THE BLOG
02/25/2016 09:31 am ET Updated Feb 25, 2017

Restoring My Joy and Finding Myself Again

For at least three years, I had been running on auto-pilot and did not even notice it. I had the best of intentions, and made sure I could do everything I could in every day. I'm sure many people can relate, especially single parents who are also maintaining their jobs.

It started out as a reluctant duty, since I knew no one else would take up the cudgels and handle all of them. I went to work and ran a household with equal dedication. Each day I finished work and got home, I kept the house as clean as possible, cooked a dinner my kids would like, did a 5K run if I had the energy, checked if they were doing their homework, cleaned up again, nagged the kids to do their chores, and reminded them of tomorrow's activities. The day usually ended with me, picking up the phone, attending at least one work-related meeting every night. If I'm lucky, the kids would have settled on their own and I would fall asleep before midnight.

I had been doing this for three years, with barely a sick day, constantly balancing my time with my kids and my new husband. My husband is still learning to adapt to our lives, and I married him with that understanding. Having never been married before, he has much to learn about patience and sacrificing things for the young. Other than that, it is a thriving marriage with a few kinks that need correcting. That is another story.

On especially trying days, one of my kids would have a meltdown, and I would have no fortitude to deal with it. Both are in therapy, so not only do I have to take care of their daily needs, I also have to make sure they are not in any emotional crisis. At least once a week, a teacher or someone concerned about one of my kids called me. Trips to the clinic happened way too often.

I am never in a state of self-pity. I have no time to feel sorry for myself, and anger would be the first emotion if I ever found myself feeling that way. One voice in my head just said "keep going," and that is what I did, day in and day out.

I thought I was doing everything right. But I forgot one thing -- I forgot about myself. I was being everything to everyone, and lost myself in the process.

I spent a great deal of time and energy achieving an environment that was normal and secure. I worked long hours in my job because I knew I could not afford to lose it. I cooked any meal imaginable because my kids deserved nothing less. I ran my household without a helper because I wanted the kids to be self-reliant. I created such a tall order for myself and I almost risked my well-being to maintain it. I did not realize that over time, I was depleting something within myself. I was slowly forgetting what I needed to be happy and secure. It sounded ridiculous -- but it happened. I soldiered on with my lot in life, and forgot all about my own happiness.

I realized the gravity of the situation this week, one horrible day when everything went wrong. I spent the whole day in tears, exhausted, frustrated, desperate for my suffering to end. I got to this point because I failed to take care of myself. I barely listened to the other voice that reminded me to take long walks that didn't have to fit into a schedule, meditate, enjoy some moments of solitude, things I barely did. I also neglected friends I missed, who would have been pivotal in pointing out the flaws in my coping methods. I was depressed, probably as much as I was when my first husband passed away.

I sought kind friends who guided me back into clarity. All of them pointed out the biggest mistake I made is that I didn't take care of myself. I was deliberately living a life that couldn't be lived by anyone. Things had to change.

The first change was realizing my job could not proceed in this manner. I had good employers who were open-minded enough to help me manage my time better, but I never asked for it. For the first three days, I stopped having evening calls, I made plans to handle everything within normal work hours. What a change that was! I was overwhelmed with the realization that I had more time, and excitedly planned all the things I wanted to do. It sounds silly, but three years of being programmed to pick up the phone to attend evening meetings did that to me.

With my evenings freed up, I could focus more on things that really mattered: my kids and my husband. Maybe when the kids have meltdowns or if my husband and I have spats, I can really be in the moment and handle them better. I realize that I was volatile and too emotional when these things happened, more than the average person. As they are the most important people in my life, they deserved better.

The most important change is I am going to make myself top priority. I used to think it was selfish to think that way, especially as a single parent. It's really simple -- how can you be of any use to anyone if you are not taking care of yourself? It will take a while, and I don't have immediate solutions for this one. However, I will be aware that I need to do more for myself everyday.

I must have that spring in my step again, laugh and really feel it coming from within, accept my life's curve balls and be stronger because of them. It is so easy these days to lose yourself, life has become too frenetic and demanding. I need to make a conscious effort to remind myself not to keep trudging away. I am a human being with choices. It is not the answer, as doing so will only make me lose myself again.

I need to find my joy again. Knowing this is the first step, restoring the joy within me is the next. If you find yourself doing more than you should, barely finding time to breathe, and struggling through life's daily challenges, it probably means you're doing too much. In this day and age, most of us are guilty of doing too much and being everything to everyone. It's sad that it's come to this point for some of us, but it's not a bad thing to cut back and give more to yourself. It's what I need to do starting today.

Maybe the next entry will be all about those little triumphs, and I'll relate how I've turned my life around for the better. Here's hoping.