Although this Chiari business has been going on for some time, it's taken a rather rapid downward spiral this year.
The stress of juggling work, solo parenting, side hustles, school and extra curricular activities, meals, fees, passwords, overflowing emails, kid with anxiety, and chronic pain with lashings of anxiety, depression and PMDD was just. Too. Much.
The burnout probably started a few months before but it really unraveled as I was rolling out a big campaign for work. I was running on empty, suffering, stressed, and a clusterfuck of migraines started, right in the midst of a time I felt like I was flourishing and delivering in my career. I faced a harsh reality that I’d been running on too little for too long and what it meant, was that I had to stop. I was knocked down. I emailed people from the fetal position on my couch, to keep the work going.
I didn't want to let people down, I wanted to own all the hard work I'd put in and avoid losing credit for a completed project, I wanted to know what was going on in the office, and I struggled to let it go. I had to make a hard decision to tap into insurance and cut back work. I should have gone off completely, but I wanted to maintain social contact and finish the project. It‘s also more financially beneficial if I can scrape myself together for 2 days a week.
It took some time to unwind from the intensity, but as I did, I noticed something.
I really started focusing on my kids. Like, not in obligation, but in genuine love and wanting to connect with them at their level. When was the last time you really truly did that? We spend all this time barking orders to get to all these scheduled activities, and there's no space for free play. For kids, or for adults. We ALL need free play.
There are some people that this may come natural for, but for me it hasn't been. There’s a lot of guilt associated with parenting, and I kind of hated the early years, having kids caused me stress, depression, semi-poverty, and I’m almost certain that pregnancy and birth are what kick started the symptoms of Chiari for me. Honestly, it’s taken years to come to terms with being a parent, and it’s easier now they are older. I've actively worked to really listen to them, be calm and consistent in my responses, be playful, say yes more than I say no, and try to see things from their perspective. We have built a beautiful relationship, while I haven't been rushing, while I've been still, and hurting and waiting, I have built better connections with my incredible girls in this time of being unwell. It’s really true how you reevaluate things, not even deliberately, it just happens.
I am the first to call them jerks when something isn't going right, and I've sworn and cursed and cried and screamed in front of them. We've all screamed and cursed and cried together sometimes. I often don't have the energy to give them what they need from me, but now I try. I've reprioritised where to give my fucks, and there's a lot going to them. I believe it's paying off. There is less fighting, a little bit more helpfulness, but they're telling me important things, because I'm slowed down and listening. They're reciprocating on my needs, we are in tune and understanding one another, laughing at our faults, making dry jokes and saying some rude words sometimes.
Parenting is hard. It's especiallly hard when you don't have time for it. That’s not entirely our fault. The world doesn't allow you time anymore. Our schedules are filled with obligations and productive activities, and there is little room for self. For love. For slowness. For parenting. For relationships. For anything other than keeping the economy pumping…
It's my favourite thing when I don't have to look at a clock. I love not having to care what the time is. And with my girls, mostly now we are at home and not caring tooo much what the time is. We play, watch iPads and we argue. I try to teach them everything I think is true, and let them form their own ideas. I ask them lots of questions, I want to know what they've felt, the poem they made up and which teacher is mean. If I stop and listen to what they're saying now, however unimportant to me, they'll continue to bring all important things to me when they're older.
I've been teaching them about lying, and how it feels better to tell the truth. I've been teaching them to hang out washing. It occurred to me I was getting annoyed at the shitty job they were doing, yet I hadn't taken time to show them how it's done. I try to look deeper before getting annoyed. They have their own logic and intentions that sometimes just doesn't look like mine. Slowing down has brought visibility, openness, and connection.
The girls are concerned and understanding of what I'm going through. They still expect a lot, sure, but understand when I explain. Miss S is my empath baby. She's been hugging crying people since before she could talk. She'll bring me water and pat my back, telling me to take deep breaths.
M is sometimes calmer, but there's always days of ferociousness. She'll write me notes rather than show physical affection or say words out loud. So intensely intelligent and stubborn, yet creative and needing of her mama. I relish it. I am tuned in to enjoy every moment. It doesn't mean that I do, but I try, and it gets easier as I do. Gratitude and love can actually be real.
They still sleep with me. I tried to curb it and sometimes try a new strategy to transition out, but I always give in again, because I actually want them close. They won't want to be near me soon enough, so I will have it while it lasts. Enjoy the vulnerability on first light, and cuddles, and kicks to the guts and the fighting about whose turn it is to sleep right next to me. Not to mention the kids books, toys and clothing strewn all over my perfectly styled bedroom. Sometimes I feel suffocated, other times, unbelievably content.
This time on the sidelines, waiting to be stitched up so I can get back on the field (ooh look, I just made an unexpected sport analogy) has created space and a new depth to my parenting journey. I know I sound like a hippy earth mother, but I actually kinda am.
Being forced to slow down has given me many opportunities to make lemonade. To find sweet things in amongst the sour, and one of those is, that I connect better with my kids when I am debilitated.