Community & Current Events

A year of firsts: Christina Campbell

By: Canadian Living

Photography by Jeff Coulson Author: Canadian Living Credits: Photography by Jeff Coulson

Community & Current Events

A year of firsts: Christina Campbell

By: Canadian Living
In the end, it was a playdate between a couple of four-year-olds that made me cry uncle.

The past year had its share of unexpected challenges. My miserable, clingy baby became a miserable, clingy toddler. I faced difficult decisions at the end of my maternity leave that resulted in a bigger, more important job (with bigger pressures). My aging parents took up more room on my list of daily worries. And the basement in my home flooded—not once, but twice in six weeks.

None of these issues was insurmountable in and of itself. In fact, I felt guilty for indulging in self-pity. How could I complain about my cranky baby when friends were struggling with infertility? Who was I to be stressed about work when former colleagues were searching for jobs? Some people close to me lost one or both parents, so why couldn't I just be thankful that mine were still alive? And my flooded house? Well, that just really sucked. You have to give me that.

Still, the combined weight of all of these stresses began to take its toll. The glossy veneer of perfect mother/wife/friend/professional was shattering, and I was becoming a shell of the confident, happy person I used to be. The slightest hiccup—a minor disagreement with my husband, say—would push me into a bitter three-day fog. I began to put a moratorium on most social events, and spent more and more time hiding out in bed.

Every story needs a tipping point, and I guess mine was that aforementioned playdate. My four-year-old daughter had a history of throwing hairy conniptions every time a friend commandeered a favourite toy or failed to go along with one of her directives. Before the playdate, we spent days doing textbook role-playing and expectation-setting in hopes of correcting the behaviour. I was determined this would be the best playdate in the history of playdates. No dice.

My plan backfired. My daughter had a tantrum because her friend wouldn't go along with her made-up rules for Candyland. The playdate ended early, and I gave my four-year-old the silent treatment for about 24 hours. After my husband gently called me out on coming down a little too hard on her, I ran the water in the bathtub and cried for half an hour before coming to a "well, duh" realization: This unrelenting quest for perfection was making me miserable. Absolutely bloody miserable.

Until this point, I didn't have much experience with depression, but I knew that freezing out a four-year-old was not normal behaviour. I was fixated on fooling people into thinking I had everything under control at all times. Like coins raining from a slot machine, I greedily gathered up people's compliments and held them close. "You made this from scratch?" Cha-ching. "Hey, your husband is cute." Cha-ching. "You look like that and you've had two kids?" Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching.

When the going got tough—cue basement deluge—I had no idea how I'd dig my way out of such "imperfection." So, for the first time in my life, I admitted that things were not actually perfect. And, even more significantly, I admitted that I needed help.

Well, I admitted it to myself, but it took me weeks of online searches, calls and hang-ups on receptionists before I finally walked into a therapist's office. Three sessions (and two boxes of tissues) later, after beginning to explore what was fuelling this quest for perfection, we decided to add medication to the mix.

I started taking antidepressants. To be honest, the act of admitting I needed help was comparable to giving birth. It was just such a profound relief that things could finally begin. Instead of feeling like a failure, I finally felt in control.

I feel like I've just started to scratch the surface: The stuff we're working on now is quick wins, and there's still a lot of work to be done. In the meantime, things are looking up. I am sure my husband feels there's a lot less tiptoeing around me, and our home is filled with more laughter. The dinner dishes wait while tickle fights erupt and laundry baskets that haven't been emptied in over a week get turned into pirate ships.

At a recent family get-together, I leaned back and appreciated the scene that played out in front of me. My kids, dirty and shoeless, having eaten not a single vegetable all day, were shrieking with delight in the company of their cousins. Everyone was happily eating the store-bought appetizers I brought. And my BlackBerry, blinking with belligerent impatience, sat neglected within the depths of my purse.

Now, when I feel myself getting overwhelmed, I step back and focus on what's really important. Do I want to spend time with my friends during a dinner party, or do I want to be stuck in the kitchen, sweating over perfectly torched crème brûlée? Lowering my standards doesn't mean having no standards—it means knowing that a good effort is good enough.

Read more inspiring stories about Canadians embracing a year of firsts.  
This story was originally titled "A Year of Firsts" in the January 2014 issue.
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Community & Current Events

A year of firsts: Christina Campbell