Not Mutually Exclusive

There is no need to shame a control-freak, God-fearing Catholic. There is no need to add to the torment she has already inflicted upon herself.

Yet, that is exactly what I found a quote from Marianne Williamson doing last night.

It has been six years since I started medication therapy for my postpartum depression and anxiety. Six years of low dose, slight increases, attempts at doing without – and it still serves me. And yet, a small part of me still questions my need for it.

Why isn’t this glorious life God has given me enough reason to rejoice? Why aren’t the three gorgeous gifts of heaven that are my children a daily cause for celebration? Am I not grateful enough for God’s blessings that I need an antidepressant to merely function, never mind embrace this life?

Catholic guilt is a strong force, but not one I blame for these thoughts. I confessed to my pastor that I feared my mental struggles were tied to a crisis of faith. I worried that turning to secular talk therapy turned me away from God’s gentle care. I fretted that medication was a crutch that kept me from leaning on God’s healing power.

My pastor told me that spirituality is an important piece of one’s healing, but not to the exclusion of other beneficial treatments. My trained counselor was helping me process my feelings without judgment and not keeping me from turning to God for quiet reflection. And if prescription medicine existed in God’s world, created by one of the people He put on this earth, why would I not avail myself of this beneficial tool? Most importantly, my pastor told me that God did not cause this suffering to befall me. It was not a punishment for some wrongdoing or turning away on my part. If I gleaned something good from the experience, perhaps God allowed the growth in me, but He certainly did not beset me with these troubles.

As always, the rational mind, while fully aware of such life-affirming and freeing arguments, still can fall prey to its irrational side. I thought I’d have no problem reading the social media post that started a furious online debate about postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. Yet, as I did, I felt some of the angst I’d been slowly putting to bed for the last six years come creeping back up.

marianne williamson

This statement plays to all the fears of the postpartum mother.  The guilt of needing medication to enjoy the miracle of life and her role in it.  The fact that she can’t come to terms with ‘normal’ changes in her body chemistry.  That she has somehow failed by not meditating enough; praying enough; eating healthily enough.  And then to judge her own success by the love of others – something over which she has no control.  Or does that speak to the love she fails to feel for her child?

I am only living a modicum of successful motherhood because of the very real diagnosis of postpartum depression and its treatment with medicinal drugs.  And yet, this statement still elicits a shameful, guilty feeling in me.  After SIX successful years of such treatment.  

What of the mother just beginning to wonder if she is struggling postpartum?  What thoughts and feelings assault her when she reads this?  She is already doubting herself and ‘succumbing’ to the crutches of medicine.  She already thinks she’s failed.  And now to tell her it’s all a ploy by ‘Big Pharma’?

‘Big Pharma’ is not issuing me any big paycheck.  I’ve written thirteen different posts about the decision, pros/cons of taking psychotropic drugs, most notably Happy Pills.  When the news initially hit that new recommendations called for all pregnant women and mothers to be screened for depression this was my reaction:

duh

I never dreamed news that was so obvious to me would be seen as a negative by others.

I’m going to imagine that Williamson’s comments were born of the assumption that those standing to make a financial gain would encourage a mindless mass to pop a pill and forget their troubles – and a meaningful life.  I do not encourage anyone to medicate their troubles away without also doing the hard personal work of introspection and spiritual growth.  Meds are not successful in a vacuum.  They must be supported by close medical monitoring, therapies, and lifestyle changes.

Choosing medication is not a mutually exclusive option over meditation, prayer, and love.

I fear that the way Williamson’s stance has been presented, the ensuing social media storm will portray just that.  God-fearing people do not fear medical marvels.  God-fearing people do not judge others for decisions they make concerning their own care.  God-fearing people would never want someone to suffer needlessly while thinking it was a fatal flaw of character.

An Argument for Self-Care

Isn’t it amazing that we only engage in self-care when we have to, when it’s absolutely necessary.  When we’ve reached such critical mass we’re about to blow apart.

That’s usually when I get a humdinger of a sinus infection.  Agony.  Aches and pains.  Congestion.  Fever,  Chills.  As horrible as it is, it forces me down for the count.  To the couch.  To bed early.  To forcing fluids and taking it easy.  Would I think to dial things down when the first symptoms show up?  Heck, no.  Push on through.

This morning I happily scrolled through the WordPress Reader, checking in on some of my favorite blogs.  Catching up.  Touching base.  Doing what bloggers do.  When the hormones of early pregnancy unleashed a horrible churning in my stomach.  I tried to ignore it, but finally had to shove a snack down my gullet before breakfast came up.  Self-care had become an interruption, an annoyance.

Arriving home from my brisk walk to the bus stop, I grabbed a glass of water.  One would think the neutral taste would be good for someone trying to avoid the aforementioned ‘upping-of-the-gullet’.  Un-unh.  It just reminded me that hardly anything tastes good anymore – and that my long-overdue to-do of buying lemons or limes to slice up and put in my water may actually help.  Why should it take utter disgust to push me to finally make this small treat a reality?

What is it about humans – and women in particular – that makes self-care always an afterthought?  Guilt?  A Puritan ethic?  Not wanting to be self-centered, self-absorbed, selfish?  Lack of time?  Money?

I’m sure it’s all of the above.  But I’d venture a guess that it’s most likely a feeling that we’re not worth it.  We don’t deserve a reward – no matter how small.  Especially when there are others in the world who have so little; who suffer so much.

That last point makes an especially compelling argument.  However, there’s a reason flight attendants tell us to put our oxygen masks on first before assisting those next to us.  Mothers, care givers, partners, aid workers, samaritans, humans – none of us are good to those who need us if we’re laid out, dog tired, dead sick.  We can enact great waves of tenderness and care in the world if we start in our own little atmosphere.

An addendum

In my post Thursday, I discussed the pitfalls of postpartum in dads.  There is a major one I erroneously omitted.

One more thing for postpartum moms to worry about

In all my talk about supporting dads in their postpartum world, I failed to think what such advice/discussion would do to a mom currently suffering from postpartum.  Though I’ve still got plenty of issues to sort out, I am no longer in the deep, dark depths of my postpartum period.  I have traveled far enough beyond it to be able to reflect upon what the experience was like for my husband.  In the midst of it, however, I couldn’t help myself – let alone another human.  I apologized for lashing out; I thanked him for his support; I commiserated when he said he didn’t know what to do.  But beyond that, there was nothing I could do for him.  Nothing except put myself back together.  And that took all my energy.

So all you women and mothers suffering from postpartum mood disorders out there, my last post was not meant to make you feel bad.  It was not meant to give you one more thing to feel shitty about.  To make you think you’ve ruined one more life.

Let me reiterate the point that it takes an entire community to surround and uplift the postpartum tribe.  It should not fall to you to do everything.

Yes, dad needs support, but you don’t have to be the only one to give it to him.  You may not be able to at all.  And that’s okay.

People outside your tight-knit trio need to help put you all back together.

Tripod-of-Life_Holy-Trinity

Things That Need to Be Said

I have a relative who says things she shouldn’t.

She says the things you don’t want to hear.

The things that make you uncomfortable, that turn the mirror back on yourself in a most unappealing manner.

In a discussion of summer vacations and friends’ doings, I mentioned that some friends had taken their families to Disney.  We lamented the hot weather in Florida this time of year and how trying it must be.  I said it would be trying at any time of year with my youngest being only three.  If I experienced sensory overload and exhaustion at the dawn to dusk days of Disney, I would have to wait until my children were older before I subjected them to its amusing assaults.  I jokingly shared my observation I’d shared with my husband and kids: that I was fourteen years old before I had my first visit to Disney so I was in no rush to get my own much younger kids there anytime soon.  If I had to wait, they could wait.

And that’s when my grandmother dropped her bomb.

There are children in the world who don’t have enough to eat and here we are worrying about what’s the right age to take our children to Disney.

Nothing like the perspective of an eighty-four year old woman to smack you back in your place.

I hadn’t been lamenting my fate.  I hadn’t been saying my children desperately deserved a trip to Disney, but the poor dears weren’t old enough.  Hell, if anything, I was glad they weren’t the ‘right’ age so I didn’t have to go through the whole ordeal.  I don’t see Disney as an obligatory childhood right of passage.  In America, it’s just something a lot of people do and it’s part of our societal subconscious (again, thank you to the ever-pervasive Disney marketing).

But my grandmother was right.

I’d like to think her comment was not directed solely at me.  That it was just an astute observation of the irony of what many call ‘first world problems’.

But it cut to the quick.

In one concise sentence, she cut the wheat from the chaff and crystallized what should be our priorities.  In a world where families can spend thousands of dollars for over-the-top entertainment, others’ can’t afford food for one day.  In a world where I worry about the stress of an over packed summer schedule, there are mothers who worry if they’ll make it through the week.

I didn’t like what she had to say because it made me feel guilty.  But guilt is usually born of some seed of truth deep within our gut.

My grandmother wasn’t trying to nurture that seed.  She was simply speaking her mind in the privileged way that a long life has earned for her.  In her eight decades, spanning two centuries, she’s seen a multitude of changes, not all of them good.  In her evening ruminations, she discovers a perspective the rest of us can’t necessarily see – or don’t because of the frenetic pace of our lives.

I have a relative who says the things that need to be said, things she’s been waiting her whole life to say.

Iron Age

Last weekend, my husband and I watched The Iron Lady.  We’d seen previews for it and were intrigued.  We wanted to see Meryl Streep taking names and kicking butts, which ironically I’d never thought Margaret Thatcher had done.  While she was in office, I was too young to know more about her role in history than her name and position.  It never occurred to me the struggles she’d encounter not only as prime minister, but also as a woman fulfilling that role.  Now, as a grown woman watching this cinematic portrayal of her rise to power and its aftermath, I was angry and heartbroken.

It starts off optimistically enough.  I thrilled in her preemptive speech to her future husband before she accepted his proposal.  She would not bow to society’s ideas of what a woman, wife, and mother should be.  And he agreed!  She would be free to do as she desired with his freely and happily given support.

Then we see Ms. Thatcher as a hard-faced deserter as her children cry at the window as she heads to Parliament, shoving toy cars in the glove compartment on the way.  We see her daughter jealous of her own spotlight being stolen.  We see her husband questioning her devotion to her family in favor of ambition.

 

Why must a woman be vilified if she desires success outside the realm of motherhood?  Even more so if she harbors such desires in the midst of motherhood.  Yes, there are only twenty-four hours in a day.  Yes, there is always the threat of feeling as if she’s failed on both fronts.  Yes, children demand an inordinate amount of growing, coaxing, and coddling.  She needs to prepare a person ready to face the challenges of the next generation.  But what about the challenges of her own?  Why does motherhood take her out of the equation in facing and solving those? 

 

Why is there a prevailing thought that a woman must subvert her own self in order to grow the ones that came out of her?

 

Even with all her success, Margaret Thatcher couldn’t completely change the direction of that stiff wind – at least in this film.

In the speech to her future husband, the young Margaret Thatcher said she did not want to be trapped in the kitchen, hands in the dishwater.  The film ends with her doing just that.  I couldn’t help but think that plunging her hands into that water washed away all merit attached to her ambitious acts.  It called them all into question.  Had she made the wrong decisions?  Set the wrong priorities as a woman, wife, mother?  All joy that she’d excelled in at least the public half of her life was stolen by my doubt that she felt she should have chosen the private half instead.

It shouldn’t be a choice.  Or at least not a mutually exclusive one.

Iron is malleable – especially when it’s heated inordinately – which is a good thing because it looks like society will continue to rake women over the coals for the unforeseeable future.

Eat the Frog

I’ve been doing a lot of that lately.

Suffering through those things I don’t want to do in order to get to the ones I want.

Problem is, by the time I eat said frogs, I’m usually too damn tired to do the things I want, which never really were obligatory anyway.  Or, I take so long staring down the frog or pretending I don’t hear him croaking that I have just enough time to gulp him down hurriedly before the sun goes down; it’s time for dinner; time to pick up the girls from the bus stop.

Procrastination and perfectionism are not mutually exclusive.

When, pre-move, I described how I was failing to meet my goal of packing five boxes per day, an acquaintance pointed out how I couldn’t possibly be an overachiever and a procrastinator.  Luckily, another such duality came to my defense.  She concurred, that, oh yes, it is possible to be so worried about doing something perfectly that it stops you from attempting it at all.

In college, I grabbed a pamphlet from the career center on procrastination.  I’ve since thrown it out – though it took me quite some time ; ) – but it laid out similar terms.  I didn’t necessarily agree with it.  I am not one obsessed with the pursuit of perfection.  At least not overtly.  I understand the human condition and all its frailty.  I like to think I empathize and can forgive our various faults.

But do I refuse to start projects until I have sufficient time to complete the entire task?  Yes.  Will I stay at that task far into the night or despite my husband’s repeated attempts to beckon me to the dinner table until it is finished?  Yes.  Will I avoid beginning a task until I know exactly how to execute it?  Yes.  Do I fail to commit to a task until I know I can fulfill all the obligations that go along with it?  Yes.  And regardless of all reasons not to start, do I place an unrelenting sense of guilt heavy upon my breastbone until I do start?  Yes.

Hmmm . . . maybe I threw out that pamphlet because I was not ready to see myself in its words.

What is it with these freakin’ frogs?  And why do they all float on lily pads obscuring what murky depths really cause all this angst: ANXIETY.

Because that’s what it really is, isn’t it?  I worry about getting things right because I’m anxious.  I put things off because they make me nervous.  Or I’m worried about getting it all done.  Or I’m worried I’ll run out of time.  Or it’s an unpleasant task.  Or it’s out of my comfort zone.  Whatever hue or size these amphibian friends and foes come in, they’re all from the same frog mother.  And what a mother-f*&%$#@ she is.

The more I learn about myself, my reactions, feelings, and disposition, the more I realize how much of my life has been colored by anxiety.  I don’t know if I’ve ever known what it is to live without it.  There was a time when I didn’t know I was living with it, but looking back, now I can name it unequivocally.

A very talented writer friend of mine just shared a story wherein a character and her mother try to pinpoint the exact origin of the mother’s obsessive-compulsive disorder.  They realize that not only is it impossible, but it is a form of obsession in and of itself.  What does it matter where it began?  One must learn coping mechanisms to take forward with her.  I find myself doing this repeatedly with my anxiety.  But why?  When did it start?  How?  What purpose does that serve beyond making me more anxious?  Why roll back the reels over those years over and done – and with a pretty good measure of success?  Why create suffering where there may have been none?  Or where there was some, but where I had the wherewithal to function despite it?

Maybe it’s the perfectionist in me, but I feel that the fact that I’ve reached a point in my life where I can’t hack it when I previously could makes me a failure on some level.  I know this is my masochistic overachiever unrealistic hair shirt-wearing self, but it is still part of me and I can’t turn it off no matter how hard I try to push with my rational self.  And all that croaking just reminds me of it.  Why do I get a mental block when I assess my to-do list?  Why can I not complete tasks that I know will reap rewards?

Guess the only way around it is to choke the frogs down before they choke me.

Back to the Future

When I was a kid, particularly a teenager, the only time I would clean my room was when I had a report to do. Might seem like faulty logic, but the crippling thought of sitting down and starting a report actually made cleaning my room look like a fun endeavor. I had to clear off the desk before I could sit at it to write, no? And Mom had been after to me to clean for some time now. It needed to be done!

By the time it was apparent I could not put off said report-writing any longer, I would become a conglomeration of the many phrases my mother often used to describe me: running around like a chicken with its head cut off, burning the candle at both ends, pulling through in the eleventh hour. And while it was undoubtedly stressful and quite a haphazard way of doing things, I would always finish the report – and usually quite well. I’d get some inspiration at the last minute and write like a fiend until I’d proven my point – much to my mother’s chagrin. While she did not want to see me fail in school, she frowned upon my methods. Clean room or no, I think I made her more nervous than I did myself.

Procrastination and spontaneous ‘Hail Mary’s have always been my way. Being out of college for over a decade now (ugh – how did that happen?), the phenomenon hasn’t been as apparent, but it still exists. Knowing I have a week until my daughter’s birthday party, I’ll putz around the house all week and stay up until 2 AM the night before scrubbing toilets and baking cakes (not at the same time). Well aware that the parade that runs close to our house happens the second Saturday of June every year, I’ll be planting containers with patriotic-colored flowers at dusk the night before. I’ve just shifted the focus from class work to housework. Though maybe if I had more papers to write, my house would be cleaner – ha!

But I am writer. As a writer not under contract, I use self-imposed deadlines to keep me active and productive. I follow my writers’ group guidelines of submitting a week before our meeting. I post to my blog at least once a week, every Thursday. Except for weeks like this. I’ve fallen off the wagon, people. And because, as far as I can tell, most cases of procrastination are born of crippling ideas of perfectionism, I am paying for it. Oh, the guilt.

I’m in the middle of revising my young adult novel. I’ve heard a lot of writers say they love the revision process, struggling through the draft process just to get to it. As someone who loves to wait till the last minute and work off an epiphany and has problems with spatial relations (chapter reorganization, wha?), it’s trying to say the least. So instead of figuring out how to fix the problem in the chapters I was due to submit to my group, I went into cleaning mode. Luckily, I had the perfect excuse for rationalization. My friend was coming over with her baby and he needed a clean floor to frolic on, no?

We had a lovely visit, and spirits buoyed by my ordered surroundings, I even strapped myself to the computer after they left and fixed the problem (I think – we’ll see how next week’s meeting goes!). But, like a game of dominoes, my cleaning pushed the writing tile back a day, which pushed the blog tile back. Hence, today’s post should have been yesterday’s.

But no sense living in the past with its failed promises and rumpled to-do lists. I may relive my bad behavior patterns from time to time, but it’s a waste of time to punish myself for them. Trying to change them bit by bit would be good, but being aware of them is a start, right? I also need to acknowledge what such behaviors say about me. I do work best under pressure. And while it’s starting to make me as crazy as it used to make my mother, it still does offer a certain level of success. And all of us really are just stuck between past and future. I guess it works to operate within some combination of the two.

Torn

I felt like a thief, stealing away in the gloom before the house’s inhabitants awoke from their slumbers.  My voice caught in my throat when I called to my husband, “Give them kisses for me when they wake up.”  It felt so wrong to be leaving, especially when they didn’t have the chance to protest.  They’d been prepared well in advance, but somehow, it still felt covert.

I looked at the house as I drove away and waved at the closed curtains, the locked doors, the house already closed to me mere minutes after my leaving.  In my mind’s eye, I saw my youngest’s eyes peeking over the windowsill to wave another time I recently left.  I missed them already.

It took me awhile to settle into the drive, but eventually I pulled out the CDs I’d packed for the trip.  (Yes, CDs – apparently, my technology is at pace with the frequency of solo road trips).  I’d packed selections to fire me up for a marathon drive and a fun reunion at the end with a friend I don’t get to see nearly enough.  I’d also picked stuff I can’t listen to when driving the kids around.  I listened to the entire Beastie Boys’ Sounds of Science anthology and then switched to The Clash.  While I was having a grand old time car-dancing and singing along, it was about this time that I realized, I must be angry.  Punk rock, rap, ska with a driving back beat, songs with titles like, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and “We’re on the Road to Nowhere”.

Was/is my subconscious trying to tell me something?  Is some part of me totally repressed by my current state of affairs?  Am I really unhappy with the way life is?  Am I speeding down the highway chasing after the ‘me’ I lost somewhere along the line?  Am I doing such a sucky job at getting respite time that I’m about to blow?  Or did I really just need a road trip?

Somewhere around hour four of the six-hour trip, the soothing effects of the road took over.  I got used to the hum of the motor around 2800 rpms, the feel of my hands on the steering wheel, the crick in the back of the heel from my foot’s constant 45 degree angle on the gas pedal, the dull ache of the full bladder that I’d chosen to ignore till the final destination.  The traffic thinned, the sun came out, and my mind cleared.  I thought about everything and nothing.

I realized that one freeing thing about being totally overwhelmed and screwing up postpartum was that my heretofore-crippling bent toward perfectionism was thrown out the window.  Now, if not ever before, it was blindingly clear that it just wasn’t gonna happen.  And that theory was thrown out the window, when later that night, I confided to my friend that I felt like I couldn’t possibly do everything for my children.  She said that feeling came from me worrying so much about doing such a good job (i.e. perfectionism).

The whole weekend was a study in contradictions, me being torn in different directions.

Fear gripped me when we headed to the restaurant at 3 PM for lunch.  What about dinner?  Used to following a schedule acceptable for little bodies needing balanced meals, it took me awhile to adjust to eating whatever, whenever I wanted.  I ate so much at “lunch”, I had chips and Twizzlers for “dinner” at some point in the evening – I lost track.  I ate granola and yogurt for breakfast the next morning, but then gorged on a short stack with all the sides for “lupper” (we messed with meals so much this weekend, my friend started giving them her own names).

I wistfully noticed the babies in the arms or on the hips of nearly every person we passed.  Were there really that many small children in the state of Maine or was I missing my own babies that much it just seemed like it?  Though my husband does say all there is to do in Maine during winter is drink and have sex, so maybe there really are that many kids – and maybe that’s why he’s always wanted to move there ☺

Yet, I relished in looking at every single item on every single aisle of every single store if I felt like it – with no one to whine at me.  I loved chatting with my friend with no screeching interruptions – though we had so much to catch up on, we interrupted each other plenty of times.  I loved not waking up in the middle of night!!!!!!

I think what I liked most of all was being able to operate on the basest of levels.  Basic functions: eat, sleep, pee, laugh, breathe, be.  The weight of responsibility was lifted from my shoulders – if only for 36 hours.  And that’s what I meant when in my last post, “that which I was trying to escape had stowed away in the backseat”.  I don’t want to escape my children at all.  I love them and will always – even if it’s the death of me.

It was just really nice to get away.  Though, the squeezes I got when I walked in the door Sunday night were more powerful that any pressure I’ve ever felt in this trip called motherhood.

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