Meredith Atwood, better known as "Swim Bike Mom," is a wife, mother, attorney, Ironman triathlete, insomniac and coach. She has inspired thousands of women to tackle the sport of triathlon through her blog and her book, "Triathlon for the Every Woman." She lives in the Atlanta area with her husband, "The Expert," and two kiddos. Meredith blogs at SwimBikeMom.com.

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The Day I Almost Broke Down

Recently, I almost had an official nervous breakdown.  The key word is almost.

The whole thing started with the morning wake-up.  The children (ages 5 and 6) refusing to get out of bed.  Me, standing in the hallway, broken-record style, “Get up. Wake up. Rise and Shine. Time to get up.”  I sang a few lines from “Annie.”  Then I stooped so low as to sing a line from “Frozen” …”Let It Go, Let it—-”  Oh heck no, no no no.  Can’t do that.   I was flickering lights. I was making jokes.  I tickled, tugged, and bargained.

The two lazy lumps remained in their respective beds. Ignoring me. Mocking me.

My husband was in the other room, and he was getting ready to leave for work.

I finally got the two kidlets moving.  They were moving like elephants through peanut butter, all stompy and bothered, but they were moving.  Wasn’t fast enough.  We had to be out of the door in a really short period of time, so the timing was beginning to seem more and more impossible.  I could feel myself starting to be filled with anxiety and worry and general fear.

At that moment, I lost my momma mind.

I lost my temper.  Bad.  And for a good solid few hours after, I thought that my mind might have truly been gone. I did not tell my husband this, because I am sure he would have shaken it off like he always does, thinking my mind has been long absent from our relationship.

I had yelled at my daughter.  I had said awful things to my husband.  I was hating on my life, my house, my job and my entire world for the great span of the morning.

For the remainder of the day, I had a dark cloud over my head.  I was doing some talking (grumbling) to myself.  Some crying. Mostly mad-woman ramblings of why don’t these kids listen to me and I don’t understand why that man won’t help me do X, Y, and Z. 

In those moments, I realized what was happening.  I understand exactly what my problem was and why I was certain that a break down was imminent.

I felt unheard, unloved and unnecessary.

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Am I any of these things?  From a starting point, a stranger could look at me and say, “Definitely not.”  Probably because I have a loud-mouthed presence on social media. I write. I blog. I run groups on Facebook. I am opinionated.  I am not what one would call, uh, quiet.  So how can I be unheard?

I can’t be unloved, either, for that matter.  Lots of people in my life love me.  I can make a list.  They are nice people and family members and they love me.  Check.  Okay, so I can’t be unloved, either.

Finally, my family needs my income, my laundry skills and my ability to whip-up flashcards in a jiffy. I pick up the kids from after-school care every day. My husband needs me to do this, so he can work longer hours due to his commute. So unnecessary? Wouldn’t appear to be the case either.

Unheard. Unloved. Unnecessary.

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My terrible mood and pity party continued most of the morning.  Until I was knee-deep in one of the Facebook groups I admin. We have one group for sharing experiences with life and triathlon training–which is kind of my “world” in the world of social media. Triathlon–because one sport isn’t enough, we crazy people need three: swim, bike and run all in one race.  That’s another story for another day.

As I was reading a post in the group, I was brought almost to my knees:

Please hug your kids tight and tell them you love them every day. My 16 year-old took his own life on Wednesday… I don’t know if I’ll be able to ever compete again, as part of me feels selfish for taking that time for me instead of spending it with him. I am scheduled for [a race], but right now I dont know if I’ll be able to train and be ready. Friends, this has broken me. How do you keep moving forward when all you want to do is go back?

Unheard. Unloved. Unnecessary.

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The arrogance that I had shuffled around my soul all day… the jerk-face, butt-head words that had swirled around my dear children that morning.  Things I had said to them, all in an effort to get ready for school. So they didn’t miss a bus. What in all that is holy is wrong with me? 

I felt my face burn red with embarrassment, then my eyes fill with tears.

What if my young ones didn’t come back home after school?  For a million reasons, they could not come back.   Accident. Hateful actions of others. Meteor. Violence. Freak Accident.

But I decided that, on that day, I would have a breakdown–instead of a reason to live.  Instead of folding their teeny little pants and socks.  I considered losing my mind, instead of living my life with them.  I considered making a choice to check out.  Because they wouldn’t wake up in a timely manner. Because parenting is the hardest thing I have ever imagined.  Because some days I would rather ride for 6 hours on my bike than make another stupid small turkey sandwich that they won’t like, and they will complain about to their friends.

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I will never forget, in a million years, one of the most hurtful things I did to my own mother.   I was in middle school, around age twelve or so, and my mom picked me up from school.  And she had a wacked-out haircut.  I don’t know who did it to her, but it was crazy.  My mom was (is) a very beautiful woman. But whoever cut her hair should have been tarred and feathered.

I had one of my little snotty friends with me, and we proceeded to laugh at my mom’s hair. We tried to do it behind her back, but thirteen year olds are kind of crappy with discretion, so of course, she saw it. She felt it.

My mom.

The woman who had raised me, and nurtured me and taught me better.  It hurt her feelings. Understandably so.

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And for some reason, recently, it occurred to me that my mom, at that time, was exactly the age that I am now. She was thirty-four years old, when her little brat kid laughed at her perfectly-fine-for-the-early-nineties hair.

So stupid.  The things that “matter” and things we do and say to people, those who we love the most.

(I’m sorry, Mom. And for the record, Stella does laugh at my hair often, so I get it now.)

I say the worst things in the world to the people I love.

Who does that?

After thinking of the woman who just lost her son, of the things I said to hurt my family over the years, I was crumpled to the floor in a state of breakdown–only a different kind. The kind that says, “I can do better than this. This is not my legacy.”

When the kids came home, I was still leaking tears from my day.  I was crying because of my friend who lost her son. I was crying because of my selfish, childish behavior.  Just crying, and couldn’t get a handle on it.

Then the  six-year old boy child reached for me, and said, “Mom, when you are sad, I will make you smile.”

I squeezed him, and in all of his profoundness, he said, “You are not alone.”IMG_1696

Holy…

That night he and I read a book.

Actually, his little smart buns read TO me.  Wow.  I looked at him, his long eyelashes.  The dirty-blonde hair. I counted his new summer freckles, and the too-long toenails.  I buried my face in his hair, and breathed that little stinky boy smell deeper than I ever have before.  The little smell that remains even after a hard scrub in the shower.

I may never get this life “right.” I may be brash and rash and clumsy and an embarrassment sometimes.

But three things, that I know, wholeheartedly, now that I am not:

Unheard. Unloved. Unnecessary.

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Comments (5)

  1. Liz M 09/16/2014 at 10:22 am

    You say

    “I say the worst things in the world to the people I love.
    Who does that?”

    We all do.

    In some sort of twister social filter, the words we refrain from hurling at co-workers, bosses, clients, neighbors, and even strangers…those atomic words that pierce souls and leave a lifetime of scars…we lob those words around at home in angry self-righteousness.

    Later, when the anger diffuses and the moment is refocused with a sprinkle of perspective, regret can be overwhelming. Sometimes forgiveness is easy. Other times it’s a slow process of healing.

    Either way, the best thing we can do is to remember that even when you pull out a nail, the hole is there forever. We must be more mindful of how we wield our verbal hammers.

    Thanks for a beautifully honest and raw post. My heart aches for the woman who lost her son.

  2. Cynthia @ You Signed Up For WHAT?! 09/08/2014 at 11:15 am

    Wow, very moving and an amazing reminder to not take any day for granted. I’ll go home from work tonight and appreciate the little things – smells sights sounds. Thanks.

  3. Lisa Goepfert 09/08/2014 at 11:07 am

    Thank you thank you thank you Meredith for the unvarnished post. I too had a week similar to yours. Our kids are 16, 13 and 10 however. It, unfortunately does not get easier. It gets harder. Harder not to get mad at the tones they have. Harder to not get mad at their behavior (even tho it is just like yours was at that age) Harder to let go, because time is fleeting and so are they. There have been many nights I go to bed feeling a failure, yet I rise the next morning determined to do better. Some times I do. Some times it is a fail by 9 a.m. but I won’t give up. I’m a mom. I’m their mom, for better or worse, we are stuck with each other. I too know that I will never get it all right, but perhaps we can get some of it right a bit at a time. Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful. And I guess neither do we…Thanks again.

  4. Mark Peterson 09/08/2014 at 10:12 am

    Wow. Thank you for sharing. We want to live life to it’s fullest, yet somehow we manage to screw things up–at least from time to time.

    The best advice I got from counselling was to watch the negative thoughts that go through your head. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but putting advice into practice is another thing.

    From your blog, I see that you coach, praise and generally help others achieve their best. What would you say to a person, if it was not you writing this blog but someone else, who had this type of day. You would probably say, all your intentions were good. You’re ok. You’re kids love you, your friends love you, and we hear you. You matter.

    You matter to this complete stranger. I don’t have my act together anymore than you. You’re a wonderful person, wonderful wife and wonderful mom. Say the things you’d say to someone else, but to yourself. You deserve good coaching too! Even if it is from yourself.

  5. jill fox 09/08/2014 at 10:00 am

    Okay. I never cry. But I’m sitting at my desk sobbing now. Good tears. Thank you.