Self care on Mother’s Day

I meditated this morning because I couldn’t sleep. I’m still sick and low on coping. Curled into a tiny warm nest alone in my bed I would drowse to sleep then wake with a tiny start a moment later, like surfacing from warm water into a cold breeze. I needed that sleep, so badly. Heartbroken I settled for rest. Finished my ebook – re-reading Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow by Peter Hoeg, translated by Felicity David, which is both lyrical and brutal and contains lines such as


Deep inside I know that trying to fathom things out leads to blindness, that the desire to understand has a built-in brutality that erases what you seek to comprehend. Only experience is sensitive.

Peter Hoeg

Stunningly succinct. There are many ways of knowing, none of them are complete and few can even be translated.

There’s no simple arithmetic for life’s distribution of happiness and sorrow, no such thing as a standard share.

Peter Hoeg

How often are we told this when we talk about resilience? How often is resilience treated as an individual heroic quality when it is about invisible resources of community, about the luck of the share of sorrow allotted us.

Mother’s Day yesterday was strange, full of unexpected things. We all have the flu or some mix of head colds, flu, sinusitis, tonsillitis. Rose and I woke up to a cold sunny morning still full of the stunned wonder of being parents and no longer feeling like our hearts have been raked over on this day. There has been so much illness lately our gifts were small. We are too contagious to join any gathering, too exhausted to make any fuss. We spoke to mothers and daughters on the phone, exchanged a small painting and some warm socks. Tag teamed Poppy all day who is better enough to need activities but too sick to have much cope. It was not a bad day, if a little lonely, constricted by the weather, slightly sad. I kept myself busy with a movie while Poppy and Rose napped in the afternoon and when it ended found myself down a rabbit hole of the mind and feeling suddenly skinless, vaguely suicidal, and terribly vulnerable. I woke Rose and we played a small card game and the world tilted back on it’s axis and normality returned.

A friend once told me at the point of not being my friend anymore that it was obvious I hated being a mother. I find myself swallowing protests when I share about illness – I adore her, I adore being her parent. I wish I was less ill. It has been a hard 6 months for my health. I find myself trawling social media feeling heartsick and alone and diffused with a vague bitter resentment. Catching no flies with vinegar. Trying to hide my rage at what’s been allotted me. Remembering the way the boy who stalked me returned to my school and how we each in our pain asked different things of our mutual friends: me for them to see the profound changes in me, imperfectly labelled ‘PTSD’ and stand by me, connect me to my world again, be comforting.

His silent plea was for a closed door behind us. Let us never speak of it again, let things be as they were before.

How could my need ever be honored over his? It wasn’t and it rarely is. The one who is ashamed asks so little, aligns so well with what we already want – silence, disconnection, ‘moving on’. The one who is suffering needs so much of us, unbearably too much. To find words for unspeakable things, to see the wounds.

I am reading about Indigenous history and health in public health and touching the vague shape of a most terrible fury and despair of the colonised. The tiny words pinned to pages trying to explain the ravages of racism are like withered brown leaves trying to evoke the shape of massive trees. There’s a desolate rage under everything.

I am constantly confronted with the phrase to ‘ask for help’ when in trouble. It is a papercut, a stinging pain, a gathering storm. I recall the diversity of suffering beneath the behaviours of eating disorders when I was a peer worker in that sector. Under one common banner were so many wounds, children staggering beneath the weight of ill parents, domestic violence, sexual abuse, poverty, deep unspoken grief. I would so dearly like to ask for help, some nights. To lay myself to rest in the care of people who will tell me what to do, and I will follow the advice and be healed. But obedience has never led me true.

I can never forget my first efforts to heal from trauma, being given a meditation CD by the psychologist and told to listen to it twice a day and follow the instructions to relax my body, step by step. I did so as my guts churned and the hairs rose on my arms. The choking sense of oppressive control crept over me like a weight. I went back in distress saying the CD was making me feel worse. I was told to try harder and listen more often. After weeks of distress I gave up. The psychologist was frustrated with me. I crept away from therapy feeling like a failure. Years later I read 8 Safe Keys to Trauma Recovery where Rothschild calmly mentions that about one quarter of people with severe trauma find calming/relaxing exercises distressing and need a different approach. Rage bottled in my throat.

Last night at 2am with Poppy still sleepless I exploded from patience into furious, helpless, ashamed meltdown. Rose tagged and took her back to the lounge while I sobbed hysterically in bed, PTSD pulling every tendon in my body so tightly they thrummed. Irritability and anger pushing away people I love and making less safe those who depend on me and should never be made to feel responsible for my feelings.

You cannot exercise enough self care to accommodate being in a house on fire. Rose has had a long road back from the kind of mental health care that medicated her as an 8 year old and left her convinced of her own brokenness, hyper vigilently monitoring her moods and mind, utterly cut off from the story that would have saved her: you look crazy and your abusers look sane. This is the heartbreaking reality.

They are more successful at forgetting, you, despite the pathological blindness of an entire industry intended to address human suffering, you cannot forget entirely. That industry, mental health, can save you. It has the power to see what you cannot and patiently, lovingly, help you reframe what you see as personal weakness. To give context – like a forensic process. This is shape of the knife that made that wound. This is why you are hurting. This is why you hurt those around you. This is how to stop.

When it is blind the power is also blinding. Suffering is stripped of human context and relabeled as illness. Self care becomes a parody of itself, a deepening of this willful not knowing. Meditation as rejecting of the disturbing thoughts, the messages from nightmares. Eating salads and taking antidepressants as an obedience to the social contract that sees health as a virtue, a sign of strong individual moral character, determination, self control.

The psychological distress symptoms of traumatized people simultaneously call attention to the existence of an unspeakable secret and deflect attention from it. 

Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery

Asking for help evokes the most powerful rescue fantasy I’ve ever known, paralyzing me. Self care is an easily corrupted concept, containing excuses for ignorance by the comfortable, the exploitation of the vulnerable by those who wish to offload responsibility for productivity and efficiency without providing for needs, and the severed mechanical meeting-of-needs of the ‘mentally ill’ who are trying to atone for their inexplicable brokenness.

I meditated this morning not to make the pain or the anger go away but to help myself make room for it. To ease the frantic despair that seeks solutions, resolution, answers where there are no quick fixes. So that I could sit at my table this morning and see the light falling through the leaves of my tree onto my keyboard and feel one tiny step further from shame, a tiny step closer to accepting who and how I am in the world and shaping my ‘self care’ to fit me, rather than change me.

Today it was enough.

2 thoughts on “Self care on Mother’s Day

  1. In my quest for help, understanding, and healing, i too have encountered many accepted therapeutic methods, well-used and trusted by professionals in the field, that were not helpful at all, and some that were outright harmful. Thank you for writing about how there is a problem between those whose job/desire it is to help and the help they sometimes offer. There is no one-size-fits-all. For me, it has been a careful, patient, and respectful building of relationship and trust, followed by problem-solving as a team; my therapist more gentle mentor than professor/guru.

    I’ll read this again and again, i think. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

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