The thing that surprised me most about motherhood was the loneliness. I grew up in a large family of six and never had a single minute to feel lonely. Even when I moved out and lived on my own, loneliness didn’t surround me in my apartment—I enjoyed the solitude. I enjoyed getting acquainted with myself.

But for one reason or another, I became engulfed in loneliness after becoming a mother—especially after becoming a stay-at-home mom.

After a few months of staying home with my two small children, sorrow began to creep into me. My life began to feel like it was stuck on repeat. I’d wake up, perform mundane chore after mundane chore and play pretend Little People with the kids.

Despair sat inside of me throughout it all. Only, I didn’t know what it was or why it was there. So, I ignored it. But, it didn’t go away. In fact, the unhappiness swirled a little out of control. There were days when I took it out on the kids—yelling into their sweet, innocent eyes.

I recall one day specifically when my overwhelming sadness took over me. I put a cartoon on for the kids and walked into my small bathroom just so I could cry—alone. I sat there, letting the tears roll down my cheeks as my kids watched their cartoon, never knowing just how sad their mama was. But despite these heavy feelings budding inside me, still, I ignored the despair that I felt.

The biggest mistake I made in dealing with my loneliness is that I never expressed it to anyone—not even my own deserving husband.

And soon enough, the despair in my heart made room for the shame I felt, too. I realized that I was blessed with two healthy children who I also got to stay home with. I knew I was lucky to see those first steps, first belly laughs, first foods. But without anyone to share that with the loneliness suffocated me.

The biggest mistake I made in dealing with my loneliness is that I never expressed it to anyone—not even my own deserving husband. Instead, on some mornings I acted grumpy as I staggered out of bed. Instead of talking to someone about my loneliness and despair, I painted on my smile, put a shield and spears in my hands and acted like I was a can’t-be-broken soldier. But all soldiers can be broken, especially if they’re unwilling to accept help from their troops.

Finally, I shared my shame with my husband. After letting me sink into him and pour my feelings out—he urged me to make time for myself. He knew that I needed to reprioritize my time and reconnect with who I was—just like I did before kids. He understood, even better than I did at the time, that I needed more outside of motherhood.

“Angela,” my husband said, “Go find yourself.”

So, I did.

I started graduate school, began typing stories on my laptop and trained for a half marathon. Slowly, the loneliness faded and my vivacity sprang back into me. I became a happier mother.

I’m no longer as quick to lose my temper with my children. I am more present when we play Little People and often I notice that our laughter reflects my joy into their eyes.

Sure, there are days when the aching sneaks back in—motherhood does that to us. But now I know to always put away my shield and spear, so I can let people in—inviting them to help me make things better. When I feel like I’m drowning in motherhood, I make sure I take extra time for myself.

I don’t ever want to forget who I am again. I now know that motherhood can do that to me, but it doesn’t have to. Moms, take your armor off. There are troops to help us in this beautiful, complicated thing called motherhood. Let them be there for you.

A version of this post was published July 11, 2018. It has been updated.