The Surprising Thing God Said to Me

Stop calling yourself names.

And He said it with such force and finality that it took me by surprise.

Did He really just say that?  I asked myself.

But I knew.  I knew it was Him.  It certainly didn’t come from me.  And I was actively seeking Him at the time.  At a retreat, during a time of prayer after good teaching all day.

I think I started to cry.  But not the horrible, wrenching sobs of wretchedness.  No, they were the cleansing, quiet tears of joy.

I suddenly got a glimpse of how much He values me, how highly He thinks of me, even though I disagree with Him at every turn.  I call myself Worthless, and Useless, and Hopeless.  I name myself Failure, and Not Good Enough.  I call myself Thoughtless, and Selfish, and Resentful.

But He calls me His.  And He says that’s enough.

But He doesn’t just leave it there.

He names me Lovable, and Worthy.  He calls me Talented, and Important To His Plan.  He tells me that I am On Purpose, not A Mistake.  He takes my weaknesses, and He calls them Useful.

I often forget the things God said to me so lovingly that night — and would say every night, if I would just listen.

I still push those names away sometimes, calling them untrue.

Did you see that, God?  Did you see what I just did?  How I just failed?

He always answers.  I don’t always have ears to hear.

I saw.  Stop calling yourself names.

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The Stuff is Too Much for Me

Self pity is one of my worst tendencies.

It’s the easiest for me to fall into, the hardest to relinquish, the most enticing, and the most life-sucking.

It creeps up on me the most when I think about the things I’m not good at that need to get done:  Tidying.  Decluttering.  Organizing.  Regular maintenance.

You see, I’m not that kind of person.  My brain doesn’t naturally function in those capacities.  Thinking through anything organizational or administrative is so counterintuitive to me that it takes enormous amounts of energy just to decide what to do, let alone do it.  Halfway through any tidying job, I’ll become exhausted and need a break.  Often, I don’t get back to it for weeks, months, years……  And in the meantime, I’ve been trying to ignore the mess I made while trying to clean up.

I’m a stay-at-home mom, so these are the things in my world that I need to do that are hard for me.  You see, if I were employed elsewhere, I’d be in a creative job, with nothing administrative about it.  But I’m at home, and I  can’t just ignore my weaknesses.  Every now and then, I need to wrestle them into submission.  The house does need to be somewhat tidy.

And then I begin to feel sorry for myself.  Because even when I do tidy, it’s so hard.

I’ve read lots of cleaning books over the years, some of them helpful; others, not so much.  My favourites have been It’s All Too Much by Peter Walsh and The House That Clean Itself by Mindy Starns Clark.  According to Mindy, housekeeping should just be something we do, with no emotions attached.  I cried when I read that page.  She really gets it.  I had no idea that housekeeping could be a neutral thing.

I’m still not there yet.  I think I need to read her book again.

Right now, I really need to do a big toy purge.  With five kids, each with birthdays and Christmas in our materialistic society, we really have so much.  Too much.

And right now, as I think about it, I’m starting to feel discouraged and sorry for myself.  It really is all too much.

And I begin to feel angry with my mom, with my in-laws, with everyone who has ever dared to give any child of mine a gift.  How dare they make my life so difficult?

And I feel angry with my kids, for wanting to keep everything, for not cleaning up after themselves, for protesting and arguing with me every. single. night. when I tell them to put their stuff away.

Housework is still very emotional for me.

Darn it, darn it, darn it.

So, how can I get past this?  Perhaps the answer is in my first couple paragraphs.  Isn’t it funny that I began by talking about self pity, and then my brain immediately went to housework and toys?  Maybe the first step is to stop feeling so darned sorry for myself because I have too much.  It is what it is.  And if I don’t like it, I should change it.

And maybe, even though I don’t think I can be happy about the mess, I can look for something else house-related to be thankful for.  Lord, please help me.  I can’t do this on my own.

 

 

The 6pm Meltdown

Supper time is the worst.

I am almost always hungry when I start preparing dinner.  Being hungry makes it harder for me to make decisions, so if I haven’t already planned a meal, just the idea of making dinner makes me crazy.

Then, the kids come in and ask me questions.  Or have arguments.  Or need drinks.  Or they stand in my way, and I struggle not to yell mean things at them for being so thoughtless.

“Can’t you see I’m working here?  Just go play for a while!  Supper will be ready when it’s ready.  No, I don’t know what we’re having yet.  Yes, I know you hate tuna casserole, but everyone else loves it, so too bad.”

Sometimes, the whole production is so overwhelming, I just want to cry.  Or stop.  Or feel sorry for myself that I don’t have enough money to employ a proper housekeeper, like in the good old days of The Bobbsey Twins or Pride and Prejudice.  Seriously, why can’t I have lived in a time where housekeepers were the norm?

When I really think about why dinner time is such a disaster, I can see a couple reasons.

1) My introvert brain can only handle so much input & stimuli at a time.  Too much from outside (kids) while I’m struggling to make decisions inside (my brain), and I feel completely overwhelmed.  Which then makes everything even more of an effort.

2) I should really give myself a pre-supper-making snack.  A really good one.  Like a dinner before the dinner.  But that takes advance preparation, which is not one of my strong points.

3) It might also help if I planned the menu before 5:30pm.  “The crock pot is my friend.  The crock pot is my friend.”

4) My husband is hardly ever home before supper is ready.  I bet an adult helper would come in handy when the kids need things.  Oh, well.  I can’t really change that one.

I guess I could either keep on complaining that I hate supper time, I hate preparing meals, and I hate that it’s the stupid mom’s job, or….  I could just get over it.  It is what it is.  How can I make the best of it?  Knowing my own limitations, maybe if I plan in advance, I could make that time of day less horrible.

The slow cooker is my friend.  The slow cooker is my friend.

How I Cope with Life

I’ve built up a mental list of coping strategies over the years.  These are things I do when I feel like I just can’t take my life any more.  When I remember to do them diligently, life becomes manageable.  When I forget all about them, I spiral down into blahs, tiredness, crabbiness, being easily frustrated and discouraged, and then, if I’m not careful, depression.

I spent years depressed, some of them (once diagnosed) on anti-depressants.  I thought I’d have to take anti-depressants for my whole life, and so did my doctor.  But I am currently living without them, and my life is good.  It is not easy, or simple, but it is good.  And if I guard myself carefully, I can maintain sanity.  Everyone’s body chemistry is different, though, and we all have to make and be responsible for our own choices.  If you’re on anti-depressants right now, why not try adding some of my (or your own) coping strategies to your toolkit on top of your meds?  And remember, I’m writing here from a position of maintaining sanity, not trying to gain it back.  So pick and choose, and don’t feel bad if some of these just aren’t for you.

Take Care of My Body  — These are the basics.  If I miss these, a meltdown is sure to be on its way.

  • Eat consistently.  If I skip meals or snacks, I crumble quickly.
  • Drink enough water.  Being dehydrates makes me feel very tired and sluggish, and then it’s hard to accomplish anything.
  • Get sleep.  If I stay up too late, I find that I’m very grouchy about everything the next day, and my patience is short.
  • Nap if I really need it.  Some days, there’s nothing to be done but get some extra rest.
  • Shower.  I always drag my feet, but then I feel so much better afterward.  Refreshed and ready to take on the world.
  • Smile.  The physical act of smiling, whether I feel like it or not, releases happy brain chemicals.
  • Take a walk.  Being outside, under the sun, especially where I can see grass and trees and the horizon, makes me take deeper breaths.  I feel less weighed down under a blue sky, or even a dramatic, overcast one.
  • Avoid the foods that make me worse.  In my case, it’s sugar.  I discovered, by accident, that if I avoid sugar altogether, I can cope.  When I eat too much of it one day, I have a huge meltdown the next day.  (I was really encouraged to find an article recently on the Forbes website that backs up my claim.  I realize quitting sugar won’t necessarily help everyone, but if it means I can live without anti-depressants, sobbing, and hopelessness, I’m happy to leave it behind forever.)

Nurture My Spirit — These are both icing and cake.  If I indulge too much in them, they backfire, but in just the right amounts, they lend sweetness to my life.

  • Have fun.  So often, I’m too busy feeling resentful about the things that “must be done” that I forget to include fun in my life.  Let supper be something “fun.”  Go sledding.  Take a walk.  Tickle my kids.  Laugh.  Build a fort.  Swing on a swingset.  Try a cartwheel.  (I did that.  It hurt, but it was exhilarating.  Soon, I’ll be too old and it might risk breaking a hip.)
  • Give myself a treat.  In my case, that’s not something sweet.  But maybe it’s a latte, or a trip to the bookstore, a new skein of hand-painted yarn, or just 15 extra minutes in the bathroom to shave my legs and paint my toenails.
  • Give myself permission to take the day off.  Purposely allowing myself to set aside my responsibilities for the day and do something I enjoy — without guilt — can be a lovely mini-vacation.  (I can do this sometimes because I’m a stay-at-home mom, and what I’m taking time off from is feeling bad about not cleaning or stressed about homeschooling.  I say yes to my kids’ fun ideas instead of “later,” or “finish your work first.”)
  • Say no to condemnation.  I don’t have to let that negative tape play in my head.  It’s not helpful or healing; it’s destructive and discouraging.
  • Paint.  I love having a brush in my hand, whether it’s painting a canvas or a wall.
  • Knit.  I’m not sure what it is about yarn and needles, but they are so therapeutic, especially once you get good at it.  When my brain is too muddled for something complex, I choose a simple, repetitive pattern.  And I always use beautiful yarn and slick needles.
  • Read a good book.  I mean, a really good book, that makes you wonder and laugh and think about interesting and lofty things.  I avoid sad endings at all cost, and I can’t stand reading tragedies.  I’m already depressed enough, thank you.
  • Listen to music.  Some days, I forget to turn on the radio, and all I hear all day are the theme songs for Max & Ruby and Spongebob Squarepants.  That’s enough to drive anyone crazy.  Putting a favourtie, uplifting or thoughtful CD in the player makes a HUGE difference.  Even doing the dishes can be fun when Superchick or Relient K is playing.

Renew My Mind — These are like water.  Even if I take care of myself physically, when these things are lacking, I feel dry and brittle.

  • Read my Bible.  It really is living and active, and sometimes a verse I’ve read over and over again will pop out with a previously-unnoticed nuance.
  • Read the 12 steps and the 8 Recovery Principles from the Beatitudes.  (The 8 Principles are part of the Celebrate Recovery program.)  They’re great reminders and come in small bites for easy digestion.
  • Read the Serenity Prayer.  It’s awesome.  When I read it, or recite it in my head, I suddenly find myself taking deeper breaths and calming down.
  • Fill my mind with good things.  So often, I have a negative recording playing over and over in my head; I need to actively toss it out and replace it with good and true things.  Those things can be Bible verses I have taped up around my kitchen sink or memorized, blog posts from other writers I love (the Sober Boots blog is a-MAZ-ing), podcasts (I’m currently enjoying Joyce Meyer’s Enjoying Everyday Life podcasts), small daily readings (I love My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers), or whatever inspired or uplifts me.  As long as I can fill my mind with truth, I can recognize and toss out the lies.
  • Stop being mean to myself.  This kind of goes with the point above.  But it’s a good, small phrase that I can easily remember when I feel like I’m drowning.  “Stop being mean to yourself.”
  • Go to a recovery group of some sort.  Or some small group where people are real, honest, and accepting.
  • Keep the remorse, but toss the shame.  I do wrong things.  I mess up.  But if I beat myself up about them, I can’t move on and get better at stopping doing them.  I remind myself that His mercies are new every moment.  (I know the verse says “every morning,” but I think moment is just as real, and way more encouraging.  I need new mercies every. moment.)
  • Gather up some catch phrases.  In recovery, there are a bunch of itty bitty cliches to help us along.  They seem silly at first, but they’re basically just condensed bits of truth.  My favourite is about acceptance:  It is what it is.

I’m sure I must have more coping strategies than these, but you get the idea.  And it’s been a great reminder for me to write them all out today.  I think I’ll go listen to some good music and do some dishes.  Now that I’m not beating myself up about being a bad housekeeper, life doesn’t seem so bad.

What are your coping strategies?  I’d love to add more to my list!

It’s Hard to Be a Mother with Depression

Usually, life is so busy that I can forget about it.  Until I slip and let myself get overwhelmed.  And feel my sanity slipping…

Then, the recriminations start.

“You’re a terrible mother.

I pity your children, who have to grow up in a house that’s so imperfect.

You’re too messy.  How can you teach them to clean when you obviously can’t?

I bet they’ll be scarred for life.

What if you’ve passed on some mentally-ill gene to them?”

And so on.  The problem with thoughts like those is… I entertain them.  As I write this, I know they’re not true, that they’re overly pessimistic and therefore not to be taken at face value.  But man, when I’m tired and already discouraged, they sure do pile up and make me feel worse.

The truth of the matter is, I’m a pretty average mother.  I have my good moments, and I have my bad ones.  Everybody does.  It’s just that few people pin their messy houses on Pinterest; heck, most of us won’t even let our friends in the door if we haven’t tidied first.  I learned years ago that if I lived like that, I’d never have people over.

But still, I wonder.  I wonder what they really think of me when they see my messy house.  Do they go home and shake their heads?  Feel bad for my husband?  Pity my children?

It’s those thoughts that drive me crazy.  I start down that path, and suddenly self-doubt rears its ugly head, and the negative recording starts to play in my head again.

The longer I let it play, the louder it gets.  Soon, it drowns out all reason, and I start to wonder if the kids wouldn’t be better off without me.  Their grandma is so much tidier.  She’s not scatterbrained and preoccupied.  And on.  And on.  And on.

If I let my mind go down those paths, I become paralyzed, angry, frustrated.  Even the tiniest mess looks huge.  A pile of dirty dishes — that it would take only 15 minutes to clean — suddenly seems like a mountain.  I want to hide under my covers.  All the clutter conspires to choke the breath out of me, and all my confidence disappears.  My husband comes home after working hard all day to find that dinner’s not started, the house is a mess, and his wife is near tears.

I don’t much like those days.

I’m replacing the recording today.  I feel silly telling myself affirmations that don’t seem to be true, but the more I say them, the more true they become.

I can look after the house.  (And voila!  I suddenly don’t find the dishes so daunting.)

I am a good mom.  (And suddenly I feel like hugging my children.)

I like my home.  (And what do you know — it’s not as messy as I thought it was.)

I’m a great wife.  (And I want to call my husband and tell him I love him.)

I’m a good cook.  (What’s in the freezer?)

My children will be okay.  (If they do get depressed, I can certainly understand and maybe even walk them through it.)

I’m not a failure.  (And then I remember that no one can be perfect at everything.  I decide to focus on my strengths instead of my shortcomings.)

I think I’ll also add a favourite verse to the litany:  There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (from Romans 8).

God knows I am dust, and He doesn’t condemn me.  If He’s okay with me being dust, I can be okay with that.

 

Why I Will Never Be “Free” from Depression — And Maybe That’s Okay.

I had an absolute meltdown on the weekend.  Once I started to cry, I couldn’t stop.

What kept going through my mind was, “It’s all too much.”

The messy toys, the commitments of the day, the stupid dirty kitchen, the clutter that I can never seem to overcome…  It all piled up into one seething pile of resentment and frustration.  And all of it taunted me, saying, “You can never get a handle on things.  You suck at life.  You’re a terrible mother.  I pity your husband.  You should just give up.

Give up.

Give up.

Give up.”

So I did.  After angrily tossing piles of clutter willy-nilly in bags, then realizing that I couldn’t even think straight enough to sort the stupid stuff, let alone see it through my tears, I gave up.

And I hated my house and myself for giving up.

But I didn’t want to cry any more, and giving up made the tears stop.  So I sat at my desk, numbly checking my Facebook newsfeed, and waiting for my husband and kids to come home from the party that I was supposed to take them to.

Did I eat anything?  No.

Did I take a nap?  No.  I was tired of napping when things got rough.

Did I do anything to make myself feel better?  No.

I was too busy beating myself up about having the meltdown in the first place.  I wasn’t worthy of feeling better.

I knew, in the back of my mind, though, that I was being unreasonable and mean to myself.  I knew that things would probably look better the next day and that I could then apologize to my husband for yelling at him.  I even knew that he’d probably forgive me.  After ten years, he’s almost used to me.

But I was still so ashamed that I’d had the biggest meltdown in years, and I guess I couldn’t quite forgive myself for it yet.

When I think back on it today, I realize a couple of things.

1) It had been building for a while.  I have regained all my old habits of telling myself mean things.  My self talk has become really negative again.

2) I let myself get over hungry, which is always a recipe for disaster.  My mood is integrally connected to the fullness of my stomach.

3) I’d been less vigilant about my sugar consumption.  Even though I made that coconut loaf with agave syrup instead of white sugar, I still shouldn’t have eaten so much of it the day before.  And all that white flour in the recipe probably didn’t help, either.

4) It has been ages since I’ve had a good look at myself.  I haven’t been to a Celebrate Recovery meeting in over a year (or two?), my small group hasn’t been meeting lately, and I haven’t had a good heart-to-heart with one of my best friends in a couple weeks, either.

That big meltdown has made me realize that depression is always an option for me.  And I can’t let myself choose it again.

For my kids, for myself, for my husband — I have to keep saying no to despair.

I can’t give up.

And if I’m going to choose life, I need to become intentional about it again.

I’ve let my recovery fall by the wayside, and it’s no good.  I need my sanity.

So here I am.  Freely admitting to the interwebs that I am overwhelmed.  Still, again, always.

It’s time for me to take back control, by relinquishing it to the One who loves me.  By admitting that I am still powerless.  My own attempts at saving myself have failed.  Again.

Here I am, back in recovery.