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I'm failing at parenthood (and other lies)

About once every two or three weeks, I have an epically challenging day.


The kind of day where the dark, 3-am thoughts creep into daylight hours, turning your limbs leaden and the taste of food in your mouth to sand. Nothing sounds good. The minutes barely tick by. And my ordinarily optimistic-self is replaced by a heavy sense of foreboding, and the temptation to contemplate life's big questions - namely, what am I doing with my life/relationship/career?! - is almost irresistible. 


Recently, I can blame this fatigue-fueled depressive feeling on five months of sleepless nights and the petering adrenaline of keeping a small human alive.


But the truth is, feelings like these were around long before the baby entered the scene. 


It doesn't really matter where the thoughts come from, or what sets them off this time. What matters is that when I'm in a depressive funk, it's voice of the saboteur, seductive as ever, that spins the most compelling lies about my essential nature and my failings at all my roles - daughter, friend, partner, coach and now, parent. 


If you too can relate to having a down day (or dozen) because - frankly, who doesn't? - then here are a few of the coping mechanisms I've been playing with these past months: 


Walk. Talk. Breath. REPEAT. The magic formula I've found again and again to help with a bout of feeling down is getting my body in motion (walk). Preferably in the company of a human with whom I can have real, honest conversation (talk). And in nature.


Walk, talk, breath - ancient (simple!) technology that works every. darn. time. 


Do not evaluate your life. Being in a down state - from fatigue, grief, pain, depression or any other mental or physical challenge - is no time to evaluate our life. When we are under-resourced, avoid at all cost the temptation to use that time to contemplate your next career move or life's (lack of) purpose. Instead, stay hyper focused on the now: A meal. A shower. One phone call. And save the clear-headed investigation for a time you are more resourced. 


Set mini-goals. During this post-partum period, one of my anchors has been writing down tiny micro-goals for each day that give me a sense of progress and accomplishment amidst the relentless churn child care: A walk. A load of laundry done. An email returned. These goals get written down at the top of each day and checked off, no matter how insignificant. 


The stormy weather can't hurt the sky. Borrowing this lesson from my local Kadampa Meditation Center class (where I've been practicing for 15+ years but still cant' seem to remember in times of stress): When depressive feelings arrive, treat them like bad weather moving through an otherwise expansive, cloudless sky. The weather is to be acknowledged, tolerated, but not identified with as who you are - rather a temporary state of how you feel. 


 

For me, at the end of the day, the feelings (almost always) pass, the sun emerges and I return to feeling mostly like myself. I'm lucky that way - I know for some they need deeper levels of intervention and help.


When I apply the tactics above, I'm able to look at the horizon - and return to sleeping through the night! - with optimism, with a sense of purpose and the promise of clear headed and persistent steering towards my life's goals. 


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