Brave Steps in the Storm

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It’s been quite some time since my last blog submission. I last wrote about maintaining gratitude, even in the storms of life. Y’all, I fell, and I fell hard. I have entered a season of trial upon trial and hardship after hardship. Quite literally, I feel as though I am living out some soap opera or Life Time Movie Event, that you seriously think, how in the world did the writers come up with stuff because it is soooo fake. Let me tell you because someone somewhere has lived that crap to the fullest, that’s how. They do not have great creative minds, they either went through a crazy struggle or knew someone who did; perhaps they combined a few struggles together, but Lord knows, the when the Devil attacks, he comes from all sides. As I sit here writing this, I am anything but grateful. I am struggling through unemployment, deep financial burdens, pest control issues, health issues, friendship issues, car issues, I’ve been the victim of crime, have been living with food insecurity, and so many feelings of failure and inadequacy.

I didn’t want to write a blog because, in this moment, I didn’t know how to inspire anyone or how to say something uplifting. I have always (since about the age of 12) struggled with depression and anxiety. I’ve managed those successfully with the help of a bag full of coping skills and medications. However, blow after blow, I’ve sunk deeper and deeper into a darkness that makes me hate myself more with every passing day….why can’t I just snap out of it?! I’m a strong, independent woman, I have God on my side, and I will get through.

Well, ya know what, God never, ever promised that the weapons wouldn’t form (and oh have they formed). He merely said that no weapon formed shall prosper. He didn’t tell you won’t have to hold the shield up high while your arms shake from exhaustion. He didn’t tell you wouldn’t have to yield your own sword and fight the enemy back.

Today, I took a brave step. I went to my first meeting with a new counselor. It’s definitely NOT my first rodeo with counseling, for sure, but starting anew is always tricky. We’re going to, of course, eventually re-hash my trauma ridden childhood, my many mistakes, with more layers of trauma as an adult. I’m going to have to do work to make myself whole. Many of the things that I’m facing are out of my control, yet I’m totally letting the worry over those things control me in full. God already told me not to worry about it, he’ll handle it, but humph, do I listen? Of course not! Which only fuels my anxiety and feeds my depression.

Last night I dug through a plastic tub, knowing that I had several Christian books in there, but I couldn’t remember what books. However, God got me up, walked me in there, and I dug and dug until I came across a book that spoke to my spirit and my soul: “Wait and See.” It’s a book about waiting on God and doing it well, making use of that period of wait to our benefit. I read the first chapter and a half and started the homework assignments.

I say all of this only to convey this message: God knows our struggles. He is there for us and with us every step of the way. He never leaves our side. We are the ones who turn our backs on him, out of anger, hurt, disappointment, and loss of faith during out wait. Between counseling, this book, and hopefully the upcoming book club I’ve proposed, I am hoping to lean into God, draw him closer, and strengthen my relationship with him while letting him work in me, strengthen me, and fill in all those holes that I’ve been left with lately.

By Curvigurl

So Long, Social Media

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“You haven’t posted in a while. Are you ok?”

“Is everything ok? I can’t find your Instagram.”

“Do you and the girls need anything? You haven’t posted a story in almost a week.”

Those are actual quotes from real texts I have received in the past month. Yes, I am fine. The girls are also fine. No major events have rocked our family. The truth is that I have been focusing on deleting stress-triggers from my life. Some letting go has come easy, like decreasing the girls’ activity commitments. Some of it has been hard, like letting go of my gym membership. But the one that seemed impossible until a few weeks ago was letting go of social media.

I know the dangers of social media. I know how addictive it can feel and how harmful it can be to one’s self-esteem and self-worth. I have fasted from social media in the past but always come back. I have consistently convinced myself that the good outweighed the bad and that I was the ideal sensible user of social media. I needed social media, I told myself.

Life as a single mom can leave you feeling isolated. If I am not working, I am doing something for my kids. Hopping onto social media gave me a real sense of connection. Social media is where I found amazing social support networks, like the one on which this blog appears, for single moms. Social media is where I connected with other women struggling with anemia. Social media is how I kept tabs on family, friends, and former students with whom I wouldn’t otherwise have much time to connect. These were all such positive additions to my life, but then it got even better.

After one of my blog posts, I noticed an uptick in my Instagram followers. I remember the day I hit 1,000 followers on Instagram. Granted, that is not a lot in this world of “influencers,” but it felt like a serious accomplishment for a single mom just sharing pictures of her kids, recipes, and “real life.” I felt good. I felt affirmed. I felt like I was finally making the friends I didn’t have time for in real life. As my followers grew over the next year, the affirmation deepened. I started talking to people in my stories, sharing my day, and, of course, sharing my grievances. The degree of validation I got from the DMs affirming my “realness” and ability to “tell it like it is” was massive, and something about which I am now pretty embarrassed.

I found myself starting to live at least partially outside of my life, constantly thinking about how my real life played into the version that I put online. I caught myself thinking in captions and hashtags. On more than one occasion, I asked my girls to repeat behaviors so that I could capture their cuteness – not for the family photo album, but for the consumption of my followers. I now realize that I said “yes” to outings, when I was exhausted, because I thought it would make a good post. I started wearing makeup to places I usually wouldn’t, like track practice, because I knew I may “need” go live.

I was doing all of this – trying to be engaged in my life as it happened, as well as playing narrator for the life I was presenting online, deeply invested in the maintenance of both my spontaneous and reflected public face – while trying to deal with the increasing frequency and intensity of my bouts with anxiety.

So many of my anxiety triggers are inherent in being a single mom: Will the kids be ok after being asked about their dad by a classmate? How am I going to afford to send them to camp with the rest of their class? What if I am swamped at work and late to pick them up?

So many of my anxiety triggers are inherent in living in Southern California, too. Driving anywhere is a time-sucking, schedule-altering, emotionally-draining, combative, unpredictable nightmare. Everything is over-priced. Nobody is young-enough, cool-enough, or fit-enough. Nothing God-given is ever enough, and everyone is always busy.

I found myself anxious more often than I was at peace, and that is not ok. I realized that part of dealing with my anxiety was working on my own reactions and coping mechanisms for that anxiety, which is induced by things that are beyond my control – like the traffic and cost of living. But part of it was that I needed to stop inviting anxiety into my life. It was that realization, in the middle of the night, as I tossed and turned, that prompted me to open my computer and search academic journals for “social media and anxiety.”

In hindsight, I think I was hoping that the research would provide some skepticism and allow me to give myself permission to continue to live my virtual life. Instead, it prompted me to grab my phone, in a state of sleepy assuredness that best resembles the love child of a zombie and a droid, and just start deleting. I thought it would be hard, but it wasn’t. It was liberating.

I woke up the next morning and felt like my life was my own for the first time in years. My brain automatically defaulted to thinking about what attempt at witty faux-humility would kick off my day on my digital story. Surely, it would be something about the mundaneness of Mondays or the unending pressures of being a working mom. Then I realized that I didn’t have to say anything to anyone about my morning. I could just get up, drink my tea, and read the news. It took a moment for this new reality to register in my brain. I didn’t need to do anything other than just exist. There was, finally, no documentation or grooming needed for anything I did that day. I could just do it.

As great as my new freedom felt, the coming days did bring some rough adjustments. I missed scrolling through to find words of encouragement from other single moms. I missed seeing the pictures of distant family. I wondered who had gotten new jobs, was in a new relationship or decided to move. I missed that feeling of community and the feeling that my every passing thought could somehow entertain, support, or provoke another person. I still miss those things. But, I don’t miss them as much as I enjoy the peace of just living.

For me, this was the right choice. I have since reactivated Facebook for work purposes and will continue to share my monthly blogs and certain major life events on that platform, but I won’t return to being a daily poster. There is too much to worry about in life already. As anyone who is anxiety-prone can attest, the brain will do its best to invent things to worry about! So I am stepping out of this virtual space that is so ripe for anxiety. I am simplifying and finding peace in the version of me that exists in only one place, at only one time – free from the worry of how to package and convey the value of that place and time to anyone else.

Thanks for the memories, but it’s time for me to move on. So long, social media.

By A. Smith

Take Off The Mask

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So many times, as single moms we are afraid to show how we are feeling or to tell others what is really going on in our lives because we are afraid of others judging us or talking negatively about us. We feel tired, overwhelmed, depressed, have anxiety, and some days, we just feel like giving up. However, most of us just put a smile on our face and keep going, mainly for our children. I always felt that if I fell apart, then my kids would fall apart, so I put on the mask that everything is fine. It is time for us to stop putting on the mask and ask for help from a trusted source because it is causing us to become unhealthy, mentally, and physically. Did you know the reason you keep getting colds or the reason you keep feeling sluggish and not sleeping; well is because of all the stress from not admitting that you are not okay.

For years I kept everything bottled up inside, just because I did not want anyone to know how I really felt. If I talked about what I was feeling, I knew I would lose it. Yes, I was upset about the divorce and the cheating, but I just put a smile on my face and said its fine let him go on, I'm good. I really wasn't good, but I couldn't let him get the best of me. What I should have done was to cry on someone's shoulder and release all that hurt out of my system so that I would not have to deal with a breakdown years later. I didn't let the kids know dad was not paying child support and that he was being a real butt. I put his name on Christmas gifts and made them think he was doing his part; that mess is stressful on a mom.  You are running kids to activities, working a full-time job, paying bills alone, helping with school work, trying to have a little life, and cooking meals every day; and we keep going, smiling and acting like we are okay. Take off the mask and ask for help.

 

I know all single moms have a lot of things going on in their life, and we all want to keep a smile on our children's face, but sometimes to do that we neglect ourselves. All of us need to do self-care daily. If you take time to take care of yourself, you will not have as much stress or anxiety. When you do self-care, you think clearly, and then you will take off the mask. Being a single mom makes you a strong individual, and you will find that you can balance six tasks at one time and get it done; however, sometimes it stresses you out. That is why you need to make sure that you care for your mind, body, and soul; so that you can take care of your children. I used to tell people, "I'm good," knowing that I was feeling horrible inside, but I put on my mask and kept smiling. Now, I have found a way not to have to put on that mask. 

 

When I am feeling sad, depressed, overwhelmed, or just tired, I pray, listen to soothing music, take a walk, or play speed with the girls. See we are mom's doing it alone, but we must put self-care first. We cannot take care of others if we are physically or mentally out of whack. Just think why stress over not having enough money to pay the utility bill when you can go to an agency for help, ask a friend or relative who may have it, or even work out a payment plan. It's time to slow down, take a breath and think of a plan so that you don't stress out, and the next time someone asks, "how is everything going?"; you can say things are good and really mean it. See how you look with the mask off? You look amazing, just like the awesome single mom you are, and you really mean what you say. I cheer for you, take off the mask today and be honest about what is going on in your life, say how you really feel and get a release. Remember, SELF-CARE is not a joke.

Carmelita M