Today is the day I would have been due to return to work after maternity leave. I took a year off when I had Benjamin as I knew my decision of whether to return to work or stay home would be a difficult one.
The thing is, I like having a job. It gives me a sense of purpose, it gets me out of the house, and it guarantees at least some level of human interaction on a daily basis.
In the end, however, I had to make the difficult decision to stay at home, to hand my notice in and turn my back on a job which maybe wasn’t incredible, but was something just for me.
This time last year, Cameron was in school and Carly was at nursery but with her 15 funded hours, and the fees weren’t too high. My job was 20 hours, across four week days and the Saturday each week, starting at 9am and finishing at 2pm. The hours were pretty perfect at the time, and I felt I had finally found the coveted work/life balance.
Whilst I was on maternity leave, I looked into putting Benjamin into nursery so that I could go back to work – the cost was horrendous. There was no way we could afford for me to return to work as the childcare it required came to more than my part time wage brought in each month.
I did ask my employers if I could go back partly working from home, but this was immediately shot down as being impractical. So I’ve adopted the role of stay at home mum once more.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I hate everything about this lifestyle. It’s amazing to be able to attend school events, to witness sports days and nativities, and to be there for the school drop offs and pick ups every day for the children.
I am well aware that some families’ financial situations are much worse than ours, and I am grateful for all we have. But being a stay at home mum can be incredibly lonely, and as a stay at home mum with anxiety, I feel isolated around 90% of the time.
Some people in my life might be reading this and thinking, how can she complain about being lonely when I always offer to spend time with her? And I can see why it must be frustrating from the outside looking in, really I can. I’m well aware that I bring the majority of my loneliness on myself.
My anxiety makes me shy away from social interaction, even with those I have been close with in the past. The only two people I feel 100% comfortable around currently are my mum and Ed. With them I feel safe, I feel protected and I feel stronger myself because I have them with me, but it is not feasible for them to be with me all the time.
I am fortunate that my mum currently only works part of the week, so I will generally spend a few hours a day with her a couple of days a week and my loneliness is abated – I feel more like me again. But there are days when I won’t see either her or Ed until early evening, and those days can feel like they last an eternity, my loneliness closing in and threatening to engulf me. I hate myself for being one of those women who greets their partner at the door by thrusting the baby at them, but some days I just need to escape.
At the beginning of September, Ed started a teacher training course. The school he is working at until after Christmas is around a 20 minute drive away. To catch a bus it would take even longer. So I’ve given up the car during the week, and this has had a big impact on my already dire social life in the week.
Whereas before I would force myself out of the house to go for a walk by the beach, to the shops or into town, these places now require a lot of walking, and therefore a whole lot more motivation. I’ve never been a big fan of public transport, it makes my anxiety worse, so I’ve put off going out much at all lately.
Instead I will sit in our house between the hours of 9 and 3, keeping Benjamin occupied, putting him down for naps, getting us lunch and working on my blog with the school run bookending my day. And it’s slowly making me go out of my mind. With boredom. With frustration. With annoyance at myself for not being a better mum, for not taking Benjamin out and doing more things with him while I have the chance.
I hear of women who really come into themselves when they become a stay at home mum. They spend their days juggling play dates and baby groups, picnics in the park and visits to national trust properties. I wish that was me, but it’s not and it makes me feel a total failure to admit it.
I do feel my CBT is helping me make sense of my anxiety, and I can see that I’m improving in some ways, but there are aspects that definitely need more work on. One of those is my confidence around others, even people who are my friends.
I don’t know when it started happening, at what stage I felt differently, but I now have a sense of people disliking me, even if there isn’t the evidence to back my thoughts up. I’ll become convinced that people are talking about me behind my back, that I’m not really welcome at meet ups, that I’ve been invited out of pity. If I don’t get invited at all, my thoughts go into overdrive. What did I do wrong? What should I have done to make them want me there with them?
I was invited last week to start regularly meeting up with a couple of local bloggers, after I spent the day with them at a blog conference. As soon as I was asked I was already on the lookout for an excuse not to go. What if they didn’t like me when I spent more time with them? What if they were only inviting me as they felt they had to? It would probably be best not to go to make it less awkward for them.
Even now, writing this down I can see how crazy that sounds. If they didn’t want me there, then they could have not asked me, and yet I hide myself away, I make my excuses, because it’s easier that way. There’s no chance of me getting hurt, or of me making an embarrassment of myself by saying something stupid.
I even avoid spending time with those I used to be close friends with. It’s hard to explain how my head thinks lately, and it’s easier to shut myself away and wallow in my isolated misery than to open up to people and let them in. I feel incredibly vulnerable, and it’s easier to stay at home and cry than to venture out, to be brave.
I feel this post has rambled a lot, and I’m sorry for how incoherent what I’ve written may be. It’s just been one of those days when everything has piled on top of you for so long, that eventually the cracks start to show and it’s not long before everything comes crumbling down around you.
For the time being it doesn’t make sense for me to return to work, I know that, but I’m hopeful that one day in the not too far future I will be able to again.
Blogging is amazing, and being able to write about everything I’m passionate about, to have the time to dedicate to my blog, is brilliant, but I was never suited to working at home alone, it just isn’t for me.