Every year I look forward to summer. The long, warm days. The endless opportunities to lounge around a pool or river. Adventures and camping and a schedule that looks more like a gentle suggestion than a butt-kicking demand.
Being our first summer vacation since school became a part of our lives, I was looking forward to it a bit more than previous years. I had big plans to fill up the tiny pool, attach the hose to the slip and slide and sit in my hammock, writing, while my children laughed and played in the water. I would meet friends at the park or beach and we would chat while our children enjoyed being kids. My husband and I would sit outside after bedtime and have long conversations like we did the summer we fell in love, so many years ago.
Reality is a stinker.
I spent 90% of this past summer breaking up fights and cleaning our tiny pool all while covered in four layers of sweat and the remnants of the toddler’s lunch. My hammock swung listless in the wind, missing me, I am positive, as much as I missed it. My laptop gathered dust as the fight-induced writer’s block added a second, third, and fourth wall around my brain. I stopped taking assignments for freelance, put my blog on hold, and kissed my column a sad goodbye.
I had no time. By the time both girls were fed, washed, and in bed, I was exhausted. I was lucky if I had the time to say hello and goodnight to my husband before I passed out for the night. The longest conversation we would have was usually about appointments or work or what was broken and needed fixing in the house.
I didn’t even have time to raise a white flag and send out an SOS to my friends. I was treading water with both arms full while life threw more at me. I was overwhelmed and under-rested.
But wait! Isn’t that motherhood in a nutshell? The simple answer is yes. It is. Fiercely loving tiny people with all your being while being bone-achingly exhausted. Parenthood is not for the weak.
For me, though, there was more than the typical parenting burnout happening. A resurgence, a regression, a relapse of sorts. My broken brain that I had worked so hard on making better was shattering. Anxiety filled every space I had and started taking over places in my head that were already occupied.
I started to yell at my children. I avoided social situations. I feared things that were incredibly unlikely, if not impossible, to ever happen. As the mercury rose and the dog days of summer arrived, anxiety took hold of me and turned my brain into a rabid animal. I had to hold on tight out of fear of losing it all.
My mind raced near constantly. Simple outings, like going to the park with my children, would leave me exhausted and in tears for days. I didn’t recognize myself. I daydreamed about running away to a place where worry and anxiety couldn’t find me.
Then, one of my worst fears happened. We were working at a college in a remote town. It was a beautiful day and I had let my guard down for a moment. Then, I got the message from my husband. The baby needed me.
When I arrived at the building they were in I was met with our 1-year-old daughter in the midst of a swift and serious anaphylactic reaction. I went into autopilot mode and started to bark out orders. 911 was called, and I committed to memory how many times she vomited, nursed, cried, blinked, and breathed. First responders showed up, then the ambulance. Like a well rehearsed choreography they took vitals and info and loaded her into the ambulance. She was rushed to the hospital, sirens wailing, lights flashing, monitors beeping, next to me, calmly holding her hand.
As she fought to stay conscious, I assured her she was ok. Mommy was there. I was her calm in the middle of the scariest storm she had ever been in. I hugged her and rubbed her head as the paramedic gave her injections and watched her heart rate. I never let go as we exited the ambulance and rolled her into the emergency department. I whispered in her ear as nurses and doctors swiftly tended to her and kept her breathing and her heart beating. I laughed with her as she recovered and the steroids that helped her to breathe made her Hulk out and jump around the trauma room.
I laid with her that night, nursing her to sleep and slowly tracing the outlines of her still swollen and puffy eyes. My mind didn’t race, it didn’t wander. It was simply present in that moment, memorizing it.
We survived on of my worst fears, one that contributed to the feeling that my brain was broken for years. We made it through and we were all stronger because of it. I was shown just how fragile life is and, deep inside my head, a switch was triggered. My broken brain began to heal. It calmed and settled. The rabid dog somehow wasn’t rabid anymore.
My children still fight all day and I am still exhausted. But now, now I take care of myself. I sneak out for a pedicure or a movie date with my sister. I hired a mother’s helper and am writing again. I got a dingy and refuse to tread water anymore. If I drop something that is thrown at me, so be it. I likely didn’t need it around anyway.