Worthiness Part 3


Worthiness Part 1

Worthiness Part 2


I’ve pulled out of a major emotional tailspin.  Becoming a mother for the first time was not what I pictured.  It was traumatic, heartbreaking, illusion-shattering, ego-slashing.  I felt like less of a person.  Why was I struggling so much to pull it together when my baby was healthy?  Isn’t this what women have done since the beginning of…well…humanity?  Why did I feel like my life was over?  I listened to the advice my friends and neighbors offered.  I latched onto a blessed few hobbies to keep me afloat and give me activities to look forward to.  Slowly, I became light enough in spirit to see that my life wasn’t over.  I was one of millions of people who indulged in various cover-ups, masks, and self-defeating cycles until a soul-saving, painful awakening.  Depression can be treated, but only if it is acknowledged.

During my darkest days, one of my favorite distractions was learning about my ancestry, filling in gaps in the family tree.  Running themes in my family include overcoming enormous obstacles, work, sacrifice, and austerity.  The belief that to suffer is to be closer to the divine is common in many family stories.  My own grandmother gave birth to one of her sons by herself in a small cabin in Northern Ontario while her husband was away working in the mines.  She read a book on how to deliver a baby.  The plug to the only heater was broken, so she straight-wired the heater and put it under the blanket to deliver her own baby.  I didn’t ask, but I’m pretty sure she got up from the bed and went back to the housework after that.  This kind of incredible perseverance made my people amazingly stubborn survivors. 

This trait, passed down to me, looks like insanity.
  I am a fully digital, convenience-loving consumer, with a Masters degree in French and a weakness for hip-hop.  I don’t need to spend my days patching the house with cow pies (which apparently make fantastic plaster for mud houses on the plains) or mending my family’s clothes.  This also leaves me feeling utterly ridiculous if I measure my worth in comparison to how hard the people in my family before me have worked for everything.

To divert my brain from the neurotic cycle it tends to produce and to prove that I worked hard and was therefore worthy, I also immersed myself in homemaking.  It connected me to the women in my family and all women.  Tasks like beating out rugs in the back of the house, washing pans in the sink, or planning a week of dinners after taking stock of the cupboards were comforting and reliable.  Some things haven't changed for women in generations.  I thought, “Maybe we need these things.  We can control these tasks completely.” 

The sense of impending doom that accompanied the birth of our first child was not nearly as heavy after we had our next baby.  I allowed myself to enjoy the process the second time around and cared for myself in ways that didn’t occur to me the first time.  Responsibility and a lack of fun and excitement still flattened me some days, but overall it was not the end of the world.  When our son turned one, we threw him a small party and celebrated the end of breastfeeding with a bottle of wine…Nine months later our third child was born.

The recovery period after giving birth to our third child was hectic and confusing.  I knew I loved all my kids just like any parent does, but I still didn’t understand why I couldn’t be happy.  I was better at masking my crazy at this point, but inside the turmoil was destroying me.  Another year later at a regular gynecological exam, my doctor asked me if I had thoughts of hurting myself.  (Thank goodness for that caring doctor.) Things became painfully clear.  In one huge rush, I shed many tears along with the image that I was anything but crushed by depression.

I came slightly unhinged and all the crazy spilled out.  I saw a therapist, started medication, and realized that maybe there was something more and possibly very ugly that needed to be purged and reframed from the mess that had collected in my psyche.  I tried a few medications and finally found one that made me feel like I could leave the house for groceries and not cry in the cereal aisle.  I also noticed that my daughter, then six, stopped asking me all the time if I was okay.

This break in the clouds gave me the chance to look at myself.  My ugly truth was the heap of choices I’d made throughout my life that I was spinning in my mind as the reason that no one should care about me or treat me well.  I didn’t feel like I should treat myself well.  I let other people’s opinions of me define me, and few of those people understood what depression looked like.  

So after years of scoffing at trite expressions that get reprinted on antiqued wooden planks to hang on your wall, I found one that I needed.  “Put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others.”  Within a short period of time, our lives took a dramatic turn.  Suddenly, the idea that I needed to sacrifice everything for the sake of motherhood seemed dangerous and stupid.  It was not the path to salvation and goodness that I assumed it would be.

Putting on my oxygen mask meant radically changing the way I ate, throwing out conventional wisdom that is not based in good science.  After a few months my husband and I had successfully eliminated foods from our diet that were making us sick.  The sense of accomplishment I felt carried over very quickly into other areas of my life. 

I completely removed my kids from the school system that caused much unneeded stress for our family.  The personal power that I regained by guiding my kids’ education through homeschooling was enormous.  The time we gained together was ultimately the most healing thing we could have done for our family.  To me, my kids were already the smart, fun-loving planetary bodies around which I orbited.  After we started to homeschool we were able to see each other at our best and worst, not just during the morning or evening rush.  We had time to learn and play and rest and fight and forgive together every day.

Don’t get me wrong.  Family, friends, and neighbors were armed and ready with any number of concerns about our eating habits and our choice to homeschool.  The part I liked the best about these radical changes was feeling like I didn’t need to justify these decisions to anyone.  When something is that good for your family you don’t question it.  How sweet it is when you are so sure of your happiness that other people’s opinions cannot sway you.  Reclaiming my family’s life from being on autopilot was exhilarating.  I was much more grateful for every interaction with my kids because it was on our terms.

The next step to living more authentically came when I realized that living in the Southwest wasn’t right for us anymore.  We knew that we really belonged back in the Midwest within driving distance of our families.  We put our house up for sale, found a new one not far from where my husband grew up and drove across the country with our Chihuahua and three kids to our new home within two months. 

Finally, I began writing again for pleasure.  Positive change is truly contagious.  I’ve learned very recently, or remembered rather, that I’m worthy of love no matter what mistakes I’ve made.  I’ve decided that I’m going to continue doing the best job I can as a mother and put my own happiness much more in the forefront than ever before.  I discovered that we are not on Earth to live out the story of struggle and survival.  We are not meant to simply toil and suffer and reproduce and die, as is sometimes implied by our history and our genetics. 

We are meant to write our own, individual stories.  We are here to come to know the meaning of loving others, even when they poop their pants for the third time in a day just before their sister’s gymnastics lesson.  We are here to love people who disappoint us and leave us hanging, perhaps not understanding why, but accepting it with compassion.  We are especially here to love ourselves, even in our fat pants, unemployed, lonely, and imperfect. 

When I struggle now, I take stock of the qualities that make me the hero of my own story:
-I always look for new ways to add value to my life and our family.
-I give myself time to be cranky when necessary and then reset and move on.
-I forgive myself for the times I haven’t.
-I shrug off criticism from others that is not constructive.
-I listen to criticism that is constructive with an open heart, knowing that a person who shares it has the courage to love me even when it’s hard.
-I think before I speak.
-I face things even when they are incredibly uncomfortable, knowing that letting negative feelings fester will make me sick.
-I celebrate my progress.
-I treat my body like a temple most days and a playground on others.
-I remember that we have value just because we are born and that my purpose is to share that truth with others.
-And because I’m awesome.  That’s why.

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