A friend of mine recently posted a photo on her Facebook page of The Social Readjustment Scale. This scale weights stressful life events, as determined by two scientists, Holmes and Rahe, after a study they performed in 1967. The scientists questioned whether life stressors over a 12-month period were apt to cause illness. A score of 300+ places you at high risk. A score of 150-299 places you at a moderate risk and an ideal score is one that falls below 150. The scale is still used today, 52 years later, by psychiatric professionals. The 43 stressors and their weight are seen here:
Surprise, surprise… I took the test. My score was a whopping 348. According to the American Institute of Stress, I have an 80 percent chance of a stress-related health breakdown in the next two years. I reported my score on my friend’s Facebook page; it was not the highest score, but it was up there. Then, I posted my next comment to her page: “But, we had a baby.”
And that’s when it hit me. How many of these life stressors are a direct result of having a baby? I counted. Of my score of 348, I attributed 299 points directly to having a baby within the last 12 months: Pregnancy, change in the health of a family member, gain of a new family member, spouse starts/stops work, change in financial state, change in social activities and change in sleeping habits, just to name a few. If you had a baby and none of these events have happened in the last 12 months, liar-liar, fellow moms. Your pants have hot, colossal flames shooting from them.
It’s a very normal thing for couples to expand their families and have babies. I never would have thought it was enough to put either my husband or me at an 80 percent risk of a breakdown. I was angry at this fact, but I wasn’t exactly sure at whom. I usually blame men for everything, but I’m not sure it applies here. Society? Is there such an unrealistic pressure on American families to be so picture-perfect that they’re an endangered species? We all know every family is dysfunctional; what varies is the degree. It is now normal to be abnormal. Is it because the expectations keep increasing but the capacity of the human brain and human strength is limited? Maybe the traditional American dream of acquiring more and more plateaued and it’s no longer physically or mentally feasible to have it all.
How do we fix this? It’s not like we can push a button and change society. But I can be aware that my mental capacity is at its max for the time being, as are most new mothers. To me, that means scale back. No additional side projects, no second jobs, no home renovations and no going back to school. That means forgiving other mothers for not being perfect. That means breaking the cycle by not expecting so much from others. I don’t feel like I’m creeping toward a nervous breakdown. Then again, people who have nervous breakdowns don’t often identify them coming on or they wouldn’t have them.
Repeat after me, mothers: It is OK to take a break. To rest. To lean out. To ask for help. To talk to someone. To understand that we are human. To know we have limitations. To recognize that if we don’t do these things, we are on a path of self-destruction…and we can fix it before it’s too late.
Carley Lucas is a working mother of one hysterically giggly 7-month-old. She, her son and her husband live in Central PA and firmly believe a household of laughter is the best form of medicine for any situation.