medical mom paralysis
If I am being completely honest, I've been suffering from this feeling for weeks now. I know that having so many back to back hospital stays certainly didn't help, but even after being home for a week I am struggling to get out of this "funk." Most mornings after Liam and Josh head out for their morning activities, I have been sitting with a coffee that gradually gets colder, waiting for whatever comes next...
A therapist appointment.
A drive down to the city for a specialist visit.
A series of phone calls with doctors or scheduling coordinators.
That one to two hour window of time that I am sitting on my living room couch with that cold cup of coffee while Marsaili takes her morning nap is often the only time of stillness I have during the day. It's the only time I usually have that can be predictably uninterrupted. Time that I could easily spend getting a workout in or chores done around the house or writing. However, lately, I can't seem to get myself to move. As I sit there sipping that cup of coffee I mull over the things I could do or need to do, quickly become overwhelmed, and suddenly...it's two hours later and only a few things have changed: my spot on the couch sits lower and feels warmer while my coffee is either gone or in need of a quick reheat in the microwave.
WHY DO WE FEEL THIS?
I'm no psychologist, but based on my personal experience I attribute this feeling of "medical mom paralysis" to:
1. Lack of Appropriate Balance Between Routine and Flexibility
I have found that I operate very well in rigid routines. When I was in high school, college, grad school, and while working as a physical therapist, I had schedules written down for each day. I had classes to attend or visits scheduled with patients. While each day differed in terms of what class I might be attending or what patients I was seeing, there was a rhythm. However, now as a stay at home mom and full-time caregiver to a medically complex child, there are only certain things that can be scheduled and predictable, and at any moment, the routine could be disrupted. This possibility of disruption - whether it be a minor one like an episode of vomiting that requires a change of clothes and sheets or a major one like a visit to the ER - creates an underlying sense of anxiety that makes it difficult to establish routine with other tasks beyond the care tasks for my child. I'm constantly afraid that if I get started with something, I'll be interrupted or become too distracted to finish the task. And so I wind up stuck...repeating the same cycle of completing one care task and waiting for the next. A paralyzing cycle of executive dysfunction and lack of balance between having a routine that keeps me moving and the cognitive flexibility required for me to embrace the moments of disruption with grace.
2. The Pains of Perfectionism
Speaking of giving ourselves grace...I've found that my tendency towards being a perfectionist ironically makes my "medical mom paralysis" worse. In a troublesome desire to be the perfect mom, the perfect wife, the perfect author, the perfect content creator, the perfect friend, etc. I become discouraged when I face the reality that this is impossible. As I look around and see the piles of unfolded laundry, the unwashed dishes, the medical supplies to be organized, and the library fees, I begin to battle deprecating thoughts.
"Well...I failed in this area yesterday, and I don't even know where to begin. I probably can't get it all done the way I want...why bother? Am I doing enough?"
The drive to do everything perfectly backfires and the reminder that we are imperfect is often received with shame rather than the grace our hearts so desperately deserve.
3. Current or Approaching Burnout
Burnout is defined as "a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive or prolonged stress." If there's anything medical moms know to the fullest extent, it's excessive and prolonged stress. We live on a hamster wheel of trauma. At some point, if we find ourselves unable to meet our emotional, mental, or physical needs, the trauma takes it's toll, and we become paralyzed, unable to adequately meet the demands placed upon us in caring for our families, our homes, or ourselves. A systematic review from 2017 on the physical, psychological, and occupational consequences of burnout in jobs revealed that left untreated, burnout could lead to a number of issues, including but not limited to chronic pain, chronic fatigue, headaches, GI problems, insomnia, and depressive symptoms. Another study from 2012 revealed that parents of children with special needs experience higher levels of stress hormones, placing them at risk for various negative physiological and psychological effects of these elevated hormones. This level of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion is not only dangerous for our families, it's dangerous for us as well.
WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT IT?
Again, I'm NOT a psychologist. None of this is medical advice. However, I do feel that ending on a note of "burnout is BAD!" isn't very helpful or encouraging. So I'll share with you the top five things I'm finding to be helpful to me in my own journey through medical motherhood and in experiencing "medical mama paralysis":
2. Start with One Thing
As hard as it is, some days I just have to start with one thing. One task. One item on the list that doesn't require a lot of physical or emotional energy. Many days that's cleaning a toilet, making a bed, or re-starting a load of laundry. The dopamine rush I get from completing that one simple task sometimes gives me enough energy and sense of accomplishment to then go complete another task...and then another...and then another. Sometimes I just have to tell myself, "You can do this. You can do this one thing."
3. Phone a Friend
Our friends are often an amazing source of encouragement. One of the things I am most grateful for in my friendships is their ability to remind me of the things I am doing well. In my frustration with the paralysis and sense of overwhelm, I forget to acknowledge all of the things I do well. Taking the time to nourish my soul and my relationships with my friends is one of the easiest ways I can find the motivation to get up and go. These are my cheerleaders, my fellow dream chasers. These friends care deeply about the things that bring me joy and inspire me to keep going. Words cannot express how grateful I am for that. Phone your friends when you need them.
4. Have Something For YOU
My goal each day (though the goal is certainly not always met) is to have dedicated time to do something for me. Whether it's to work on this blog post, work on my book, schedule social media content, go for a walk, do an uninterrupted skin care session, do a ride on the Pelaton...whatever it is. I try to have time each day that I do something for me.
Someone asked me recently how I find time every day for uninterrupted deep Bible study or prayer time and the answer is...I don't. I'd like to. I'm sure one day I'll get there. In this season of life, though, sometimes we're cherishing intermittent short prayers and praises throughout the day and a five minute study of the verse of the day on my Bible app. Those short little connections with God are often what prevent me from having a complete breakdown and give me the strength to keep pressing forward.
I suppose if you take away anything from this post...I hope that I would be that you're not alone. The paralysis is real. The burnout is real. And we can press through this.