Winter is my least favourite time of year. I feel my shoulders rise, my face tighten and the rest of my body clench in preparation for the harshest and most unforgiving Saskatchewan season. Each fall, I mentally and physically prepare for the worst -- minus 40 degree Celsius temperatures; strong northerly winds that freeze your skin in seconds; cars that don't start with windows that won't defrost; drifts and ridges of snow and ice that make driving treacherous; and everything takes longer, more effort and requires an emergency kit at the ready, just in case.
It means getting up in the dark, earlier than normal, just to get the kid to school and myself to work on time. And hoping the heating system and sewer system and generator will all keep working on the very coldest days so I don't have to call the neighbours to come out of their warm houses to troubleshoot. It means watching the weather throughout the day to determine if I need to leave work early to make it through a snowstorm to the sitter's before closing. It means going to work and leaving work in the dark. And then repeat, day after day after long, well actually short, winter day.
And this year, I'm facing it all without a back-up -- no extra vehicle in case mine doesn't start; no extra parent in case I'm running late; no one else to clear the yard and deck and steps of snow, to grab groceries on the way home from the too-peopley places, to help with homework, to remember the December birthdays on top of the holiday festivities, to help choose the Christmas concert outfit, to do the hair, to watch and applaud in the audience, to calm and soothe an over-excited six-and-three-quarters-year-old child's mind well past her bedtime on a school night.
I know that there are lone parents all over the world who juggle the demands of parenting, often of multiple kids, and work, family, friends and all kinds of other stuff all the time. And, I know this living arrangement is our conscious choice, and that it may take many more months until we are reunited permanently. I am not complaining. I am stating the fact that it is hard. Especially during winter in Saskatchewan (even though this one has been pretty easy so far). And I am acknowledging that I wasn't handling it all very effectively or gracefully.
I really haven't been myself these last couple of months.
I needed to make some changes to make it more manageable and get back to being me.
I knew something needed to change about a month ago -- I was short with my kid, short with my colleagues, disconnected from my spouse and near tears almost all the time. I felt completely overwhelmed and like I was failing at everything in my life -- with my team at work, on the big project at work, as a parent, as a partner, and as a coach -- I sure wasn't feeling very resilient or positive or able to support others in their own journeys of self-realization. I felt like a hypocrite. I had lost touch with nature -- I can't remember the last time I spent any time outside or took the dog for a walk. And I felt like I didn't have any friends, outside of work and Facebook. (Not that I don't LOVE my co-workers! I so do!) I remember the moment my parents offered to have C spend the night at their place on an upcoming Friday, and I could go out with adults for an evening. I couldn't think of anyone to make plans with. Who were my friends? It had been so long since I'd gotten together with people in a social setting, I couldn't remember who to contact. Or maybe more importantly, who I could be un-peppy, maybe a bit snarky, and mildly lethargic around. Cue the self pity.
I got the confirmation (aka slap upside the head) I needed while attending two days of mental health first aid training through my organization. I checked all the boxes for depression and anxiety, both in full bloom. I had suspected as much, based on my history with these two diseases, but I don't think I wanted to admit it.
I was too busy to be sick.
But I knew too much was at stake to avoid the truth, and I'm a vocal advocate for mental health awareness, so I figured I needed to walk the talk.
So I named my depression and anxiety and asked for help.
I have super-supportive and understanding managers at work, so I created some strong work boundaries with their help. I switched from working full-time leading a branch AND managing a huge organizational change project AND coaching clients in and outside of work, to cutting back to three days a week, and when possible, at my manager's insistence, working one of them from home, and removing myself from the big project.
After two weeks, my shoulders have STARTED to drop slightly. I still have multiple moments of panic throughout the day -- What am I forgetting? Where am I supposed to be? Where's the kid? What time is it? Where's the dog? What deadline must I meet? Have I missed it? Do we need milk? Is it time to FaceTime C's dad? WHO ELSE NEEDS SOMETHING FROM ME??? -- and add to that the busy-ness of this time of year (and we don't even make a big deal out of it) -- but I'm getting better at breathing through those moments and reminding myself that I have space and time.
My main focus right now is on being a present parent. I'm trying to keep the holiday magic alive for C -- she's in love with holiday movies right now, and making gifts for people. I'm trying to help her plan her seventh birthday party -- one here, one in BC. And manage her expectations about what Santa will or will not bring her. And feed her and bathe her and make sure she hasn't outgrown all her pants and get her homework done and make sure she's at the appropriate reading level. And work through her emotions with all the changes going on in our lives, and the impact living apart from her dad has on her. I'm trying to keep her healthy and happy and learning and curious and believing in magic.
Honestly, I'm just trying to keep it all together.
I'm trying to make healthy choices to support movement out of depression. Some days I'm successful, and others I give myself permission to just be however I am. Some days only the smallest of actions are celebrated -- getting dressed, drinking water, eating something healthy, getting C to the sitter's on time to get to school. I'm trying to let the judgement this disease screams inside my head go, or to at least quiet it. To treat myself gently, kindly. And some days, binge-watching Outlander feels like the right choice. Until it isn't. And then I try something else. With forgiveness and compassion.
I'm trying to slow down. Sit with, be with, be present. Breathe. Quiet my mind. Nourish my body. Keep things simple. Seek what I need to feel strong and healthy and resilient again. Give myself the space and time to listen and hear. Take guidance from the upcoming solstice, the shortest day of the year, and hope for light after the longest night. And not expect too much of myself.
That one's the hardest for me.
As a coach, it's easy to fall into believing that you should have your poop in a group all the time. I'm here to tell you that's not realistic. Coaches are people too -- yes, people with good understanding of self, access to many resources, and connection to a community of caring, compassionate people. AND we don't always have it together (whatever that means)!
It is my hope by sharing my real self, modelling vulnerability and honesty, exposing my challenges and imperfections, you will be inspired to be your true self, and to ask for help, should you need it.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health challenges this time of year, there is help. 211 Saskatchewan is a one-stop-shop for community resources across Saskatchewan including crisis support lines.
In love and light,