I’m so tired. Almost everyone in my house has had some form of sickness over the past few weeks. It always seems to go that way over the holidays, doesn’t it? I came down with a bad cold, body aches and all, right before we had relatives staying with us for Christmas. My 4 year old has had a cough for at least a month, my husband has been teetering on the brink of sickness, and the baby has his first cold and cough now. (And if you’ve ever tried to nurse a sick baby in the night who’s so congested that he can barely nurse, you know how little sleep I’m getting right now.) My 6 year old is the only one to have escaped it so far. I think it’s fair to say that I did not adjust my expectations appropriately this year, as Fiona suggested in her post about being a good enough parent this holiday season. I set them high, exhausted myself and my family to meet them, and now I’m paying for it. The actual stretch of days when we had family here was wonderful and full of memories we’ll all cherish, but that could have happened with much less planning, work, and orchestrating on my part.
I remember when I had no kids and worked full time. When life got to be too much, I’d take the occasional mental health day and skip work. That’s a little trickier now that I’m a mom to 3 (and my kids are homeschooled so they’re always here) and I’m self-employed. Luckily I’ve significantly dialed back my work load since the baby was born, but I’ve still got household duties, holiday clean up, day-to-day tasks to accomplish, my own expectations to live up to, and people to feed. Multiple times a day. Yesterday when I woke up, I was instantly overwhelmed. I looked at the day ahead of me and couldn’t fathom how I was going to make it through. I was exhausted to my core. As the morning went on, I somewhat organically formulated a little plan for myself. I was going to take a mental health day from as much as I could. I would do the bare minimum to keep everybody fed and well cared for, and besides that I would take care of myself.
By the end of the day, the kitchen was piled high with dishes and there were toys everywhere. My kids watched a lot of YouTube. Over the course of the day I read books and snuggled with my kids, relaxed while the baby napped on me, and allowed myself to knit and daydream about some upcoming travel plans. Every time I had the urge to get up and clean, plan, or attack my to-do list, I reminded myself that it would be there tomorrow and I just let myself rest. This somewhat simple act of nurturing myself felt a little bit radical. And it was mostly a perspective shift that I needed. Instead of chastising myself for being unproductive and lazy, I congratulated myself for taking care of myself and making the intentional choice to rest.
In a culture that highly values productivity, busyness and results, it’s really hard for many of us to scale back and let it go some days. I absolutely love to feel productive and, in general, I enjoy life more when I’m active and creative. But I also think that many of us forget about the importance and restorative quality of just being. It’s the exhale we need after we inhale. And we too often deprive ourselves of it. If you’re feeling the holiday hangover, or if you’re simply exhausted because you have a baby that doesn’t sleep through the night, I encourage you to take a mental health day. Jot down any items on your to-do list so you can offload them from your brain, put the list somewhere you can find it tomorrow, and start today with a clean slate and a plan to stay in the moment. Rest. Fill your own cup. I bet you’ll come back tomorrow with renewed energy and gratitude to yourself for taking this time.