Skills for Happiness (celebrating 9 months of the Comfort Camp with a post from the past)

Today is the 9 months-aversary of the Mama’s Comfort Camp.
Oh, my, I must tell you, I’m a little bit teary about this, this baby is ready to be born!

To celebrate this occasion, and the fact that we are 422 members strong, I’m about to share with you something you may have read before: today’s post is based on this post which I wrote for Miranda at Not Super Just Mom, during her Mental Health Month blogging rally in May of 2011 (Miranda will be here tomorrow with a guest post for us, and it’s a good one!)
Through the post I shared at Moranda’s blog, I first met Melissa, who became the dear friend with whom I first dreamed up the Mama’s Comfort Camp.  She was the first of the Den Mothers to come on board, and well, you could say the rest is history….
I’ve written a lot since then, butI still think this post is the best thing I’ve ever written. Later I adapted it into an article for a local paper. The post I’m sharing today is a combination of the original and the adaptation. Re-reading it now reveals that it held the seeds for my life’s work. I’ll show you what I mean at the bottom.

Every mother has her ups and downs. The ups are exhilarating, while the downs can be excruciating. My particular downs involved severe postpartum depression and a suicide attempt that thankfully failed. This was followed by six years of practice being an emotional detective, explorer, and experimenter. I’ve been seeking joy in motherhood, and examining the barriers to joy. For me, trying to fight and pretend my negative emotions away were the worst offenders. It helped to accept that motherhood was hard, and even that learning what to do instead of fighting was hard. Who wants to embrace all that guilt and struggle? Besides, words like acceptance and surrender gave me the creeps.

After a lot of emotional learning, I began to reframe my emotional “stuff.” I tried and used many healing modalities, and with time, integrated the aspects that worked for me into a framework that I’ve come to call Self-Kindness through Permission-Based Healing. It allows me to drop trying to embrace my struggles (yuck!) or fight them (ouch!), because when I allow the struggles to exist, when I no longer see them as proof of failure, I can finally disarm them.

Meeting myself with compassion is a skill — which means it can be developed and strengthened. My Permission-Based Healing is a set of emotional tools for disarming depression, anxiety and guilt and validating what’s hard while seeking and savoring the joys of motherhood. Mama’s Comfort Camp is where I practice these skills in community. And so many mothers need this kind of community. Here’s why:

You’d be amazed how many educated career women are clobbered by motherhood.

Before we had kids, we had lives.
We had jobs, projects, trajectories.
We wrote papers, reports, campaigns.
We were good at things.
We looked good in our work clothes.

Then we got pregnant. Then we had little people depending on us for their very lives! Now we spend our days in sweatpants, worrying about putting food into them and cleaning up their poop.

All the skills that allow women of our generation to climb ladders, run races, get tenure, or break through glass ceilings are almost useless in life post-bundle-of-joy.
(I should mention that I have not actually done any of these things, so if neither have you, all this still applies.)

You can do all the research in the world and not find a way to make a colicky baby stop crying. You can’t negotiate with sleep. You can bring a child to water, but you can’t make him drink, no matter how dehydrated he is. And that glass ceiling might be easier to break than the resolve of an angry toddler.

We are so busted. No wonder so many women have a hard time postpartum. We were forcefully evicted from our loft on “I’m-so-good-at-this Avenue” and our new dwelling is a tent at “What-the-fig Alley,” and it’s pouring rain.

When all the skills we’re used to relying on fail us, our identities go through an earthquake.
Our self-esteem plummets, while our hormones go berserk.
Postpartum depression and anxiety are perfectly natural reactions.
How can anybody go through an identity earthquake and hormonal storms, while sleep, rest, and privacy are taken out of the equation, with her mental health intact?

So we break down. We struggle; of course we do. And we think it’s our fault, but it isn’t.

Even if you manage to avoid depression, good luck avoiding guilt.

Motherhood hurts a lot more than it has to — but struggle is not failure. There’s an opportunity here: The breakdown of everything that worked so far forces us to learn new skills. It’s not easy, it’s not fun, but it’s necessary; and, thankfully, it’s also possible.

Motherhood (and life) will always include discomforts and pains, but the suffering can be greatly reduced. Not by fighting what is, but by learning the skills that bring ease to what is* when what is hurts.

In my experience, you can vastly increase your chances for surviving motherhood (and maybe, you know, even thriving in it), if you:

1. Recognize that you are not the only freak in town who is struggling.
2. Find a community where you can talk and normalize your struggles.
3. Harness and harvest guilt: guilt is not going to disappear (darnit!), so let’s disarm it and learn from it.
4. Learn kinder self-talk, free yourself from “shoulds” and make peace with the gap between expectations and reality.
5. Befriend the inner wise woman who lives in the body and encourage the mind and the body to play nice together.
6. Allow for humor, playfulness, and silliness, and if you have a kooky side, perhaps letting it shine.

It’s in learning these skills that we equip ourselves with what it takes to actually enjoy the crazy hard thing that just happens to be the most important job in the world.

 

Mama’s Comfort Camp was created to help mothers take these steps together. It started with a handful of friends, and by 9 months we have over 400 members. wow, clearly, where there’s a need, there’s a way.
Just being in Camp takes care of 1+2, in spades. If you are not already a member, I hope you will join us. If you are a member and have a place on the internet, I hope you will help us spread the comfort by posting our blog badge on your blog in a post, or on the sidebar or resource page. A handy code snippet is waiting for you on the right sidebar here.

As for 3 through 5, I teach these skills in individual coaching sessions, and in group classes, both online and locally, here in Ithaca, NY.

Whenever I’ve learned a skill from a teacher I admire, I invite her to teach that skill to camp members. Two opportunities of this nature are happening soon:

1. One of my favorite emotional skills is using Inquiry — The Work of Byron Katie to disarm stressful thoughts. This is a self-healing skill I learned with Jaya the Trust Coach, and it was instrumental in my recovery. Jaya and I will be co-teaching this valuable skill on Tuesday December 18 at our teleclass Choice and Self-Trust through the Holidays. Teleclasses are accessible from anywhere, and come with a recording and resources, so even if you can’t participate live, you can still get all the benefit.

2. Shiva Nata, AKA the Dance of Shiva, is one of my favorite body-mind methods for connecting with my inner wise woman, and getting present and happy, and I’m thrilled to be co-teaching a Shiva Nata in Ithaca class with Beth Wodzinski next Friday, December 21. (this class is almost full, so sign up soon if you are interested).

 

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5 Responses to Skills for Happiness (celebrating 9 months of the Comfort Camp with a post from the past)

  1. Thank you, Yael, for putting into words that struggles that so many of us face, and for helping us find the tools we need to overcome them. I am a better person because I know you!

  2. Yael, your guidance and perspective has helped me from “shoulding” myself and treating myself with kindness. So glad that I meet you on the Speakeasy call and so honored to be a den mother. Hugs.

  3. “When all the skills we’re used to relying on fail us, our identities go through an earthquake.” <– THIS. So much this. It took me forever to understand that this is what I was feeling every time No1 wouldn't nap or the house was a mess. Understanding it and giving myself permission to feel unsettled by how difficult motherhood can be has made a huge difference in my life.

    Thank you for being brave enough to take a chance on us. What an amazing place you've created. xoxo

  4. Yes! Thank you for posting this, Yael. It feels so good to hear again how I’m “not the only freak in town”.

    I’m considering sending this post to my single sister-in-law (who I love) who seems to think I’m being lazy….

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