Monday, 24 July 2017

Receiver Fatigue and getting over it

I have been in bed with the flu for a week. It was not the plan. We had organised a family trip back to Auckland to see family and friends, do some maintenance at our house and generally have a holiday. But the kids both had a nasty virus in the two weeks beforehand and despite my attempts to rest and avoid it, I succumbed the day before.

So I waved off hubby and the two kids and planned to join them two days later once I was feeling better. Two days passed and I was worse rather than better. I was grateful to be able to actually rest while sick. It felt like such a treat to have the flu alone. Oh dear what an irony. 

On the third day I woke up drenched in sweat so had to change all the sheets. I ran out of tissues and was on the last roll of toilet paper and last two paracetamol. Time to call for help. 

I am so grateful to have friends to call. We have only lived in this town for three months but through church I've made some lovely friends and even though we are still in the fresh and new phase of getting to know each other, I knew I could call. So I did. And she came with toilet rolls and paracetamol, hung out my washing and did the dishes. This is despite it being school holidays and her having four kids. Mums do get it. She then came back and got my washing in, took it back to her place to finish drying and returned it folded the next day. 

Meanwhile another friend in Auckland hosted my son's 5th birthday party that he had begged to have with his big cousins. She knew it meant a lot and offered to help even with me not there. I am so grateful. 

Over the years, especially since having kids, I have had to ask for help a lot. Sometimes it's been part of really normal transitions like moving house. My sister in law helped set up my wardrobes and linen cupboard and family helped to look after our daughter while we unpacked. At other times it has been caring for my children when I am to unwell with depression and anxiety. And at other times it has been when hyperemesis (pregnancy nausea and vomiting) meant I was bed bound and needed help. About 18 months ago I was exhausted due to adrenal fatigue and needed help with childcare and house work. Over the last 8 years I've needed help with juggling childcare and work and have asked mum friends who are home full time to look after my kids or pick them up. I feel like the last 8 years has been full of asking for help and learning to receive it.

At first it was so wonderful to receive help, to know we were not alone. At times I was so ill that help was the only option. I've never been a private person so I didn't feel embarrassed overtly by needing help but over time it got harder. Desperation meant I blocked out how vulnerable I felt and the sense of failure I had. I remember needing a friend to help with childcare one day when I had to work late. I got home late and walked into the house. She was managing her own three kids, my two, cooking dinner, had cleaned up and folded laundry. I disappeared to my room and sobbed. The sense of failure and shame was just too much. So much of my sense of worth was whittled away in my need for help and dependence on others.

I am naturally quite an independent person and pride myself on being organised and having things under control. However, Ive learned that those things are a privilege of circumstance and health rather than a measure of my value or success as a person. And I have had a lot of conversations with other Mums who have struggled on alone, convinced that everyone else was coping better than they were and not asked for help or been honest about how hard life can be. People have said to me "You seem like you are always on top of things" but others have commented "You are so good at asking for help". On a bad day both comments seem problematic. When people say I seem to have it all together I want to scream and ask what they expect me to do? Kids still need to be fed and clothed and taken places. Most of the time you can't just collapse in a heap cause everything else will collapse too. But there have been time when I have collapsed and I have desperately needed help and I have asked for it. Telling me I am good at asking can feel like I am not independent or capable or that I am somehow weaker than those who just "soldier on".

Instead I believe that most of us are stronger than we often realise. At times carrying on putting one step in front of the other, getting out of bed, keeping on parenting through what feels like thick mud and a pack full of rocks is what we do. But in other situations the strongest thing we can do is ask for help. There are no medals for going it alone. Our kids do not benefit from white knuckling it until it all falls apart. Instead help can mean we recover, it can remind us that we are all connected and that none of us is truly in control of our lives. It can show our children that helping others is a privilege and receiving from others is an important skill to learn.

I'm feeling better now. The school holidays are over. Everything is on a more even keel. I hope that when things are going well I will be in a position to help others. But I don't owe anyone and I don't have to prove anything. I am stronger than I think and in each season, day, minute and breath I remember that none of us can do this alone so why should I? And why should you?

Friday, 30 June 2017

It's been a while

Gosh it does get rather tedious to write these kind of posts. I haven't blogged for 18months. My last post was about trying out not working to give myself some space to get well and find the joy in life again.

Well that didn't happen...

It was a great idea but not totally financially feasible and I had a great part time job offer close to home so I decided to take it. It involved working with children and families at our church and it felt so good to feel enthusiastic and to join a lovely team. I was wary of exhausting myself and of the perils of working in a faith community but I wanted to try something new and to use my teaching skills in a new context. Over the year I gradually increased my hours from 5 hours per week up to 15. I enjoyed so much of the role but again found I felt really anxious about doing it well and performance anxiety around what other people expected.

My plans for a more healthy balance in my life didn't quite go as planned. The reasons for that are many but some is my lack of self discipline and the exhaustion of anxiety bubbling along under the surface. I also think in a role where you are wanting to make a positive impact in people's lives, the responsibility of that weighed heavily on me. I know that I haven't been good at relying on God for energy and guidance and instead just try harder and harder to do everything perfectly, which doesn't end well.

I appreciated so much about the role and learned a great deal but some of my core struggles and the questions about life and faith I have been mulling over for a while now were like a stone in my shoe, a constant uncomfortable reminder and unsettling pull on me. Being involved closely in a church was truly a blessing to me. The relationships formed and the important conversations were gifts. And looking at faith and faith formation from the perspective of a child and seeking to foster a healthy and whole relationship between children and Jesus was such a joy.

However, throughout the year my husband and I talked about how unsustainable life in Auckland with an Auckland sized mortgage was and we realised that in the not too distant future I would need to return to high school teaching, probably fulltime, in order for us to make any progress financially and not continue to jump from one home maintenance bill to another. We were realising that my belief that once our kids were at school it would be easier to juggle work and family life was instead a delusion. School hours and school teaching do not go well together when you add an Auckland commute and after school meetings. I could see nights of working till 2 am regularly in my future as I marked piles of assessments and my husband continued to commute an hour to and from work with the pressure of accounting for his time in 15 minute increments.

We know we are privileged to even own a home or have jobs. But we also need to be able to live with the circumstances of our lives and the impact it has on our health, family and quality of life. Our large vege garden, fruit trees and chickens are important to us but the only time in the week to spend enjoying it was a couple of hours on a Saturday and it felt like life was taken up with work and jobs around the house as well as the general busyness of life with kids.

So towards the end of the year we decided that we needed to get out of Auckland to have any chance of having a more peaceful and restful life. Early this year my husband got a job offer in a small town in the North Island of NZ. We knew the town a little bit but knew no-one living here. After a couple of reconnaissance trips which included amazing weather and very convincing sales pitches by locals on the advantages of a move to their friendly town, we made the call and accepted the job.

We have now been here for 3 months almost. It has been a surprisingly smooth transition. The kids love their respective school and kindy. We are renting a warm and sunny but small house close to town. My husband's commute is now a 5 minute walk and we have only filled the cars about 5 times since we moved. One of our two cars barely gets driven. I applied for a few teaching and non-teaching jobs before we moved here but wasn't successful. Instead of disappointment, I felt a growing sense of glee at the prospect of not working. And it has proved to be wonderful. For the first time in seven years there are no childcare juggles when the kids are sick, drop offs are slow and gentle, washing gets hung on the line and dried and taken in all on the same day and the house is generally pretty clean most of the time. We have found a church and been warmly welcomed. We are making friends and having meals with each other. Our kids are making friends and going to play at each other's houses. And I feel so much better! My daughter and I are having horse riding lessons together, which was a childhood passion of mine that I am so excited to be doing again.

It is a strange transition to going back to being home full time. I haven't done that since Ella was 7 months old. There have been times when my mood has been low as I renegotiate my identity and role in this new place. I carry so many unrecognised expectations of myself and it is strange to not be getting affirmation and a sense of worth from work and colleagues. But I'm not lonely and the sense of space and no anxiety is almost miraculous.

So here we are. We are exploring the next steps of putting down roots here and what our new version of "normal" could be. But for now I am enjoying this breathing space and the sunshine of our coastal new home. And on a very good day I wonder whether it really is possible to have all you have hoped for and dreamed of.