Thursday, February 9, 2017

Am I Enough? Version 2

Like some of you, I suffer with never feeling like I'm enough. I struggled a lot after Olive passed away with my new identity.  I knew I was a mother, but not having a child on earth made it very difficult for the outside world to see me as one.  It almost felt like I was keeping a secret from people, and that can be a very difficult way to live. Whether you're dealing with feelings of perfectionism, struggling with self-worth, anxiety or just being overwhelmed with everything you have going on, we tend to put on one face even though we're usually feeling like a fraud.

Some of you have commented to me that you weren't sure why I didn't write much when Abner was an infant. Some of that had to do with the fact that I was just plain tired, but most of it was that I was struggling with characteristics of myself that were coming to the surface - things I was learning about myself that I really didn't like. Sleep deprivation and constantly being needed were all things I had been longing for for so long, yet once they were here I was drained of every ounce of energy I had. On top of that I was putting on a smiling face to show everyone that I had never been happier now that I finally had a baby here on earth.

The truth was, I wasn't always happy.

I suffered from postpartum anxiety  - constantly feeling like I could die and then wondering who was going to take care of my family. I micromanaged every little thing - including the way my husband would put dishes away or what pajamas he would put on Abner before bed. If we left 5 minutes later than we had planned, I was screaming like a wild woman. I was trying to control EVERYTHING. There were days when I couldn't believe how ugly of a person I had become. Many nights I would sit in the rocking chair, sobbing while trying to get Abner to sleep for the seventh time that night and the thoughts that would run through my head were anything but beautiful.  I didn't feel like I deserved to be a mother, and felt like at any given time my husband might pick up and leave me because I wasn't a very kind wife.

I would compare myself to other mothers, wondering why I couldn't just take these nights and days with stride. I would look at other peoples relationships with their spouses and think they had it all together.  These are dangerous thoughts and social media only made it worse, yet I couldn't stop.  I had stopped spending my evenings in God's word and had become addicted to researching every thing under the sun trying to convince myself that I wasn't going crazy.

This past weekend I had an opportunity to travel to Memphis for an annual training that my sorority holds every year for it's collegiate members and their volunteer advisors. This weekend they had the courage to start tackling the difficult, and somewhat taboo conversations around mental health and mental illness. Not only was I forced to be vulnerable regarding my own signs of concern and issues, but it made me realize what today's students also deal with. Looking at the young women I had traveled with and realizing that from such a young age children are taught the social norms of how they are "supposed" to be - society's requirements for what makes someone "enough". For as much as I was learning (and as far as I *thought* I had come) I was also finding that it's extremely difficult to reverse all of the negative things you tell yourself.

For instance, over the weekend during a casual conversation about our children, a friend said five words to me that are still lingering in my mind.  She said, "you're such a good mom".  It makes me choke up just thinking about those words because as soon as she said them my first reaction was to say, "no I'm not." Instead, I politely thanked her and told her that meant a lot, even though I'm not sure I believed it.

Or when I returned home Sunday night my house was spotless.  The laundry was done, dishes were clean, junk drawers had been organized, play room shelves had been built and assembled - there was not a piece of clutter anywhere.  Once again, my first reaction was to feel like a failure: my husband can keep a better house than I can. Instead of recognizing that I had been complaining about the clutter for so long that he took the three days he was home with Abner to take care of it, immediately those pitiful thoughts of not being enough crept in.

Here's what it boils down to, for me anyway: I was wallowing in self-pity and didn't know how to get out. It happened for me in late August, that's when I hit rock bottom. I hadn't slept in over nine months, Abner was getting up 7-10 times a night (I felt guilty asking my husband to help because I was staying home and it he had to go to work every day), I wasn't taking care of myself and I honestly felt like I was losing my mind. I felt defeated, helpless and most importantly hopeless. Never in my life had I ever felt more lonely.

That is when I reached out for help. I discussed things with my midwife, I utilized resources that were available to me and I vowed to change my attitude and the way I cared for myself.  I read a devotion that stated, "to truly embrace our circumstances we must decide to stop pleading, "God, get me out of here!" and learn to humbly ask instead, "Lord, why have you brought me here?"

That was in August.  Today I can say that I'm in a better place.  I asked my husband for help and we developed a plan that would allow me to get more sleep.  We made room in our budget for a gym membership so that I could drop Abner off and have some time to myself a couple days a week.  I joined a mom's group and bible study which have been such a blessing to me.  The women I've met have been so real and so raw, helping me to recognize that I'm not alone in this season of life. God has been tugging and tugging at me to start writing again too, so here I am.  Once again, I'm doing this for me - if you happen to read along and can relate to what I share, I am so very thankful to you for joining me on this journey.

It's time to embrace vulnerability.  It's time to return to God and embark on a new relationship with Him.  It's time to forgive myself and to lead with grace.

It's time to believe that I AM ENOUGH.

"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through Him who gives me strength." Phillipians 4:11-13

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Little Girl Named Olive

When you lose someone you love,
Your life becomes strange,
The ground beneath you gets fragile,
Your thoughts make your eyes unsure;
And some dead echo drags your voice down
Where words have no confidence.

Your heart has grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss has wounded others too,
No one knows what has been taken from you
When the silence of absence deepens.

Flickers of guilt kindle regret
For all that was left unsaid or undone.

There are days when you wake up happy;
Again inside the fullness of life,
Until the moment breaks
And you are thrown back
Onto the black tide of loss.

Days when you have your heart back,
You are able to function well
Until in the middle of work or encounter,
Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief.

It becomes hard to trust yourself.
All you can depend on now is that
Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.
More than you, it knows its way
And will find the right time
To pull and pull the rope of grief
Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop.

Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form of your departed;
And when the work of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air
And be able to enter the hearth
In your soul where your loved one
Has awaited your return

All the time.

“To Bless the Space Between Us, A Book of Blessings” by John O’Donohue

Today, out of nowhere, I was stopped dead in my tracks - holding my breath, unable to move for a few moments.  Today, I heard it - I've never heard it before - not in public anyway, only in my head.

"C'mon, Olive.  Come here, Olive - this way, sweetie."

Another family passed us by as we stood in the Tropical Dome at the Milwaukee Domes.  I asked Chuck, "did you hear that?  Did you hear what her name was?"

I've never heard another child named Olive called out in public before.  There was one time, two years ago, while we were in Charleston that a school group was on a ferry with us to go visit an island. Each of the little children had a nametag on and I *swore* that one of the children had a nametag that said Olive.  As a bereaved mother, desperate to see or hear her child's name, I pushed and shoved my way through the line so that I could get closer to that little girl.  I wondered if I looked strange as I walked further and further away from my husband, toward a little girl I didn't know. I wondered if her teacher or another parent would stop me or give me a hard time, but I just had to see her name.  I didn't want to talk to her, I just wanted to see another little girl named Olive.

Her name was Claire.

I walked away as quickly as I had approached her.

How stupid.  How creepy.  How frustrating that grief does this to you.

But today, almost two years later, that desperation was back.  I wanted to see her, that little girl.  I wanted to hear her talk - she looked roughly the same age Olive would be today.  This time I just followed with my eyes and my mind drifted to what my Olive would look like, sound like.  Would she be in a mismatched outfit because she demanded to dress herself this morning, or would she let me have dressed her in a cute pair of leggings and sweater dress - all set for our Saturday morning adventure?  Would her hair be long enough for a cute little ponytail or would it still be kind of awkward and short - just long enough for a barrette?  Would she have wanted to hold my hand today or would she be exploring more of her independence and run off to see what was around the corner like this little Olive was?

I'll never know.

These moments don't come as often as they used to, but when they do come they still surprise me. They still feel heavy. They still leave me breathless.  They just don't last as long.

I'm certain the picture of this little Olive will linger in my head and on my heart for a couple more days - then she'll make her way back to the part of my brain that holds onto her until the next time grief sneaks up and carries me back to what would be.