About a week ago, I sent a note to the people helping us with The Beat Goes On Project to say I needed to press pause for the month of December. Why? Because I am feeling overwhelmed. I never used to press pause. I was the girl who went to school online with two kids under the age of six while working full time, and volunteering to mentor others, all while enjoying the splendor of deployment parenting. I didn’t have a pause button.
Over time, I have learned to slow down. I have found that being the jack of all trades and master of none is a) a shitty feeling and b) like being a ping pong ball bouncing around in a dryer. But it wasn’t until Noah died that I learned to truly press pause. I paused alright. I checked out of life for a year. I paused my relationships. I paused my job. I paused my volunteer work. I paused everything. Except feelings.
I didn’t try to avoid my grief. Instead, I drove myself right through it. I took every wave that knocked me down. I felt all the feels. I spent so many days in a state of snot and tears that I literally broke my eyeballs, and I had a box of tissue strategically placed in every room in the house (still do). But it was in these pauses, my own version of the mannequin challenge, that I started to understand myself, my limitations, and my strengths. I had to shut out the noise to heal my heart. In my life, that looked like a lot of angry conversations with God, a lot of therapy sessions, so many bubble baths, and gingerly stepping back into life, one careful decision at a time. For you, it may look a little different.
I realized after Thanksgiving that I have gotten out of the habit of allowing myself to press pause. I’ve taken on more and more over time. I’m in graduate school while also throwing in an academic leadership program for fun. I’m in the middle of setting up this huge, secret thing that will change lives. I’m working part-time to finance my budding freelance business, which of course amounts to working full time. We are also still trying to figure out the dynamic of our changing family unit, and Christmas–we can’t forget about Christmas.
After a very emotional trip home for Thanksgiving, I had a meltdown, as I sometimes do. Too much. Too many feels. Too many obligations. It’s time to take a break. So, I’ve made a conscious effort to prioritize. Things just may not get done this season. And that’s okay. As I scale back in December, I’m sharing my priorities in hopes that if you are teetering on the edge of a meltdown, like me, you will know it’s okay if you’re not okay.
Things that have to get done in December.
Food. Shelter. I paid our bills. Done. I’m feeding myself and my family. What that looks like is up to us. If it means we eat cereal for a month, we eat cereal. We may spend a lot of time at our favorite Taqueria this December. Cooking is still sometimes painful for me because it reminds me of how much less we consume. If you cannot feed yourself, and I am not saying this to be funny because I know how much energy it took to return to the kitchen, ask. for. help. Meal trains are your friend. Gift cards are your friend. Accept that you don’t have your shit together and do you.
Deadlines. Note I didn’t say “work,” I said deadlines. All those brilliant ideas I’m working on with other people? All those projects? The tweaks I want to make to my website? They are going to have to wait. I am obligated to two things that are absolute musts because I’m being paid to meet a deadline and because I am paying for my education. Everything else will be there when I check back in. If you have obligations on your list that can’t wait, delegate where you can, and prioritize the rest. Do only what you can handle. For those few things that only you can do, focus on the most critical items until you’re feeling better. You may find over time that your view of what’s “critical” will change. I know mine has.
Feelings. I am allowing myself to be sad. I miss Noah all the time. I am allowing myself time to think about him. To mourn. To cry. To remember. But I’m also allowing myself to be happy and do things that make my heart feel good. I’m spending time with my family and talking to friends. I’m watching the Gilmore Girls, finally. I’m going to a Christmas concert with my boo next week. Yesterday, Gav and I spent the afternoon sorting toys for Toys for Tots. I’m making room in my heart and in my life for things that make the sad a little more balanced and the happy a little easier to come by.
Things that don’t have to get done.
Everything else. Blogs, Christmas cards, decorating the tree (also excruciatingly painful), holiday shopping, fundraisers, return phone calls, emails, that to-do list that’s a mile long–it can wait. I am reminded during the pauses that life is not a race. I will always have a to-do list. I will never have enough hours in the day. No one is prodding me to get things done except my internal perfectionist. She’s such a bitch sometimes. Guess what? I’m not perfect. I’m human. So are you. We have to prioritize our energy and when you’re going through something hard, what’s manageable sometimes looks like eating cereal for dinner or staring at an empty, fake Christmas tree in your living room because you decide family ornaments and reminders of loss still suck just a little too much. I am spending time on my heart instead.
Tell people you need a break. Tell them you don’t need them to fix it. People will understand. And if they don’t, they aren’t your people. Sometimes you just need to allow yourself to feel, to be, and to process. It doesn’t make you weak. It doesn’t make you selfish. It doesn’t make you less of a friend, a wife, or a mother. I’d argue it makes you strong. It puts you in control of your life and your happiness. It protects your heart. It prepares you to get back in the game when you’re ready. I wish nothing more for you this holiday season than to find your pause, to allow yourself to know that it’s okay that you’re not okay, it’s okay to be happy, and it’s okay to take a break. Happy Holidays from the bottom of my heart.