Retreat

When the world got to be too much, including my little corner of it, I used to retreat to the bathroom.  It was usually just as supper was about to start, food laid out on the table, cups of milk poured, husband home from work – Mom sitting on the toilet sobbing soundlessly with an unnamed sadness and inability to cope.

My husband would give me a few minutes, then call softly through the door to see if I was all right.

You would think that would be the easiest part of the day, having made it through ten or more hours of sole care giving, dressing, feeding, getting out the door-ing.  A time to sit with my family and enjoy the shared responsibility of parenting with my spouse.  But just like a toddler who does not do well with a change in caregivers, so I was not transitioning well.  We were all getting hungry and tired and my head couldn’t take one more shrill scream or pop of sound.

At first, a friend didn’t recognize this scenario as one resulting from my postpartum depression.  She got angry, she said, irritable, wanting to lash out when she couldn’t abide the situation at hand.  She wanted to fight vs. my flight.  Both natural responses to elevated levels of stress; to the wooly mammoth of parenting postpartum.

The word retreat itself is an interesting choice.  It has wartime connotations, as in run away from the enemy, give up the fight, fall back to a place of safety, behind that line that should not have been crossed.

When the bathroom won’t do anymore; when they’ve figured out your hiding spot; when you can’t while away your tortured existence on a germ-infested throne anymore – what then?

throne

At first, I turned to my midwife, then a licensed social worker, then lifestyle and diet changes, then medication.  I don’t want to lock myself in the bathroom as much any more, but I still need a respite to get my wits about me.

As a teenager, it was a requirement to attend a retreat as preparation for Confirmation.  In college, I attended many enriching weekend retreats as part of peer ministry.  In preparation for marriage, my husband and I went on an “Engaged Encounter”.

Where are the programs for mothers who love their children but want to retreat?  Who have lost themselves and their faith amidst the everyday beat-down of the job?  Who know what a blessing their children are but just can’t feel it for the pressure pushing down on them?  Who found their depression only now because they must function, they have no choice to go sit in a corner and listen to The Cure until life seems better.

Children bring us out of ourselves.  As they say, it’s the only way you can feel your heart beat outside yourself.  They teach us selflessness and caring for others.  They give us a view of the future, of possibility.  But in giving our all to them, it sometimes feels as if it’s the end of our possibility.  It doesn’t seem like there’s room for anything else.  A feeling that often makes me want to retreat.

They’re Baaaaaack

And what a hell of a reentry that was.

They came bearing packages, bags of laundry, and lots of noise.  All of which happened to coincide with the whine of chainsaws and segments of tree thudding to the ground as we removed two more trees from our property.

The yard looks like a tornado came through, which I would think was totally fitting, if I wasn’t the one swirling around in its center.

Apparently there are findings that show people experience depression upon returning to their routine schedules after vacation.  This weekend felt like the ultimate vacation.  I was calm.  I was peaceful.  I was not done.

The moment they walked back in – in fact, even as I rushed around trying to finish things I knew I wouldn’t be able to when they came home – my stress level ratcheted up.

We showered them early because they had run around sticking to the tree sap and I looked at my husband at 6:13 PM and said, do we really have to wait over an hour to put them to bed?  Whatever reserves I had built up over the weekend had been depleted in a few short hours.

One validating point: my father-in-law, when recounting how the weekend had gone, looked at me and said,

“I don’t know how you keep up with the three of them all day.”

Yes, it was a shallow victory because it just confirms how life-sucking they are.  BUT – and this is a very big BUT – it means that there is not something wrong with me to find it challenging.  It’s a normal, natural response that many people have apparently.

That doesn’t make it any easier to deal with on a day-to-day basis . . . but at least I know I’m not some freak of nature.

So, the take-away.

  • I like alone time.
  • I crave uninterrupted creative time.
  • I respond well to long, drawn-out, meandering shopping trips.
  • I thrill in the perfect flea market find for my home décor.
  • I eat like a pig who has found the trough for the first time when I can do so without distraction.
  • A new dress does a girl good.
  • Certain physical endeavors provide good stress relief 😉
  • I suck at carrying over these lessons to the everyday; reality, if you will.

But I have to figure something out.  As I said when I lay in bed last night, in an exhausted stupor, ‘I love them.  I need to find a way to like being with them.’

Whether it’s situational depression or what, that’s not something a mother is supposed to say.

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