How Tired Mom Became So Tired and Wired
It's a common story. Sleep deprivation, single parenting while partner is working away, putting your own needs aside and taking care of your children. It is hard to see past the dark clouds when you are so tired you are "dumb and wired". This is a story how I managed to pull myself out of the darkness and see the bright sunshine again, above the dark clouds, inspired to live my life to the fullest.
The heavy load of life gets lighter when you don't sit on your ass shivering in the cold summer in your down jacket (yes, the middle picture is taken in June 2015 in Newfoundland)! Your dreams can come true when you believe in yourself.
Why would anyone call themselves a Tired Mom? How flattering. The fact is, I was so tired for so years, I could not think straight. The story you are about to read is a huge part of my journey in motherhood, while being tired for the most part of it. Tired from lack of sleep, tired of life, tired of always being there for other people. How much sleep deprivation can one take before shit hits the fan? Apparently, a lot. This post is probably my darkest, but I hope you can see the sliver of promise and hope at the end. You have been warned.
If you've ever had a baby, you know how tired you can be after weeks and weeks of interrupted sleep. If you haven't then, well, you are out of luck. This blog might not be for you. My first LO was a terrible sleeper. He did not sleep through the night before he was one year old. Being the first baby, I probably didn't know what to do to help him sleep better. Poor thing. Add one more baby just when the first one is sleeping better. Then one more. Yupp, that'll do it. I was so tired my head would be in a dark cloud and the only way I could manage the day alone was to get jacked up and wired from all the Starbucks coffee. Add a blueberry muffin to the mix and sugar rush would be racing through my veins and retire in my kangaroo pouch.
You know what I mean, girlfriend, the kangaroo pouch where you kids used to grow in. The one that is still sticking out in the middle part of your torso years after. That one, right there. Give it a little gentle loving rub.
It was 2015, I was utterly exhausted. Physically. Mentally. Every inch of my body desired an Out. Over the past few years, I had been on a rollercoaster ride of my life. I had left my favorite country in the world (Norway), explored the world with my husband, lived in four continents, brought three kids to this world, and in the process slowly became a stranger to myself. I was far, far away from everything and everyone I used to know. My country. My family. My friends. Myself. My Happy Place (seriously, not a Starbucks Drive-through). And yet, I had chosen all of this. It was my choice. In my power. Everything time we had the chance to move, I was the first one to say: YES!!! LET'S DO IT! Yet, I resented it. I felt deep frustration and resentment towards myself, my husband, my life.
Why? I was escaping from a loss that I did not have the depth, or wisdom to process. I never let myself feel sadness for the loss(es) I had left behind when I chose to leave Norway and the life I had built for myself. I had dear friends I missed tremendously. I had gone from kicking ass to feeling reduced of my own role in the world. Before I had jumped head first into this roller coaster ride of a life with my soulmate, I had been building my career. I had a master’s degree in Sports Science, determined to take on PhD and rock the academic world. I was also making a difference in women in sports. I stepped away from brilliant, promising career to a part-time single parenting gig, as a stay-at-home mom of three children (3.5, and 2 year olds and a baby) in an isolated island off the east coast of Canada. Newfoundland is an island off the east coast of Canada, where thick, thick fog lingers for days and the few and far sunny days are always accompanied with 100 km/h winds. It was a difficult set up for a nature loving girl like me.
I always wondered, how you Newfoundlanders stay so positive and happy there?
My resentment was eating me inside, but I had no idea what the root was. I just felt it and felt guilty for that also. That word again, guilt. Mental note for myself, write a blog post of that. I could write a thesis on that topic only. Now, I understand my resentment has a deeper root than being alone in some freezing cold island with three kids, and it has everything to do with my major life choices, like quitting cross-country ski racing and leaving Finland, leaving my life behind in Norway and stuff like that. But back in 2015, I had not processed that yet. My brain was simply not computing...
I never knew weather could affect my mental well being so much before we moved there. We had moved with my husband’s work for 6 years, Houston, Rio De Janeiro, Houston again, Dubai, short stint to deliver our youngest kids in Rovaniemi, Finland and now, in 2015 to St. John’s. My husband was still traveling with work, leaving me home with a baby, 2-year-old and 3-year-old. I am a "polar bear" from northern Finland where snow can cover the ground for 5-6 months of the year. I missed winter dearly after having lived in tropical cities for years. But this was different kind of winter. Cold, foggy, a dump of wet snow that iced overnight. And did I mention rain? Seriously though, I wore a skirt once the whole 2 years we lived there.
Dylan left for for weeks at a time. I had no help. No family around. Nobody to call. I had to survive, no matter what. And I did my best to make sure kids were being fed healthy food, they had friends to play with, they were learning, they were happy and well, and they were developing as they should. But doing all that by myself meant I had to forget about getting anything done for myself. With broken sleep, breastfeeding, never really having a 5 minute quiet time for myself. Someone always needing me. I was way out of shape. Dead tired. "Dumb and wired" as my friend Jill used to say. So tired your brain doesn't compute, and wired of all the coffee you have to drink to stay awake. Yupp, Dumb and Wired. That was me.
Sounds familiar, expat mom?
Thank God for Jill. She was my shining light. We had met in that shithole of a town, Macae, Brazil, where we lived in 2010 before moving to Rio de Janeiro. We had babies together, we both moved to Houston together in 2012 and we were both "dumb and wired". Hanging out with Jill always made me smile and feel good. Our ways have split now, she is in Alaska (so jealous!) and I am back in the desert (wait, polar bear should not be in the desert but in Alaska!), but she is always going to be my 'dumb and wired' friend I can turn to, although we drink a lot less coffee than we used to.
Dumb & Wired: Dumb because you are so tired, wired because you've drank too much coffee. Jill H.
Dumb and wired, I was also years deep into sleep deprivation and postpartum depression. My first one was a terrible sleeper, he would never sleep more than 1.5 hr at a time, and 45 mins nap when a baby. To this day, I look at a sleeping baby with awe. And when someone's baby sleeps good 3-5 hrs naps, I feel deep jealousy. Maybe it's our own dumbness but we wanted our kids back to back, so second one was born when LO1 (little one 1) was 16 months old, and not even sleeping through the night yet. Geez. And then LO3 2 years after LO2. Baby factory. All this while moving from Rio to Houston to Dubai to Rovaniemi to St. John's. A moving baby factory. Yupp, that's me.
For years I could not see the silver lining. I was so deep into it. But my love for my family kept me going. I guess I was meant for marathoning. While I was thick into the Newfoundland fog deck, I was not even dreaming about running a marathon. In fact, I always thought I am too big to run a marathon. How could I? I could barely run for 20 mins. It was way out of my league. How wrong could I be?
I also had one of the worst injuries I've ever had, plantar fasciitis in both feet. At some point while LO1 and LO2 were little, living in Houston, I got back into running with them sitting in a double stroller. I felt such a huge surge of endorphins while running, I could not help but run every other day.... longer and longer. Of course this is a recipe for disaster (overloading your body with too much, too fast, too often) and I got plantar fasciitis on both feet. Good job champion! Living your life as a mom with two toddlers with bilateral plantar fasciitis.... constantly on your feet. In pain. Fun times! (hear the sarcasm?)
I guess in some subconscious level I was trying to show myself a way by challenging myself in a way I only knew. The only way I had ever known to give me an instant Go Get'er boost: A Race. Something to aim for. So when LO2 was born, and we were in the middle of international move from Brazil back to US, I had signed up for a 50 km long ski marathon in February called American Birkebeiner in Wisconsin. Little did I know the road there was covered with shit tons of challenges. That is a topic of another blog post.
In summary, life at its hardest was weighing on me. I profoundly loved my kids, and husband, and I was very proud of our family. But I felt empty and dead inside. I was deep into the survival mode and I had no idea how to turn the wheel and get out of the rut. Everything I tried seemed to be taken away from me.
I was too tired to talk to anyone, other than Jill. I thought what the hell is the point of complaining about my life when there is always someone else who has it worse than me? What would it change if I talked with someone? I had already been through that route in Houston. I managed to "dodge the bullet" and not get into medications in Houston when I mentioned to my doc that I was not coping well. I went to see a family therapist, but although it was nice to talk with someone, it did nothing for me. Just talking about my problem didn't change anything for me. Although the therapist was nice and understanding, I felt no better just japping my gums about my life. I'm a doer, not a talker, I guess. So eventually, I just decided to get by. Day by day.
I felt no real impulsive, tummy shaking joy for years. Marriage was as grey as the sky in the foggy Newfoundland. I was ashamed of my three-babies-body, all jiggly and floppy and energy sucked out. I never undressed in front of my husband anymore. Sex drive was non-existing. I felt like a sack of potatoes with no passion. I made no effort to take risks, feel a little something, nothing made me excited. I fell into the numbing routine of the mundane, safe haven of mom guilt, and my happy place was the Starbucks drive thru. I was too deep into the brain-fog to make an effort to get out.
I had made a promise to myself, though, back in Brazil when we lived in Leblon, watching triathletes swim and run by the beach. That looked like a fun thing to do.
I had made a promise to do a triathlon once my youngest was old enough. I signed up for St. John’s Triathlon in August 2015, our youngest just turned one year old.
But first, I would have to deal with the bilateral plantar fasciitis I had suffered for years. I hired a personal trainer and started whipping myself back in shape. I am not afraid of hard work and my PT was just the perfect match. Nick, if you ever read this, THANK YOU for the bottom of my heart. You are a big part of my story. You saw the kindle of passion in me, and never doubted I could reach my goals. In fact, you blew into the kindling fire and helped it grow.
But it was not always easy to get myself to the gym after wiping snot all day at home. I still remember how hard it was to drag myself to the gym at 5 pm when all I wanted to do was to plop onto the coach, exhausted and close my eyes for a second. But I knew Nick was expecting me to show up at 5pm for a session AND I'd lose my money if I stayed home pigging out on the coach. I was like a one legged woman kicking myself out of the house in no time. Maybe not always a happy one-legged woman but I did it because there was another human waiting for me, and I knew that once there, it was the only place I truly wanted to be.
And if I hadn't kicked myself out the door, I would have felt even shittier. If you are in the ever contemplating phase, kick yourself out the door already, woman, and hire a coach. I promise you: IT DOES WORK!
I spent five months strengthening and balancing out my baby- making, baby- carrying, never- sleeping- more- than- 3- hr- exhausted body into semi proper functional state and toed the line in my first triathlon. I would swim 1500m, bike 40 km and run 10 km, also called Olympic distance triathlon, which the best triathletes complete in an 1:52 - 1:55 (hrs:mins)! It was 9 degrees C in the air, and the water felt warmer than the air. It was windy (big surprise?!), I had no proper triathlon gear, I had no idea how to pace myself, but I had amazing time! WHAT A RUSH! 3 hrs spent alone, just for me?! I felt like a freaking superstar, and I wanted more. I was hooked.
I am onto something here. I completed my first Olympic distance triathlon (1500m swim, 40km bike and 10 km run in August 2015) then raced the second on two weeks later. Those two wins gave me a huge confidence boost. I didn't have a road bike so I rode my mountain bike on roads, soooo slow!! The next spring we started running races again, before we moved across the country.
You can only grow if you are willing feel awkward and uncomfortable when trying something new. Brian Tracy
By no means was I fast (3 hrs 12 mins), but I placed first in my age group. I signed up for a second race in the area in two weeks. Placed first on my age group and 2nd overall. Again, I was not fast, but the relative success gave me a huge mental boost.
I was in action mode. I saw a light in the tunnel. I felt like I was living. I know it sounds crazy, but finishing couple of Olympic distance triathlons were two of the most fulfilling days in years. It had nothing to do with kids and family, and that was the point. It was all me, and doing something for me had been lacking for so long in my life. It was like I was being lifted over those dark clouds and I saw the sun for the first time in years.
I was thinking triathlon every second of the day. I studied it, read about gear, training, became obsessed about it. But I never thought I could be able to do full (140.6 miles) or even half Ironman (70.3miles). I thought it was just too long for me. Roots of self-doubt had been planted deep and well. It would take a huge challenge to release that bastard. Believe me when I say this, but life has a funny way of steering yourself towards your own self-imposed limitations if you just follow your heart. You'll see.
It is a miracle that I did have the courage to start a new sport at the ripe age of 37. I had never been a swimmer, and hadn't touched a bike in 10 years, and never raced on a bike.
But just the growth from those two triathlons, the confidence and spark for living again, made me able to handle life better again. I may have started even smiling a little. I took up a personal trainer course, studied any chance I got, often late at night, where else than Starbucks, drinking coffee. LOL! I signed up for another Ski Marathon in the winter 2016, kept training the best I could with recurrent sinus infections. I had seen the light and wanted more of it and I knew the only way to see more of the light was to do something, anything for myself.
But Universe, the Mother Load, God, or whatever you believe in, would have it to test my will. My determination. My very own Sisu. The Universe made me test the very own slogan I had created for my coaching business, Be Sisu Fit. Go check it out.
That summer we lost our job, and moved across the country to Vancouver Island. I lost a season of triathlon as we drove for 3 weeks across the beautiful country of Canada, camping, visiting new places, friends and family. What an epic trip! Three kids, from 2 to 5, van packed to the brim, no screens, keeping track of how many "Are We There Yet" we would hear, counting all types of animals we saw. We were probably the happiest we have ever been, just present and together. We made wonderful memories, and we stuck with each other and never lost the belief that we would get through this.
Three weeks on the road across the most beautiful country, Canada. We ticked off 8100 kms from St. John's, Newfoundland to Sooke, BC, on Vancouver Island. The trip of a lifetime. I hope the kids will remember some of it.
On Vancouver Island, life was great, Dylan loved being there, kids loved being there. I loved the nature, the gorgeous nature. It truly is a life bucket list to go visit Vancouver Island. But I had no opportunities there. For either work, or triathlon, as Dylan was traveling for work again, gone for a month, then coming home for 7-10 days. I was single parenting again. We lived out in the bush too, which didn't help my feeling of being isolated. I really tried my best.
In 2017, I tried on my first 70.3 (half) Ironman in Victoria. I just wanted to finish and see Dylan and kids at the finish line. We had had a car issue couple of days before the race and I didn't know if I would see them at all. I never heard them during the bike. Then on the run, I never saw or heard them either. Running through the finish line was an anticlimax as I never heard them cheer for me. I was so happy to have finished (6 hours 12 minutes) and that day was a confirmation that I really really really wanted to do more triathlons, but I was so bummed my family was not there.
I grabbed something to eat and then start walking to transition area when I see them playing on the playground! My heart filled with so much joy I burst into tears! They came!! Dylan told me they were waiting for me but LO3 had just ran off to the playground, so they all had to go and then he heard my name being announced a minute after.
My biggest victory and self-doubt buster, finishing 70.3 Ironman in Victoria 2017. I was completely hooked and already dreaming of something greater.
Completing that half Ironman, I started doubting my doubt. Why could I not run a marathon? Why not? Nobody climbs a mountain in one go. People climb a mountain one step at a time, and still fall on their face many times. The only way to run a marathon is one step at a time, and fail, fail, fail but still keep trying. It is only a failure if you stay on the ground, and I had so much SISU in me, there was no way I would NOT GET BACK UP AGAIN.
Energized and confident from the half Ironman, I started jotting down my next challenge. I ran a new PR on half marathon on a hilly course, 1:56, and then started training for Victoria Marathon in October. I wanted to know for sure that I can run a marathon before adding 3.8 km swim and 180 km bike ride into the mix (Full Ironman distance). It was all I wanted to do, but training was a challenge with being a single parent for weeks. I was able to clock in some long runs, 28, 30, 32 km and everything felt great until 2 weeks before the marathon, something went wrong in my ankle. I could not run without pain. I didn't want to risk bigger injury, so I pulled out of the race. It was a huge disappointment as I wanted to run a marathon before my 40th birthday, and I had 5 months to go. I took of 2 months from running, and the ankle heeled itself. Ok, what now? Vancouver marathon is in May. Let's do it.
Only one problem. Dylan was gone. I was searching for a babysitter to take care of the kids while I would run. I was so determined. I had everything planned out. I would not let anything keep me away from running.
Expect an International move. Not unlike how there is a rainbow after the rain, new opportunities showed up. Dylan got a new job in Dubai in April 2018. We had a house to sell, organize for a move, and boom, just like that marathoning would have to wait. By that time I had build up my resilience factor by the thousands and I was feeling super excited about the move, although last time we lived in Dubai (2014), I was not impressed.
I felt it in my bones that this was a new fresh start for us, and I could not wait to live together as a family again. Hubby would come home every day!! What a relief. I also was excited that I would be able to focus on my projects, my coaching business, my book, my health.
There was one thing in my mind, that really talked to me. Something that would be a full time "job". It would be the hardest thing I would ever do. It would test both my mental and physical limits. And it made me giggle and vibrate whenever I thought of it. It excited and scared me in the same time.
Ironman World Championships are organized every October in Kona, Hawaii, USA. In order to qualify, as a woman, you must win a qualifying race. Only about 70 ladies in age group 40-44 raced Kona 2019, having qualified from thousands of athletes.
Yeah, let's do it! (Here we go again, jumping head first into things...)
Read my journey from Tired Mom to Ironmom in the next post.
Yours in mental wellbeing,
Marjaana A.K.A Tired Mom Runs
Follow my journey on Instagram @tiredmomruns