Stuck at the Second Level

Sitting at your kitchen table at 7 a.m. trying to determine where mental health fits on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is probably not a good sign. It’s probably a sign that you need help.

I didn’t get a satisfying answer from Google (one site suggested that failing to have needs met at any of the stages can lead to depression or anxiety, but I think it has to work the other way around as well, i.e. that mental health issues can prevent people from moving through the stages) so I turned to a friend who is wise in the ways of psychology and mental health. “I would put it in the safety band,” he said, “but really, mental health is a precondition for all of the four levels above physiological.”

That makes sense to me, and it’s why I had turned to Google for answers that morning.Maslow's hierarchy of needs

What I had secretly been hoping for was for someone to suggest that mental health was a requirement for functioning properly in this world, that it fit squarely in one of the levels as a clear and understood need, as though I could then point to this theory and say, See? I have a right to good mental health! and someone, somewhere, would then be obligated to ensure I got it.

This, needless to say, is not how life works.

The idea of it being a precondition to the higher levels does fit squarely into the thought process that led me to Google, however.

Many of the things I would normally aspire to, like being involved in my community or deeply pondering or even pursuing answers to life’s big questions—the things that normally make me feel alive and grateful for this life—now exist mostly as a sidebar to the story of my life rather than being woven in as a fully developed theme.

looking up from inside a building courtyard surrounded by walls

I know I have important needs that are not getting met. I even know what some of them are (lately, a lack of sleep has been putting me firmly at the bottom level of the triangle).

Other needs, though, are less easy to defend as legitimate. The need for solitude and for quiet, the need for living space that isn’t constantly terrorized with the mess and energy of three other people, the need to be able to do my own thing sometimes without the burden of guilt caused by leaving more of the childcare to my spouse who is already home with them full time – where do those needs fit? And why does not getting them met cause me to spiral?

I don’t know how to reconcile these needs AND be a mother. I don’t want these needs to rear their ugly heads on hard parenting days and, while I’m down, kick me once more with the knowledge of how significantly (and negatively) I can affect my children’s place on the pyramid. But it feels like admitting these needs is taboo. Not okay.

I’m stuck. I’m struggling. And admitting these needs is scary, especially when there’s no clear path to getting them met.

Second Side

She likes to pretend people can’t see it. In her own mind she is lean and lithe and neither the bulges she tries not to see nor the fit of her clothes seem to convince her otherwise.

At yoga she does triangle pose and imagines the length of her limbs must make everyone else notice. The slender feeling moves with her as she transitions into the stance of a warrior.

There’s a bit of comparison there; of course there is.

I’m not that heavy, she thinks.

I definitely don’t look like that. 

But what she’s imagining is what she used to look like, not what she looks like now.


Time has marched on. Life has intervened and left its marks. Former good practices now abandoned, she is flawed. Imperfect.

She knows this, yet doesn’t see it. Her body image is based on a mental picture, not what the mirror reflects. But she’s about to turn around.

The warrior windmills, hands to the ground, and a vinyasa follows. Chaturanga, cobra, downward dog. She steps to the top of her mat, takes a deep breath, returns to mountain.

Second side.

She takes the pose once again, picturing lissome limbs and graceful movements.

But she has placed her mat along the far wall, closest to the mirror, and the truth lurks. In triangle once again, she stands strong, reaching through her fingertips. Her pose stable and her balance solid, she moves her gaze towards the sky and in doing so catches a glimpse of her reflection.

In that moment, she sees it.

More large than lean; more bulgy than beautiful.


The warrior vanishes; the wise yogi fades away.

She is just a girl in front of a mirror. Flawed. Imperfect. Trying to find her beauty.

This Is My Brave

“I wanted share a bit of my story with you and say thank you for sharing yours.”

The best emails I get start this way.

I’m always honoured when someone shares her story with me, and when I get a note of thanks for sharing my experience with postpartum depression it reinforces that the hard parts of sharing a tough story are worth it.

Today I’ve shared a guest post on This Is My Brave about why I think it’s important to speak out about mental health. And it is important – the emails I get tell me so, and I know it firsthand from those I’m thankful to.

I’d love for you to come and read, and while you’re there take some time to read about This Is My Brave the show. Jennifer and Anne Marie are doing a really good, really important, and really brave thing.

Five Months to Firm

I firmly believe people won’t quit something or start something or stick to something (like quitting a bad habit or starting a new one) if they’re not ready to do it. And that’s about the only thing I’ve got right now that’s firm.

on Connor's first birthday

on Connor’s first birthday

The other day I saw a picture of myself with Connor on his first birthday, when I was about 30 pounds lighter than I am right now. And a day or so later I looked in the mirror and sucked in my tummy and thought, “If I really suck it in it’s not too bad.” And then we went away for a few days and I got some perspective and decided that being in a state of not-too-bad-but-only-when-my-tummy-is-sucked-in is not okay.

I was happy with my body before Connor was born. I had a small crisis when he was about three months old and I had to buy some in-between clothes and I almost cried because I thought I was going to feel flabby forever. But thanks to a baby who needed a lot of bouncing and a very active maternity leave I did lose the weight and a few extra pounds to boot. But when I started antidepressants some of that flab came back and hasn’t left.

I didn’t actually get weighed regularly when I was pregnant with Ethan, but my best guess based on what I think I weighed before is that I gained about eight pounds. And I’m now about two pounds below what I weighed when he was born.

Are you feeling disheartened yet? Because I am.

I’m just sick of it. I’m sick of stuffing my face with crap because I’m bored or tired or just plain old in the habit of eating badly. I don’t want to have to hang my jeans to dry so I don’t have to hold my breath for the first couple of hours of wearing them after they come out of the dryer. And I didn’t want to have to buy shorts in a size larger than what I’ve been wearing recently, but that’s what I had to do. It doesn’t matter that they’re pink and summery and we finally have weather that requires shorts. I just don’t want to see that extra flab in the mirror anymore. And now I’m finally ready to do something about it.

So I solemnly swear that I quit. For the next month I’m going to cut out all the stuff I’ve been eating because I think it will make me feel better. No Coke, no chocolate, no ice cream. Bye bye Blizzards. Farewell fries. I’m going to keep up with the exercise I’ve been doing and try to add more, but my eating habits really need to go back to where they were.

I’ve got five months until Ethan turns one. I may not get back to where I was on my first child’s first birthday, but I’d like to at least feel better about myself when I see the pictures.

PS I’d like to offer a shout-out to Miranda from Not Super… Just Mom whose State of the Weight Wednesday series has contributed to my resolve.


Say What You Need to Say

I’ve been thinking a lot about resentment lately. I suppose that’s normal when your entry into motherhood is a crying-filled, sleepless smackdown and you subsequently have a second baby who offers you the sort of experience you expected to have when you became a mom. At least it’s normal for me.

“This isn’t the experience with motherhood I wanted you to have,” I remember my mom saying to me one day while I cried on the phone to her when Connor was a baby.

It wasn’t the experience I wanted to have either. It’s not that I thought having a baby should be lullaby perfect, but I didn’t want it to be filled with quite so much despair.

The moment my mom said that to me is a milestone in my motherhood journey. From where I stand now I see that moment like a marker stabbed into the sand on my path, noting what came before and what would follow after. This is how the beginning will always be for you, says the sign next to it. You can’t relive those earlier months and your motherhood picture will always be shaped by this experience. You don’t get to do it again and have it be easier, more fulfilling, more fun.

No, I don’t.

But do I resent Connor?

No, I don’t.


I danced with Ethan this morning.

He was full of smiles when I went to get him out of bed to start the day. I fed him and then he played happily in his high chair while I had breakfast. He splashed in the bath, experimenting with what happens when he kicks his feet.

We’ve been working on sleep lately and this morning, not for the first time, he had a nice, long nap. He woke up, pink-cheeked and laughing. I fed him and then thought he might like some play time on the floor, but he didn’t. So we danced.

“Say what you need to say,” sang John Mayer, as I held Ethan around the waist and placed my hand in his small chubby one. He put his nose in the crook of my neck and leaned his cheek against mine. He let me sing and he stuck to me as I swayed, breathing him in.


If Ethan had been my first baby, I wouldn’t have spent so much time bouncing a screaming baby. I wouldn’t have logged hours in his room trying to get him to sleep and wondering at what point my sanity would actually break. I wouldn’t have been anxious about doing errands or shopping for groceries in case he had a colossal meltdown in public.

I would have been able to go to play dates without dreading having to go home and deal with him by myself. I would have had more hot meals. I would have had more meals, period. I would have cherished the time and his laugh and those slobbery, open-mouthed kisses without wondering why the lovely baby stuff had to be overshadowed by so very much hard stuff.

That sign in the sand is right. I don’t get a motherhood do-over, though my experience with Ethan has given me a glimpse of what might have been.

With a different baby, my early days of motherhood might have been more peaceful. They might have been more fun. They might even have been diaper-commercial sweet. With a second, very different baby, I can see it now.


Do I resent Connor?

No, I don’t.

I don’t resent him, neither the baby he was nor the boy he is now. But do I resent my introduction to motherhood and wish it had been different?

Sometimes. A little bit. I do.

Say what you need to say.


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