Somewhere among all your lists – your mundane-things-to-do list, your sort-of-a-meal-plan grocery list and your emails-that-need-to-be-returned list – you probably have a list for your health goals. It might be on your computer or phone. It might be a piece of paper on your fridge. It might just be in your head, in the compartment where you keep the list of things you want to do if only you had more time/motivation/money for a gym membership.
It might not actually be a list at all – it might just be the pre-baby jeans you keep, hoping to fit into them again. That health list might look something like this:
Eat more vegetables.
Kick Diet Coke addiction.
Don’t keep junk food in the house.
Go to the gym three times a week.
Take the stairs at work.
Wash face every night before bed.
But if that’s what your list looks like, it’s missing something. What are you doing for your mental health? I know, I know. It falls to the bottom of your list. There’s no time. There are too many people asking too much of you. But are you doing what you need for yourself so you can give to others?
We all hear the messages about self-care and vow to do more of that. And sometimes we do, for a few days. And then life gets in the way and we’re back to hoping for a spa gift certificate – please, oh please – for a few hours of much needed relaxation. But mental health is important. I know, because I didn’t take care of mine and I paid the price.
After my son was born in 2008, I suffered from postpartum depression. That’s one very specific (and actually very common) form of a mental health issue, but for me it was worse than it might have been because I didn’t do what I needed to do for my normal, everyday mental health. I thought I could do it all.
My husband is a stay-at-home dad and I work full time. I’m not Super Mom but I put the cape on and pretended I was. I used to come home from work and do too much. I chose laundry over exercise too often. I worked on perfect meal plans instead of perfecting my ability to just sit still and breathe. I didn’t get a break because I couldn’t figure out how to feel okay about needing one, never mind asking for one. It’s what many of us do, whether we work outside the home, work at home or stay home with our children. For me, it got to the point where I really, really needed a break, so I started with five minutes. I told my husband I needed five minutes when I came home from work to go upstairs, change and decompress without a two-year-old following me and getting into things. So that’s what I did – he kept the toddler occupied a little longer while I took off my work hat and made sure I was comfortable in my mom hat before going back downstairs. Sometimes it took 10 minutes, but it was okay. For everyone. And it helped.
Now my husband and I are balancing our various responsibilities better and I feel less like I just want to run away. We all need a break. It’s okay to need a break and it’s okay to ask for one, even if you start with five minutes.