(Image by Gemma Correll)
Recently I've had a bit more time on my hands (as much time as you can have with a 9 month old and a 6 year old and trying to cobble together some kind of livelihood). Some of this time I've spent worrying (this is my favourite activity- more than watching Keeping Up With The Kardashians or listening to 90's hip hop). The rest of the time is spent wondering why I feel so overwhelmed all the time. I recently published my first fiction book and someone clever came up with the title MOTHERWHELMED to describe the central character, Rebecca, and the daily ticker tape of stuff to do she has running through her brain every day.
The character is very much based on myself- and a time when I was holding down a high flying market research career, trying to be a good partner, have a social life and be a Mum. There's an old Radiohead video and in it Thom Yorke lies on the pavement face down whilst commuters pass by and eventually people stop and try to help him get up again. Whenever I made my way into work each morning I had the self-same desire to lie down and not get up. A laptop bag full of files and stuff to do and wet wipes and snacks - I was like a broken donkey most days.
What would happen if I lay down? Would someone call an ambulance and would I finally be allowed to do nothing? To stop achieving and worrying about my status? Or would I be taken to a mental health hospital and interrogated about whether I was a fit parent or not? The idea that I might just collapse, STOP, NOT DO ANYTHING for a while was appealing. For a start I'd no longer have to go to work, no longer deal with deadlines and emails shouting in my face and colleagues who were stupider than me but had more energy and verve because they had no kids, and then social media and people being so successful all the damn time and on top of that Mums at the bake sale who sniggered when they saw me drop of my Londis cake with the 1.99 price tag still attached (it's a good cake but yes it's not homemade okay?).
This feeling of everything getting on top of you, of being unable to cope is pretty common. I bump into other women and they look at me with a harassed expression and run through a long list of stuff that needs to be completed. There isn't a hell of a lot of joy in our lives. There's been lots written about 'emotional labour' so I won't bore on about it but truth is we all spend too much time DOING and not enough time just BEING. We spend a lot of money on yoga and apps and books and things that help with BEING but we still have the incessant desire to get on with stuff.
I've now entered a crossroads in my career and family life. I've resigned from a great permanent role and found myself stopping momentarily and trying to assess what my life amounts. I have a lovely family, two cats that keep vomiting on the table for some reason, a partner who helps as much as he can but also snores heavily at night, friends who support me but also look slightly worried when I tell them I have no idea what I'll do next. I have a toaster that blew up this morning and fused out all the lights. I have debt. I have shitloads of clothes. A garden that needs tending to and is full of snails. I want to write-I want to make a career out of it but it's hard and especially hard when you have small children and are trapped in the conundrum of not being able to afford childcare because you're not actually earning money to pay for that childcare (yet).
Is life more difficult than it was for my own parents? Probably not. I have cafes where I can take a baby and not get chased out again. I have a support network. I have Netflix with unlimited content. I have online shopping so I don't have to always schlep to the shops each day. I also have a hundred whatsapp groups which ping every five seconds with messages about second hand Jumperoos, homework that needs to be completed, school reunions, bikes for sale...whatever. I have more connection than I can shake a stick at BUT still this sense that I can't cope, that I just want to lie down on the floor- that I can't pack three bags each morning and get three people out the door and smile and grin and say GOOD MORNING in a jolly manner when I just want to do what Thom Yorke did in that video and lie down.
When my MOTHERWHELM was at its worse I used to fantasise about falling down the stairs. It was a bit like the lying on the floor thing. I did't want to hurt myself- it wasn't a suicidal tendency, instead it was the desire to just make THINGS STOP so I could have an excuse to rest.
Don't you often feel like you need an excuse to rest? I watch my cats and aside from vomiting they spend a good deal of time sleeping and staring. I realise they don't get this overwhelm thing. When they're tired they sit and lick their arse. And yes our culture is busy and we have to DO DO DO some much but my ambition is to tackle this thing head on. I'm older now and nobody told us to be so busy, and you won't lie on your deathbed thinking SHIT I DIDN'T MAKE THAT PIGGING CAKE FROM SCRATCH or I WISH I'D MADE A HALLOWEEN COSTUME RATHER THAN JUST THROWING A SHEET OVER MY KID'S HEAD.
THE LONDIS CAKE AT 1.99 IS A GOOD IDEA IF IT MEANS YOU CAN CALM THE FUCK DOWN FOR A BIT.
These are busy, confusing, conflicted times. It is of no benefit to anyone if your head if crammed with stuff. This isn't a race. IT ISN'T.
REST. TAKE SHORT CUTS WHENEVER YOU CAN.
I AM GIVING YOU PERMISSION.