How Momma Got Her Joy Back



So here’s the deal. This summer was a rough one for me. Somehow, amid a hormonal roller-coaster of changing my “pill” prescription,  (which resulted in hair loss, weight gain, cystic acne, and depression) skipping our annual vacation to Ocean City, MD, and having a very dry spell in my work world, I crashed. Hard.
It was dark in there, like black. I had a moment where I realized that among a number of things, I had lost my joy. Like, all of it.

Everything felt hard, painful, like drudgery–the house, the kids, the relationship, the lack of steady work, the self-care, the laundry, the cooking, the animals, the dishes…lord help me, the damn dishes. I love my life, it is full and happy, and lucky, and beautiful. But suddenly, the pressure to keep it all moving at the expected pace felt too hard to bear. And, then I lost a friend.

I lost one of those friends that you love to know is out there in the world, doing good things, living well, being present. One of those friends that despite the distance, and the time passed between visits or chats,  you just know has your back, and you have hers. She died suddenly, living her adventurous life, kayaking in Gore Canyon, CO. It stopped me in my already slowing tracks. How could it be that my sweet Beth was no longer a part of this world? How was it that the vibrant young girl that I met on my very first day of college could be gone? It was just wrong–all wrong.

Beth McVay Aug. 6, 1976- August 16, 2014

Beth McVay Aug. 6, 1976- August 16, 2014

So, the black got blacker, and I started isolating, and forgot to be grateful.
Isn’t it always the way?

As soon as the gratitude is replaced by resentment, we’re goners. Well, at least I am.

I was feeling smothered by the idea of having to maintain the status quo. After years of hard work, carving out our place in our fields, and socking away our earnings, to buy our dream house, right outside of New York City, we have been used to the fight and the hustle. I have been ever vigilant to make sure that everything is in its place at home, while being razor focused when I am working. I try my best to be a present and active mother to my kids, in all of the moments that I am not working. I do my best to prepare healthy and delicious foods. I try to keep my hair and face together. I try to workout hard 5 days a week, while eating healthily. I try to be a great friend, a good neighbor, and a great wife. I bake for godsake–like a lot. And instead of stepping back to enjoy the payoff, I found myself somehow grasping and clawing in fear that somehow it will all disappear if I make one misstep along the way. Sounds exhausting, right?

Umm, I think that somehow this summer between the birth control fiasco & losing my friend that I hit a wall. Life as I have been living it, since becoming a mother (ten years ago, the first of November), and probably long before that, had become unmanageable. All of this trying to control every damn thing, all the damn time was crushing my soul. And I found myself yelling, screaming, crying, and stomping my foot–literally. It wasn’t pretty or dignified. And, my kids saw the whole show. Oy.

As I melted into a puddle, I blubbered to my husband, “This isn’t me–you know this isn’t me. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
He agreed, with look of deep concern and confusion all over his face. “This isn’t you.”

I had “graduated” from therapy a year ago, after feeling like things were moving along nicely & most of my big issues had been turned over, this way & that, for the better of 12 years. So, instead of calling my therapist, I bought this book, and started reading it.


And in Brene Brown‘s book,  I found definitions of perfectionism that kind of absolutely rocked my world.

Perferfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance. Most perfectionists were raised being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule-following, people pleasing, appearance, sports). Somewhere along the way, we adopt this dangerous and debilitating belief system: I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect.”

Perfectionism is a self destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgement, and blame.

Perfectionism is addictive because we invariably do experience shame, judgement, and blame, we often believe it’s because we weren’t perfect enough. So rather than questioning the faulty logic of perfectionism, we become more entrenched in our quest to live, look, and do everything just right.
–Brene Brown–The Gifts of Imperfection

All of this felt like it was written directly to me. (Except for the line about sports)
Not only that, this book is a practical guide to addressing perfectionism and the addiction to business & control.
It has guideposts such as:
#4 Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark
#7Cultivating Play and Rest: Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self Worth

So I kept on reading & highlighting, and then I called my therapist.

I’m in rebuilding mode. “Be gentle with yourself and find the joy.” is my new mantra. My dear friend and astrologer, Katie Day, advised me to consider this question before taking on any task: “Is this adding to my energy reserves or depleting them?” And with the help of this simple question, I have been finding small ways to loosen my grip-hold on my life. The kids have been getting to bed a little later, but it’s been less frantic and with far less yelling. I have stopped pushing my body, when it tells me it’s tired, rather than forcing another workout in (and ending up injured AGAIN). I have been meditating in the morning and evening (without giving myself a hard time if I forget here & there), using pranayama and mantra to clear some blocked pathways.

During all of this revamping, another friend had nominated me for the 7 Day Gratitude challenge on FB. Although feeling bleak and depleted, I accepted. And, in that week, the simple practice of naming 3 things for which I am truly grateful really turned the ship around. It is profound how much the daily practice of gratitude can keep one’s spirit buoyant.

When Labor Day passed without one day on the beach all summer, I knew I needed to be in the ocean at least once before the chill of fall descended. So, this weekend, we rented a beach-house owned by some lovely friends, and popped down to Ocean Grove, NJ for a last hurrah.

The town is like a dream, with beautifully painted Victorian homes lined up side by side, like a gingerbread trail that leads to the ocean.

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The water was clear as crystal, perfectly crisp and refreshing. My kids explored the shoreline while I sat at the water’s edge in a folding chair, watching them backlit by the rising sun.
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And, I felt my chest expand and release in a way that it can only do, when I am close to the ocean. We jumped waves. They built an enormous castle (with the expert help of their amazingly talented daddy).

And, while they were building, I saw a little girl around 9 years old, turn a beautiful front handspring on her way to the surf. My husband caught my eye, knowing that I had seen her, and further knowing that tumbling was my very first love.  And then it hit me. I stood up and like I had done a hundred times in my girlhood, I did a cartwheel, right there on the beach. And then I did handstands too–a bunch of them.

For the first time since I was a kid, I didn’t care if someone thought I was a show-off, or too old, or too <insert your judgement here>. I thought, the time is NOW. I am almost 39 years old, and I love doing handstands on the beach. So, I did handstands until I was done. And, the joy that had been seeping in over the past few weeks, suddenly came flooding back. I did one for my friend Beth. I did two for my kids. But, mostly I did those handstands to feel like me–that deepest part of me where the spark of joy always lives, where being upside down feels like laughter.


Me at 38 1/2 on the beach in Ocean Grove, NJ.

With gratitude and joy,

17 thoughts on “How Momma Got Her Joy Back

  1. Dear Stephanie,

    So beautifully written, honest and true for a lot of us…different circumstances, same feelings. It brought a tear to my eye. Not of sadness but of joy. If it weren’t for my ocular hypertension, I’d be flipped upside down as much as possible.

    Ocean Grove, N.J. looks so beautiful. I’m so glad you took yourself to the beach.

    Don’t worry for a second that the kids saw your meltdown. Life isn’t always peaches and cream and, I think, it’s good for them to know that. You also probably were an A- Mommy and wife rather than an A+. A- is still a very good grade. Hell, D is a passing grade. And I’m sure you were nowhere close to a D.

    Much love to you and yours,
    Mary Elaine

    • Mary Elaine–you really are the best. Thank you for your sweet words & exceptional grades 😉
      Lots of love back to you. Thank you for not only taking the time to read my piece, but also for your thoughtful remarks.
      lots of love,

  2. LOVED this and love you. Appreciate and understand the challenges you describe, have faced all of them myself. Thanks for opening yourself up and sharing! YOU have control, take it girl!

  3. Hi Stephanie. Thanks for being so open and honest in your blog. I feel like you were writing about me in much of it. With quitting teaching to be a stay at home mom of 3 (including a toddler) I have felt so exhausted and moody. I am grateful for all the blessings I have and feel so guilty for being in such a bad mood about things. Anyway, you are not alone. Glad things are looking up for you. I plan on buying the book.

  4. Stephanie –
    You are a beautiful writer and an even more beautiful woman. Those kids are so lucky to have such an honest, present mommy! I only wish I knew you were struggling, I would have loved to have been there for you.

    My fav from the Kinks:

    Here’s wishing you the bluest sky,
    And hoping something better comes tomorrow.
    Hoping all the verses rhyme,
    And the very best of choruses to
    Follow all the doubt and sadness.
    I know that better things are on the way.

    Here’s hoping all the days ahead
    Won’t be as bitter as the ones behind you.
    Be an optimist instead,
    And somehow happiness will find you.
    Forget what happened yesterday,
    I know that better things are on the way.

    It’s really good to see you rocking out
    And having fun,
    Living like you just begun.
    Accept your life and what it brings.
    I hope tomorrow you’ll find better things.
    I know tomorrow you’ll find better things.

    I know you’ve got a lot of good things happening up ahead.
    The past is gone it’s all been said.
    So here’s to what the future brings,
    I know tomorrow you’ll find better things.
    I know tomorrow you’ll find better things.


    • Ahhh, Jill! Those lyrics are excellent!! Thank you for your kind words. I appreciate you taking the time to send all that love my way.

  5. You are such an insightful and real person. I love that. Thank you for being brave enough to write what most of us think and speaking about issues that burden so many of us. You really are such a cool lady 🙂

    • John, I think about you & Beth all the time. Hoping you and your family have been able to do some healing time at the beach this summer. xo

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