Mary Laura and John Philpott got married in the Augusta, Georgia, Lutheran church where she’d been baptized. A few hundred relatives and friends, including many from Davidson, filled the church and following reception at her parents’ home. After a honeymoon in Martha’s Vineyard, the couple settled in Atlanta.
John worked for an internet startup company and Mary Laura as a business analyst for a consulting firm—which much like chemistry and physics—didn’t stoke her passion.
She took a leap of faith and a big pay cut to become a writer for a hospital, then later, for the American Cancer Society’s national headquarters. She left that job when her son was born in 2003 to become a stay-at-home mother and freelance writer.
Motherhood didn’t come easily. She struggled with infertility before the birth of her daughter a few years later.
She loved being a mother; reading stories, dancing around the kitchen, and watching her kids delight in simple things. But it could also be exhausting—and lonely.
John Philpott traveled extensively for his job, and at one point, the family briefly lived in Dublin, which wasn’t the expat life she’d envisioned as she mothered a toddler and baby in a city where she had no friends.
Back in Atlanta with growing kids, she spent hours driving to school and afterschool activities. She became the super volunteer and found it hard to say no. She led the neighborhood garden club’s pumpkin patch and the elaborate elementary school art show fundraiser.
She lamented social events where conversations never seemed to extend beyond sports, weather or chicken salad recipes.
“When small talk starts replacing real talk, you start to feel like you’re among strangers, even when you’re among friends. I was in a phase of life that required a certain amount of socializing, floating around in blobs of people waving and smiling courteously,” she writes. “I needed my other interactions to balance those out. To offer some real connection, some meaning.”
She felt guilty: What right did she have to be unhappy when she had a loving family, money to pay the bills, and a safe place to live? Her unhappiness turned to anxiety and isolation.
“Something had fallen out of place in my head,” she writes. “Sometimes I had heart palpitations so violent I could see my chest flutter through my shirt, brought on by nothing at all. And when I didn’t feel that anxiety, I didn’t feel much of anything.
“I told myself to get over it, because people were depending on me, so I decided to keep going and doing the things I signed up to do, because it’s wasteful and self-indulgent to feel so bad when so much is really quite good.’’
Then she stopped answering her phone. She stayed in pajamas all day. She didn’t wash her hair. She sat in her car during soccer games to avoid other parents. She forgot to pick her kids up on the first day of school.
“I am a horrible mother… what is wrong with me?” she asked herself. She wanted to sleep all the time and wondered, “What was the point of waking up?”
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