Fine. I’m fine. I’m just fine. I’m so, so good, good, can’t complain, same old same old, as working moms most of us casually throw out these phrases more often than any other in our vocabulary. We are living this crazy existence trying to be the best wife, mother, professional, and friend possible while there is this tiny voice in the back of our minds telling us we are failing at everything. But you’d never know it by looking at us. Because we are fine. Just ask us and we will tell you. Again, and again, and again.
Until we aren’t.
Now I’m not talking about the normal frustrating times like the last minute science project, or grueling work travel, or dog throwing up on your side of the bed at night so you stepped in it while half asleep. Ladies, that crap is par for the course. That level of difficulty is for chumps. We eat that nonsense for breakfast. I’m talking about when life gets real. When we feel the pit in our stomachs and we think –however fleetingly—we might not be able to handle this. This might be when that nasty whisper in our heads is finally right.
And it’s at this moment when we should be turning to our tribe to support us, but for so many of us this is the moment we turn away from them all. We shut them out and hunker down inside ourselves. We plaster that fine-mask on our faces and tell ourselves we will get through it. Which is of course the worst possible thing we can do. Because we are now only hearing that terrible drumbeat in our head of how awful this all is and not getting any perspective to counteract it. We are stuck in our own mental prison overanalyzing and feeling crushed by anxiety because we are ashamed, afraid, not wanting to burden others, telling ourselves we can handle it.
But here’s the best thing about this prison. We have the keys and we can free ourselves. Easier said than done because the person we have to convince and overpower is our own selves. To do so means we have to be incredibly brave. We have to drop the act and get honest with the people who love and support us. And that is terrifying. So I have three steps that I’ve used myself to claw my way out of the bunker. They ain’t easy but neither is living in the bunker.
- Pick up the phone and call a friend. And don’t just stop at one friend. Call a bunch of friends. And make sure you are calling the women who tell you the truth. Friends tell you what you need to now not what you want to hear is one of my favorite quotes. To me it defines true friendship. Acquaintances keep it on the surface. Friends go deep. Friends can be brutally honest with one another. Not in a toxic mean way (those bitches can be left off the phone tree, thank you very much), but in a way that always feels right (even when it is not what you want to hear). It feels right because you know their honesty comes from a place of love. One of our most awesome super-powers as women is our ability to connect and counsel one another. When you are in the bunker you are cutting yourself off from one of the most powerful weapons we have to combat the challenges in our lives both small and gigantic. So use your equivalents of Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth and indestructible golden bracelets and let your girlfriends help bust you out of the bunker.
- Talk to the person who is causing you to retreat to your bunker. It might be a friend, a co-worker, a spouse, a relative, the barista who consistently misspells your name. Whoever is causing you to be all angsty, you must talk with them. Now there is a small chance that it isn’t anyone in particular who is causing your retreat to the bunker. But more than likely there is someone dancing on your last nerve. Every few years my husband and I go through a period where we don’t necessarily like each other. We love each other. But the sound of him breathing makes me want to smother him with a pillow. We’ve been together for twenty-two years, shit happens. Since he is passive aggressive and my stilettos were not made for walking on eggshells, inevitably I have to initiate a “discussion” that puts an end to our conflict. The part that always makes me chuckle is that we usually figure the issue du jour out in about 20 minutes. 20 minutes. After we’ve spent a month locked in our respective bunkers being miserable. I’m hoping to have this marriage thing down to a science by our fiftieth wedding anniversary or die trying. My point is that when you actually talk to the other party you generally find they want to resolve whatever the issue is and go back to being happy as desperately as you do. So be brave and open up that dialogue!
- Let it go. Yes, just like to song says you need to let it go. Sometimes the things we cling the most tightly to are the very things we should be allowing to leave our lives: bad friends, awful spouses, the wrong job, your anxiety about your children’s success, the list could go on forever. My point is that there is a very real possibility that if something is causing you pain it isn’t worth clutching it like grim death. There is a season for everything in our lives and winter is coming. So ask yourself what would life be like if I just let go of this situation: quit that bad job, filed for divorce, let my children fail? Could it be that you just started the next best chapter of your life? Could it be that you just opened your own prison door?
For laughter and inspiration read my blog NicoleCorning.com and my book The Working Mommy’s Manual, available on Amazon: