When my kids were little, I struggled in a restroom to change one’s diaper while another was screaming and another clung onto my pants. An older woman looked at me with envy and said, “Oh, these are the best years of your life.” I thought she was nuts. I hadn’t slept in days, was extremely exhausted, and had vomit on my shirt. By contrast, she was perfectly groomed.
Another similar comment came from a friend who called me while driving to work. She had just dropped off her child at daycare. I was at home scraping sticky Cheerios off the sofa and beginning the never-ending pick-up of stuff. Yet another remark came from my husband who said he wished he could stay at home. I desperately wished for adult conversation about anything other than kids. For me, some of the loneliest and exhausting years of my life came when I “got to” stay home with the kids.
Please don’t misunderstand. This is not ungratefulness for the opportunity to be at home. To watch my kids take their first step, play on the playground, pick on their siblings, or experience one of their countless accidents resulting in an emergency room visit— I’m extremely grateful for these times. These instances are priceless and will be joyfully shared at my child’s graduation, wedding, or with their kids. But they were also lonely.
Admit it. Many days would go by when the only real adult interaction was yelling at a TV commentator over some stupid political decision. Many more days would go by without an uninterrupted bathroom break let alone a hot bath or a pedicure. Nights would go by without sleep because a child was frightened, hungry or sick. Worse yet, no one seemed to understand the loneliness — not the older woman in the restroom, not my friend going to work, not even my husband.
Explain it. I never communicated my loneliness. Instead, I just listened to their comments without interjecting my feelings. Basically I stuffed my feelings down because I thought they were wrong. On a rare occasion some communication would happen, but it usually was mixed with frustration and anger. There are many ways to explain hard topics, but I never took the effort. I traded in my feelings for a fake image of perfection on the outside, but the inside was disastrously isolated.
Embrace it. Looking back, loneliness is a part of life as a whole. It does not define me as a person; I am not depressed, socially awkward, or have a dislike for people. Rather, the opposite is true in every way. But loneliness can still happen. The only conclusion is that loneliness is on the full spectrum of emotions that everyone should experience. After all, how can joy be recognized without knowing what suffering feels like? How can peace be understood without first experiencing strife? How can communion be embraced and celebrated without loneliness creating a longing for communication in us?
As the kids grew-up, things got much easier. The parents of my kids’ friends became my friends. They helped to bring sanity and normalcy to a seemingly crazy, exhausting life. Now, looking back on those years, I can honestly say that they were some of the best years of my life despite the loneliness and exhaustion.
There is hope for your exhaustion. Repairing, restoring, and rebuilding relationships takes time, energy and effort. If you find yourself needing more help during this process, please call our offices at 407-647-7005 to schedule an appointment. Or you can send me a quick email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christine Hammond is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and author of The Exhausted Woman’s Handbook.
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