Ever since I recovered from postpartum depression, my mental health has been one of my top priorities. I’ve discovered it’s not something I can take for granted. I need to do a lot of different things in order to feel like my best self.
When it comes to feeling like my best self, I tend to focus on the activities and behaviors that keep my momentum strong. Things like:
- Getting outside,
- Going new places,
- Making new friends,
- Crafting and painting,
- More writing,
- Even more writing,
- Running a peer support group,
- Playing with my kids,
- Going on fun dates with my husband,
- Cooking and baking,
- And on and on.
These things are important, but I often overlook an essential part of my mental health: rest and relaxation.
Yesterday was the last day of my cycle, and I was feeling some wicked PMS. It was also 100 degrees in Pasadena. Seemed like a good day to watch a movie, watch some television, and then watch another movie.
Instead, I decided we should get outside and head to Kidspace, a children’s museum that has a massive shady nature area with a stream. I packed up towels and swim diapers and had lots of fun wading around the stream with my kids. It was great.
Then Julian ran away.
It happened after lunch. We were walking from the lunch area back to the main building to partake in some final kid revelry (look at fossils! paint! climb through the ant tunnels!) when Julian disappeared. One second, he was like two inches from my elbow. The next, poof, he was gone. He has sprinted away from me in department stores, but this was worse. He could have gone in a dozen directions – to the bathroom, back to the the lunch area, off to the oversized playing blocks, or, right out the exit. To the parking lot.
Everything seemed to go into slow motion. He was only lost for a couple of minutes, but during that time, I felt as if I was falling down a blackhole, into a world without Julian. It was as if the cells in my body rearranged themselves. Bones became muscles, muscles turned into blood, and when the employee with a walkie talkie asked me to describe my child, I could not speak.
Then someone said there was a little boy in the gift shop, and I ran, and there he was. My boy, my heart, waiting impishly, by the counter, not realizing my world had ended seconds ago. I scooped him up and announced we were done. We were going home. No guilt. Right before Julian bolted, I had told the kids we could stay and play some more, but I knew I was shattered and done for the day.
We got home around 1ish, and I crawled into bed, closed my eyes, and zoned out.
The kids played around me. They crawled into bed and played doctor and then ran off and turned the house into a stuffed animal hospital. I read for a few minutes, but mostly, I just lay in bed, feeling zapped. I knew I had PMS, and the PMS had amplified the “Julian running away incident” and I’d feel better in a few hours, but I also felt as if I’d never get my energy back.
But just as my rational brain had promised, my energy started to return around 4 p.m. I emerged from bed. I snuggled and watched The Incredibles with the kids. (Who were outraged that Incredibles II is still only in theaters.)
And by 7 p.m., I felt human. I ate dinner. I went on a walk. I hung out with Nathan. I went to bed knowing I would feel refreshed and vibrant in the morning.
I was right.
But still, I’m always learning. Learning and relearning lessons that I thought I had already aced.
I have learned so well that I need momentum and activity, but I have some learning to do on the Rest and Relaxation front. Maybe if I pay attention, I can learn from the rhythm of my menstrual cycle. I don’t want to keep pushing myself to the breaking point. I don’t want to be the sort of martyr mom who goes to the children’s museum when it’s hot AF and PMS is raging out of control.
But more important: I want to be compassionate with myself.
So maybe I won’t learn. Maybe I will keep pushing myself a little too hard when I need to slow down and relax. And that’s okay, because I’m going to be compassionate and patient with myself. Maybe I need to push myself a little too much another hundred times in order to perfect the art of compassion. Who knows? Maybe I need to keep “failing” one lesson in order to learn something more important.