Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Feigning Happy

Years ago, as a new mom, I was a total mess.  I had pretty severe postpartum depression; this was back when even successful celebrities hid the reality of their "baby-blues" and other moms gaped in horror at the mere hint of  being unhappy; as they hugged their children close, assuming you were about to throw any child within arm's reach off a balcony.  I loved my kids and my family but everything was just off.*

Parenthood (and life) was very different than I thought it would be.  Our first born was rarely happy (to be honest, neither was I) and we were always exhausted.  We were broke; my DH was in grad school (a place I longed to be); I had been good at my job but was now only part-time; I loved God but was frustrated by how judgmental and filled with minutia "the church" had become.  I had been reflective, creative, and fun before kids and then had these babies who sucked me dry (literally and figuratively).  I was embarrassed to be depressed and wanted to be happy and elated with these adorable healthy children, but felt like a shell of who I had been.  Plato's shadow.  I couldn't imagine why my DH would want to come home from his successful job to this life of chaos.

The early years are much of a blur (probably for the best), but I distinctly remember a time when my DH wanted to give me a break and took both kids for the day to see his grandparents downstate.  I should have been excited (or at least relieved) to finally be alone but instead, I was incapacitated.  I didn't call a friend, or catch up on sleep, or clean the house, or read a book, or do a project, or go shopping, (this was pre-Pinterest and FB), or take a bubble bath, or get a pedicure, or start a blog, I literally just sat down and cried.  I sobbed the entire day.  I got out colorful markers and tried to write a list of things that I liked to do, or should do, or even needed to do but ended up dehydrated and staring at a blank sheet of paper.

After that day was over, I was determined not to be a person who lost their entire identity in their children, or even spouse or job or "the church".  From then on, I made a change.  I mentally visualized what a scrapbook of a happy family life looked like, and over time, incorporated those things:
  • I signed myself up for a stained glass class (it still hangs in our LR as a constant reminder). 
  • We invested in a gym membership with child-care and got myself back into shape (honestly it was more like a resort, just walking in was a relief, not to mention that I was able shower in peace - the irony of a public shower being a luxury is not lost on me).
  • We listened to lots of fun music and had parties in the living room.
  • My DH surprised me with an Audible subscription for my birthday so I could listen to books on my Palm Zire (that really dates this story) while driving to work, cleaning the house, or using the elliptical.  
  • I started taking tons of digital pictures, especially of the happy times. I wanted to make fun and lasting memories with the kids so we went to children's museums and parks and hikes.  We took art classes together and went to the zoo.
  • On the many long evenings without my DH, the kids and I ate salmon outside on the patio and played games and read.  I invited other spouse-less people over for dinner and laughed and drank life-preservers (an OJ & rum drink that I made up to cope with life) until it was dark.
Life (mine in particular), was much better but it was still rough.

Admittedly, most self-help books don't do it for me, but I had read 7 Habits of Highly Effective People years before and thought it deserved a re-read / listen.  It is different from the self-help genre as it is really just principles that successful people use, even if they aren't written down.  Pre-kids, I liked to write, so that's what I did.  On January 1st, 2006 (my DD was 2), I sat down and wrote my mission statement, in relation to my role as a mom and wife.  It sits in front of my desk and I re-read it every week to stay focused.  My mission gave me purpose and soon, rather than feigning happiness, I became genuinely happy, not instantly, and there are still hard times but they are in perspective.  Our marriage is stronger.  Our kids are more disciplined.  My part-time job became fulfilling.  Our home, fun and relaxed and a place we all want to be:

One's philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is best expressed in the choices one makes. 
- Eleanor Roosevelt

I am choosing to be healthy, happy, passionate, & balanced in every area of my life:  body, mind, heart, & soul.

PHYSICALLY - through regular exercise, conscious eating, and a healthy lifestyle
MENTALLY - through reading for fun and for reflective insight, both current and classic
SOCIALLY / EMOTIONALLY - through laughter and deep friendship
SPIRITUALLY - through prayer, meditation, and worship

INTEGRITY - and honesty will stem from the deepest part of my being and course through every aspect of my life.
CHARACTER - My principles, values, and demeanor will not be waned by fear or money or unmet expectations or the weather
GOD - God will be my constant; He will be my encouragement and my strength and my peace

RELATIONSHIPS - friends & family will feel loved, accepted, valued, & respected; I will generously help with my skills & abilities.
UNDERSTANDING - I will listen to understand completely and judge rarely in my marriage, family, friendships, and work.
GROWTH - I will provide space and flexibility to change and grow naturally, without drama or a battle.

TEAM - My family will be part of my team, with varying personalities and leadership roles, but working together as a unit
MARRIAGE - Time and energy will be spent dating, loving, and enjoying my DH; listening and growing with him.

PARENTING - I will love, guide, nurture, and protect my children, sometimes from themselves; allowing them to be individuals with purpose and integrity.

ENVIRONMENT - I will travel, enjoy, protect, and care for nature and Earth.
ORDER & CLEANLINESS - I will facilitate an atmosphere that is organized, clean, comfortable, safe, and happy.
FRUGALITY & MODERATION - Money, time, energy, food, space, & belongings will be used wisely, efficiently, & without waste.
PROACTIVE - rather than being reactive, I will be responsible for my future by making plans and considering the impending natural consequences of my choices.

January 1st, 2006 (31 years old) 
my mission is not new, but now on paper, something tangible, my mission has been given a voice.

*I did not make it through my PPD without medication.  My DH pulled me into a hug one day and told me that it was heart-breaking to see me like this.  He held my hand and brought me to my doctor and we discussed options.  I was fortunate to have friends and family for support but very few who had been through this before.  It was something that from the inside, I honestly didn't know the extent or more aptly was unable to objectively see myself or the situation.  I was simply putting one foot in front of the other (which is apparently NOT what normal happy moms do).  It was hard for me to tell the difference between over-tired / over-whelmed / unmet expectations / selfishness / incompetent parenting and TRUE DEPRESSION; I kept thinking that I just needed to buck up and get over it but couldn't. I hated the medication as I felt like I was in an emotionless fog but it was much better than my melt-down filled, un-medicated existence.  Eventually, I was weaned off but probably would have been unable to make the changes necessary without medication to help ease the transition.  Now, when I see a new mom with that all to familiar vacant look that goes straight to her soul, I can't help but talk to her, and encourage her that she isn't alone, and that it is okay to get help and most of all-- with time and some effort (& sometimes  medication), it will get better. 

No comments:

Post a Comment