Note: Mental health and self-care are important wellness factors for all of us, even more so in these trying times. When I speak maternal mental health and self-care in the time of COVID, I speak from my experience and do not intend to exclude anyone.
Maternal Mental Health and Self-Care in the Time of COVID
Recently I had the pleasure of being interviewed for the BBC News article, “Coronavirus and gender: More chores for women set back gains in equality” as a part of its multi-format 100 Women series. With the coronavirus pandemic prompting school closures, reduced work hours and even job losses, and many women (like me) find themselves back at home, juggling telework, childcare, homeschooling, and housework.
I submitted a diary entry, 1813 words in length, detailing one particular hectic day in my life as a work-from-home mom. Excerpts of the diary entry are throughout the article and serve as the captions in the illustration.
I briefly mentioned how the first 2-3 months of “stay home” were hell.
I was desperately trying to pick up the pieces and trying to get my 3 year old to understand that she could no longer go to school and see her friends and teachers.
Homeschool wasn’t working for us. I felt like a failure. Everything that I had worked for in my role as a head teacher at kindergarten seemed to be for naught.
Eventually, I gave up trying to find a new job. It’s really hard to get a part-time job without having secured daycare, and it’s hard to get into daycare without having employment lined up. Plus, the amount I would pay in daycare fees would just eat at my part-time earnings. ‘Tis the paradox of daycare in Japan!
Anyway, I ended up making a career for myself by basically putting my all into blogging. Sounds pretty good, right?
Except my perspectives on my life and my feelings were met with a few negative comments. “Stop complaining,” and “Don’t be ungrateful.” (That’s online life for you!)
There’s also my personal favorite, “Don’t put down women.” (Still trying to figure that one out as I did not mention any other women.)
Being told that I’m “overreacting” for simply asking for help when I feel overwhelmed hurts even more!
When Is It OK To Talk About Feelings?
Feeling overwhelmed or annoyed or frustrated is valid. All feelings are valid. There are no “wrong” feelings. After all, they are real at the time that I feel them in my heart. If I don’t acknowledge them in the moment, then when is it acceptable to feel sad or overwhelmed or distressed?
Yes, the world is in a shitty situation because of the coronavirus pandemic. Life has always been a battle between the have and have-nots, the privileged and the disenfranchised. Social injustice seems to be everywhere. And, just because my struggle, or your struggle, isn’t as “serious” or big as someone else’s doesn’t mean that we don’t matter.
I don’t need anyone to tell me that things can be worse, because I’ve been there. Still, it doesn’t mean that I should bottle up my feelings inside and stuff all that dark stuff in a box somewhere.
I know exactly how bad “worse” can feel. I’ve hit rock bottom before and have been caught in a vicious, deep, dark, swirling vortex of pain and loss, self-medication and self-destruction.
That’s why I am so firm in speaking out, being honest with my emotions, and making self-care a part of my daily routine. Because, I didn’t then, and it took me so long to be able to feel again.
These days, I don’t believe in “negative” emotions, because anger, sadness, frustration, disappointment, etc. are not negative. They just are as real, authentic, legitimate, and important as joy, gratitude, and generosity.
Acknowledging my feelings and practicing self-care shows my daughter that “bad” feelings are valid. It’s ok to cry, or feel sad or angry. Sometimes, grownups feel that way, too. What’s important is what we do after we feel those feelings.
Since the birth of my daughter, I’ve always been determined to be more than “just a mother.” I thought I could “have it all.” But, the first 3 months of “lockdown” really tested me because I no longer had an identity outside my home.
I’ve finally found my groove, so to speak, and I’m working on launching my company (still waiting on paperwork from the US.) Yet, for some reason, I still struggle to see/prove myself as more than “just mother.” When I feel like that, I remind myself that “just a mother” is exactly what my child needs at that moment. No one else can fulfill that role for her. This why I need to take care of myself, for her sake.
How I Self-Care
Finding time for self-care is hard when you’re mom-ing, especially when dealing COVID lockdowns on top of not having help. (I won’t go into specifics, but it’s a reality that I know all too well.)
If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you’ll know that I live for#selfcareSunday. The arrival of a PR package or a beauty box on a Monday or Tuesday gives me so much excitement leading up to the weekend.
Once my daughter goes to bed on Sunday evening, I sneak out of the futon and start applying the newest skincare arrivals on my face.
Why skincare? Because I don’t have the talent to be a MUA who can execute a deadly cut crease or work wonders with SFX makeup!
But, in all seriousness, there’s something so comforting about stripping away the layers of makeup and embracing my perfect imperfections. That’s me.
Similarly, when I take a bath or shower, I reflect on how my body has changed after childbirth. (I say that like I gave birth 3 months ago, but it’s almost been 4 years!)
What I mean is that this body isn’t perfect by media standards, but it carried my daughter. It’s a very grounding and humbling moment, which is also why I’m really into hot springs and public baths. Teaching body positivity in my daughter starts with accepting myself.
Maternal mental health is important because we can’t help our children if we don’t help ourselves first. But, it can be hard to find time to do self check-ins if your workload has increased because of COVID.
Even if you think your situation is “not that bad” compared to others, there are resources to help you. I’ve got almost an even number of readers from the US and here in Japan, so here are a few organizations, websites & phone numbers.
Tokyo English Lifeline (TELL): https://telljp.com/ | 03-5774-0992
Tokyo Counseling Services: https://tokyocounseling.com/ | 03-5431-3096
Postpartum Support International: https://www.postpartum.net/ | 1-800-944-4773
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
One final resource I want to share for those living in Japan is the Instagram account @blossomtheproject.
The bilingual account focuses on mental health in Japan, self-care tips and daily affirmations, and also addresses important issues in Japanese society.
Today’s post is certainly heavier than my usual content. However, I hope it will be a valuable resource for anyone struggling to deal with their feelings. I wish you all the best!
Maternal Mental Health and Self-Care in the Time of COVID