ms. fresh fish

This Superhero is Hanging Up Her Cape: #NervousBreakdown2015
November 8, 2015, 9:38 pm
Filed under: general

Disclaimer: This post is overflowing with privilege. I fully recognize that our family has financial choices available that others simply do not.

Not long ago, I wrote A Parent’s Super Power about how parents become superheroes when they have kids and tap into a previously unharnessed source of energy in order to live their lives. I cringe when I read it now. Here we are, two years on, my children still don’t sleep through the night, one has turned out to be prone to anxiety and highly sensitive and my husband and I have been working very stressful jobs, and… I’m burnt out, officially/medically. I have left my job, my career. Maybe not forever, but certainly for the foreseeable future.

When I went to the doctor about six weeks ago, her series of questions made me realize that while I knew that I had become extremely fragile, I hadn’t fully accept the internal collapse that had happened.

“Do you ever think about hurting people?”

I was surprised to get that question. It was a first. As anyone who has experienced bouts of depression, one knows the “do you think about hurting yourself?” question is standard, and I’ve thankfully always been able to reply in the negative. But this was a new one. By asking it, the doctor was revealing how bad off she thought I was.

If I was surprised by being asked the question, I was even more so with my answer, which came out so reflexively without any filters, that it essentially revealed the root of my current crisis:

“I fantasize about taking better care of people,” I responded in tears.

My children, who I knew needed me more than I was able to give them with how our lives were organized. My husband, with whom, under all the stress and frantic chaos of our lives, I have been dancing a waltz of resentment and bitterness. Myself, to breathe without chest constrictions, to meditate, to do yoga, to run, to paint, to read, to nest, to fulfill that part of me that wants to care for those close to me (seriously, the aforementioned privilege that this post is soaked with makes me nauseous, but there it is).

I started with a month off, which was spent basically asleep, building up some basic physical, emotional and mental reserves. It soon became clear that this was a new world order that, for the sake of our family, needed to become more permanent. I was able to breathe again, parent with patience, wife with kindness – all of which was complementing the compassion, kindness and gentleness that my own self was demanding.

Much has been written by people more eloquent, smart and researched (there will be no research happening by this camper right now, needless to say) than I about the debate of whether or not we (implicating women generally, for some reason) can have it all. Some adults have to have it all – be parents and work – because financially that’s what they need to do. What they are teaching and modeling for their children is incredibly valuable and I will call them superheroes until I’m blue in the face. In the case of two parent households who can contemplate one parent staying home, it should go without saying that both parents’ careers should be up for reconsideration. In some households that I know, Dad stays home, takes care of everyone and sits on school council. As it works in our household, mine was the easier to put on hold, primarily because I am so burnt out and when thinking about alternatives to 9 to 5 office life, the only things I want to do are things like walk my kids to school and stay home with them when they’re sick without thinking twice about it (rather than fly my mom in from another city so that le husband I don’t have to take so many sick days, as was the approach last winter).

One of the most surprising revelations that this experience has revealed to me has been the pervasiveness of this level of exhaustion. While certainly everyone is (legitimately!) tired and feeling stretched, it was when I started to tell people what I was going through that their eyes would suddenly change. I can only describe it as an instant recognition of what I was saying and without them even having to say it (though almost invariably they did), I could see that they needed the same break. So many are operating close to this edge that it breaks my heart.

Just to be clear – it’s not that marriages are not partnerships, that men aren’t pulling their weight. My mother constantly stands stunned amongst my friends as she watches the men parent, cook, care in ways that were unheard of two generations ago. Le husband has probably been doing the majority of our house stuff (without complaint) over the last six months as I descended further into my depressive and anxious burnout and generally is a totally present and participatory dad and husband. But, notwithstanding the obvious fact that we are different people with different levels of tolerance for different types of stress, I without doubt spend considerably more emotional and mental energy worrying about the kids’ present and future well-being, not to mention the one who gets up with them every night because OMG HOW DOES HE NOT HEAR HIS CHILDREN CRYING?!?! These two things alone are a mighty significant drain on my energy level, which may have a gendered aspect with which I don’t even know where to start.

I so wish our society could be reorganized. Rather than front-loading child-rearing with career, I want to be able to opt-in to a system where we can be supported for 10 years-ish to parent properly and then work an extra 10 years beyond our current plan (or have to pay it back. Maybe? Would that work? I don’t know! Don’t stress me out!). Same amount of working years, less societal burnout. Maybe this is how people are generally starting to organize themselves anyway and I’m just catching up. But wow, what a toll it has taken to figure this out on my own.

I am unspeakably grateful about having the ability to choose this path. I will miss spending my days with my co-workers immensely – they are a group of incredibly smart, dedicated public servants who also happen to be good, kind, and most importantly, hilarious people who probably kept me working a good year longer than I would have otherwise. We have accomplished some pretty unbelievable feats in the past almost-two years and I will forever be thankful that I was involved in them – truly a life experience for the books. The management in my organization has been supportive beyond even my wildest expectations (which mostly just confirms to me how much people understand how hard this life phase is). But I’m trading them in for two four year olds and two kittens (another post, to be sure) and adventures that I cannot yet predict.

So, as it would turn out, I’m not a superhero. It turns out that I’m just a mere human with some strict limits and hard choices. Giving up my job (and relying on a man?!?) goes against the cardinal rule of my single mother (well, until recently, when she was downright relieved to hear my decision) and gives my feminism a conflict that is even more significant than having birthed two walking gender stereotypes. But when I drop all of the expectations that I’ve set up for myself that I’m allegedly failing, at its root, this decision feels bold and true. And what better feelings to have than those?

So, here I am. Here we are. Starting a new chapter. Wish us luck.

Kitties and Kiddies


12 Comments so far
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Just look at the joy (and cuteness!) in that photo. You’ve done good mama. Don’t be so tough on yourself. Take care of yourself. Love you. ❤

Comment by Milica Nauman

Love and miss you too, darling. You’re a perpetual role model and inspiration to me. xoxo

Comment by freshfish

Lori. First, second morning in about a week that you start my day off with tears (my own fault for subscribing to your blog, I know that). You certainly have managed to embody in that post every tenet of my 6 years (yes 6) in Women’s Studies. I struggled so much with exactly what you are struggling with. I finally quit my (much less important job than my other’s) and did a 4 year undergraduate degree in 6 years so I could be there for my kids who were at that time 8 and 10. When they were younger I worked 10 – 3 at the university in a woman-centered communications office where all 15 of those women “got it.” So lucky and yes, so much privilege.

I am also very lucky to have a daughter-in-law who also agrees with your sentiments about being at home because after all, aren’t the children we raise the most important thing at the end of the day? And also she is extremely privileged to be able to do that and thank goddess for me she realizes it or I would have to pull out my feminist yada yada (not always pretty).

I think you are definitely onto something with the 10 year out/10 year make-up scenario. If all the work that women (and in all fairness, men also of late but probably only this generation), do “in the home” while not at their day jobs were added into the gross national product we would have a wealthy nation knowing no bounds.

I am happy for you and your family, the feminist debate that gets so tiring about staying home vs going to work gets so personal and so entrenched in people’s “expert” opinions on the subject that you could just scream (well actually I often have). I gave my kids a choice when they were about 12 and 14. I could go back to work so that we could afford to put a swimming pool in our back, or we could continue with me doing a very part-time placement at the university. The answer was unequivocally NO, we love you baking cookies and knowing all our friends. We value that you can come to the school when needed and that our friends can call collect from the detention centre (yes they did) to get help that they may not get from 2 working parents (that is not a judgement, only an understanding that people without privilege often don’t have the kinds of choices that we had). We still talk about that in our family and we still value that we were lucky enough to make those choices. Even when I went back to work finally, I never took for granted that I also had a choice to have a “less stressful” and I think meaningful job that allowed me flexibility and I made peace with what people said was my loss of career opportunities. For me, what was more important that counselling young feminists in their program choices (!).

You are still a superhero in my mind. Only superheroes have the foresight to make informed decisions, decisions that hold others first in their heads and hearts. Surely that qualifies. I am saying it does. I also find it eerie that I feel this connection to you (whom I have only met in person once), and can’t explain it. Maybe it’s left over from my innate jealousy of your mother and that crown she wore at Riverdale 😉

On a lighter note, and personally, I think what may have helped push you over the edge was the knowledge that Mr. Harper possibly wasn’t going to leave and we would have all had to suck it up, knowing he was back for another miserable, gut-wrenching four years. We would have all had to be medicated to withstand that, I suspect.

The force of centuries of strong women and feminists are behind you. Remember that when you question yourself. Oh and let’s not forget those adorable gender-stereotyped twins and kittens of yours also… xo

Comment by lindamgeorges

Wow! Thank you so, so much for sharing your story. That’s so incredible and totally inspiring. And yes, our connection is eery – and awesome. Kindred spirits!!

Comment by freshfish

you’re welcome, and yes, kindred!

Comment by lindamgeorges

we are not superheroes. We’re not even basic heroes. We’re just human beings. And you’re a human being with tremendous courage, refreshing honesty (with us and with yourself), and incredible power of inspiration for any one of us who wants to be stronger, happier, better. Hanging up that cape is the hardest thing I ever did (and I still relapse often). Thanks for reminding me that it’s an illusion and a burden that I don’t *need*. Love you. If you need *anything* you know who to ask.

Comment by Marianna Annadanna

Lori – you continue to inspire me. I know we didn’t work together that long but I think of you often. You are a model parent … and human. It might not feel like it at times, but you are! Your courage to discuss the dark, deep and painful reality of parenting keeps me in check. Just wanted to let you know you are heard. Your posts make an impact – at least in my life!

Comment by Erin

Love to you, Erin! You always have permission to take the easy route and know I’ve already done it and survived 😉 xoxo

Comment by freshfish

LB, you never EVER cease to amaze and inspire me. You have put into words some of the deepest and private thoughts of our hearts and have done so in such a calm, clear, centred, compassionate and profound way that I am touched to my core.

What a beautiful opportunity you’ve opened yourself and your family to – the possibility that things can be different. That there is no single way to approach family, career, and our passionate pursuits.

Thank you for being true to yourself and in typical LB style, for being bold and sharing your journey with us.


Comment by Amy Brown

I just love that pic of you, Ams 🙂 Makes me miss you even more…

Comment by freshfish

More than anything, I’m proud of you. For all of it.

Comment by Allison

I love this and you. That is all.

Comment by Sheena

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