Thursday, May 26, 2011

Of Apple, Lemons, Dandelions, and Wishes

When my kids were really little I figured every single problem they had was the result of my depression. They were colicky? Blame my PPD-driven weepiness. Seemed overanxious? Blame my own anxiety. Didn't potty train early enough? Didn't sleep through the night? Didn't learn to read fast enough? Me! Me! Me! It was as if I was constantly shaking my head and muttering, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree." It seemed we were all stuck with seeds that had been sown ages ago and we had no choice about the fruit we got.

Now that my children are the ripe old ages of 7, 5, 3, and 1 all that has changed a little. They are still not perfect. I am still not perfect. But I don't play the blame game. I find myself thinking more along the lines of "When life gives you lemons, find some sugar, ice, and water and then make lemonade." Lemons, and depression, on their own are not inherently wonderful--but they certainly offer a lot of possibilities when you combine them with other good things. Being depressed has been horrible, BUT when combined with the things I've learned in therapy and the way it has deepened my relationship with my Savior, it seems to be turning into something pretty good. A little bittersweet, but good.

I'm optimistic it is going to be the same for my kiddos. Life threw them a big lemon every time my depression flared. When mismanaged, it had negative effects on them in so, so many ways. But *hopefully* it also is giving us opportunities to learn from each other and to love each other more fully and deeply. Now that I know how depression ruins my relationship with my children I'm a much more conscientious mother--not perfect, but aware and thoughtful.Who knows? Maybe they will turn out more aware and thoughtful, too.

Yesterday was the last day of school for our school district and as we were walking away from the elementary school my kids and I passed this field.

My first thought was, "That field is ruined. Look at all those weeds." My seven-year-old was mesmerized, though. She stared at the field thoughtfully while I loaded all the others into the minivan. Then as she climbed in the car she looked at me and said, "Wow, Mom! That's a LOT of wishes!"

When given a choice, my child saw possibilities, not problems or dead ends. Maybe, just maybe, they are going to turn out okay.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

An Open Letter to My Mother (Happy Mother's Day!)

Dear Mom--

You probably guessed by the fact that I posted something on your Facebook wall that I didn't get your gift in the mail. Yeah. It's sitting in a pile on my "projects-that-need-immediate-attention" counter, right on top of your birthday cards. Sorry. Again.

I know that nothing I could write in 420 characters or less is really a good substitute for a Mother's Day gift. After all, you were in labor with me for how many hours? 12? 20? 36? And we won't mention the countless hours in doctor/dentist/orthodontists offices. Or the countless meals and loads of laundry. When I think about it that way, even if I got my gift to you on time it wouldn't even up the score.

So, why the open letter on my blog? Two words: Mother Guilt.

Remember when I was young and wore flowy dresses all the time? You know, the ones that I was constantly staining with the dandelions that I never did figure out how to make into crowns? Those were the days when, if wasn't wearing a dress, I was wearing my swimsuit and standing on top of the jungle gym singing my guts out. Those were the days that I used to go to your community health education classes and "help" you teach by drawing on the whiteboard and playing with the example baby and CPR dummies. Those were the days that I was carefree and I was your daughter and, most importantly, you were mine.

My mother-- the lady who picked me up from kindergarten and took me to the KFC drive-through for those chicken nugget sandwiches that were the perfect size for little fingers. The one who actually watched me at my swim lessons and willingly retold the story of how I jumped in the pool when I was less than two years old because I was destined to be a good swimmer. The one who had the nerve to tell me that all the kids at the bus stop were making fun of me because I was acting like, well, like a geek.

I don't remember when exactly it was, but there came a point--probably during my tween years--when I realized that you weren't just mine. There were things you had to do for other people. And things you had to do for yourself. I know you knew I didn't get it. You'd get this far away look on your face and a sort of heaviness would settle on you.

There was the day you told me about a box. That there was this box inside you. And it kept getting smaller. And darker. And you felt like you couldn't breathe because, even though the box was inside you, you were inside the box. So you were going to go back to school. You were going to try working. You were going to get out of that box. You weren't going to suffocate.

The look you gave me then--that searching look in your eyes, that lift in your eyebrows, the dip of your shoulders--that was the look of Mother Guilt. I know it is because I have looked at my own children with searching eyes, lifting my eyebrows, and slouching my shoulders. And what I feel is a crushing, frustrating feeling of Less Than: Of being less than the other women around me; of being less than my children want and need me to be; of being less than I want myself to be; of Mother Guilt.

I bet that when I was young there were times I told you I hated you. I probably slammed my door and yelled. I probably called you names and tried to sneak around you. I don't remember any specific thing, but I bet you do. I know I remember all the times my kids have yelled at me and said they hate me. Those moments were so shocking that they are seared into my memory. The pain of those moments fades with time but the memory of them is uncanny. And that give me a new kind of mother guilt.

Did I mention I was sorry?

A lot of folks at Mother's Day talk about how perfect their moms were/are, how preternaturally perfect women in general are. But you and I both know that while women the world over may have natural inclinations toward goodness, beauty, and truth they are also human and frighteningly imperfect. I remember the pain I felt as a child when you let me down and I now know the flip side of that pain when I let my own children down. None of us are immune from the frailties of mortality, not even mothers.

But here's the important thing. Mom, please don't skip this part. I'm glad that you weren't perfect. It's okay. In fact, it's more than okay. It's exactly as it should be. Please know that I learned and grew from the moments that you were wonderful and the moments that you weren't. Honestly, I wouldn't have you any other way.

Now, since you are a mother I'm pretty sure that you will still feel sad and embarrassed that you ever had shortcomings. You will wish I didn't mention them here. I bring them up only to let you know that I love you--and not just in spite of, but rather because of.

Because you had shortcoming and struggles and difficulties, I knew it was okay when I started to flounder. I knew it was okay when I started to question and wonder. Those things made you a person and, over time, made me into a person. So while neither of us are cardboard cutouts of Donna Reed, pictures of perfection in shirtwaist dresses and pearls, we are real. When people look at us they know what they are getting. And that's a good thing.

I love you, Mom. I love your good intentions and sensitive heart, your tenacity, your sense of humor. I love you like a daughter loves her mother and like a woman loves her friend. I hope you hear that love in my voice when I call you just because I'm bored or when I solicit your advice because my kids are sick. I hope it shines between the lines of Facebook messages and emails. And I hope you feel it now radiating across the ether.

I love you.

Happy Mother's Day.

And, yes, I will put your present (and birthday cards!) in the mail tomorrow.



Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mental Malaise (I'm so Blue-ue-ue-ue-ue!)

These days, I have to admit, I am a very blue berry. I had several days in a row last week that were the epitome of ennui and a couple evenings that bordered on downright depressed. It was amazing to me how quickly my mind and emotions fell into old depressed habits. I fought with my husband. I cried for no reason. I yelled at my kids. And the thoughts were back. Over and over, "You're a failure. Nothing you do will ever matter or make difference. Everybody thinks you're stupid. They're laughing at you all the time. You can't fix any of it. It's pointless. You might as well give up. Suicide is always an option . . ."


I was fitful and restless and moody. I hated it.

Sunday morning I purposefully said to myself, "You can go either way here. You can choose to figure out what's bringing you down and change it. Or you can choose to deteriorate. What are you going to do?" It was a strange moment of clarity in which I was either channeling my therapist or the Spirit. Or both.

My sister and my husband had both asked me earlier in the week what my problem was. I always responded I didn't know. But as I thought about it there were quite a few things that were probably contributing to my mental malaise. I've been on my SSRI for almost a year and they tend to poop out on me around the prescription anniversary. The Little Cannoli was cutting back on her nursing which was precipitating a drop in my oxytocin levels--less contented hormone = a less contented mommy. The kids were sick and waking up more at night so I was getting less sleep. I'm stymied with my writing; nothing I have written to this point in my life has been what I wanted it to be and I don't know how to fix it. I hadn't been reading my scriptures or praying. I'd just finished a month of Primary Sharing Times and Cub Scout Pack meeting. Really, there were a lot of reasons and it was probably a combination of things that was pulling me down.

So Sunday, I decided to take it slow. Give it my best effort to tune in to the Spirit and let everything else go. I also decided to go back to napping in the afternoon for a week or so.

I feel better. I am not in that blissful state of mental health that I previously was, but, you know what, I'm not doing too bad either. This is my life and it's okay. My problems haven't changed--I certainly haven't solved them--but just being able to name them and observe them was helpful. My therapist used to tell me that I need to be the journalist of my own life. I needed to observe my life and emotions, figure out the story, and report it. I didn't need to solve. I just needed to note it. It's amazing how much that can help.

Well, that and napping.

What do you do when you feel yourself slipping? What helps you right yourself?