May 6, 2016  — Categorized in: ,

#WriteOnSarah: One Sunday in May is not Enough

WORRY0011451454310Sarah Vander Schaaff is a writer, blogger and a mother of two from New Jersey, who has struggled with Obsessive-compulsive disorder for as long as she can remember. Her courageous column in the Washington Post (“Obsessive –compulsive disorder nearly ruined her life”, January 4th) received international attention for its honesty and openness. This is the first blog in a regular series for Sarah who will write about the mental health challenges we all face in day to day life.

I find it interesting that Mother’s Day falls in Mental Health Awareness Month. If you look at the popular gifts we give to mothers –sleeping late, breakfast in bed, massages, and bouquets of flowers–you get the idea that we’re generally an exhausted and stressed out group.

So why do we designate just one day out of the year to address this condition? In a month dedicated to Mental Health Awareness, let’s bump that up to at least 31.

You may remember the 2013 USA Today survey in which the average stress level for mothers was reported to be 8.5 out of a possible 10. The major trigger: not having enough time to get everything done.

In that rush, one of the first things mothers relinquish is self-care. But the consequences for this sacrifice are real and they have direct links to the health of the family. Mother nature reminds us in the most fundamental of ways: breast milk carries with it the stress hormone cortisol. In this sense, mothers are the spring from which the mental health of the children are fed. It’s daunting, but it’s also a reason why we need to give more attention to what we’re asking of mothers each and every day.

Listen to many women who are able to reflect back on an episode of intense depression or anxiety and they can often point to a stress-induced tipping point. It sneaks up on them because they’re accustomed to managing a lot at once. It did for me, and many of the women who’ve written to me. But the truth is, even Super-Mom has a kryptonite, and it’s usually found somewhere on her to-do list. If that list doesn’t have designated down-time for healing, be it sleep, a hobby, exercise, or meditation, the weight of stress wins every time.

I’ve been thinking about what a hybrid Mental Health Awareness/Mother’s Day Card would say. My wish for mothers everywhere would be that they were given this:

Happy Mother’s Day
We’re Giving You Back Time
To Take Care of Yourself

If you think about it, this is the intention behind so much of the Mother’s Day traditions:

Sleep, we say. Let us feed you, we offer. Stop and smell the roses we’ve gotten for you. And, take time to relieve your aching body and soul.

I remember when I was a new mom and another woman mentioned that she went to a yoga class after work before she picked up her child from daycare.

“You’re prioritizing a yoga class over an extra hour with your own child?” I remember thinking. It seemed selfish, I thought.

I’ve never forgotten this incident because it speaks to the harshness with which I judged another mother’s choice for self-care. I didn’t get it then. And it would take another 5 years and my own mental health challenge until I did. I regret the lack of support I may have conveyed to this wise mother through my silence. And even more so, I regret not learning from her sooner.

My quick judgment then, and I think part of society’s too, if I can speak broadly, is that when mothers take time for themselves, they are withdrawing devotion from other people or obligations. Essentially, it comes down to this fear: do you love us less, when you take care of yourself more?

Do we ask that question of anyone else in our lives?

Happy Mother’s Day. Take care of yourself.


Please email me at writeonsarah@mhaofnyc.com with your favorite self-care traditions for Mother’s Day and beyond. I’d love to know them and to share them with readers.

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