Getting Help

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Photo from Creative Commons

Life held no joy. I dreaded every day. I didn’t understand my behavior, so I couldn’t help myself. And I was making my family miserable. Three weeks ago, I finally sought medical help for over eight months of what I’ve learned was uncontrolled Anxiety (not postpartum depression, as some moms on a Facebook group suggested). And now I am able to breathe again. Able to sleep again. Able to cope again. Able to praise God, even in a time of vast uncertainty.

On the day I finally decided to go to the doctor, I was hyperventilating, again. I hadn’t slept well the previous night, again. The kids were demanding ten million things of me and I kept repeating, “Oh God, Oh God, Oh God,” literally too paralyzed by anxious thoughts to be able to help them. I felt, as I have so many times in the last eight months, that I just needed to get away and have a mental breakdown. I needed a weekend away to regroup, or even a day. But when you have two little kids and no family around, you can’t really do that. My course over the past year has been, instead, to explode. I have been a scary mommy. And a selfish wife.

When things came to a head this past month, which they did after my husband was laid off (due to a merger), my explosions turned to sob sessions. I saw what my Anxiety was doing to my family (although I didn’t know it had a name), and I knew it had to stop. I just didn’t know how to help myself. Thank goodness I had the presence of mind to take some good advice.

Two good friends, who have also been spiritual mentors to me over the years, recently revealed that they are getting counseling for emotional issues or life stresses, one of them also taking medication. Getting this knowledge was like getting permission to get counseling myself.

The counselor I saw suggested my root problem was perfectionism (which cannot coexist with parenting toddlers), but she also said I might benefit from Anxiety medication. I agreed with the diagnosis of perfectionism, but was resistant to medication. One week after my counseling session, on the horrible day I described above, I decided it was time to put aside my Christian pride and ask for some drugs.

Friends, it was the best decision I have made in a long time.

I haven’t been on medication for thirteen years—and I don’t feel it helped much in the five years I took it (ages 15 through 20). The healing I finally found for depression eight years ago (age 25) as described in my book, came through Scripture and prayer…but guys, life has changed since then. My hormones have surely changed, as the counselor pointed out. I’ve had two babies, we’ve had two moves, lost the support of family nearby, and now we have lost a job and face another new start.

It’s no wonder I’ve had some anxiety. I just didn’t realize it was anxiety with a capital A. Or that I could get help for it from a pill.

Some of you will be curious, and I don’t mind sharing (because that’s what I do around here): I’m taking Lexapro nightly, and Xanax as needed. The first week, I needed the Xanax daily to battle a beast that was raging out of control. During the second week, I needed it less and less, and now in week three, I haven’t needed it at all. The Xanax, that is. But the Lexapro seems to be working wonders.

I’m happy to report that joy is returning to my life. Equilibrium to my emotions. And sleep to my mornings. Praise God, sleep is again possible from the hours of 3 to 6 a.m. I have not blown up at my kids for days, and I am starting to repair the damage I did to my marriage over the recent rough months, when I was too busy clawing my way through each day to lend any real support to my husband, who is now facing his own brand of (lower-case) anxiety due to job loss.

I know there are deeper problems to face—chief most my perfectionism, which has surely stolen much joy from my family over the years—but right now I am simply thankful to be able to breathe. To be able to sleep. To be able to praise God because I’m not hyperventilating. And to be able to parent my sweet, but explosive little people without exploding myself. Oh, thank you, Lord, for helping me to get the help I need, right now, in this uncertain time of life.

Friends, if you are struggling like I’ve struggled, and if it has lasted for months, and if you’ve tried talking, praying, or making otherwise drastic changes, but nothing is working, don’t feel bad if you need to seek medical help. A prescription is not necessarily forever. But it might be the lifeline you need for a particular season. That’s where I am right now. I’m going to keep praying through my perfectionism, but for now, I’m thankful for the pills that are allowing me to cope.

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When You’re Stuck…in Writing, in Life…Try This

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Presenting a writing workshop in Des Moines, IO in September

In the past two months I got stuck twice: in my writing/speaking life and in my personal life. This is nothing new, and neither is my finding that writing problems resolve more easily than personal problems. But what is new is how I’m dealing with the stuck-ness: first, notecards. I’ve found that when I’m overwhelmed—with ideas, with emotions—simply transferring those thoughts to some notecards helps me organize in writing, and helps me cope in life.

In September, notecards helped me complete my presentations for the women’s conference I spoke at, and this month, notecards are helping me articulate some personal problems I can’t seem to straighten out on my own, or even in prayer right now. While I’ve decided to seek Christian counseling for these personal problems (read more in my next post), writing my overwhelming thoughts on notecards has facilitated a small emotional release when I don’t have a listening ear at my disposal.

If you’re stuck either on the writing front, or overwhelmed in your personal life, maybe you can try what I’ve tried.

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The two sessions of my writing workshop were well attended. I coached about 80 women on writing their stories for God’s glory, and I hope they are well on their way to sharing those stories with others!

On the Writing Front

In the months leading up to the Iowa Missouri Women’s Retreat, I struggled to write my presentations: a sermon and a writing workshop. Every time I opened my laptop to work on them, I typed more and more words as my ideas spiraled wildly…without ever reaching conclusion. There was so much I wanted to say…but I would only have so much time at the conference. I had to be selective and concise in my talking points.

(Last year at a different women’s retreat I had four talks to develop my ideas…and it was considerably easier to prepare for that conference because I had so much talking time.)

Finally, after trying to write out my sermon both verbatim and in bullet point form too many times without success, I got out some notecards and started jotting down my points shorthand—one thought per card. Over several days, as more ideas came to me, I jotted them down, too, and slipped them into the deck where they seemed to fit.

This simple process of writing on notecards, as opposed to writing on paper or typing on a laptop, freed me up to introduce any and all ideas that came to me in my writing process, because I knew it would be easy to discard the extraneous ones later. (Though some of my ideas were total rabbit trails, jotting them down somewhere was valuable because it kept me fluid in my writing process, kept me moving, when I just wanted to stop.)

As the cards accumulated, I began to find the shape of my talk, and I also figured out what didn’t fit. In the end, I returned to my laptop and typed out my speech, a mix of bullet points and fully developed paragraphs (I’m still finding my way as a speaker), but now it came easier because I had an outline: my notecards.

When it came time to present, I knew my delivery wasn’t perfect, but I felt that my presentation was valuable to my audience, because my writing/preparation process had allowed me to zero in on my best, most pertinent ideas, and discard those of lesser importance.

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I spoke to about 150 women for a Sabbath morning session about how, when, and where to share our stories, especially when life feels “dark.” I am trying to take my own advice and start back at square one with one trusted person, a counselor, until life makes more sense again. But since part of my ministry is sharing my personal struggles and victories with an audience, I’ll probably share bits of that journey on this blog, too:)

After I presented my sermon and writing workshop, women came up to me to thank me for my talk/writing tips, some saying my message/material was exactly what they needed to hear. Still other women said they had read my book and it was great and would I sign it? It was a heady experience being treated as such a religious authority …especially because I know what they don’t: since the events of the book ended (really, since I’ve become a mom), I’ve been a mess of pent-up ideas and emotions, so much so that I have decided I need some professional help to sort them all out.

On the Personal Front

Until my first counseling session, I’m using notecards, and other small releases, to help me cope. For those moments when I can’t find quiet, space, time, energy, or listening ears to process, I can find fifteen seconds and a pen. I can write one phrase, or one sentence, and tuck it into a discussion box that I plan to take to the counselor. I can put that negative thought or problem away from me, from brain to pen to paper, until I have true time and place to process. And then, I can quickly pray:

God, here is the mess the best I can describe it in these few seconds. I desperately don’t know how to fix it, but eventually I know I need to deal with it. Please hold this for me—keep me safe from it, keep my kids safe from it—until I have the proper time and space and listening ears to process it.

 I do believe God honors these prayers—and these pleas for help—found on this writer-mom’s humble notecards.

In my next post I will further explain my reasons for seeking counseling, and perhaps give an update of how the first session went. Until then, please send me a message or a comment if you’ve had a good (or bad) experience with counseling or, on a lighter note, notecards (or some other writing strategy).

How I Relate to MR. MOM

Mr. Mom

You’ve heard it’s the true-to-life comedy that’s the funniest. It’s so true. I’ve been watching Mr. Mom for the past two nights (it’s gonna take three to get it all watched–what mom has time for movies?), and I can’t stop thinking about a couple scenes in this 1983 movie that hit so close to home.

It’s a movie about a man (Michael Keaton) who swaps jobs with his wife to become the homemaker and primary caregiver of their three children. It’s funny because it shines a light on all the difficult and mundane things moms do daily via the eyes of a man who now has to do them.

There is a series of scenes where Keaton gets depressed, beaten down by the daily routine, and we see him go from clean shaven and svelte to scraggly bearded with some junk in the trunk; his house goes from tidy to turned-upside-down; and his attention goes from his kids and wife to trashy soap operas. “My mind is mush,” he complains to the wife. That’s the result of no adult conversation and watching the same TV shows as your kids. Yep. Feels like this is where I’ve lived recently, minus the soap operas. Instead, I just nap when Sam lets me. (I love the moment when Keaton’s kid tells him his grilled cheese is cold and Keaton simply slaps the sandwich on the ironing board, steams it with the iron for a sec, and hands it back to the kid so he can get back to his show.)

Anyway, it comes to the point where his wife gives him a good talking-to for letting it all go–the house, the kids, himself. Look at yourself! She exclaims, pointing at his newly flabby belly. And the house is a wreck (paraphrase). Basically, she says, get it together, because I did it for eight years, and I understand it’s hard, but I got through it because I had some pride in what I did; I understood that what I did was important. Again, close to home. I recently had a “talking to” by my spouse; more in a moment.

There is another scene where Keaton daydreams he has an affair with the over-sexed neighbor, and his wife walks in with a gun and points it straight at him. “What did it, Jack, hmm?” she asks. “Was it the daily repetition? The boredom? The loneliness?” Now, I’m not close to an affair (never!), but I understand the list: repetition, boredom, loneliness. Add pregnancy to it and a melancholy disposition, and you’ve got some potential problems.

And so I got a talking-to from my beloved husband two nights ago. The house was a wreck and he couldn’t find what he needed, and he couldn’t avoid tripping over some things while looking (we’re still trying to get unpacked/organized is my excuse). I probably looked like a wreck, too. And I don’t think I’d made supper that night. I don’t remember. But I told him to talk to me; tell me what was wrong; if he had a problem with me, I wanted to know.

So he did. He told me some things that really stung. Including, “It seems like you don’t do anything at the house all day.” And, “Somehow, other moms with more kids get more done than you seem to; you need to learn to multitask more.”

Ouch.

In my hubby’s defense, he never volunteers these kinds of criticisms unless provoked. And I provoked him. He was trying to clam up so as not to hurt my feelings, but I made him talk. I had also used Sam’s Sunday nap time to get out of the house and do some rare shopping instead of staying in my daily “work” environment to organize. (In the future, we’ve agreed he can stay silent in the angry moment as long as he agrees to talk to me when he’s cooled down. This honors both his need to stonewall, and my need to communicate.)

Anyway. Those comments, after which I stayed up late to clean house and shower, followed me into the next day and beyond. Is there really something wrong with me beyond the typical Mom burnout? I wondered. Am I defective because I can’t get anything done besides keeping my kid alive and doing the dishes and maybe cooking a meal or three?

I asked Buc that next night, “Is it possible you’re thinking of moms with older [not-so-needy] kids; or moms who have relatives nearby to help, or moms who let their kids watch a lot more TV than I do?”

He conceded that that might be some of it. But the main problem, he said, as he’s often said, is my “perfectionism.” I don’t want to let our kid go without mommy enough. I pick him up [the kid] too much. I give in too much.

Hmmm. I am still pondering this and praying over it. Even though Buc’s words were said in anger, there is usually some truth to angry words. I wish I got more done these days. I wish my house were cleaner, my meals more consistent, my hygiene sparkling. I suppose there are ways to accomplish this.

I also know what Buc doesn’t: I know the inside of my mind, and the physical limits of my body. I feel like I have mental mountains to climb that other people, other personalities, perhaps don’t. I seem happy and serene to most outsiders, but it takes me lots of prayer and meditation sometimes to get to that point. And a man doesn’t know the work of making a baby.

Maybe these are just excuses. Maybe there is some truth to them as well. Either way, I’m glad for my “talking-to,” so I can work at improving, and I’m glad for Mr. Mom so I can laugh at my challenges. One day I will laugh a whole lot more, and even now, I see humor in my day. I’m putting on makeup for my husband when he gets home–and I also made his favorite meal during nap time (no nap for me today…progress!)–but I’m not going to apologize for my stretchy pants, no sir. This is a mom’s life, and I’m learning to embrace it, along with all the humor wrapped up in the job.

The Pressure’s On: You Might Be Nine Months Pregnant If…

I'm sorry for this morbid photo. But it's my proof that pregnancy gets a little rough sometimes.
I’m sorry for this morbid photo. But it’s my proof that pregnancy gets a little rough sometimes.

The swollen feet, the achy back, the Braxton Hicks (who said they aren’t painful?!) are not funny anymore, but I’d like to laugh at myself today, just so I can forget how easy it is to cry right now.

Yesterday we showed ourselves to be those rookie expectant parents when we ended up unscheduled at the doctor’s office for a checkup—I was barely dilated past my point of last week—and later, in the Labor and Delivery Unit—once again, no change. The good news is we now know exactly where to go when the real deal comes.

I guess it was just one of those days. I woke up after a night of fitful sleep and some tears (those Braxton Hicks really can hurt like a mother) to chaos in my kitchen. The puppies, whom we’d trusted with an extra room open overnight (we thought they were coming along so well), had torn up my favorite kitchen rug, plus they had mangled the laptop charging cord. When I got done cleaning up, a message was waiting for me on my phone from a certain relative: “So you’re at the hospital now, right? Cuz you’re not answering your phone! Let us know! We can’t wait!”

Yes, it was my mother-in-law. Again. Every day she’s been calling to ask: “How are you feeling?” “Any change?” “Are you ready to go to the hospital yet?” This is just her personality. She is beyond punctual, calling us several times at least when we are on our way to any family event to ask, “Where are you at?” “Are you on the way?” Waiting for this baby to arrive has been no different. She loves him so much already, and just wants to meet him. It’s really sweet actually. I know she’s just showing her love. And I do appreciate the intent. But I’m at the point where my nerves are shot; I need to get my mind off the thing, lest I end up at the doctor’s office again, blubbering because I feel so pressured to deliver this baby.

I knew it probably wasn’t labor yesterday. But after my hubby urged me to “call the doctor!” (he’d seen and heard the pain from my practice contractions), I made the appointment out of passive aggression to say to everyone: “See? See? He’s not ready to come! Now leave me alone!” Actually, we missed my husband’s birthday dinner to be told what I already knew: “You’re not in labor yet.” At least I had a witness. Everyone wanted baby Sam to come on Buc’s birthday. We even asked to be induced (see, Mom, I tried!), but they are re-flooring the L and D unit and there was no room in the inn—at least, not for women who weren’t already in labor.

So, we headed home last night, me sore from being probed twice in one day, both of us dejected and hungry. I was embarrassed by the day’s events, but maybe they were for the best. I don’t know if I could have faced the whole family last night and their questions (however well-meaning they are), without crying. All day I had felt SO MUCH PRESSURE. Mentally and physically.

I’m glad I got a relatively good night’s sleep last night and both pressures have subsided. I was annoyed yesterday at Buc for “pressuring” me into the hospital visits, but now I think it was sweet. He held my hand the whole time, cracked jokes to make me laugh, and was so loving. I realized that he was just worried about me, and he was doing what he could to protect his wife. He said he didn’t like to see me in pain. I am even thankful for the persistent mother-in-law calls, which tell me that my baby and I are going to be so loved and well taken care of in the coming days and months.

Today, I have a much better outlook, and I feel ready to do something productive, like tackle writing my final post in my blog series and get my office cleaned up. I’ve discovered it’s not healthy to over-focus on this baby at this point, not until he comes, because I’ve done all I can do for now. And to my loving family and friends (and I really do love you all), if you want to call or text me, I love the calls and texts! Just…can we talk about something other than the baby today?

Ready or Not…Bring on the Baby!

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5 1/2 months along

It’s finally starting to hit me: my baby is going to be here in just a few months. And I’m starting to feel a little panicky.

I thought I was doing well, keeping emotions in check. At least, it didn’t feel like I was any more emotional than usual. I’ve always been one to cry easily at a movie scene, or even a melody. So when I find tears welling up these days, I don’t necessarily blame pregnancy.

The exhaustion, though. That has to be pregnancy’s fault, right? Or maybe just an incidental collision of events piling up all at once?

Two Thursdays ago, life went haywire. It started with my doctor’s appointment, where I learned I was having a baby boy! It progressed to the ICU, where my father-in-law was having high-risk emergency surgery. Then it opened onto the waiting room, where I was furiously typing up last changes to my first memoir draft because, wouldn’t you know it, that day was also my deadline with my editor. Later that day found me trekking up to the airport to pick up my mom, who was spending the weekend with us.

During that visit, I was still trying to piece together my syllabus and assignments for the new class I was hired to teach just one week prior. And to top it off, that same weekend I hosted a women’s prayer retreat at my house to launch the last three-month Straight 2 the Heart prayer group before baby comes.

Mix in some family problems that arose after the weekend, which took my focus completely away from the class I had to teach and the writing I should have been doing, and you have the makings of a very edgy pregnant lady.

This week some friends kindly dropped off some baby things, and now I find the guest bedroom (where my college-age niece stays on Tuesday nights) being dismantled by my hubby, who suddenly got the crawl to work on the nursery. His “crawls” come in spurts, though, so he typically tears up something only to leave it in disarray for days, weeks, or months.

Today I came home from my writers’ group to find him laid up with a headache, the baby room/guest room in no better shape than before I left, and all of a sudden, I’m on the brink of tears because I don’t know where to sit down and just do some of the personal writing I haven’t had energy to do for several weeks. Suddenly there is no room in my house that can accommodate me because every room has a problem we’ve put off fixing for all the years we’ve lived here. The baby room has just put me over the top.

Suddenly I’m feeling like I’ll never have a room to myself again. I just want one room, darn it, that I can control. But the mess created by living human beings constantly intrudes on my desired place of sanctuary. My office, for instance, doubles as the dining room, and any time we have company, I have to interrupt my creative process to clear space.

Woe is me, right? What a problem. It’s hardly a problem. We have a very large house, and with some reorganization, we can figure this out. (As you know from previous posts like this one, and this one, I just happen to detest things like cleaning and organization.) What is the real problem, then?

Maybe I feel life surging too suddenly out of control, and I fear that, after baby, there will be no going back. He will be a wonderful, blessed addition to our lives. Just…how will I handle it all?

Like I’ve handled everything else, I will handle it with my Father’s help. I will handle it by letting Him handle it. I’m sure everything will be fine.

After such a crazy couple of weeks, maybe I just needed to get a little emotional. I needed to remember I don’t always have to hold it together as if these emotions are not ransacking my body and mind. I needed to pray, and write, and even cry a little.

Tonight I came to the library to find a clear desk space on which to clear my head, and now I feel better already.

Ready or not, I say, “Bring on the baby!”