Her plea for help popped up on my phone last week, and I immediately recognized that moment of darkness.
"Sending out bat signal to my support network," she texted. "Completely failing at work-life anything right now. Life is a complete disaster."
She's a working mother, reaching out to a couple of other working moms, in the easiest way we know how: a small group text, which quickly became small group therapy.
"Was totally just thinking the same thing today and wondering why no one else acts as overwhelmed as I feel most days," one of recipients responded.
The exchange came on the heels of a poignant essay written by Brigid Schulte, a reporter at the Washington Post, about looking through an old diary with her 12-year-old daughter. Her girl had written it a few years prior, and Schulte's heart started to hurt when she saw how many entries said, "My mom gets mad at me."
Parents can snap when they are exhausted, and it happens more frequently than we'd like. Schulte has written a book on the topic, "Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time," which will be published in the spring. She notes that even though mothers report higher levels of exhaustion and stress than fathers, we are all tired.
"Americans work among the longest hours of any industrialized country," she wrote in her essay. "American parents, however exhausted, spend among the most time with their children. We take fewer vacations. We sleep less. We have less time to pause. And the World Health Organization has found that we are the most anxious country in the world."
The piece touched a nerve with readers, several of whom shared similar stories of the toll that work and family stress can take on all areas of life.
"I wanted to curl up and die" when she read her daughter's old diary, Schulte told me later. She also realized "how easy it is to feel that you're falling apart at the seams much of the time."
But this may be her most important realization: "It doesn't have to be that way."
What are the cultural, social and economic conditions that have brought so many of us to the brink so often?
Part of finding a measure of harmony in the dysfunction between work and home requires changing expectations from within, such as prioritizing the things that make us healthy and happy and letting go of the emotional guilt and pressure that make us sick.
It's easier said than done to lower the bar on the personal standards that are so intertwined with how we define our self-worth: How much we achieve at work, how smoothly we run our homes, how clean we keep our spaces, how well we feed our families, how enriched and well cared-for our children are.
But our standards have gotten out of whack with the realities of our lives.
It's OK if your children drop a few extracurricular activities because of how harried the family feels. It's OK if you can't send thank-you cards and give a verbal or email acknowledgement instead. It's OK if your home is rarely as clean as the one you grew up in -- or even the one you had before children.
Part of growing up and maturing is finding ways of ditching unrealistic expectations and being kinder to oneself.
A therapist once told me that a majority of marriage troubles could be resolved if the couple simply hired a housekeeper. Outsourcing certain chores can save an overburdened marriage.
Other personal solutions include: making time for some kind of exercise regularly, regardless of the trade-offs for that time. Making an effort to see people who nourish our souls and seeking validation from friends when we feel lonely, lost or underappreciated. Reading books and watching TV and movies for pleasure. (And not feeling guilty for whatever we are not doing during that time.) Seeing a doctor when we feel too dark for too long.
But just as critical is improving the situation for families on a broader scale, which requires changing structures from the outside. This includes challenging cultural norms that expect everyone to work as if we don't have any caregiver responsibilities.
Katrina Alcorn, author of "Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink," describes our "massive cultural pathology" of being overworked and thinking our frenetic lives are acceptable because everyone else is living that way, too. And everyone else really is living that way. In fact, our country's policies rank among the worst in the industrialized world when it comes to parental leave, sick time and vacation. These aren't just gender issues, they are issues for any parent.
No amount of yoga or deep breathing is going to change those statistics.
When it comes to having healthier, happier families, we have to change our mindset and change the system.