It seems April has been a tough month for many of us. Holly Lisle has been facing a possible self-reinvention. Tamara Siler Jones has a personal issue she isn’t disclosing, but which is keeping her from writing. Clint Gaige has been struggling with the way his publicity machine keeps dredging up the most horrific day in his life. And Liz finally gave in to letting others take care of her after a grueling first trimester.
I don’t think it’s ever fair to compare. We all have different breaking points. What burdens others bear with a smile and a “That’s life” (at least in public, even if they cry rivers in private) can drive some into mental illness, substance, or even suicide. I’m sure other writers would have been able to handle full-time writing and full-time mothering in tandem, but me? Sliding right into depression.
I don’t know exactly when it started. I’d been feeling vaguely dissatisfied for quite awhile, anxious that I could only get small bits of work accomplished in a day, wondering if I was making the right choice in taking two hours each morning for my novel, frustrated when I had to give that up to make a deadline.
Then came the evil rotavirus infection, and with it guilt that I pretended to be relinquishing sick baby care to my husband so I could work, but in reality playing card games most of the day. I had no energy for either work or baby. “I’m at my limit,” I remember telling my husband as we tried to comfort the Child Who Could Not Sleep. We both hoped the illness would end by the time his school vacation was over.
It did. Monday the child was back to normal. We went outside that afternoon, but all I could think of was work. Then I felt guilty. I knew I didn’t resent being with him, but I did resent not getting more done for myself. What kind of mother felt that way?
And there I was, at the yawning pit I remembered from college. I remembered seeking counseling help that first year, and how it didn’t work because I could tell the counselor had no real interest in helping me. How I had gotten through it via trial and error. This time, though, I knew I didn’t have the luxury of time I had back then. I had a small person depending on me and it wouldn’t be long before caring for him got to be too much. I needed to figure something out.
I prayed a lot. And I cried a lot. And I thought a lot. And my husband and I talked a little less than that (I don’t like to think out loud. It’s too confusing for both of us). We thought about paying for daycare, but for the amount of money I was making, I would be 1) shoveling most of it toward childcare and 2) missing out on the only time in my son’s life he will ever be 2.
“What is it about the work that frustrates you?” my husband asked.
“Having no time,” I said. “Needing blocks of time to concentrate and not getting them.” Then I realized not all the work was like that. “It’s the features,” I said. “The articles are hardest to write. I have to chase down sources and take up to an hour interviewing them, if they even want to be interviewed, and find replacements if they don’t. Then I have to translate what they said into an article.” It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but even given a month, I don’t think I remember the last time I got a story in on time. By comparison, PR and editing can be easily dropped and picked back up in short bursts of time, or even completed with the boy on my lap.
“Okay,” he said. “Stop writing features.”
“Really?” I said. “Can we afford that?”
“We can’t not afford that.”
That was Sunday night. Mother’s Day. The next day I emailed both my editors, asking them to reassign all my stories for the summer, because I was taking it off. Sure, they said. No problem.
And lo, the pit filled right back up with dirt. Dark, fertile, life-giving soil, to be exact. For the first time in months I took my boy outside and laughed and played with him and didn’t feel bad, and was he ever thrilled. The next morning I woke up early and got an hour and a half on my novel and didn’t feel bad about that either. I worked on a PR project and an editing project and was glad that I could still contribute money to our family instead of mooching. And I cleaned my house.
This morning Liz posted her view of motherhood: “Motherhood has taught me that strength isn’t deciding what you want and getting it. It’s deciding how to get what you need and your kids need, even if you go about it in ways you never would have chosen….” I think her book should be published on the strength of that paragraph alone. No, I never would’ve given up features, because I still do believe in what I was doing. But they were driving me into the ground, and I was pulling my son and husband right along with me.
I’m grateful that my prayers were answered: that I can be the mother my son needs and the writer that I need. I’m praying that Liz and Holly and Tamara find the same peace, and quickly.
Gotta run. It’s time to get lunch and go outside.