Working Mother Syndrome

Ever since the summer, something has not been right with me.  I’m dizzy so often that I’m startled when the world sits still.  It’s nearly impossible to rouse myself for the predawn runs I used to leap out of bed for.  A tickle has taken up permanent residence in my throat and my body aches in spots not in any way related to carrying a baby.  Generally speaking, I just don’t feel good, and I haven’t for awhile.

I’m not one to run to the doctor for every little sniffle, and particularly not to complain of a laundry list of lingering, vague symptoms, but my husband wanted reassurance that I hadn’t come down with Fukushima-radiation-sickness travelled all the way across the Pacific, so finally, after weeks of nagging, I made an appointment for a full exam.

My diagnosis:  Working Mother.  My treatment:  Mental Downtime.

I am not making this up.  My first reaction was that mental downtime sounds like the absolute last thing I need right now.  That big, relaxing breath feels too much like slowing down on the freeway to get a better look at the accident in the opposite lanes, only the accident I’m ogling is my own life.

Keep this door closedSo long as I am busy, I am content.  I may be tired, I may sound like I still smoke a pack a day, and I may get a little grouchy when I wake myself up by accidentally rolling off of my yoga ball chair at work, but so long as I’m busy I feel like I’ve got everything handled.  Give me a moment of reflection and all bets are off.

You Are Here

This time around, it started with the books, with a jaunt down memory lane by way of wistful road, sitting and thinking about all of the places I’ve been and all of the places I’m no longer going to go.  Like clockwork, there it was again – that nagging sense of discontent rearing its purple dreadlocked head, looking around at the life I’ve made, scoffing and rolling its eyes, yanking on my arm and yelling What the fuck has happened to you!

And in that moment, something shifted.  The physical ailments turned inward, into feeling sleepy not due to lack of sleep but lack of excitement, into feeling dizzy not from stress but from nostalgia and the disappointment it engenders in the present day.

Smoking Chair

Each time I experience this sort of debilitating nostalgia attack, the focus shifts.  Sometimes it is a general desire to be in Europe, sometimes it is a specific quality to the afternoon light that makes me desperate to be riding a bus through the center of Athens.  Right now it is a smell – a new bottle of handsoap I bought for the new house has the exact same smell as the soap I bought when I moved into my last apartment as a single woman, a skid row adjacent penthouse in downtown LA.  Now every time I wash my hands (which is about a thousand times a day) I’m transported to a time when there was no husband, no child, no high stress job.  I was free to sleep in on weekends, smoke cigarettes on the roof and spliffs in bed, skip meals and splurge on ice cream, watch reality tv marathons instead of writing, hang out alone at happy hour, drink myself sick with whiskey, and play very loud punk rock very early in the morning.

More Vodka Please

Even without the soapy smell to evoke that time, this has become the period of my life that I look to almost by reflex whenever I feel a bit of a need to buck the perfect life I’ve now built for myself.  I was living in a broken down old hotel with sketchy elevators and cockroaches as big as the rats outside.  I parked in an underground lot with shady valets, and relied on ex-con security guards to keep me safe while stepping over passed out junkies on my way to the stairs.  It’s the kind of place I hope my daughter never visits let alone lives, and this may be what makes its memory so appealing – I’m never going to live anything even remotely like this experience ever again.

What’s different about the nostalgia this time around, though, is that all of this yearning is not from a desire to actually go back to those days.  I don’t want to be free or dye my hair pink or take drugs or go out dancing (okay, those statements are maybe only partly true, but I accept my age and am doing my best to act accordingly).  Instead, I want to get ahead in my career, establish myself as a writer, run a marathon, get a PhD.  I still want excitement, just a more mature version.

Not too long ago, I had the rhythm down.  I was getting in my runs.  I was spending quality time with my family.  I was sleeping (almost) enough.  I was posting twice weekly to this blog and had plans to start a doctoral program next fall.  But then we moved and fall semester started and work got crazy and the baby stopped sleeping and it all just went to pot.

Nostalgia in the hallway

I know that it will even out again.  I know that these ups and downs are just a part of having kids.  But I also know that the ups and downs are not going away anytime soon, which has me again asking questions like – How am I going to finish a PhD when I can barely keep up in an online introductory course?  How am I going to establish myself as a writer when I can barely keep up with tiny little weekly blog post?  And how am I going to get ahead in my career when I can barely keep myself balanced on my silly round chair?

All good questions I suppose, but all just dancing around the real issue, which is my inability to let myself sit down for a while and be happy with what I have, with what I’ve worked hard to build.  Why not take a moment to just be grateful, instead of always asking for more?  That is, after all, just what the doctor ordered.

Nostalgia on the roof


134 thoughts on “Working Mother Syndrome

  1. “How am I going to establish myself as a writer”

    I’m new to wordpress and stumbled across your blog. What a breath of fresh air you are. I totally get you – our stars are aligned. Thank you for putting finger to key on this subject so eloquently.

    Ps: A little opportunity to is all you need – you are a fabulous writer already my dear x


  2. I don’t know if this is similar or not but I’m a workaholic- or at least I was. I’m almost 22 yrs old and yet I was putting my work on the first place. I felt good- keeping myself busy all of the time. And I study and worked all at the same time, so I barely had time to sleep, be lazy or hang out with friends. But then a year ago I was diagnosed with an Anxiety Disorder and now I was forced to stop working. It’s been only a month since I had to quit BUT I still go a couple of days a week to help at work.. For free! Just because I feel good being useful. I am enjoying this moment as well. I wake up an hour later than I used to, if I feel too tired I take naps, I can exercise, I go to university and some days I even watch TV- which didn’t happened in a long time!


    1. I think you learned the hard way that you cannot push yourself so hard without feeling some negative consequences eventually. I’m sorry that this is what it took to slow you down, but glad that you’re learning ways to go a little easier on yourself. Take care, go so something fun! You have a whole lifetime to be productive.


  3. I sympathize with you and I can tell you it does get better and it pays off. I had to teenage boys and decided to try to have another because my husband always wanted a little girl. So here I am just finished college, managing a law firm and I have a third child. Amazingly I got my girl. And as happy and rewarding as that was, I found myself crying constantly every time I was alone. Partly because I thought I would never get my life back and because I didn’t know if I could do the parently thing again. Well, my baby is now in college and I am taking online classes. She is my best supporter and we talk constantly. I am also rekindling my relationship with my husband. We too loved going out dancing and hitting the town. So we pick one night a week and we do just that. You see you’re never too old to realize your dream. This is just the time for you to enjoy being a mother. They grow up too quickly so don’t let it get away from you. And as far as the diagnosis. We mothers tend to put everyone and everything before ourselves. So we forget to sit and breathe, we eat on the run and usually never finish, we give our best at work and when we come home we start again. I often clean and organize my home in my mind while I’m supposed to be sleeping because I find that’s the only time I can figure out what to do. So, please don’t think there’s anything wrong. Be Happy, Smile and Enjoy the Ride. It does get better, I promise.


  4. Been there done that and now doing it again:(

    I took a break from my banking career for my older children for six years. Restarted my career in early childhood education, and when supposedly I was doing extremely well, now again have taken a break for my youngest one. But this time I am not so worried, because I am not losing the thread, keeping a keen eye on my horizon!
    There are days when you really feel low and pulled down and yes the nostalgia hits you hard, but then I sit and reflect and feel proud of myself, count my blessings, thank God and feel contented. This was not the case last time, so I do understand your situation. But believe me this is a phase which will pass leading you to the growth path you long for…!


    1. I hope that you are able to return soon to your new career path. I think you are very smart to keep an eye on the horizon. Doing this may help me remember that this all consuming phase of raising a young child is only temporary – before I know it I will have more freedom than I bargained for, so I really should enjoy this time while it lasts. Life may move quickly, but it is traveling on a long road!


  5. Very well written. I have felt much of what you expressed here throughout my career and family building and could feel your ache. Good inspiration writing as well, your words are poetic. Thank you!


  6. Like reading my own thoughts at times! Juggling single motherhood, a new business and trying to get some kind of regularity on my writing is tough, and yes, you are right- we need to appreciate what we have and not always look for the next thing, though it is tough when you have all these goals in your head! I often find myself looking back wistfully, not for going back to the days passed but for the lack of responsibility they held.It will all come together exactly when it’s meant to i’m sure- for us all 🙂


    1. I also believe that it will all come together eventually – that’s what keeps me going, especially when I’m feeling emotionally and physically exhausted from the constant grind of always striving for more. But do you ever wonder if maybe it’s already come together, it’s just a question of slowing down and taking notice?
      Take care of yourself – it sounds like you’ve got a lot on your plate!


  7. I hear you! Before my kids I was “living the dream.” I was an international flight attendant after college. I got PAID to travel for free! I love my kids and would not trade them in for that life back but I sure fantasize about those days and feel sick with envy when I see facebook posts of friends who are still in the biz. They just finished their African safari while I just finished cleaning shit that managed to make it up out of the diaper and all the way up between the baby’s shoulder blades!


    1. Ha ha, that’s why I finally shut down my Facebook page – only to start it up again secretly without those friends that unintentionally made me feel sad about my not-so-exciting life…
      But really, I think it’s all about redefining what living the dream really means. Traveling the world sounds pretty awesome, but maybe it wouldn’t feel so awesome in another ten years? Whenever I feel restless, I try to use that ten year rule, usually helps to cure it (especially when combined with a big hug from my little girl!).


  8. This is an older post of yours, but I though it was still interesting to read. I think both your diagnosis and the treatments is a good assessment. It is a difficult balance for most women I think. And unfortunately so…


    1. Ah yes, an oldie but a goodie, and completely timely considering I became deathly ill within a week of going back to work after maternity leave. Why is it that modern life is just so hard on the system? But time with my kids is the best cure ever, and I’m getting lots and lots of it this weekend 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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