A few months ago, I found myself feeling tired. Sorry, tired isn’t the right word. Exhausted. Fatigued. Emotionally, mentally and physically drained.
For so long I had been telling myself that this was normal. I’m a working mum who voluntarily runs a social media awareness initiative on the side. And on the side of that, I’m also carrying the mental load of looking after my young son, which is a minefield in itself.
But, like most mums, I thought: ‘I’m a mum – I’m meant to be tired, that’s just how life goes.’
Oh, how very wrong I was.
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When tiredness isn’t normal
When I started losing patience with my child when all he wanted was for me to draw a digger. When I started to struggle to find the energy to even get up and shower. When I realised it wasn’t just 3:30itis … That’s when alarm bells started to go off.
I have always led a pretty active and healthy life. I generally eat pretty healthily but I don’t deprive myself of sweet treats. I believe in everything in moderation. I’ve played netball my whole life. I go to the gym three times a week. So, what in the world was wrong with me?
After a barrage of blood tests, blood pressure checks and heart monitoring, my doctor gave me a perfectly clean bill of health. She couldn’t find anything physically wrong with me. So, it came down to this: extreme fatigue and stress. My doctor’s suggestion – go on a holiday.
The wake-up call
As I walked out of the doctor’s office, I wracked my brain trying to figure out how I had gotten here. How had I become so stressed and so tired that I could no longer function past 3pm? Yet, as I thought about the turn my life has taken over the past four years, things started to make sense.
I have what most people would define as Type-A personality traits. I have OCD tendencies. I’m pretty anal when it comes to organisation. I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I don’t like to waste time. I love a good to-do list. I’m a ‘yes’ person, who feels guilty when I can’t do things for others. For my whole life, I’ve believed that you just have to get things done. No matter how tired or how much there is to do, find the hours, find the strength and make it work.
Four years ago, I lost my mum. From the day she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I’ve struggled to sleep. I don’t go into a deep sleep at night; my body struggles to link sleep cycles. Losing sleep is how my body reacts to stress. And there are few things in life more stressful than watching a loved one go through treatment and then die from an illness. So, for the past five years, I haven’t had more than five hours a night, in total, of broken sleep.
Put these two things together and add in a child and it’s a recipe for disaster.
My visit to the doctor was a wake-up call. I was forced to stop, slow down, take stock. So, I had to come up with strategies to make life easier. But how does a Type-A control freak who can’t say ‘no’ to anyone or anything deal with having to take it easy?
1. It’s a mental thing
First, I had to come to terms that there is no quick fix; no pill I can take to help. I have to change my lifestyle and my thought process in order to manage this. So, I listen to my body. When I’m tired, I stop. Even if it’s just for 10 minutes. I try my best to stop working from 3pm onwards. This gives me the chance to rest before my son comes home from kindy, meaning I have more energy to handle him. I’ve also recently embraced meditation. Even five minutes a day has made a world of difference.
2. Learn to say ‘no’
This is a toughy for me. I’m learning to say ‘no’. I’m learning that my health and my ability to care for my son is more important than doing errands or going out for dinner. It’s more important than taking on that extra piece of work that will simply break me. I’ve embraced online shopping to the max so that I can concentrate on resting rather than rushing through the shops. I’m also managing my time more effectively during the week so that I can relax a bit more on weekends, especially when my son has his afternoon nap. I’m actively taking the opportunity to rest and relax, rather than trying to fit one more thing in.
3. Prioritising my health
I’ve changed a lot of my lifestyle choices. While I lived a relatively healthy life prior to this, I’ve now started prioritising my health even more. Rather than having leftovers for lunch, which was often heavy and left me feeling sluggish, I’m preparing a whole heap of vegetables over the weekend and making myself salads for lunch. The fresh ingredients make me feel much more alert in the afternoon. I’m also exercising more, even if it’s just a 15-minute walk during the day, and getting out and about with my laptop rather than just working from my desk. My husband, otherwise known as my rock, also tries to take our son out over the weekend so I can have a bit of ‘me time’.
4. I’m utilising my network
My son goes to kindy twice a week, to my in-laws one day and on all other days, I have a wonderful large family who help out as much as they can. So, I’m using this village. My son goes to kindy a bit earlier in the morning and stays longer in the afternoon. He absolutely adores it there so why wouldn’t we let him enjoy it as much as possible. If I’m feeling weak or tired in the afternoon, I call on the family. This means that I’m around to enjoy my son but there’s another pair of hands there to help me.
While these don’t sound like huge changes, I’ve already noticed a massive difference. I’m still struggling in the afternoon, especially on days when my little one isn’t in care, but I’m slowly finding my way through it all. What I’ve learnt most though: my health and being able to look after my son comes first. At the end of the day, get that right, and everything else will follow.