Published on Mamamia.com.au 10th September 2017
These last few years have seen me become the poster child for, ‘What happens when you don’t look after yourself’. I’m no martyr; it’s not an intentional thing I do. I simply put it down to ‘Mum Life‘. Everyone else in the family gets organised and cared for first, and mum brings up the rear. You see, just yesterday I was sitting across the desk from my doctor, telling him about what’s been going down, and how I’ve been feeling, and he says,
“Yep, I see this all the time. You are suffering from ‘Mum Syndrome'”.
So, it’s not just something I made up. A real-life medical-type professional gave me the term. If only more people recognised it as such, and treated it like a real thing.
There are only a few basic elements to living a healthy life:
1. Adequate, restful sleep
2. Good nutrition
3. Effective exercise
4. ‘Me’ time, or stress less time.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I can almost put a big fat X next to each one of those on a daily basis. I think most of us can. It’s not something we do intentionally, it just comes with the #mumlife territory sometimes.
I think for most of my kids’ early days, I just reverted to survival mode. Caffeine, adrenaline, sheer determination and necessity. Sleep was almost non-existent between the baby waking for night feeds, and the toddler suffering from sleep apnea and night terrors. I got by just eating whatever I could to fill me up, in between coffee breaks to keep me awake. I forced myself to exercise, more because I couldn’t be at home on my own in the tired haze all day. I needed to get out, so I killed two birds with one stone. ‘Me’ time was virtually non-existent. I legitimately consider a toilet break, or a shower at night on my own as ‘Me’ time… but between sleep issues, breastfeeding, and hubby’s work schedule, I couldn’t stray far from home, ever.
As time wore on, at least one of my children started sleeping, which meant I wasn’t being woken on average 6 times a night. It’s like someone flicked a switch inside my brain and suddenly I realised, it’s like I’d spent the entire 12 months prior (at least) walking around with permanent beer goggles on.
No wonder the rates of post natal anxiety and depression are so high. We’re all living in a state of malnutrition (in so many ways), yet we’re expected to function and behave like able-bodied, sound-of-mind individuals. The mental and physical pressure we place on ourselves throughout this time is phenomenal, so any small chinks in the armour are blown wide open so easily.
The best piece of advice I have ever received was from my dear old dad. He gave me the ‘Airplane Analogy’, and it goes a little something like this;
When you’re on a plane, and the air crew are giving you instructions for what to do in case of an emergency, they always tell you to put your oxygen mask on FIRST. The reason for this is, that if you need to help others, you CANNOT do this if you put your mask on last. Waiting until last could very well mean that the lack of oxygen will cause you to lose consciousness, and then you can’t help anyone else. This is the perfect analogy for motherhood.
If you don’t look after yourself first sometimes, how can you be expected to take care of those around you? If you continually choose to put your oxygen mask on last, then you will eventually lose consciousness. If you lose consciousness, then who will be there to apply the oxygen masks to those around you?
Mum life and ‘Me’ time don’t always go hand in hand, but mum life and health definitely should. It’s time we all started putting ourselves first from time to time, it’s time we shrugged off the guilt, the ‘selfish’ feelings, and negative associations with taking time out for you. Give yourself permission to breathe; you won’t be the only one that benefits from it.
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