I feel like I’ve spent so many years in survival mode that I don’t know how to do anything else…
The early years of our marriage were hard. All we did was fight. We had two kids less than two years apart. We struggled to make ends meet. My whole life was survival mode.
At one point, I was driving over half an hour to get Jack (Oldest) to a sitter, and about fifteen minutes beyond that to get to work by eight. I’d get off between four and four-thirty and be lucky to be home before six by the time I picked him up. I was also in the early weeks of pregnancy. And I did all of the cleaning/laundry/shopping on my two days off, plus all of the daily cooking and housework.
I was completely worn out. One morning on the way to work, I blew a stop sign and narrowly missed being hit by an oncoming pickup. Jack wouldn’t have survived. There’s no way. That was a huge wake up call that I was doing too much.
I’m also reminded to rest when I go through periods of heightened anxiety and depression. It’s not unusual for them to come on after a busy season – planting or harvest. I go into single mom mode and struggle to keep my head above water and then crash when it’s over.
I admire true single moms and military wives. My mom worked her tail off with zero support our fathers to raise me and my sister – sometimes two and three jobs – and still kept an immaculate house and cooked most nights. I have no clue how she managed it.
I want to say again – I am very blessed and I recognize that. We are all moderately healthy, we have enough to eat, our bills are always paid. It’s just the daily grind that gets me down. School. Keeping house. Cooking. Cleaning. Sibling squabbles. Normal marital stuff.
I sometimes tell Lou I’m not all that sure I was cut out to be a mom and wife. I feel like the very fact it exhausts me is proof… until I talk to other moms who feel the same way. Their loads may be lighter or heavier, but it’s all relative.
Your worst isn’t the same as my worst and my best isn’t the same as your best.
And nearly four hundred words spent to say… None of that even matters when it comes to thriving.
The difference between surviving and thriving is entirely within you. How you choose to respond to outer influences like business or family stress. How you choose to cope with emotions. How you choose to view life.
I’m going to be honest, in case you can’t tell by my complaining nature, I’m usually really negative. I live life just trying to survive. Instead of seeking out fun or adventure, I play it safe at all times. I just want to get through life with the least amount of pain and struggle.
My heart is optimistic and positive, my brain is a major Debbie Downer.
I look around at all of the things in my life that irritate me or cause me grief and just wish they would go away. Why can’t everyone just be happy? Why can’t we all love each other and get along? Why do my kids apparently want to send me to the loony bin?
I especially get that way when I’m stressed out. Everything seems to be magnified. An argument with my husband will push me to tears. A fight between the boys will test every nerve in my body. A tantrum from Girlchild feels like the end of the world. (Granted, she can throw a MAJOR tantrum…) God forbid a financial need come up or someone get sick.
Because I focus entirely on the outer world.
And don’t pay any attention to my inner world.
Okay, maybe that’s not correct. I’m introverted, so I pay a lot of attention to my inner world. But, I’m passive about it. I don’t try very hard to change anything from within, instead trying to will the outer things to change so I can feel better.
That’s not going to get me – or you – anywhere.
I’ve been really big on self care the past few months because I could tell I was starting to crash. The kids all started school, Lou got busy with harvest, and things got way stressful. By focusing on my feelings and where I’m feeling depleted, I’ve been able to nourish those places and find some relief.
But even that’s not enough.
We have to retrain our minds to thrive. We have to stop living in negative thought patterns and fear and worry and break free of that vicious cycle. Because we all know, once you start worrying you only get more worry. When you tend to focus on the negative, everything becomes negative.
How do we do this?
I can’t say I’m entirely sure. I mean, if I knew I wouldn’t still struggle with it so much, would I??
In all seriousness, there are some things we can start doing (and this is for me as much as it’s for anyone else!):
- Accept what is. Let’s use a typical stress in a lot of homes – the kids are fighting. They are fighting. I don’t even have to get involved emotionally. I may feel like I want to, because their fighting causes emotions to rise up, but it’s not my fight. My job is to see that they’re fighting and calmly end it. It doesn’t have to affect me on a deeper level. (Unless they hurt each other, obviously. Thankfully my kids are mostly just arguers…like their mother.) Lou says all the time, “It is what it is.” That used to irritate the hell out of me, but I’m starting to see the wisdom in it. It is this way…can we change it? If yes, do so rationally. If not, let it be and move on calmly. This too shall pass.
- Change your perspective. This is really hard. But we do have the ability to stop before we react and examine all sides of the problem. Look at it from someone else’s point of view. From all points of view. This also helps with negative thinking – small changes like saying “I get to do this” instead of “I have to do this” or “So and so wants me to do this”. This is beyond just pausing the emotional reaction, this is retraining our brain to see other sides of the cube that aren’t immediately visible.
- Rest. Get enough sleep. I literally can’t stress that enough. Do whatever it takes, but make sure you are getting physical rest. Your mind is going to be on high alert constantly if your body is tired. Rest your mind and senses too – meditate, talk a walk outside, do something that quiets your thoughts and gives you some sensory rest. We are a technological people, always plugged in. Unplug and give your brain (and eyes) a break. Introverted people also need to be sure they’re getting enough time to recharge alone. Exhaustion can come in many forms – physical, emotional, social, spiritual. Check in with those and do the things you need to do to find some rest.
- Seek joy. Happiness is fleeting. Just like any emotion, it’s not going to stick around forever like some sort of perpetual high. I’m not saying you should become a joy junkie. But, you can choose to focus on the joyous moments when they happen and to not get wrapped up in the not-so-great ones. I personally have a lot of fear-based thinking – ‘what-ifs’. I’m learning to use those to my advantage. Instead of “What if something bad happens??” “What if I get lost?” (A really valid question. I’m terrible with directions.) “What if someone gets hurt?” I will ask myself “What if this is super fun?” “What if I have a great time?” We have permission to enjoy life when it’s good.
- Talk to people. And then listen. Find people you can connect with, ask them if they have the mental space to allow you to process, and tell them how you’re feeling. Getting things off your chest can be so. helpful. When we bottle it up and repress it and try to convince ourselves we’re fine, we become a ticking time bomb. The flip side of this is listening when someone else needs to release some junk. Sometimes hearing how someone else is hurting can actual help you realize what areas of your life are actually really great.
- Even better – acts of service. Maybe you feel like you can’t possibly add one more thing to your to-do list. You’re lucky if you can carve out eight hours for sleep! But taking time out of your life to do something for someone else is HUGE. These acts don’t have to be anything major, though they certainly can be. When we take ourselves out of our own mind and put ourselves into a place where we can see someone else’s need, it puts things in a different perspective. Beyond just listening to someone externally processing, we can learn to actively help someone else. When we’re in our own survival mode, we can forget that people are built for community. We all thrive when we reach out to each other.
Thriving takes a radical shift in our thought patterns. That’s what it comes down to.
Do you have any tips to add?
Where do you think you fall – surviving or thriving?
Be well. ❤