A few weeks ago, I arrived at the offices of SavvyMom, where I had been going for three and a half years as Executive Editor, raising awareness for this helpful site for parents, while also attending numerous meaningful charity events, especially those for children. I wrote a weekly article about my experiences parenting a 16-year-old and a 7-year-old, sharing my life. Or most of it.
Overall, it was a fun gig, my colleagues were kind and helpful. Hundreds of people would die to have the position I had. It wasn’t brain surgery. No one would die if I didn’t post a photo of Baby Archie, for example. Even still, I quit.
And, no, I didn’t have a backup plan.
I wasn’t leaving for another job. I wasn’t even looking. I enjoyed my job and my colleagues. Again, there was no backup plan. But I did know that one late Sunday afternoon I had something that most people, who aren’t doctors, would consider some sort of “mental breakdown.”
I hate crying in public, but I was bawling to a woman who does my facials four times a year, tears streaming down my face, while I was hyperventilating, on the verge of a panic attack. All of this in front of a woman I barely knew, but who kindly sat with me patiently, giving me a brown bag to inhale and exhale in, as she hugged me (and usually I hate when people I don’t know touch me, even if it’s a well-meaning hug.)
So what was wrong? I wasn’t depressed, because I’ve suffered from depression, especially after my babies were born and I suffered, terribly, with P.P.D, so I knew it wasn’t that. I wasn’t suffering from anxiety, because, I know what that feels like. To the outside world, my life looks pretty damn good (and also, privileged, I’ll admit.) But along with driving a fancy car, living in a wealthy neighbourhood, not having to think twice if I could afford a haircut or to get my nails done, I had also just finished a six-month book tour for my memoir, Blissfully Blended Bullshit, my son’s father and I were still hammering out custody arrangements, my daughter was so stressed out about homework, my brother has M.S., people were pulling me in so many directions, and that my to-do list, if I had kept one, would maybe get done by the year 2029, if I worked seven days a week!
Being ambitious, as I’ve always been, has its pitfalls. Since I worked in the digital space, I found myself constantly reading for hours and hours, on my phone, about parenting trends, and statistics while attending countless charity events at night to raise awareness for children with disabilities (which I do love supporting, so keep those invites coming) while also trying to fit in time with my boyfriend, while also trying to continue my job to the best of my abilities, while continuing to write for other publications, and even starting a new book, while collaborating on a possible television series.
I was also spending hours almost every day, texting back and forth with people who so kindly reach out to me, who simply needed someone to vent about their own depression, divorces, sick children, and their struggles, and had no one to talk to, to which I believe I have not only a responsibility to help these people, but I want to help, and will go out of my way to help, even at the expense of my own mental well being.
So, with all of the above, along with single motherhood, I had a breakdown to an almost perfect stranger, because I was just beyond exhausted, could never catch up with much-needed sleep, because someone always needed something from me.
I felt I was just failing at everything, including my relationship with my boyfriend, friendships, my children, and my career. But who was I to complain? I have bestselling books! I have two healthy children! I have a super supportive boyfriend! I even have a nanny for god sakes, and yet, I was so burnt out, my head was spinning and my stomach was in a constant knot. I was not burnt out over one specific thing. I was burnt out overall, in life. Quitting seemed like the best thing to do, to keep my shit together, and be the best parent I could be, since I brought my children into this world, while also taking care of myself, so I could stop crying in the shower, hiding my tears from my children. I was just so, so, so tired.
After quitting, I immediately booked an almost three week trip to Mexico. I would drop my kids off at school, and crawl back into bed, to sleep until they got home. I made lunch plans with friends I hadn’t seen forever, and I was no longer kicking my boyfriend out by 10 p.m., because I had to be at the office early the next morning. I would still attend charity events, but I no longer felt the need to rush getting there on time, nor did I feel guilty for leaving early. Because I needed, more than anything, sleep. It felt good to have this kind of freedom.
Until it didn’t…
After a few weeks, I missed my job. I missed my colleagues. I missed the paycheque, even. In hindsight, I really just needed a break, not a social media break, or a break from parenting. I needed a break from ordinary life.
Once I had made the decision to leave, I sent a text to my immediate boss asking if she could meet for five minutes, Monday morning, at 9 am. I arrived at 9 am the following morning, but unlike other Mondays, I left my laptop at home. By 9:15, after quick and bittersweet, mostly sad, goodbyes to colleagues I thought fondly of, and especially to the person who recruited me to join the SavvyMom team, I walked out the door and had no plans to look back.
All my colleagues seemed quite shocked by my sudden departure. Sure, I may have complained about certain different opinions, but no more or less than anyone else who works in offices with other humans. In many ways, it was an impulsive move to quit. But also, it wasn’t. Even though I only worked part-time a couple days a week in the office, another cushy plus, I spoke to a therapist, before making this decision, who told me to “quit immediately.” The fact he told me to quit puzzled me. Would he tell a single mother, with a deadbeat ex, who had to feed three children, to “quit immediately?” So I asked my therapist, the following week, “Would you tell a mother who really needs to work to make money to pay rent and feed her children to quit her job?”
His answer shocked me.
He pretty much said yes he would, because I have a super supportive boyfriend, and that’s all one needs. Support. Meaning, if you hate your job, but have a supportive partner, or friend, or family member, who will give you space, understand why you want to quit, and cheer you on while you figure out what you really want to do, or what would make your life easier, or just be there for you, as I would do to, to support my boyfriend, emotionally, if he may have a hard month at work. With support, everything that truly matters will end up okay. I like to believe this. I think if more moms were just honest with their spouses about how overwhelmed they feel, or that they hate their job, and can figure some way to pay the bills and feed the kids on one salary, so many of us mothers would be so much happier and therefore more productive and therefore better parents and partners.
No, my boyfriend isn’t supporting me monetarily, at all. He was supporting me by encouraging me, and being patient with me, to get back to my happy place, because I felt broken, dreaded most days going to work, and definitely, most definitely, was burnt out.
Another reason I could just quit like that, even though I had no backup plan, or job, is because I’ve been working hard – sometimes 6 days a week for 12 hours a day – from the time I was 18 years old. I have diligently put away a couple of hundred dollars a month, for an “emergency fund,” for almost two decades. My “emergency savings” did not go to pay for a new furnace or leaky roof. I used that “emergency saving funds” for my mental health, to be able to quit a job, to pay for a holiday, to pay for therapy, because I truly have not had a “break” from working, non-stop, for more than 20 years.
I’m not suggesting that I am more or less busy than any other mother. But I realized I had a breaking point, and that breaking point led me to what seemed to me like some sort of mental break down, which, one night, lead to me thinking that maybe I should check myself into the hospital. What I realized, in hindsight, is that I really was burnt out, and it wasn’t the job I hated, I truly just needed a hiatus because I was just fucking exhausted from ordinary life.
I pretty much just asked for my job back. I wasn’t embarrassed to do so. The worst they could say was no. I told them the truth, that I realized that I just needed a break for a while, that I was burnt out, but wanted to come back and that my decision to quit was impulsive. Luckily, oh-so-luckily, they were understanding and gave me my job back, with a couple of tweaks.
I realize that probably most moms, especially those who really need to work for the money, would never admit to their boss that they need a break, or a hiatus, for a few weeks, not one day. But I encourage all you overwhelmed moms to start NOW putting away a “mental health” emergency fund, and put away as much as you can, each month. I also think employers should recognize that if an employee is being genuinely honest with you – that they like their job but are burnt out – they SHOULD be understanding, and come up with, at the very least, some sort of compromise, so employees will be less burnt out. For example, maybe you can ask to work from home, one day a week. Or permission to take a yoga class during the day.
I quit my job because I did have a little mental breakdown. I was hired back, because I was honest about it. And, I recognize that most working mothers don’t have the privilege of NOT working, because they need to pay bills, children’s activities, and to feed their family. But I do think a good start is to be honest, which is a hard thing to admit, that you just need a break, especially to a boss. But if you don’t ask, you’ll definitely not get! So let’s get this conversation going. Please pass this on to your employers, your spouses, your friends, or anyone else who thinks I have a so-called perfect life.
Because even those whose lives may seem perfect and privileged may also be suffering, and on the verge of a breakdown. After a handful of weeks of not working, while not everything was rainbows and unicorns, I certainly felt happier, lighter, and now I look forward to working again.
If you need to vent, or feel like you’re going to break down, I am always willing to listen. Because I’ve been there. I’ve been there.