By now you’ve probably heard the heartbreaking story of a mother who drove her van into the Hudson River in New York with herself and her four children inside. One of the children, a ten-year-old boy called LaShaun, scrambled out of the van and survived and it is from him we are learning the harrowing details of that night. Family and friends say 25-year-old LaShanda Armstrong had been acting strangely over the past couple of weeks but didn’t know, and obviously couldn’t comprehend, that she would commit such a desperate act.
Can you imagine the horrors LaShaun has seen? The idea that his mother, who was supposed to love and protect him and his siblings was so distraught, overwhelmed in her life that she thought her only escape was death? I cannot fathom how this little guy is going to get past this or what his life will be like from here.
Then yesterday, People magazine reported that actress, wife and mother Catherine Zeta Jones had checked herself into a mental health facility to get treatment for bipolar disorder, something she has apparently struggled with in the past. I was surprised, I guess because like many others, I didn’t know she had been struggling with mental illness. But I was also impressed that she chose to be so open and forthcoming about it. Two women, two different lives, two very different outcomes. But in reading them both I realized there’s something for all of us, as women and mothers to take from them.
YOU CANNOT DO IT ALL: And anyone who expects you to be able to doesn’t understand the limitations of time but more importantly, energy. Those who think you can pull together a business plan while the baby is napping are not living your life.
LEARN TO SAY NO: One of my favorite sayings is people take kindness for weakness. And when you’re running around trying to please everyone, trying not to make waves, trying to go along to get along, people just dump on you. Just.Say.No.
IT’S OKAY TO BE AWAY FROM YOUR KIDS: One of the troubling aspects of LaShanda Armstrong’s story is the quote from people who said she was a good mother because she was never away from her kids. That’s not necessarily the measure of a good mother and I think does damage because it presupposes that wanting to be away from them makes you a bad mother.
In order to effectively care for others, you have to care for yourself too. It’s totally okay for you to say to your kids, “I love you but I need to be away from you.” They will grow to understand that their mother loved them enough to take care of herself.
IT’S OKAY TO SAY I ‘M HAVING TROUBLE COPING: I am so saddened by the fact that LaShanda Armstrong felt so overwhelmed and despite family and friends, so alone, that she thought death was her only option. There’s ALWAYS a way, always someone who will listen. You just have to keep talking until you find one.
I remember a year ago being in that horrible dark and lonely place and felt like I couldn’t tell anyone because I’m Rene Syler. I’m the one holding it together for everyone else. I’m the one empowering mothers and women. But everyday as Buff would go off to work I knew he was worried about me; hell I was worried about myself. I would take the kids to school, still in my pajamas, then climb back in the bed, where I would stay for seven hours until it was time to pick them up. I was in mental and physical pain. I remember going to the doctor for a cold one day and no sooner had he walked in the exam room, I broke down; I literally couldn’t take it anymore. While I didn’t want to die, I just didn’t want to hurt anymore. Together we devised a plan to get me mentally healthy again.
Today as we’re all going about our day, thinking about LaShaun and the horrors he’s seen and Catherine Zeta Jones and her struggle to get healthy, let’s not forget about ourselves. Promise to treat yourself with the same kindness you do others.
I know we’re all busy but take a moment to really connect with those around you. Is there someone you sense is struggling? Don’t worry about how to say it or embarrassing yourself, just reach out before they slip under.
Have you ever been in that dark place? Did you feel you were able to tell someone? How did you get through that time…?