As a yoga and meditation practitioner and teacher, I have the tools to stay on top of those black holes within my mind; however, this doesn’t mean that I succeed to staying out of holes all of the time. I have toddlers. Two of them.
For me, it has seemed like I am struggling to get up a giant hill, for most of my life. Obviously this isn’t due to not having a fortunate life, I have a life that many people would wish for. It has been like this because it is my default mode to go into depression. There are debates over exactly why certain people develop these mechanisms and end up suffering the way they do, but as someone who has experienced suicidal thoughts (a lot), learning how to manage it is crucial.
Nobody can prepare a person for parenthood. All of the things that I was too unstable to commit to when I was child free are coincidentally the exact same things that I long to have the time to do now. Like Yoga, or spending time with my friends, or sleep! They are also the same things that help keep a person sane; which, is where the conundrum lies.
In a perfect world, I would set my alarm for 5am, clean out my mouth and have some water. Then I would take a morning practice to help get my body and mind oiled for the day ahead. I would then go about my daily activities and take a second practice at night before bed to help me sleep soundly throughout the night.
It is not a perfect world.
For those of you that have children, I have no need to explain why this can’t actually happen; but, for those of you without having had the experience of trying to raise miniature humans, I will try not to terrify you as I go into the details.
Pregnancy was just the beginning for me (well, actually hanky panky was the beginning really, wasn’t it); I was already bat shit crazy and now my hormones were about to do backflips, yay! Accompanying these hormonal changes was a WHOLE lot of physical discomfort (I will save you the dry retching by omitting the details), deprivation, and insomnia. I went from bat shit crazy, to axe wielding maniac crazy in less than a month; and if this wasn’t enough, the other half of my ‘A’ team seemed to be from another planet. Men and women and so very different (homosexuality makes so much more sense to me). Not all stories are the same, but here is one that isn’t that dissimilar to my own and many people out there that I have spoken to.
The baby arrives and shit gets real. A human life is literally in your hands and all that lovely stuff that you and your partner used to do is now a distant memory; every crazy thought that arises seems plausible, because without sleep the human brain does strange things, and sleep is a fucking rarity at this point. When, once you could go to the toilet when you felt the urge, you now have to wait until a tiny milk addict allows you to, and the same goes with every other task that was once something you took for granted. BUT, you love that tiny sargent more than your own right arm so you know it must all be worth the hard times… and you’ve been told so many times that it gets easier.
It does not get easier. The challenges simply change.
Anyhoo, parenting is hard; you get it. So, the key is, to keep everything in perspective by doing practices that align your body and mind in a healthy state. In other words, practices such as yoga, meditation, qi gong, martial arts, and many more. We NEED to cultivate certain practices to be able to tackle life’s issues without falling apart at the seams. The idea is that we are then able to live from a space of mindfulness and wisdom, which naturally permeates all aspects of one’s life – sounds awesome right? The challenge is that these take time and diligent work to learn, just like anything worth doing, so if you have discovered these life saving practices after already having your little angels then it can be much more difficult to prioritise your time for them. I had already discovered the benefits of yoga on my psyche before having children so I know from experience, if I don’t prioritise my practice I will suffer. Even with this understanding, finding the time for particular aspects (all are equally important) is damn near impossible, in fact, it is impossible some times.
I have used pharmaceutical medication for depression and anxiety and, for me, it didn’t help; it exacerbated the problem. This is just my experience and I am not implying that it will be the same for everyone; however, even if a person is using medication, their mental health will not be will not be cured. Any solution that involves having to use an external source is not sustainable long term (and I love external sources as much as the next fella) and is often accompanied by side effects, which in my case, far outweighed the benefits. Taking an introspective journey is the only way to find actual lasting peace and quiet, and this takes practice and mindfulness, which are difficult to cultivate when your time is already saturated with trying to not fuck up another human being. However, having made it sound impossible to stay sane as a parent, it really isn’t – it’s just much harder than it was before… when you didn’t need it as much (isn’t it ironic, don’t cha think?)
If you can find anyone to take your baby for even an hour and a half a few times per weeks, you can attend yoga classes. You could go for a walk in nature, counting your breaths and observing sensations. You could even do your housework in peace, take a shower and shave your legs MINDFULLY; all of these are cultivating a practice of mindfulness, necessary for mental health. You can start to incorporate these skill into your day (and night). Don’t be afraid to ask.
If the kids are older and you are working then your practice may have to be in the evenings, which is ok! Some practice is better than no practice. Just choose something that is gentle on the body. Even 15 minutes of mindful meditation can set you up for a good night’s sleep and sets the ground work for building a sense of self worth, which is fundamental in being happy.
For the dads out there struggling to differentiate between feeling an emotion and and employing their ego to transform said emotion into anger, ‘quickly before anyone sees’, (yes I am generalising but let’s face it, men are wired differently to women) whilst also dealing with (overly) emotional women and children – this in itself is as complicated as the rest of it. It is totally understandable that you cannot figure out how to learn to feel your emotions, let alone adjust to how that affects you. You need to be strong! The sad fact is that men are four times more likely to commit suicide than women (feeling emotions isn’t a bad thing, huh?) and we often don’t even see it coming until it happens. Only mindfulness practice can cure this predicament; all of it.
Mindfulness is the key to solving every problem and the answer to every question. So how can parents cultivate mindfulness into their lives when they barely have time to dress themselves half the time? We have to prioritise it. We have to put our own oxygen mask on first. We have to give each other permission to attend that class or take that time alone in the meditation room – without interruption. We have to tell our partner that we are not okay; and we need to stop trying to fix each other’s problems with external solutions. We need to gently take the other person’s hand and lead them to the door say, “have a great time”. We need to be kinder, because kindness does not even require you to understand, it only requires you to not be an arsehole.
…and if you are a single parent, then firstly, I bow at your feet. YOU, single mum, single dad, YOU need to ask your friends for help. Eventually the ones that really care will be the only ones that you see, and this is a natural progression into parenthood. Not everyone can empathise with you and you need to keep your precious time for your own mental health – not grooming another’s ego. Ask for help and accept it.
I am no Buddha, but I do feel passionate about this topic; which, is why I am working on the mindfulness courses that I am currently. The black holes in your mind may never really disappear but you can learn how to fly above them, more often than not. Being a parent can make this process about 6 gazillion times harder than it may have been before, but the stakes are also higher now that you have children. You are someone’s whole world, and you are worth it. Yes, you are.
If you have any comments or questions, don’t hold back!