triangles (we now just refer to them as “triangles”). (This article is very informative about these triangles and explains it better than I ever could). The next one was to complete one craft with my child.
I surprised myself and actually did what I was asked. The triangles helped – and continue to help – me quite a bit and allow me to see the other side of the picture. My brain was so used to seeing the overwhelming negativity in everything that it rewired itself to only see that aspect. The negativity is what led my anxiety to kick in, and continue on its vicious circle until I couldn’t handle it any longer. My child and I thought outside of the box and learned a little bit of Chinese Calligraphy as our craft. I started to feel a little better about myself, but not entirely.
The next session she gave me homework again: write out a list of all the things I have wanted to achieve in life. I have to admit: this was a hard one. I was forced to see all of the items I had always hoped to achieve written down on a piece of paper. To me, it looked like nothing more than a list of failures. Places I failed to put myself first, things I would never accomplish.
“There’s sacrificing your life for your child’s life when they are in peril, and then there is sacrificing a part of your identity because you think you don’t matter, that you shouldn’t matter.” – Julie Sachs
The following week I walked in with my notebook. I thought she would read them on her own, but I was asked to read them out loud. If I thought seeing them on paper was difficult, I was in for a real awakening when I actually spoke them. It was interesting, also, to see how varied my aspirations are. From learning how to dance hip-hop all the way up to completing Law School. I feel as though this exercised also forced me to realize how unique I am. The next step was itemizing them from 1 through 12 (since there were twelve of them) from what was the achievable in the short-term and what will take a lot longer to achieve. I was asked to explain why I put them in that order.
Then I was told to do these things.
One by one.
I told her that it seemed very overwhelming. We spend time discussing the necessity of baby steps to achieve these goals. I was looking at the big picture and failing to recognize the steps that need to be taken to complete them. It was as if I was trying to climb a mountain by kangaroo jumping straight to the top in one shot. Unfortunately, that’s not how life works and I will surely fall flat on my face if I attempt to do that.
I went home, showed my husband what the plan was and received a ton of support. Number five on my list is “get physically fit.” I put this before “Hike the Appalachian Trail” because I knew you had to be in some sort of shape in order to hike the trail. It is 2,200 miles, after all, and you have to carry all of your survival gear. My husband took it a step further and spent his free time researching local gyms that had child care. We signed up the next week. Shortly after, we decided to hire personal trainers so we could achieve this goal together. It was so nice to accept the support & start to focus on myself.
That night I also started working on goal number three: Publish a Cookbook. I dialed this down a bit to the first step “goal” being to publish a Holiday Recipe guide for my community (yes, that’s you!). I sat down in Discord (an app I use to keep track of my ideas) and started typing out which recipes I would like to include. From there, I started building it in Canva. I am about halfway done right now and really excited to share the completed project with all of you!
I haven’t skipped over the first two items on my list. I just haven’t found a stable to start riding lessons with my daughter. They seem to be few and far between where we are living currently. She’s taken lessons previously, but I’ve only been on a horse once or twice in my entire life. We want to own a farm one day, so I know I will need to know how to ride and care for a horse. Not to mention, I have hard riding can be very therapeutic.
As I slowly work through this list I am starting to feel like a person again. My family can see a difference in my attitude. I am no longer going through the motions of living and caring for two other humans. I started to delegate tasks so I can work on my own dreams. I am still caring for my family and providing them with the best life I can, but I feel as though I am improving their quality of life as well because mama has a happier outward appearance. I don’t spend my days as stressed as I once did and I find myself being more patient all around.
Did you know that an article published in the Daily Mail cited a poll hosted by TVBed.com that revealed that mothers have mere minutes to themselves each day — only about 17 minutes on average. Plus, 75 percent of the 2000 mothers who participated in the study revealed that they “felt they lived their lives entirely for other people.”
I don’t want you to think that I’m telling you this to brag about what I have done or how great my life is. I am putting my experience out there because I am challenging you. I want you to take a moment and write down everything you’ve wanted to achieve in life. Then figure out what is achievable in the short-term and what is going to take you more time to complete. Start with number one on your list and write out the steps you may need to take to get there. Put it in front of you.
Then do it.
Seriously. I want you to do this. I want you to start taking care of yourself. And I want to hear about it. I want to hear your successes and your struggles (if you’re willing to share those with me, that is). My aim is to create a community of people (moms, dads, humans in general) that need a little bit of support and maybe some accountability. I feel as though Julie Sachs from Romper said it best, “There’s sacrificing your life for your child’s life when they are in peril, and then there is sacrificing a part of your identity because you think you don’t matter, that you shouldn’t matter.”
You can join our accountability group HERE. We hope to see you there!