How I Went From Proud Juggler to Dropping All the Balls

Mum Juggle - I've dropped all the balls

My balls have dropped. Big time.

About four months ago, I developed a condition called Mal d’Embarquement Syndrome (MdDS). The name is classy. The symptoms aren’t. Think: all-day long seasickness. A world that doesn’t stop rocking. Falling down stairs. Bumping into walls, doors, furniture. Side-long glances from strangers as I try to walk in a straight line – and fail. An inability to concentrate for more than an hour at a time. A once photographic memory compromised. And then the overwhelming need to sleep for hours and hours on end as my brain, and body, shut down.

Work is compromised, the book deadline to meet is nigh on impossible. Deadlines are missed thanks to emails read wrongly. I am the writer who cannot write. The reader who cannot read.

And that’s when the balls scattered, bouncing off in every direction and evading all attempts to scramble after them. My ability to juggle being a mum, wife, friend and colleague was lost. And so was I.

This wasn’t who I thought I was. The person who I prided myself on being organised. I was the one who didn’t forget things. Who never missed a deadline. Who always knew when and where kids had to be. I kept lists. I updated calendars. I organised. I drove the bus that kept our family going. And then suddenly, that person disappeared. I didn’t have the physical energy or the cognitive ability to do it anymore. I was floundering and couldn’t find a foothold. Disbelief at what was happening, a lifetime of just keeping on going and pride, yes, stupid pride, kept me from admitting that really I was drowning and that the waving stopped long ago.

In truth, I’d been dropping the odd ball here and there for a while. This was something which I put down to a combination of taking on too much work (agreeing to write six books in a year while working full time was always going to be a failed plan) plus a teen doing his HSC, a sick mother, a sick brother, an even sicker mother-in-law, a husband on the other side of the world for a long stretch of time, grief, funerals, clearing out the family home for sale… In short, life. But this was different.

I missed doctor and dental appointments, school presentations and birthday parties. I slept through the doorbell when the oven repair man called. I forgot to pick up various kids from various after school activities. I started to let people down and I seemed to start every sentence, email and text with the words, ‘I’m so, so sorry’.

The things that I loved doing which filled my cup (reading, swimming, baking, crafting, walking) and those that I didn’t love but which mattered to me (a clean and tidy home, home cooked meals every night, hair done, make-up on) went too. My cup was running on empty and I didn’t have the ability to refill it. MdDS won’t kill me but it sure as hell clipped my wings.

I wish I could tell you that I have found the answer. That I picked up those dropped balls and the juggle that every woman does the world over, continued. But I haven’t and it doesn’t. What I have done is stop fighting. Against myself, against what used to matter and, most of all, against the guilt. Life is different now and I’m slowly learning to navigate my new ‘normal’. Some days, there’s a win. Others? Not so much.

I’ve just unpacked a week’s worth of ready meals and basics that the kids can cook. The house is neither as clean nor as tidy as I’d like but I’m learning to turn a blind eye. Or, at the very least, shut doors on the worst of it. I’ve cleared away the pile of unread books from beside my bed. My swimmers have gone back in the drawer. I need to focus on what I can do, not be reminded of what I can’t.

I’m trying to do one thing every day that fills my cup, be it taking half an hour to sit on my balcony and enjoy the view of jacarandas stretching for as far as the eye can see or just putting on some lipstick and mascara. It’s the little things that help for if there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the past few months, it’s that if my fuel tank is empty then the wheels start to come off, not just of me but of everything. I know, screamingly obvious, but when it’s you, it’s sometimes hard to see until it’s (almost) too late.

The words of kindness and understanding, of love and support that we would give a friend are sometimes the hardest words to say to ourselves. That’s seriously f*cked up, don’t you think?

There’s no denying that the balls are still dropped. Heaven only knows where they’ve got to (probably hiding under all the dog hair and odd socks under the bed) but I’m tentatively feeling my way towards new ones. Ones that I can manage. Ones that get what really, truly needs to be done without emptying my cup and my fuel tank completely. Until then, my family, my friends, my colleagues, please wait for me. I’ll be along at some point. I just don’t know when.

Take care of yourself:

Image: Getty