Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hurry Up and Slow Down: Validating My Irritable Uterus

Already the newest But Not Unhappy Baby is getting demanding. Well, it's more like my uterus is getting demanding.(I guess it's not really a good thing that I can ignore hours of contractions. Except when I'm in labor. Then it rocks.) It's been so darn irritable the doctor put me on "moderate" bed rest--which is apparently defined as "only doing the things you HAVE to do."

My first question: What have I been doing that I didn't have to be doing? I mean I'd already pretty much limited my to do list to things that are either smelly (dishes and laundry), whiny (children and husband), or embarrassing (I'm pretty sure you can fill in that blank!). Now which of those am I supposed to let go of? It's been a real conundrum.

I actually got put on bed rest last Thursday but it's taken me this long to get my head wrapped around it. At first I was just stunned. Then I was frustrated. Now I think I'm glad.

Over the last 24ish hours, when I've actually been sitting down and resting, I've noticed something: I'm tired! As in exhausted. My body, my mind, my spirit, all of me is tired. Now, I know I've been blogging about being tired for quite awhile now so this isn't a surprise to you all, but the extent of my lethargy surprised me. With all of our selling-and-buying-a-house-busy-ness I've been running on adrenaline for months now. Being forced to sit down and take it easy has made me face what kind of toll that has taken.

After Baby J was born, almost 3 years ago!, a therapist told me I needed to rest. She wanted me to find someone to take my kids (including the 2 month old baby) for 36 hours and then go find a quiet place and sleep. The therapist actually said to me, "You're not getting more depressed. You're tired. Fatigue and depression look a lot alike. Get some rest." Since I was breastfeeding I wrote her off. Who can sleep for that long when they have a nursing infant? It makes my boobs hurt just thinking about it.

Then, after months of Baby J's sleep problems, our family doctor said, "Can't you find someone to watch your kids so you can rest? Do you have any family in town? Can your husband take a day off work? Get a hotel room and sleep. For as long as you can. You need to sleep." Again, I wrote her off because I honestly believed there was no one who would take my kids for that period of time. Or that my kids would go for it.

Our family doc brings it up every time she sees me and it gotten to be joke between us. But then, the second time I saw my psychiatrist, she said the same thing. She too wanted me to find a quiet place to sleep for at least 24 hours. It was starting to sound familiar. . .

I had an "emergency" session with my therapist last month and she pushed me to set up a few days at a hotel so I could sleep and rest. Just have the opportunity to do nothing. And I almost did it. My kiddos are all old enough that I wouldn't need to nurse anyone and they could all deal with me being gone for awhile. I spent a whole evening looking online for a nice, affordable, quiet place but then things got crazy with our house being on the market and I never actually made the reservation.

I think there's this anti-rest attitude that has been hammered into my brain that just won't let me slow down. I think it partly has to do with the whole "be not weary with well doing" idea. You know, we're supposed to wear ourselves out doing good works and serving God. Who are the biggest Mormon female role models? Pioneer women who practically died on the trail helping others and modern "pioneer-type" women who work themselves to exhaustion serving at the temple/church/cubscouts/whatever. Rarely do you hear a conference talk or read an Ensign article about a chick who said, "Well, I've done a couple things today but I'm beginning to feel a little oyshed so I'm gonna just put my feet up and relax. Let someone else get it done."

I don't think the Church is entirely to blame, though. After all, let's not forget "Good, Better, Best" and "There is a time and a season." No, I blame society at large too. America has long been a country that values hard work--you know, Puritans and boot straps and all that business--and that's not bad. I think those ideas have taken a strange turn over the last 20 or 30 years, though,
when it comes to women. Especially women who have children and stay home with them.

Since the feminist movement (which, for the most part, I am a fan of) women who choose to have children and then choose to stay home with them have to validate their choices. Very few people second guess a woman who goes into engineering or becomes a lawyer. Even women who choose more traditionally female roles like nursing and teaching are understood and looked at as contributing members of society. Women who stay home with their kids have to prove their choices and we usually do it in not so subtle competitions: who has the most children, whose house is the cleanest, whose kids are the best behaved, whose children score highest on different tests or exhibit the most talent, who is the most frugal, who is the most fit, who spends the most time volunteering, or which mommy can do all those things and still hold down side jobs that bring in bonus cash so that her family can have that nice car or fancy vacation. I can think of only one or two women who are secure enough in their choice to stay home that they don't buy into at least one or two of these catty comparisons.

(Now a woman who does one or more of the above may not necessarily be doing it strictly for competitive reasons, but I'm betting self-validation and approval of others factors in more than she'd like to admit. When I look back on the most meaningful conversations I've had with other women telling them that their choices are okay--that they have nothing to prove--is almost always an easily identifiable theme. For evidence just go look at other mommies' Facebook statuses. They really want you to click the like button.)

(Other parenthetical thought: Do men struggle with this kind of competition too? The busier you are the better you are? Seriously folks. I want answers.)

Some of us chicks maybe try to prove we are more savvy and that we don't buy into these ideas by avoiding housework or not taking on extra jobs. But even then we talk too loudly and too often about why we're doing what we're doing because we're still trying to get people to tell us that they approve of our choices, because we ourselves are not sure how we feel about them.

So now it's the end of March and I've apparently been hard enough on my body that my uterus is yelling at me. It's tired and wants to rest. Even if I don't. So I'm doing my best to embrace it. My oldest is at school. My preschooler and my 2-year-old are watching a lot of "educational" (you can see me rolling my eyes, right?) tv. And I'm writing a really, really long blog post.

Because, in all honesty, I'm trying validate my restful choice. You better leave me a comment telling me that you validate it too! (wink, wink)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Depression and Spirituality (more from BCC)

So I am horrendously late (in internet terms) when it comes to blogging about
this. But we've been busy (Sell house? Check! Find other house to buy? Check! Do all the mortgage junk? Check! Oh, and since Baby #4 is due in 9 weeks, see the doctor all the time? Check! Do all the normal life stuff? Check!)and now is the first chance I've had to get back to it.

They covered a lot of ground, starting with how some versions of Mormon thought promote black and white thinking patterns that exacerbate depression and then moved on to how depression has actually changed their religious lives. I hope you'll go over and read the whole post, but I wanted to touch on a few things here that I identified with.

"Depression can be a completely different animal than any other type of adversity, because it screws with your ability to access God. And you know God could break through that wall if he really wanted to, so you’re left with the conclusion that he didn’t care to."

The biggest way depression seemed to interact with the BCC-ers depression was in their connection with God. Most of them couldn't confidently assert any thing more than a tenuous connection with their Heavenly Father--and that made them feel like they were bad Mormons. This has been absolutely true in my life. When I am at worst is when God is hardest to access. Praying, fervent focused pleading, does little to no good. I don't know if it's because my brain blocks out the spirit (I firmly believe there is a link between our physical conditions and our abilities to discern spiritual matters) or because it is somehow God's will that I not feel Him, but when I am down I cannot feel His love or access Him. That's one of the most obvious signs of my own depression: sitting in testimony meeting and seeing that everyone else is feeling it and not feeling it myself. I've come to expect this spiritual loneliness now and don't take it personally, but in the beginning it was vastly disorienting for my Mormon perspective. I mean, God loves us and is supposed to be there for us when we need Him, right? But sometimes it doesn't feel like He is. Or maybe I just haven't learned to see His hand. Either way, it's lonely. And scary.

"It seems to me that we have become more comfortable in Mormon culture about talking about depression, precisely because it has been medicalized, and we can explain it in comfortingly technical terms like 'serotonin re-uptake' and 'dopamine receptors.' What we still can’t do is talk about the spiritual aspects of it–it’s ok to stand up in testimony meeting and say 'the Lord has helped me recover from postpartum depression through priesthood blessings and medical care,' but it simply isn’t ok to say 'I feel abandoned by God. When you talk about your close relationship with Him, I wonder why I can’t feel what you do, and it makes me feel terrible.'

We countenance talking about grief, depression, and anger only when they’re safely in the past tense, or when we can explain them away as a physical, brain-based phenomenon. It’s understandable, of course, because it is painful and unsettling to see someone suffering and have prayer or priesthood blessings seem not to work–'mourning with those that mourn' can be (perhaps must be) a genuine challenge to the faith and testimony of the comforter, as well as the comforted. What does it mean to bear one another’s burdens, when one of our brother’s or sister’s burdens is despair, or the absence of hope and faith?"

This is something I have struggle to articulate and one of the reasons I started this blog. Since I've been depressed, I've come to believe that as Mormons we sometimes spend too much time thinking about the end of the road and not enough about the path we take to get there. We're all about the tree of life(which isn't necessarily bad) and sometimes forget about the mists of darkness and the clinging to the iron rod part of it all. Being righteous doesn't always mean that our lives will be without trouble. We wish it did. But it doesn't. Life is going to be hard and when we forget that I think we neuter our spiritual growth because, really, you can't get to the tree of life without the long walk through the mists of darkness. I'm glad the folks over at BCC owned this and said it out loud.

A lot of the discussion also centered around how being depressed has caused people to rethink their testimonies. Several contributors said that their testimonies were smaller now--stronger but smaller. For almost all of them there came a point where they felt they might need to leave the Church, but they decided to keep working at it. This is true for me, too. I'm not comfortable saying that I know all the things everyone else in the congregation knows. I feel like my spirit has been shaken to pieces and my testimony has been rebuilt from the ground up. But the things I believe are truly mine now because I have gained them through experience.

"I’m starting to realize that one of the greatest gifts we can give another human being is to be willing to reconsider our version of reality for their sake, to make uncomfortable shifts inside ourselves in order to make room for them."

This was beautiful to me. This is the thing I think I need the most sometimes. I just need to know that other people aren't dismissing me simply because my reality makes them uncomfortable. That attitude is the heart of successful, Christlike parenting and marriages. I think it's that idea that shaped the Home Teaching and Visiting Teaching programs. The ability to "reconsider our version of reality" for someone else strikes me as one of the most loving things we can do and is what it means to be true disciples of Christ.