My son looked at me across the dining room table. He noticed I was pensive -- a huge milestone in maturity for a teenaged boy -- and he asked me what I was thinking about. Knowing he'd likely tune me out I, nevertheless, answered sincerely in order to model actual conversation versus the typical "oh, nothing really."
I explained my thought process over the previous few minutes: observations, questions, answers, plans, possibilities, and more questions all leading me along a train of thought that picked up more mental passengers than it let off. His eyes steadily grew wider and he shot my husband an "are you hearing this?!" look.
When I finished my narrative my son said "Wow, I was only thinking about when dinner would be ready." My husband laughed knowingly and said, "I know, man, women are crazy."
Now before you jump to the conclusion that my husband is a monumental jerk face let me assure you that is not the case. He is actually in complete awe and reverence over who women inherently are and all they instinctively do. I believe that he sometimes wishes he had a bit more of our kind of "crazy" but more often than not he is relieved that God created him to be an uncomplicated creature.
And honestly, don't we sometimes wish we weren't quite so complicated too?
Happy Mother's Day
May is Mental Health Awareness month. It is also the month containing Mother's Day. I find this to be an amusing coincidence. Or perhaps it is no coincidence. After all, don't we just accept that behind every crazy woman is a toddler or teenager who made her that way?
I can honestly say that I never questioned my sanity until I became a mother. And although I'm being a bit flippant about mental health I will tell you it comes from a place of love and understanding.
Flashback Movie Moment
I was a mother of two when I was 26. I felt some things were amiss in my life. I was having outbursts of anger toward my children and felt completely disconnected to my marriage. I sought help (a big deal for me!). Time has blurred the edges around why I ended up with a psychiatrist or how I came to choose that specific one but I will tell you this: that Dr. diagnosed me in one appointment with bipolar disorder and sent me on my way with anti-psychotics and a broken spirit.
There are a lot of things wrong with this story and I won't get into them all here. But I believed that that Dr. knew something I didn't. I bought into the lie that I was supposed to feel and behave a certain way and instead I was feeling and behaving wrong. So I followed her professional advice and I read all I could find about bipolar and I took her drugs.
I could not function through the haze of neurological suppressants and the crushing diagnosis that told me definitively that I was messed up. It is heart-wrenching to recall my two small children, ages 3 and 4, coming to my bedside at 10am to beg me to make them something to eat. I couldn't even get out of bed and I didn't care if I ever would. I was drugged and heartbroken; a hollowed-out shell of a person and I was becoming righteously indignant that the "cure" prescribed by a professional told me that being "better" meant not being able to care for myself or my family. And one day, through the haze of prescription drugs I realized that I had been fine for the 26 years prior and that woman, that doctor, was the one who was wrong. She did not know me, my heart, my Strength or what I was capable of. I stopped the medication immediately (for the record, this is not advised), started the slow and painful journey to find a view of myself that was whole, turned away from the people who treated me like a broken thing and encouraged the erroneous diagnosis, and started down a path of freedom.
I tell you this story, which is one of the darkest parts of my life, in order to express to you that I've been fighting against this diagnosis of brokenness ever since. I do not believe that I have bipolar (as evidenced by the fact that I have never since required any treatment or had a manic episode). But truthfully, I am not always okay.
And that is okay.
That is normal. One cannot be okay all the time. And any doctor, influencer, or confidant that leads you to believe otherwise is lying to you. For their sake let's assume they are ignorant of the lies they tell. But our love affair with prescription drugs and filtered social media posts indicates that maybe we want to believe the lie, just a little.
I am a mother. And as a mother I don't want my children to believe that life is a perfectly curated Instagram feed. That would not be true. That would leave them ill-equipped to face the dark days that inevitably come. Because as a mother it's my job to show them as many facets of life as I can: pain, healing, forgiveness, love, laughter, discomfort, doubt, tedium, and defiant joy.
Am I mental or am I a Mom?
From the first moment we learn we're pregnant the insanity begins. Our minds race with terror and elation while we incubate our tender little offspring. We bring them into the world with the most excruciating pain and the most joyful exhilaration. Then most of us realize something profound -- we are responsible for this human...for, like, 18 years. Yikes.
Being a mother sometimes brings out the darkest parts of us. It shines a bright light on the areas needing improvement and that is super uncomfortable. I mean, we thought we were doing just fine. Maybe we even thought we were a little bit awesome. But before our little bundles of joy can even utter the angelic word "Mama" they humble us. We are brought low by the challenge of keeping helpless beings alive - we lose sleep, hygiene, and any previous semblance of normalcy. It doesn't even make sense! They don't acknowledge or appreciate any of it for at least two decades (maybe three!) and we love them for it! Sometimes the whole process feels so ridiculous that it's hysterical.
Side note: my youngest kicked me in the shin today after she told me she didn't like me and I almost laughed. But I did us all a solid and put the fear of God in that child. So you're welcome, Future Employer.
Being a mother means we give birth to these dearly loved little lunatics who push all of our buttons. They test us, try us, and sometimes they break us. And we get up again the next day to face the tiny tyrants who point out our flaws on the regular because motherhood is a beautiful sacrifice.
What other person than a mother must do the following on any given day:
- negotiate with tiny terrorists over clothing, shoes, seatbelts, snacks, nap times, bedtimes, bath times, books, the day's activities, and pretty much everything else
- plan covert vegetable presentation like a nutrition ninja
- lay the groundwork of faith and family values
- schedule and plan logistics for each family members' activities, projects & appointments
- be the birthday rememberer, gift-purchaser, and party planner
- be #1 sports fan, chauffeur, and smelly-gear washer
- bravely check homework when you couldn't possibly be as smart as Mrs. Smith
- endure the arguments from the back seat/couch/bedroom/playroom about whom is touching whom
- memorizing catchy songs sung by talking animals to cajole children to clean up, listen, and cope with disappointment because when we say it it's meaningless
- and, wipe butts.
The first item on this list alone is enough to make a person stark raving mad. And we haven't even discussed doing this all while feeling like a failure 70% of the time, having hormonal shifts, the pressure of fulfilling our basic needs (not to mention "self-care"), taking time for our spouses, and being completely exhausted.
Is this Normal?
And speaking of exhausted, do you happen to know the symptoms of sleep deprivation? Allow me: fatigue, irritability, depressed mood, difficulty learning new concepts, forgetfulness, inability to concentrate, lack of motivation, clumsiness, increased appetite and carbohydrate cravings, reduced sex drive.
Just for fun let's review the symptoms for depression: fatigue, difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions, overeating, restlessness, irritability, persistent anxiety and/or sadness, and loss of interest in sex.
You draw your own conclusions. Only you know what you're feeling.
To be clear, I am not downplaying mental illness. I would never tell another person that what they're experiencing isn't real but I might suggest that the symptoms we're experiencing may be normal given the circumstances we're in. And perhaps exploring alternative options for diagnosis and treatment could be helpful.
Because of my experience I am devoted to making other women recognize that this is normal. You are normal. I do this by being open, joking constantly, making an ass of myself, spilling my guts about my crappy experiences, sometimes just outright complaining, and yes, occasionally crying. I throw open the doors to my struggles and invite others in, even if it only serves to make them feel better about their own circumstances. I show my mess.
And sometimes, when I'm feeling really terrible, I allow myself to believe that maybe I am a broken thing after all because everyone else seems to be fine.
And that's when I need another mother to assure me that I'm not a broken thing.
Or if I am then she is too, because...kids. And that's a gift, that relationship with other mothers. We're all soldiers fighting the same fight - we're in the trenches pouring our very souls into our little humans and just desperately trying not to screw them up. We need one another. To normalize the lunacy. To blow off the steam. To remind each other that we're not broken things.
Love one Amother
The greatest gift we can give a mother is acceptance. Go ahead and send your mom the flowers and the cards -- but make sure to tell her that you see her. You understand how hard she works and even though you probably kicked her in the shin and told her you didn't like her, she almost laughed.
And mom friends, please hear me when I say this: I see you. I love you. You aren't broken. You are beautiful and you're doing a great job. I'm lucky to be here with you.