Ottawa, April 2014
Ottawa, April 2014

Looking back, I have almost no memories from the month of November to February. I remember Halloween… and then it’s a black hole. The fact we had little daylight and that this particularly harsh winter started early probably didn’t help but above all, I was burned out. I didn’t realize it, of course—I was too focused on making it through the endless days.

I should have seen it coming. I didn’t.

I think I’m doing better now.

It takes time.

I suck at this touchy-feely self-exploration and personal growth crap, so I’ll cut to the chase. Here are my 12 tips to keep your sanity through tough times. It works for me. Maybe it can help someone?

Take note of what truly matters to you

Work-eat-sleep, or as the French say, “métro-boulot-dodo”—that’s the routine for most of us. But what makes you truly happy? I love being active—walking, biking, moving. It relaxes me and it makes me feel good. Creating is also very important to me—writing, taking pictures, etc. I try my best to make time for these activities. Whatever you enjoy, no matter how silly it is, just do it. If it makes you happy, it’s not a waste of time.

Take time for the little things

I was so busy with daily chores that I considered anything else non-essential. For instance, I had always wanted to decorate Mark’s room better but since I barely had the time to take a shower, it was at the very bottom of my to-do list. Well, I finally decided it was time to do it. I printed a series of pictures from Mark’s birth to his first birthday and made a nice frame for his room. Guess what? The process was fun and Mark loves the pictures—he looks at them and points “mama” and “dada”.

Take one step at a time

I was always a step ahead. As soon as we were all up, I was already planning the rest of the day, i.e. how to fill so many hours before the night. I wasn’t enjoying anything. Now I take time to just lay on Mark’s bed and let him play with my hair or hug me, I take him for walks even if we are much slower than if I’d just put it in the stroller, I make silly faces to make him laugh… I try to not rush through the day but to enjoy some of it.

Take breaks

You may think a twenty-minute break won’t help much in the grand scheme of things, but trust me, it does. Take whatever you can. Even if you have to lock yourself in the bathroom.

Don’t forget to eat and sleep

On days when I feel about as optimistic as Kurt Cobain, instead of wishing for the end of the world, I ask myself two questions: am I hungry, and am I tired. If the answer is “yes” to either (or both), I know why I feel so low. Seriously, you can’t think straight when you are hungry or tired and the picture looks worse than it actually is. Knowing that there is a reason why I feel like shit actually helps—because I know it will get better.

Accomplish something

Anything. Get the grocery shopping done, do the dishes, make the bed, finish the chapter of a book, teach yourself (or your kid) something, call a friend, pay a bill… anything that you can cross off your checklist and say “okay, this is done”. Trust me, it makes you feel good.

Praise yourself

Technically, Mark is the one making progress and learning new skills. But who taught him? I did! So I give myself some credit because hell, I deserve it.

Don’t be afraid to change… something

Babies and toddlers thrive on routine, and so do their parents—when you find something that works, why change it? However, kids do change. Everything is a stage. And you have to break the routine and embrace their new abilities. Most of the time, it makes your life easier anyway.

Talk about how you feel

Whenever people asked, I usually replied I was okay. Maybe at that specific time, I was. Maybe I just suck at mini-venting sessions. The only place where I’m truly honest is this blog because I find it easier to write about my experiences than to talk about them. Writing about the struggles (and the joy!) of becoming a parent has been very helpful for me. Putting feelings into words helped me step back and look at the big picture.

Know that many of us are in the same boat

After I wrote “I’m Not Okay”, I received dozens of emails from women feeling the same following the birth of their first or second child. Whenever I mention that I have issues with food, many people are quick to acknowledge that they do to or that they went through such phases. I’d rather see everyone happy but the truth is, you are probably not the only one arguing with your partner, feeling overwhelmed, low, etc.

Enjoy the “stolen moments”

Sometimes, the stars are aligned and you have a particularly good day. Maybe you had the chance to truly relax. Maybe you wrapped up a project at work and got great feedback. Maybe your kid amazed you in some way. Maybe someone was kind to you. Maybe you found the perfect outfit and it was on sale. Whatever made you happy, acknowledge it and enjoy the moment. Store it at the back of your mind and retrieve it when you are feeling low.

Treat yourself

I still find it very hard to take care of myself when I’m taking care of Mark. His needs come first and I tend to forget mine. So I make a note to treat myself to something. I grab a coffee on the way to the playground, or I drag him to a clothing store to check out the new collection. I call a friend while he runs around in the park or I pluck my eyebrows while he plays with his toys in the bathtub. He gets his fun and I get mine.

Any tips to add?

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  1. Maria May 8, 2014 at 8:25 am


    I’ve done a quick catch up with your blog and although I’m feeling terribly sorry for not having known anything of your situation, I’m glad that you’re getting better. We’re stronger than we think. I love this post. It’s very helpful because everybody is having tough times every now and then. I would add another point, “ask for help”. In my case, it’s easy for me to forget asking for help.

    I hope you get better and better, stronger and stronger.

    Upwards and onwards!

    Do take care of yourself and I hope to have more time to catch up with you,

    1. Zhu May 8, 2014 at 8:36 pm

      Thank you!

  2. Silvia May 8, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    Zhu, yours are great tips!
    I think you forgot nothing. I wanted to suggest “Make a checklist”, but you already mention it in “Accomplish something” so… These are very good advice, and I can assure, it works!

    1. Zhu May 8, 2014 at 8:37 pm

      Thank you! I know you’ve been there, I had you in mind as well 😉

  3. Martin Penwald May 9, 2014 at 2:55 pm

    It is not always easy to reply « No, I have a incurable disease which crippled me » when someone ask you if you are ok. Something related to a social contract, I guess. That ´s why I never ask this kind of stuff when I met someone randomly because I really don´t care about the health of a perfect stranger.
    Maybe writing your blog is a good way to make all the bad thoughts leave.

    1. Zhu May 9, 2014 at 3:52 pm

      Makes sense. IMO, it’s not that you’re not social… it’s just that you are a caring person 😉

    1. Zhu May 9, 2014 at 11:05 pm

      Bookmark them… but I’m sure you’ll be just fine!

  4. Nigel May 10, 2014 at 3:52 am

    I’ve found that having a done list helps. Especially, when I feel unproductive.

    1. Zhu May 10, 2014 at 10:12 am

      Oh lists! I love lists!

  5. petite yaye May 16, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    Really great tips ! Be sure it works even when you leave in a sunny country… because it is not winter but routine the real problem…
    Othewise I have a problem with your blog : it send me your new article info on wordpress board only once in a while and not every time and I don’t receive the info when my reply is answered on your blog… did someone else have the same problem ?

    1. Zhu May 16, 2014 at 9:38 pm

      Re. WordPress issue… that’s weird. I’m not sure what you mean by “WordPress board”… is that the RSS feed?

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