A Check-up From the Neck Up

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I’ve been pretty frustrated with my life lately. I’m stressed out both personally and professionally. I’m in a serious funk.

I’ve said before that I have joint custody with my ex of our two kids. My son Jacob is 12 and taller than I am already. He is quiet, likes to please people and very sweet. Quincy is 9 and requires all of my attention at all times. She is a handful.

Half of each week I am overwhelmed by responsibility. I rush from work to the grocery store to after school activities. I am in bed by 9 and asleep the moment my head hits the pillow. The other half of the week I am lost, alone and bored. I wonder what I am supposed to be doing. I isolate myself, missing my kids, and am completely unmotivated.

It’s a miracle I don’t get whiplash. My life is the antithesis of itself. One day I’m complaining about too much to do. The next I am restless and completely without purpose.

I’ve been working two jobs for the last 19 months and juggling single motherhood. Most nights away from the kids I have been grateful for the break. Lately though, I feel out of touch and so alone.

I either spend all my time with my kids or by myself. There is no middle ground. Working so much I haven’t made time for my closest friends or, God forbid, any kind of romantic relationship. The girlfriends I love have found other friends assuming I’m too busy and I’ve discovered that shockingly you can’t meet a man if you don’t leave the house. So I find myself in this weird single mom purgatory.

I used to think I was an expert at masking my emotions. I’ve always been great at putting on a good show even when I’m troubled. You could have had lunch with me yesterday and thought I was happy. I laugh and make jokes so I don’t cry.

Outside of my house I am “on”, smiling and outgoing. But once I cross the threshold, I let myself relax and feel my real emotions. I’m sad. I close off the world and find comfort in food, wine, TV and sleep.

This week I was stunned to learn that other people in our small but mighty team at Charlotte Parent had noticed a change in me. My secret unhappiness has been noticeable. I feel naked.

A sweet co-worker called me into her office today to do a check-up from the neck up. She could tell I was hurting. She listened to my frustrations as we went from work-life to home-life. She offered me sound advice that was direct and smart. The conversation was unrushed, very kind and more appreciated than I can put into words.

There is one thing that this wise woman said that I will never forget. I have to share it.

She asked me, “What I are you doing for yourself”? The answer was simple and immediate. Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

And that was it. The lightbulb went off. I remembered that I forgot about me.

I have stopped letting anyone into my world or asking for help. I have been holding everything inside. I just keep telling myself that I HAVE to keep going. I’ve been in a panicked, desperate, miserable mode of survival and I didn’t even realize it.

I got home tonight and breathed a huge sigh of relief. I seriously thought I was teetering on the edge these last few weeks. I couldn’t figure out what my problem has been. All I needed was someone to reach out. I needed a hand up. I needed a clear head to say, “it’s you”.

You may have noticed by now that I’m just a smidge on the stubborn side. I always say to myself that I can handle anything and do it all my myself. I don’t need anybody. I repeat this a lot just to keep convincing myself. It sounds corny, but I think of myself a warrior and I swear I do battle alone every day.

But I’ve let myself go and I didn’t even realize it. I forgot that I can’t do anything if I’m a mental case. I stopped taking care of the person who makes it all happen in this little life of mine. Me!

I’m truly shocked at how simple the solution is and that it came from the most unexpected source. I thought I had everyone fooled.

I’m happy about it too. I must be getting soft in my old age and that gives me hope. Maybe I’m not completely unlovable.  🙂

The lesson is to not forget about you, sweet friends. Ask for help. We all need each other. Let yourself be pleasantly surprised by who comes to your rescue. It will change your perspective immediately. Connections and being understood matter so much, especially when you think nobody is watching.

Yours in the fight,

Jen Byrum is a Charlotte Parent media consultant and single mom of two.
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