It’s Okay to Be an Okay Mom

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How many of those “perfect Instagram” moms do you follow on social media? You know the ones. They seem to have it all—their house is spotless, their toddler is eating a gourmet meal full of the vegetables they grew in their perfectly manicured backyard, and they’re always dressed in white linen that somehow manages to stay immaculately clean.

You sigh, click off your phone, and are shocked at your reflection, impressed that you’ve been able to go about your day, looking the way you do. Horrified, you look up, and observe the rest of your reality—your daughter’s fingernails which, for some reason, are full of flour and glitter; your son, who desperately needs a haircut and has already outgrown the tee shirt you bought him last week; your apartment and the visual reminders of the chores you can never seem to get to in one weekend.

This is your life. And now you feel like crap.

We live in a society that tells us we need to hide our struggles. That you need to make it seem like you’re doing it all—work a full-time job that you love, spend quality time with your kids and your partner, put a healthy dinner on the table every night. And do it with a beautiful, Invisalign-ed smile. However, that’s not real life.

I’ll start by letting you in on a little secret. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and depression, and I suffer from frequent panic attacks. Do you think of me differently now?

Here’s my reality: I’m a worrier by nature. I look for emergency exits whenever I enter a room. I catastrophize everything. I take notes during post-apocalyptic movies. Should the world ever suffer some sort of global emergency, I have a plan. And a back-up plan. And a back-up plan to my back-up plan.

But here’s where it gets taken to the next level: simple, everyday tasks give me anxiety. I can’t go into a new coffee shop because I need to know their exact ordering process before I go inside. Why? I Because I don’t want to be that annoying customer that asks the barista for milk in my coffee when I’m actually supposed to pour it myself. I struggle to book medical appointments if I can’t do it online. Why? Because the thought of talking to someone on the phone to find a date that works sends me into a panic.

Here are some things that I’ve learned that help me live with anxiety:

It’s a medical condition.

I’m the queen of saying “I’m fine” and I push through even when I feel like crap. It’s taken me years to get to the point where I feel like it’s ok to say “I don’t feel ok today.” If you have the flu you rest, right? It’s the same thing with anxiety. You need to listen to your body and treat it the same way you would any other medical condition—whether that means taking medication, going to therapy, or self-managing with mindfulness techniques.

Know your triggers.

My biggest one is “mom guilt.” I work well over 40 hours a week. I love my job, but I’ve got to juggle that with raising my two kids. There are days when I want to put blinders on and just focus on work, but I’ve got to pick up the kids from school and make dinner. There are days when I just want to be a mom and spend time lounging on the couch with the kids, but then there’s a fire that needs to be put out at work. Most days I feel like a failure at work and at home and it’s a terrible feeling.

So how do I deal with this on a regular basis? Truthfully, I don’t have the answer yet. But I am learning how to ease the guilt a bit so that I’m not in a constant state of depression. I remind myself that I’m doing my best. Did the kids eat? Great. It doesn’t matter that it was a bowl of cereal or microwaveable nuggets. If you are measuring your life against a social media fantasy, you will always come up short. At the end of the day, here’s your reality: your kids are loved, they’re safe, and it’s you that they run to when they’re upset.

You’ve got to ask for help.

I grew up with the mentality that asking for help was a sign of weakness. So, I’ve started with baby steps and, for me, that means simply admitting that I need help. I can’t do it all alone and I’ve come to realize that I have people around me that are willing to lend a hand.

I’ve gotten better at talking to my husband and verbalizing how he can help me. By telling him the things which trigger my anxiety (i.e. making appointments for the kids), he now knows what he can do to help. And on the days when I have a lot on my plate at work, I’ve gotten comfortable with texting my crew of mom friends and asking for help. I’ve come to realize that “It takes a village” isn’t just a saying.

There was a time before my diagnosis when I just felt like I was a terrible mom, a horrible wife, and a useless employee. I know now that, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I give my all to everything, every day. Even when it means that my “all” is making breakfast for dinner three nights in a row and missing a work deadline.

Some days I feel great. Other days, I can barely get myself out of bed in the morning. Some days I can tackle every item on my to-do list. Other days, just getting the kids to school and getting myself into the office is all I can muster. It’s life with anxiety. It’s my reality. And it’s ok.

Natalie Fuertes is the owner of Industry Gymnastics, a gymnastics facility in NYC that focuses on creating a space that is welcoming to all children, regardless of race, gender identity, or sexual-orientation. She is a proud Nuyorican, racial justice advocate, wife, and mama of two.