Mental Health Days and a Single Mother's Little Helper
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September 19, 2013 - Updated November 21, 2014

I took a mental health day yesterday and stayed home from work. A week-and-a-half-ago, after I blogged about all the good nights' sleep I'd been getting, I found myself awake at 4:00 a.m. for ten days straight.

It was that middle-of-the-night, eyes-wide-open brand of  insomnia that whispers scenarios of doom in your ear: financial fiascos, obscure, yet terminal diseases, and in my case, the prospect of having to send my kids back to Prince because I can no longer afford to care for them without child support.

Prince and I had recently exchanged a couple of OFW e-mails which began with me explaining my financial situation, what would likely happen if child support did not resume, and did he have any suggestions?

Well, he did. He wrote back that "desperate times call for desperate measures" and I needed to learn to manage my money. I didn't need a 3-bedroom, he said. I could put the kids -- a wildly inappropriate combination of a 16-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl -- in the same room. Maybe one of them could even sleep on the den. An idea ludicrous if for no other reason that my 1300-square foot apartment doesn't come with a den.

He had other ideas. I should not be leasing  a car. I should buy a used car. I should add a part-time job to my already 40-hour-a-week full-time job. I should jettison the cleaning lady (she comes once a month) and have Franny clean the house.

I kid you not.

And for God's sake, get rid of the babysitter! The babysitter I need in part because there is no magic carpet ride to transport Franny home from school.

Also? I should never have sold the house he and I owned together, which would have been cheaper than rent. He did not mention that the mortgage was about to go up because it was only a ten-year-fix and there were also property taxes and insurance to pay. He also omitted the fact that he would not let me stay there when I got remarried.

Well, who was I for thinking I should go on with my life? That I deserved to be happy? I mean, really!

I considered writing back my own remedy for my "desperate times." I wanted to suggest that he sell one of his two vacant homes, the one that has, by my estimation, a million in equity. He could take a fraction of that money and pay me a lump sum in child support and the kids would not have to share a bedroom, sleep on the floor, clean the house, or hitchhike their way home from school.

But I didn't. I tried not to introject Prince's tacit message:

I will not stop till you are reduced to selling strawberries by the roadside, and then I will come after your strawberries.

But I did introject that message. I couldn't stop thinking about it, that I had much farther to tumble.

So I stopped sleeping. Night after night, I awoke to 4:00 in neon-green on my bedside table. I tossed and turned and in the morning slogged myself into the shower, drove Franny to school, and arrived at my desk at work, semi-functional.

Every afternoon, my eyes drooped to slits and I sunk my head into my hands by the computer. I could barely read or write. Piles of paperwork stacked higher and higher. I locked the door to my office, closed the blinds and laid down on the coach, praying that sleep would take me over for a half hour.

But it didn't. It didn't come in the afternoon. And it didn't come at 4:00 a.m.

Tuesday I awoke even earlier, at 3:00 a.m. I was so tired that I felt like I might throw up. It took every smattering of energy to pull my clothes on. My prescription to Klonopin had expired months ago. I didn't want to start taking it again, but as Prince said, "desperate times call for desperate measures." So I phoned the pharmacy for a refill.

The problem was that Tuesday is my late day at work and I don't get off till 8:00 a.m. So I wouldn't be able to pick up the prescription until the next day.

My last session was at 7. I was working with a particularly oppositional client and struggled to keep my head above the churning hostility in the air. It seemed to take minutes in between the sentences I pasted together. I heard myself speak but wasn't sure what I was saying. I hoped that I was coming across more lucid than I felt.

And then I noticed my client staring at me.

"I don't understand anything you said."

"Neither do I!" I wanted to sob. But I didn't. I drove home from work and decided it was time to stop being St. Pauline of Gaines. If I didn't take a mental health day, I would lose all of my remaining marbles.

*          *          *

Yesterday morning after I dropped Franny off at school, I drove to the pharmacy, crawled to the counter, and picked up my Single Mother's Little Helper. When I got home, I collapsed on my bed, where I stayed for hours, reading blog posts and articles on-line.

I read a piece about "Moms On The Brink," a new book written by a stressed-out working mother who believes that many working moms are on the brink of insanity due to the increasingly demanding workplace and juggling housework and childcare at home.

While I think it is an important book, and I related to it, I also found myself frustrated. As I do when I read most of the au courant opt-out stories. Because most of the women who write these stories are MARRIED.

As hard as life is for married working moms, life is exponentially harder for single working moms. Unlike our married counterparts, we don't have husbands to fall back on should we lose our jobs. And for those of us without child support, we are solely responsible for keeping rooves over our heads.

We don't have husbands who can pinch-hit when the kids get sick at school, or schlep one kid to a playdate while we take the other to tutoring, or hang out with the kids in the evening until we get home from work.

Whenever I read about a harried married working mom who has "opted out" and taken the freight train to Freelance Shangri-La, I want to smash my laptop into tiny little bits. I would love to hop on that same freight train, as I have no doubt being a freelancer would improve my quality of life, which would make me a more available mother, which would benefit the kids.

But I can't. I don't have that option. And if Prince doesn't pony up some child support, I'm going to be "leaning in" to an extent Sheryl Sandburg can't fathom.

I have no solution to the Single Mom Blues. But yesterday I did what I could. I called in sick. I laid in bed till 5 p.m. I pulled on running clothes and went for a jog hoping to activate my dormant endorphins. And at 10 p.m., I swallowed a little white pill which almost instantly relaxed my agitated limbs and beckoned me into the first full-night's slumber I'd had in a long time.

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