Warning: This is a really personal post I wrote to reach out to others I know who are falling into a similar hole. I'm not in the mood for spelling corrections from readers who should look elsewhere for entertainment.
10 years ago we moved out to the country on our 5 acres and little house with our newborn baby. We are both long-time city dwellers, save for a little over a year living and working cooperatively on a big organic farm a few years back. We both valued ‘sustainable living’. Minimizing our carbon footprint, raising our own food in a way that creates both healthy food and improves the land year after year. We value doing things ourselves with our own two hands and raising our children in a way that teaches them these practical skills in an environment that is quiet, mindful and in touch with nature.
Does this sound familiar? It should. I think everybody is doing it.
So over the past 10 years, we’ve raised 2 children (8 and 10 right now), maintained a flock of laying hens from 10-20 birds, raised about 25 meat birds each year (and butcher them myself), keep honeybees, have a big vegetable garden, fruit bushes and trees, big compost bins. Installed rain barrels and tried making biodiesel. We split wood to heat our house with a wood stove. And that’s just outside the house. Inside I cook all our meals from scratch. And when I say ‘cook’, I mean the stove is on 2-3 meals/day. I make my own chicken stock, bake my own bread (used to grind the flour too), make yogurt, mayonnaise, salad dressings. I make my own herbal medicines, tonics and salves for when we fall ill. We use eco-laundry balls instead of soap, used cloth diapers, hang all our wash to dry (dryer for emergencies like stomach flu), have no microwave and only have one, old non-smart cell phone. We use natural products to clean like baking soda and vinegar. We don’t use deodorants or any body care products with fragrance. We’re all natural. But that’s not all. We now homeschool both of our children. We do yoga, tai chi and meditation. My husband has a 9-5 job. I have worked periodically outside the home on a part-time basis… usually self-employed.
Are you exhausted just reading that or does it just make you want to vomit with all the goodie-goodieness of it all? I’m torn.
So for the first 5-6 years of this, I would say I was pretty sick. Not that you’d know from looking at me. I may have started having kids when I was 36, but I’ve aged well with my healthy diet and yoga-ness. I’m slim with good skin and look healthy and wholesome. But I was dying. I had my babies, but did not stop to let myself be helped or heal. I just jumped back into the garden and pushed harder. I was exhausted at the end of every day. Every year, I was weaker. I was so stressed and put so much pressure on myself to live this healthy, ‘sustainable’ lifestyle, that I was burning up all of the love and happiness inside. I was trying to reach out and meet other people, make friends, be part of our community and school… but nothing was coming back. I think people could sense the pressure and moved far away.
Finally, two years ago I couldn’t do it anymore. At 44, I stopped sleeping. It was like one day I would lay down on my pillow and be unconscious within 5 minutes and sleep like the dead all night long. Then the next, I could not fall asleep. All night long. Maybe around 4am I would drift off, but 6am always comes. I tried Chinese herbs, which had helped me in the past. They helped a lot while I took them. But I emptied our savings account with my doctor appointments and bills for them. So I stopped, and so did the sleep. I started going crazy. I knew that other women in my family had sleep trouble and used Ambien. I asked to borrow a few and they worked. So I asked my doctor for them and she write me a prescription. Finally, sleep. But not always. I found that I could often stay awake even when taking such a powerful sleeping pill. Or I woke up 4 hours after taking it. This went on for months and months with only 3-4 hours of broken sleep every night. I tried a different pill, but it made me feel so strange I stopped. I started taking double doses of my sleeping pills, which worked sometimes but made me feel awful.
So much for Ms. Natural… abusing prescription drugs now.
After a month of not sleeping, I started to realize that I had anxiety. My heart would race at the slightest thought of something worrying. I would panic for a week before a dentist appointment. Grind my teeth if I did sleep. I broke into a sweat in the dentist chair. I became depressed. The things that I used to enjoy doing, or that used to fill me with love, didn’t interest me anymore. They just sounded like too much work. I didn’t feel much love for my children. My temper grew incredibly short with them too. I didn’t love my husband at all. I just didn’t love. I was filled with so much despair for any kind of future for myself. I dreaded even thinking of the future. I cried every day.
Now reading this, it might be very easy to see what was wrong and what needed to change. But it’s been so hard to let go of anything. It sounds so stupid to value my garden more than my own health, but I'm crazy like that. I kept pushing on. I put on the acceptable can-do face when I was out, finishing my to-do list at home. But people knew. My best friends called me on it finally. They don’t even live here, but they got together and decided they were going to come down on me over the phone and get me to find some help. So I did. My doctor, a therapist, a psychiatrist, back to a meditation community. I was going to try and fix my crazy self. This all helped. But very slowly.
Then we took a 3-week vacation.
I didn’t want to go. 3 weeks in the summer over in England and France visiting family when I can’t sleep and there was so much to do. But something inside wanted to be that person instead of the one I was. So I booked it, thanks to financial assistance from our family who wanted us to come, and found a house-sitter. And we went. And I spent at least half of my days sleeping late and most afternoons up in my room laying down and reading a book or in a coffee shop reading a book. It was great. I didn’t care about my garden, cat or chickens at all. After the first day, I just couldn’t care less. I could rest. I was cooked for (thank you to both of my MIL's), my husband and other family spent time with the kids, and I just rested and visited some friends and was a tourist. I felt better. I loved my family. I liked myself.
I still had trouble when I got home. I kept seeing my therapists. But gradually, that stopped. I realized that I needed to rest. I needed to have fun. I need to sit in meditation every day. I need to love my husband and let him love me. I needed wider margins in my life. So I got a massage from a woman I know. We went to high school together and have the same birthday. It was wonderful. Now, instead of spending my money on therapy, I spend it on 2 massage/month. It’s wonderful. It’s so indulgent that I almost always feel guilty about it. But I keep it up. I feel so much better. She’s also a wonderful woman to talk to. Talking to her makes me feel normal in a community that I don’t feel like I fit into. It made me realize I need more women like her to talk to.
So now I’m still homeschooling, still cooking, still gardening, still taking sleeping pills. But I’m not doing meat chickens this year. I’m not trying to do it all perfectly. We eat sandwiches for dinner more often and I buy sliced bread sometimes. We plan vacations. We go camping whenever we can and have fun. My to-do list is more like aspirational writing. It’s a guideline. When my kids fight me on lessons, I stop for the day. When I start feeling like a horrible homeschool mom and my kids aren’t learning anything, I take the rest of the week and declare a vacation. I started a women’s group to reach out more intentionally to the women I know and want to be closer to. This is not easy for me to be so laid back. It still takes effort. But it’s working. Almost 2 years after it started, I feel rested and able to set a better pace for myself.
Anyway, I’ve met other people who’ve gone through something like this. I’m sharing this so you know other people have done this too and there is another way through it. You’re overworked, especially trying to do things so perfectly, so sustainably, that you realize that you forgot one key resource that needs to be sustainable. Yourself. My own health, my own inspiration, the relationships that nourish it all. These underpin everything. I think I always paid that lip service, but never really did it. But I’m doing it. I have to make myself do it a lot of the time because I’m a do-er. But I’m healing. There are hundreds of thistles in my garden, and I haven’t brushed my daughter’s hair in 3 days… but I love her and I’m healing.