THE CALM AFTER THE STORM

It has been seven weeks since I had an emotional breakdown at work. It was bound to happen. I was a pressure cooker, at a dangerously high boiling point, needing a release to avoid catastrophic results. Instead of finding a solution to my ever growing anxiety and stress, I filed them in the ‘To Re-Evaluate Later’ box. I was too busy and tired to take pause, at the detriment of my mental health.

Returning to work after maternity leave, I struggled to re-assimilate into my old role. I felt inadequate and redundant, having to re-learn old processes and familiarise myself with new changes. I didn’t feel worthy to contribute to team efforts or discussions. I felt replaced by fresh faces proactive in voicing solutions to challenges, confident in their capabilities to create value and eager to seek further opportunities. Feeling anxious at my lack of ability, I hid in the shadows and made myself inconsequential. It didn’t matter that it was a toxic work environment, tainted with stressors of unreasonable and excessive workload or the constant looming cloud of job insecurity. I didn’t feel like I belonged anymore.

It didn’t help that I was struggling at home too. I was suffering, both mentally and physically, grasping at the threads of my diminishing sanity. Sleep deprivation was wreaking havoc with my ability to function. My two-and-a-half year old son was a poor sleeper and couldn’t self-settle. I was too tired to rectify the situation, choosing to kick the can down the road. I felt overburdened with responsibilities of running a household, even with lots of help from my husband.

I had become a poor man’s version of a parent; a cheap imitation. I had no energy to engage with the kids. School readers were neglected. Dinner was whatever I could throw together at the last minute or leftovers, often opting for take-away. I was prone to being snappy, and yelling was my default means of interaction. This led to feelings of mother’s guilt and overcompensating in other ways. More TV, more junk food, anything to lessen my guilt. I was a freaking mess. I was drowning in my misery.

It took only one simple email at work to push me over the edge. One small request. I had reached my upper boiling point, there was nothing left but to self-implode and decompress. I was mortified at letting coworkers see my vulnerabilities, showcasing them like open wounds, and admitting defeat. All I could do was call a time-out. I was spent.

In hindsight, it was the best decision I could have made for myself and my family. I started seeing a counsellor, and working on improving my mental health. By allowing my mind to take a break from the constant noise, giving myself the opportunity to self-reflect, and talking to a complete stranger, it has given me the strength to finally admit and face a few hard truths.

I am sh*t at being alone with my thoughts. It opens my mind to many unwanted and self-criticising mental abuse. I loathe my own company, and I fear the unknown. I’ve let the judgements of others influence and dictate my life choices. I am flawed, indecisive and insecure.

BUT, today I had an epiphany. One that smacked me hard in the face.

I no longer feel ashamed to admit that I have mental health issues; that I battle with debilitating anxiety and suffer from depression.

I no longer feel the heavy chains of societal expectations weighing me down. I am NOT a superwoman. I don’t need to ‘have it all’, and I’m okay with that.

I am ready to commit to the journey, making that arduous climb away from the dark pits of depression and anxiety, with one step at a time.

“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt.

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CHASING THE GOLDEN ARCHES

“Hey Grandma, did you know that Mummy let’s us have McDonald’s all the time? For breakfasts, lunch AND dinners!”

One loaded statement made from a mischievous six-year-old has led to a sit-down family intervention and my consequential misery.

You see, I’ve been banned from being in close vicinity of any McDonald’s franchise. I cannot use UberEats, Deliveroo or get a taxi to deliver any food from said establishment for a WHOLE month. It seems a bit much. It’s not like I have a problem or anything. Just because I like to eat a Big Mac and fries on many an occasion, doesn’t mean I have an addiction, right?

So to prove to my unnecessarily overly concerned family members that I am not part of a McDonald’s customer loyalty program and I CAN stop, I agreed to their ridiculous terms.


JOURNAL ENTRIES

Day One: Precontemplation

I’m banned. A WHOLE month.

No delicious Big Mac sauce will smear my upper lip. No fulfilling carb-load of fries to warm my belly. No feeling of cold soft serve will tickle my taste buds.

It’s ridiculous, utterly ridiculous! We all have favourite foods. What’s the point of living if you can’t enjoy a Big Mac once in a while?!

I feel such a deep longing; a profound yearning for McDonald’s. I miss smelling, touching and eating it. I feel terribly unsatisfied. Is this normal?

Week One: Contemplation

Hmm… I wonder if there is any truth to this whole addiction thing. Maybe not addiction per se, maybe just a habit. Nope, that word doesn’t sit well with me. Maybe overindulgence. Yes, that’s the word I’m looking for, overindulgence. Is it such a bad word?

I guess I COULD be choosing healthier food options. I DO have the kids to consider. I SHOULD be modelling good eating behaviour. I am a parent and that does come with responsibilities.

Gosh, I still want to stuff my face with McDonald’s. Why do I do that? I don’t really know. Do I have a problem?

Week Two: Preparation

Okay! Okay! … I admit it. I have a problem. I have a McDonald’s affliction. I have a Big Mac and fries obsession. There, I said it. I bet everyone is pleased with themselves.

I have a plan. I will avoid triggers that bring me to my knees. I will uninstall UberEats app. I will bypass all roads that lead within sniffing range of a McDonald’s franchise. I shall choose healthier take-away options. I shall remember to think of the kids and their health every time I feel the desire for a drive-thru. I will eat kale and like it! Maybe.

I am committed. Well, at least for the moment. I don’t want to get ahead of myself here.

Week Three: Action

I’ve discovered that it’s damn near impossible to avoid a McDonald’s franchise. They are everywhere, like a fruit fly infestation! Practically every route has a road that leads to nirvana. I suspect Siri has got it in for me.

Every time we are in a food court, I find myself unconsciously drawn to the powerful smell and only awaken from my trance when one of the kids tugs at my arm.

Many salads have been the victim of my frenzied stabbing. I’m cranky and prone to snappiness.

I’m withdrawing HARD. Will it get easier?

Week Four: Maintenance and Recovery

Have I been successful in avoiding triggers and temptations? Yes.

Have I broken the habit? Not yet. I still feel the temptation to stuff my face until I pass out from carb overload.

I think I’ll need ongoing support from family and friends to remind me that ‘I CAN DO THIS!’

Apparently, joining a community support program to reinforce recovery goals can be helpful.

Maybe I’ll look into joining McDonald’s Anonymous. I can’t be the only one with a penchant for Big Macs.


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WHEN IT RAINS, IT POURS

Guilt. Simply put, a strong emotion we feel when we have done something wrong; perceived or actual.

It can be an all-consuming and a powerful negative emotion that has the propensity to gnaw and shame.

As a parent, it’s become a plague that can’t be contained and has no cure. It’s dangerous unchecked, and one can only hope to recover when it strikes.

A week ago, our household entered what I called “Horror Week.” It started with Henry, my two-and-a-half-year-old, complaining of a sore mouth at bedtime. I did a quick check and dismissed his claims to tomfoolery. By two a.m., he had woken with a raging fever close to forty degrees and vomited.

Enter mother’s guilt. Should I have checked his temperature before bed? Should I have given him medication? Maybe I shouldn’t have pressed him to eat his dinner. Could I have prevented this?

After some medication, Henry’s temperature had reduced to thirty-seven degrees, and he had returned to his cheerful and chatty self. As I cuddled him in my arms, his eyes began to roll back, he became unresponsive and his tiny body started convulsing. Then his face turned blue.

I’ve discovered that in a crisis, I am NOT the cool, calm and collected person. Having done first aid courses means squat if when faced with an emergency, you freeze. Not only did I freeze, I was hysterical and couldn’t stop crying.

In that fraction of time, I honestly felt overwhelmed with negative feelings, and all I could think was “What if my baby dies?”, “He’s dying!”, “Please don’t die!”

Gary, my husband, had to calm me down repeatedly while calling the ambulance.

It was only when Henry’s seizure stopped and his colour returned, that I was able to clear my thoughts and calm down. I know that his blue face will be burned forever in my memory.

The ambulance never made it to our house that night. They had deemed our emergency low on their priorities and after waiting thirty minutes, we opted to cancel and take Henry to the GP.

Henry caught both adenovirus and influenza A infection and continues to suffer with bronchiolitis. He battled with uncontrollable fevers and chills for six days. Mandy, my six-year-old, caught a respiratory syncytial virus infection, submitting to fevers and vomiting. I ended up with Henry’s adenovirus infection that resulted in a sinus infection. Gary was the last man standing.

I became the thermometer monitor, wielding it like a sword and sticking it into the ears of unwilling victims, should they be nearby.

I’ve witnessed two febrile convulsions with Mandy and now with Henry. It doesn’t matter that febrile convulsions are common or rarely have long-lasting effects. My fragile state cannot bear witness to another episode.

Guilt is a funny thing, especially mother’s guilt. It’s relentless and paralysing. It makes you feel like a failure as a parent. I hope that one day there is a cure for it.

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