I’ve been the breadwinner* in our house for the past 20 years but it’s only in the past 5ish years that I’ve recognised the challenges it has brought me, as well as the highs.

At that point I started to make some subtle changes to the way I was showing up, both at home and work, and when I look back now over the preceding 15 years, I can see the ‘mistakes’ I’d made.

I say ‘mistakes’ but actually I see them as learnings; at the time I was doing the best I could with what I knew about myself and the circumstances I was in. The same can be said for all of us – mistakes are just decisions we made at the time, with the best of intentions, but here in the future we can see how we might have made a different one.

So, for those of you on this journey and currently feeling like a ‘reluctant breadwinner’, here are the lessons I learned that might help you.

  1. I ignored the signs of exhaustion. I pushed on through, partly because I didn’t think there was another way of being. I was holding down a full time professional job whilst also raising 2 children, albeit, I had a very supportive and stay at home husband, and therein lay another issue – I believed I had it good – there were lots of other mums out there holding down full time jobs without the stay at home dad, so who was I to feel exhausted? I know now that a lot of the symptoms I put down to exhaustion were actually signs of a vitamin D deficiency and a hormonal imbalance.
  2. I was scared to look at an alternative. I really believed that I had no choice about how my life was playing out. I felt a huge burden of responsibility for my family; I felt a huge sense of duty and obligation to them, particularly because I’d chosen this path; my husband had given up his career for me to continue mine and I felt guilty for wanting it to change. So, for as long as I held onto these beliefs, I was terrified to consider another way.
  3. I held onto ‘negative’ emotions. Guilt, shame, “I have no reason to feel this way” – they were constantly present in my menu of emotions. Again, I say ‘negative’ but actually no emotion is negative; difficult maybe, but not negative – they are all there to act as a signal, to give us advice about what’s going on for us. But, because they were so difficult, I ignored them, buried them and moved on, thinking that if I didn’t face them, they didn’t exist. Of course, all that happened was that they grew in intensity until near-burnout hit and my overriding feelings were those of anger, resentment and deep sadness.
  4. I put everyone else’s needs before my own. Work, family, friends – and even people I didn’t care that much about – I placed their needs and demands higher up the priority list than mine. The biggest one though was the perceived demands and expectations I placed on myself – the thought that this is what others expect of me, even though I didn’t know if that was true or not.
  5. I became a skilled ‘boxer-awayer’. I became super-skilled at boxing things away, ignoring what was right in front of me and pushing on through. Of course, there are some benefits to this super-skill – I’m great in a crisis or a bit of conflict, I’m calm and measured; when the need arises to just get shit done, I can do that – but it’s a skill that should only be used for short bursts of time and the box needs to be opened at some point.

If these resonate for you, know that there is another way and it doesn’t have to mean significant changes, although it does mean facing some of the things that you’ve been ignoring. If I could only give you one piece of advice, it would be to get your vitamin D levels checked. This was a game changer for me – after discovering my levels were extremely low and getting a heavy dosage prescription from my GP, I felt so much more like myself again within weeks, which then meant I could deal with the other challenges from a much more positive place. I now take a daily supplement and check my levels every year. You should seek proper advice from a medical practitioner but if you’re interested in learning more, you can check out these websites:

https://www.vitamindtest.org.uk/

https://www.nutriadvanced.co.uk/multi-essentials-for-women-60-tablets.html

https://medium.com/@nickiwilliams_32885/vitamin-d-the-most-important-hormone-of-all-ee19c9d52341

*my own breadwinner ‘status’ is one of me being the primary earner; without my salary, there is a significant impact on our day to day living. There are many women who identify as the breadwinner who will have a slightly different ‘status’ and I share in the hope it helps all of us.

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