On a quiet Tuesday in January, I found myself in a counselor’s office unable to articulate why I was there other than to say, “Something has to give, I feel like a shell of myself.” I had wrapped up 2021 in a state of crippling anxiety and at a stress level that was not maintainable. I could not sustain the pace of work and home life at the speed and pressure level I was barely maintaining. I found myself in a space where every ball that I dropped crippled me a little more. I could not hold space for the celebrations because I was too busy trying to anticipate what was to come (real or imagined).
My counselor patiently listened to my anxious monologues for weeks. Then one session she asked me a very simple question, “What do you like about you?” I had an answer to what I like about my people. She stopped me and said, “But I asked what you like about you.”
And then tears just rolled down my cheeks. Because I did not know.
One thing had become abundantly clear: I’d lost sight of myself.
Being a parent naturally forces us into a space where we must die to ourselves. Becoming a parent can awaken us to our own selfishness. And this is good when the knowledge is applied in a healthy way.
When we let the pendulum swing to an unhealthy place, our days can become entrenched in tasks: making lunches, managing the tantrums, working, making dinner, navigating bedtime … fill in the blank. Over time, we can find ourselves not connecting. We measure our worth based on things completed and not finished, feeling like we are never enough.
My wakeup call came when I realized I would have downtime and I could not figure out what to do with myself. The anxiety would get so loud in the quiet. I’d rush to scrolling on social media, checking my email, picking fights with my husband, cleaning the counters again... all to shove down the fears and insecurities that had space to be heard when life got a little quieter. Cue the anxiety attacks.
My counselor and I have dug into the root causes of these narratives for me personally, but she has also provided some practical ways to make my emotions feel more manageable that I think can be more widely applied.
Moving from a place of self-esteem thinking to self-compassion. Self-esteem can still rise and fall on our successes and failures. Self-compassion positions us to know we will fail but we are loved and enough anyway. Our worth does not rise and fall with failures and successes.
Finding what I like to do. (Don’t overthink this one.)
Walking—I now walk every day. Sometimes early in the morning or late at night right before bed (it can be 15 minutes or an hour). In this season, I don’t take my phone so I can learn to be alone with myself again and be okay.
Dancing with my people—Most days we start or end with a dance party (typically to the Encanto soundtrack). Dancing in our living room has taught me to laugh at myself, and I’m so grateful. I love the joy I see on my family’s face as we make absolute fools of ourselves dancing to “Family Madrigal.”
Our daughter is still in a phase of needing us. However, every day she is starting to need us less or differently. I know over time this will only happen more. I will always be her mom, but my identity cannot rise and fall with how much or little she needs me, or how much I accomplish in a day as a mother, a wife, or a person. Anxiety can be crippling, but I’m so thankful it pointed me to start the work of learning to like myself. It frees me up to be a present mom and wife.
If you, too, are feeling overwhelmed or anxious, your path to managing your emotions may look different from mine. But I challenge you to join me in digging deep for self-compassion and finding a couple of things that bring you simple joy. Dance in the kitchen... go for the walk... learn to like who you are... because our kids are watching. What a gift to show them how loved and chosen they are by believing it of our own selves.