Seven months after my daughter, Elle, was born, I stood in the middle of our living room in tears. And I’m not talking a few tears that could easily be brushed away. I’m talking a full-out epic kind of meltdown. The morning had started predictably enough. Waking up early, rushing to feed myself and Elle, frantically getting ready, throwing everything together for the day, trying to get out the door. But right before I was about to leave, my husband, Andrew, asked me what time I planned to be home from work. Seems like an innocent enough question; right? Wrong.
To me, at that particular moment in life, seven months postpartum and trying desperately to figure out a new normal, that small question triggered something much bigger. The problem was, I wasn’t actually sure when I’d be home. Beyond that, I couldn’t see how I was going to handle all the responsibilities piled up on my to-do list for the day. And I didn’t know how I was going to find even one spare minute to take care of myself. Everything felt heavy. At that moment I wondered: How had my life become so complicated, so difficult to navigate? When had taking care of myself become such a low priority?
What’s more, I wasn’t exactly sure how I’d arrived at this point. Clearly adding a tiny human to the mix wasn’t making things easier, but these feelings had deep roots, going back years into my past. To be honest, I had a history of always adding more to my plate, without ever taking anything away. I was a pusher, and I had a tendency to ignore my health and happiness in pursuit of achievement and success. I was striving to have it all even though I didn’t have a clear sense of what “having it all” actually meant. And I never stopped to ask myself how I felt, because my mental and physical health seemed irrelevant and not something I had time to prioritize.How To (not) Feel Good
The truth is I’d been teetering for years—advancing up the corporate ladder, attending school on nights and weekends, logging countless hours in front of a computer; all of which had taken a huge toll on both my health and happiness. My motto had always been “just push through,” yet even as I strived to do all the things
, I frequently felt like I wasn’t making any progress. Yes, I was grateful for all the gifts in my life, but despite my good fortune I felt a crippling sense that nothing was good enough. Lying in bed at night I’d run through a mental list of things not yet accomplished, and in the morning I’d wake up with a general sense of already being behind.
On that sunny September morning the real reason for my breakdown was that I was convinced the problem was with me
. That I just needed to find more willpower, to be a little more motivated, to really get my act together. I blamed my struggles not on how I was structuring and approaching my life but rather on my obvious lack of self-control. It seemed there were only two options: go all-in on everything—job, friendships, relationships, and a litany of life responsibilities—or just give up altogether. And at that moment, the giving-up option looked pretty appealing.
Plus I felt like I was the only one struggling, the only one who couldn’t figure it out. Looking around at other people’s lives, I could list two dozen ways I felt I wasn’t measuring up. All my friends seemed to have it more together than I did. They seemed to balance work and family and taking care of themselves with such ease. Why couldn’t I do the same? I wanted desperately to figure out how they were doing it. In truth, I wanted my own slice of that magical/perfect/healthy life.
You know the one I’m talking about. The one with an hour-long morning routine (not including meditation) and a perfectly composed organic smoothie. The one with incredibly productive workweeks in which everything on the to-do list gets done. The one with six-pack abs resulting from a seven-day-a-week workout routine—including cardio, stretching, high-intensity strength training, and
deeply restorative yoga. The one with every meal planned, and everything prepped ahead, all cooked from scratch. The one where I had time to spare for deep breathing, and no screens, and plenty of sleep, and reading, and time with the family. The one where I never had a negative thought.
Eventually, I pulled myself together that morning in the living room, resigned to another long commute, got in the car, and drove to work. Stuck in traffic on the way, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something had to give. As I continued to reflect on my situation, I knew things had to change, knew I
needed to change. As I eventually pulled into my parking spot at work, I knew that I couldn’t continue down the path I was on, that it simply wasn’t sustainable for myself, or for my family. At that moment in the parking lot that September, I vowed to make a change. The only problem? I had no idea where to start. “If I knew what to do,” I thought to myself, “wouldn’t I already be doing it?”
Copyright © 2020 by Robyn Conley Downs. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.