I was listening to a podcast about stress the other day whilst driving. As with other episodes I have listened to also published by the uber-empire that is Gwynnie Paltrow’s GOOP, I found myself waiting (wanting?) to hit that cringe-worthy moment, which would spell the end of GP in my ears for good. My own personal ‘vaginal steaming’ moment if you will.
But like all prior attempts to exorcise GOOP from my podcast subscriptions, it was not to be. The content is too good yo. The episode was a live discussion with author Emily Nagoski around the reason why women experience stress differently to men. There were so many takeaways for me from the podcast, but what spoke to me most, was the concept of our ‘Inner Madwomen’.
In a nutshell, Nagoski posits that there are three perceptions of self that any woman may experience simultaneously. The first is our ‘real’ self. In my case, the wife, mother, daughter, sister, chairwoman, friend, self-employed content creator who lives in Auckland, New Zealand, has two dogs and doesn’t eat carbs. This, ‘actual’ Melissa suffers from depression, anxiety is quite forgetful, needs more sleep, procrastinates, feels like she is constantly in the weeds and failing at a lot of things.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is the fictional ‘Melissa’. She is perfect. Super organised, creative, spontaneous, fit, flawless, gorgeous, inspiring, a wonderful mother and the most amazing wife. She gets everything done and does it well. She is beyond capable, reliable and never feels overwhelmed or panicked by obligation.
In between, sits my ‘Inner Madwoman’. “She is crazy because her job is impossible” says Nagoski. Reconciling our current state of self with the artificial, aspirational self is a fool’s errand. I, Melissa, am a mortal human woman and will never achieve the lofty heights of Instagram-Perfection, every moment curated and crafted with intent, mindfulness and great passion. Mates, I’m sliding into bed (usually unmade) each night after a glass or two of wine and a sink of ignored dishes, an inbox of ignored emails next to a husband who I’m sure would like to feel a little ‘less’ ignored then he currently does.
And this is where the Mad Woman goes to town. All of those tiny little daily failings become weapons with which to berate ourselves internally, over and over again as we never seem to get any closer to that aspirational, zen goddess in our heads which we’ve been telling ourselves for years that we must keep striving to be! Another appointment forgotten ” You are so pathetic Melissa, how many diaries and calendars do you have?”, another date cancelled with friends, “It’s a wonder you get invited anywhere, you’re no fun and no-one can rely on you”, another night of yelling at bedtime, “that child deserves a better mother than you”……….trust me, my Inner Madwoman has quite the repertoire, she’s been going hard for a long time.
The point of all of this (I think!) is how a little bit of recognition and enlightenment when it comes to these three selves, can go along way towards some BIG internal changes.
Silencing the Inner Madwoman is not the goal – listening to her, using her insight and thanking her is what I’ve started doing and the benefits are compounding.
Here’s one example of how a little change is having a positive impact for me, every day.
For almost 2 years, since my last major depressive episode (brought about by an external stressor which I never acknowledged), I have been really struggling in the mornings. A real, irrefutable difficulty in getting out of bed and starting the day is very common amongst those who suffer from depression. For me, it became a nasty cycle of blaming it on being too tired, so I’d sleep in, letting Dave get the boys up, make breakfast, pack lunches, bring me coffee and more often than not, take Nixon to school. Sounds inherently lazy right? Cool, add that one to the Madwomen’s list of things to feel guilty about! Does it make it easier to understand if I describe the feeling of staying in bed as a basic desire for the day NOT to begin rather than the feeling of luxuriating in bed simply because one can?
It’s impossible to describe what depression feels like in one blog post so you’re just going to have to trust me. My problems begin to snowball when the guilt kicks in. Inner Madwoman would kick things off by telling me what a piece of shit I was for not being able to get up at 6 am like Dave, WTF is so hard about making perfect bento boxes for Nixon’s lunch as the other IG mums do hmmmm? Dave is such a better parent then you are Melissa, no-one would even notice if you weren’t around so you might as well just stay in bed and sleep. Go on, you’re so tired…..
So how on earth did I turn this awful cycle of mental flagellation around?
Well, it’s totally a work in progress and babes, I won’t be saying sayonara to my prescription anytime soon, but, I think I can pinpoint a couple of things that have really helped improve my day-to-day mental wellbeing.
The first is listening to and acknowledging what that inner critic is trying to communicate instead of running from it – or sleeping from it as the case may be! Though her methods are irrational (remember her job is impossible), I have realised that this is how my subconscious communicates with me, via my worst enemy who lives in my head!
Resetting my morning routine had been weighing on my mind for a long time, and was as important to my mental health as it was to my family in general. Identifying and acknowledging this has been key. Over the past month, I have set my alarm for 6.15am, I have responded to the alarm (also key lol), I have decided to maximise and RECLAIM those 2 hours before the boys begin school in a way that sets me up for a great/better/more productive day ahead.
And, it’s working.
And, it’s helped me realise that a HUGE amount of the stress I feel (resulting in anxiety and depressive episodes) stems from time management and procrastination.
But this blog post is already way too long so let’s save discussing that for Part Two.
PS. Just remember, I’m talking about my own experiences here. I just need to get this shit out of my head and I’m making no claims that any of this may be useful or helpful to anyone else xx
PPS. Thanks to Lisa for telling me to get writing again x