Motherhood with the Monster

Motherhood has got me feeling pretty crazy these days.

Tonight, for example, I put face wash in my hair and forgot to use body wash during my shower. Sadly, this is not the first time this has happened.

To be fair, I love being a mom. Bell brings me so much joy. Link brings me so much peace. I love watching them grow; love teaching them how to live a life built on joy and faith.

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A lot of days, my motherhood looks like my happy Instagram feed. But there’s another face to my motherhood. Yes, I’ve alluded to it before. Blogged about it even. But when it comes down to it, I have a hard time looking this face in the eye.

Each semester, I teach my students about writing from a brilliant feature story called Mrs. Kelly’s Monster. It won the inaugural Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 1979. Mrs. Edna Kelly’s Monster is a collection of blood vessels that have grown into an abnormal mass in her brain. The story tells a detailed account of her surgery to bravely have this Monster removed, but in the end, she succumbs to it.

Though my Monster is nothing like Mrs. Kelly’s, it is just as sinister. My Monster is a shape-shifter. Sometimes it looks like anxiety. Other times deep loneliness and hopelessness. A few times, OCD behavior. More recently, it’s materialized as postpartum depression.

We don’t talk about these taboo words — these Monsters — enough. I think part of that is because of the nature of the Monster. Part of it is because the Monster manifests itself to so many in so many different ways.

For me, the Monster is cunning.

I’ll be making it through my week with somewhat ease, feeling great about my life because I actually cooked my family a vegetable. Well done, Super Mom. The laundry will have made it out of the dryer into a laundry basket to be rummaged though for a few days until it finally gets folded instead of tripped over. (I’ll take that victory, thank you very much.) Bell and I got outside for a walk or by some miracle of miracles I even made it to the gym once?? Yes. That happened once.

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But then, just when I’m feeling confident in the melodious monotony of motherhood, BOOM. There’s the Monster with the stealth and strength of a samurai, beating my soul, my bruised and battered I’m-trying-so-hard soul into a heap upon the ground. And before my soul knows what has hit it, the Monster is there laughing, shoving a grey-tinted filter onto the bridge of my nose, altering my view of my beautiful life.

Suddenly, those vegetables are soggy and worthless because they only ended up on my table once this week. Just once! They laundry is suddenly overwhelming and never-ending. Poor Bell deserves so much better than being locked up with me in a tiny apartment all day. And the gym? How could someone as out of shape and gross as me ever reach her goals?

“Give up,” the Monster whispers.

My brain and my heart try to rally.

“No!” They say. “That’s ridiculous! You’re working so hard, and doing so well.”

But the Monster feels so much stronger. So convincing. So real.

It spins horrible half-truths of failure. It breathes berating inaccuracies about my abilities. It flashes terrifyingly life-like images of horrible things happening to my babies. My precious, innocent babies. And what can I possibly do to stop the horror from reaching us? Try as I might to shut out the world and keep us safe, all I have to do is turn on the news. Horrible accidents, pain and evil have hurt dozens of others. Each is someone’s baby. What makes mine any safer?

And all the strength that this poor soul has tried to cultivate for weeks and days since the last time the Monster struck has finally given out. Fear has taken hold and threatens to never relinquish its grasp.

“No. Please, no,” the soul begs.

But the Monster only laughs harder.

And so the withered soul does the only thing it can think of. It puts up shield after shield, building a wall, an impenetrable fortress with the only resource it has left: anger. And the anger is vicious.

It seeks to rise up against the Monster. To ward it off with its rage and its frustration.

And yet, the anger just seems to feed the Monster.

And the grey-filtered glasses become my new normal. Everything sets me off. Everything puts me on edge. All my effort is focused into keeping a level head with my children and friends and neighbors.

“Don’t show them who you really are,” the Monster whispers.

“How could I?” the soul wonders in desperation. They all depend on me for something. “How can I let them all down?”

What’s left are illogical fights with my husband and irrational fights with myself.

And so the soul desperately turns to the Lord, hiding behind a wall of anger and fear, pleading to feel whole again. Pleading to defeat the Monster once and for all.

Time passes. Sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly.

Eventually the defeat comes. But it’s always just a battle. Never the war. The Monster goes into hiding for a time, and the soul creeps out from behind the wall. The filter fades. My perception of reality adjusts to what it once was. Confidence slowly returns.

“I can do this,” I think as I go back to folding my laundry and blowing bubbles with Bell. “I’m a good mom.”

But it never lasts long. And on and on the cycle goes.

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Postpartum depression affects 1 in 7 women. My Monster might look a lot different from theirs, but it’s no less vicious. Millions of people struggle with anxiety and depression.

I am currently engaged in a bitter battle with the Monster. It’s not going well. And so I cling to faith. Weakly, at first, with the resolve to try harder the next hour, then the next, then the next.

And a lot of times, at first, I feel nothing. But to me, that’s what faith is. It’s trusting in God, even when you’re not sure he trusts in you. Because at the finish line of every long battle, Christ is standing there. And turns out, he always was. That devilish Monster was just blocking Him from my view.

I was afraid to write (and mostly share) these words. Maybe now you’ll see the Monster when you see me. I hope not. Maybe your monster looks similar. I hope not. But if somehow, these words help one person face their Monster today and tomorrow and the next day, well then I’m glad I wrote them.

And if you too are fighting your Monster, whether you’re a mother, a father, a sister a brother or a friend, I say to you what I say to myself: press on.

Please press on. I need you to. So many need you to.

We’ll vanquish that Monster one faith-filled battle at a time.

An open letter to my students

 

I don’t talk openly about this chapter of my life too often.

When I do, it’s often for a well-timed, calculated purpose.

This time, it’s because a little voice in the corner of my heart kept telling me to share.

I am an adjunct professor at Brigham Young University-Idaho. I love my job. I love my students.

One of the things I love most about them is their strength. It astounds me.

And not just physical strength. I’m talking mental strength.

I see so many student who carry tremendous loads and do so with grace and dignity. They bear the burden of anxiety. They trudge through the trenches of depression. They rise from the ashes of their pasts as pure, refined and triumphant champions.

But the scars are still there. And sometimes, the wounds are too deep to ignore.

I get it. I mean I really, really get it.

I’ve struggled with mental illness my entire life.

I’ve been on and off medications, in and out of day treatments, even hospitalized twice as a young teenager for suicide attempts.

But I am not my past.

We are not our bleakest moments, whether those moments are locked on a replaying loop or ended years ago.

A 2013 study by the American College Health Association showed that among a sample of college students, 57 percent of women and 40 percent of men reported feeling “overwhelming anxiety.” Additionally, 33 percent of women and 27 percent of men reported experiencing debilitating depression.

The statistics of those who suffer are staggering.

If you do struggle with mental illness — and I pray that you don’t — know that there are dozens of good, strong, successful people who have felt what you feel and walk where you have walked.

They love you and support you.

I love you and support you.

Though my life is highly flawed, I thank God every day for how it turned out.

I’ve come so far, pushed so hard and prayed so fervently to fight this monster.

Often it is a daily battle to choose peace and joy rather than succumbing to the darkness that always threatens to cast a shadow over my life.

And as one that has swum in the deep side of despair, I want you to know that I believe in you. I believe in your strength to shoulder these heavy burdens.

You are doing better than you think.

Don’t be ashamed of your challenges. As cliche as it sounds, they really can mold you.

One of the greatest things I’ve learned from mental illness is my capacity to withstand challenges.

Allow the demons to refine you, not define you.

You are worth your struggles. You are worth your fight.

I know this because you’ve sat in my classrooms. We’ve chatted in my office. I’ve seen your strength, your triumph and your endurance.

Keep fighting.

Thank you teaching me what it means to press forward.

Let’s fight together.