Yesterday I had a bad day. I know everyone has bad days.
The problem is that when I have a bad day, my brain likes to tell me that what is happening is not just a bad day, it is that I am a complete failure, everything I have ever done is wrong and that I am going to continue to feel like this forever and screw up everyone's lives, especially the lives of my children.
The thing is that I talk to a lot of parents and although it is possible that my emotional reactions are somewhat extreme at times due to my neurology, I think we all do this to an extent. We all have these days where we feel highly assured that we are terrible parents, and even people. In these days we can find a ton of "evidence" that our badness and hopelessness is true.
It feels like the end of the world. So how can we stop having them?
A brief moment of relief on the day I wanted to run from these wonderful babies and not look back.
Yesterday my son was home, signed off school due to his anxiety from what we know to be, but have yet to have confirmed, Autism. This is by no means the beginning of this journey for us and it's really just another day, but it felt like a milestone, and not a particularly positive one. Maybe that feeling has more to do with my emotions than the reality, and probably it will pass, as it did when I removed my eldest daughter from school. It took months, but the fear abated and I realised I had indeed done what I needed to for her. The thing is that on bad days I still doubt that choice a little. On bad days, the fear takes over everything, past present and future. So yesterday I was scared of every thing I have ever done, scared about what will happen next, scared about whether I can provide what he needs, frustrated and sad that everything is a battle to get his needs met, and terrified of every single choice I make.
It was a "work day" and I needed to work. I mean I really needed to work! and I had two children at home who were both struggling, winding each other up and making me the snappiest, most awful parent I could think of. I shouted the words "for fucks sake stop saying mummy" and "get off the sofa I can't have you near me anymore" and other gems that made me cringe the second the words had left me. I was ashamed of myself every moment and knew I needed to be away from my children. That made me feel like a failure. I tell you it doesn't help when your job is to supposedly know how to deal with this stuff.
The lead up
These days do not just happen in isolation. I used to never see them coming. I used to believe they were random and the beginning of a return to mental illness. Even now, sometimes they hit me when I am not expecting and when I look back, I can see the build up. In this case, a difficult work situation, running training, struggling children and an argument with Obiwan (my husband), which is always something that can make me tip from ok to not..
What all this is about is that my bad days come when I am low on energy. Not when I am tired - I can power through tiredness and usually do. When I say I am low on energy, I mean that I have spent every last bit of my emotional power. Sometimes on my own shit and sometimes, often, on caring for others. I am an empath and I both cannot help, and do not want to stop, containing others' emotions.
Often now, I can predict a bad day or week is due. This does not make them easier. I thought it would but, because my brain goes somewhere away from logic on these days, at the time I can rarely rationalise that I knew this was coming. I now rely on people close to me to remind me gently that my brain is forcing me to rest. If my brain told me to rest, I would do the opposite. I don't really do as I am told, even by myself. So my brain doesn't tell me, it forces me to become virtually unable to function.
As I said above, my brain tends to catastrophise on these days. It is all too much. As you can imagine this is not at all pleasant, neither for me nor the people around me. It is also pretty embarrassing when one day I am literally in complete meltdown about life, and the next day, whilst everyone is super concerned about me, I am feeling like I can manage it all fine.
I mean at times in the past I have been in a bad way for much longer and so it is tricky for me, and for my family to not worry when I have a very bad day. What if this is the beginning of something more? And more importantly for me on these days, the questions are...
What if it's real? - what if I am right? - what if I am bad?
When my energy is low, everything is seen through a lens of darkness. All my plans and hopes for the future seem bleak, unreachable and I see only everyone else's ability to achieve them, and no ability in myself at all. When you are the leader, when you are the inspiration and ideas person, feeling like this is terrifying. I cannot confide my fears, for fear of it all coming true when people see the doubt, the fear, and the overwhelming lack of energy to do my job.
At the same time my low energy and lack of capacity for people's emotions makes me a snappy, irritable and exhausted mama. I cannot give anything to my children and I cannot bear their needs or emotions. I know, more than most, how much they need the opposite of this and so I beat myself up over and over.
Then I trigger myself about work again. How can I possibly pretend I know what I am doing when some days I yell at my children to leave me alone. When I sit on my sofa with my head in my hands not knowing how to get through a day of whinging and hyperactivity and crying and meltdowns.
The thing that you all need to hear is... and I am sorry you had to read all that to get to it.... is that all of that is bullshit. Today I know that. I couldn't have known it yesterday though.
Why is it bullshit? Because "not having the energy" is super real. It isn't an excuse. It isn't laziness, craziness, mental illness or incompetence. You are not a bad or unworthy person. You are a wonderful human being, who has used, or is using, all of their energy dealing with really damned important things; taking care of people and striving to make the world better in your own way.
As for parenting... we can know everything and have the energy for nothing. If you have trained with me you will know that I preach needing the energy to raise humans calmly. Having calmer relationships takes work, which takes energy. If you are out of energy, you are out.
The key is that there is no point in beating yourself up for being low on energy. 'But I know I need to make sure I have the capacity and I didn't" or "but I know what I really need to do for my child right now" will make no difference and it is not your fault. You didn't do it wrong. This just happens. Yes you can put things in place to make it happen less often, but it will happen. It just will. So what do we do?
I am working hard at re-framing many things in life right now.
I pledge here:
When I am having a bad day, I will:
- Read this post.
- Wait till the next day to see how I feel.
- Rest, regardless of what needs doing.
- Cut myself some serious slack.
- Reach out in safe spaces where I am Emily and I don't have to be a "leader".
- Know it is because I have done so much good before it.
- Read this and remember that good days are coming.
For those of you that have bad days like mine, I hope you read this and realise you are a good person, and a good parent, who has low energy days due to an overload of awesomeness.