Today I’d like to talk about a different kind of Extraordinary Mom: Women who struggle with emotional or mental problems, who find it difficult to get through all they have to do each day … and who sometimes aren’t able to live up to their own high expectations.
Today at “Ask Sister Mary Martha,” sister fields a question from a reader who was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. In her great wisdom, sister turns to a Brother Martin, who is also a sufferer.
One line struck me as particularly relevant in the life of anyone who suffers from a chronic illness, especially depression:
Brother Martin said that all he can do is his best with what God has given him that day. Sometimes just getting out of bed and eating a bowl of soup is his best. Some days he paints the entire rectory and the gazebo.
He wanted you to know that it’s important not to be so hard on yourself when God doesn’t give you so much on some days. Just concentrate on what God has given you today, not what he’s going to give you, or not going to give you, tomorrow. And do your best with it, whatever it is.
There are some aspects of my earliest experiences with the kids that are difficult to talk about. One of them is depression. I would burst into tears for no apparent reason, and found it difficult to get out of bed each morning. I lost about 20 pounds in a few months, and migraines came with increasing frequency. At night my mind whirred, making sleep all but impossible. Eventually I went on a low dose of anti-depressants, and the symptoms went away. I stayed on the medication for almost two years. I didn’t like how they made me feel … but the alternative was much, much worse.
In retrospect, I see that there were a number of factors that contributed to the state in which I found myself at that time.
* I was angry. Angry with certain members of the family, and with the social workers who had pressured us to take more kids than (I soon realized) we were able to handle. At the time I thought I was right to be angry, but now I see that I did far more damage to myself than ever they did to me. Eventually I did take it to the sacrament of reconciliation, and began to let go of my grudges. As I did, the symptoms began to dissipate.
* I wasn’t taking care of myself. I wasn’t eating properly. I wasn’t getting enough exercise. I wasn’t getting the rest I needed. And I was taking on unnecessary added pressure, expecting myself to continue to work soon after the kids arrived.
* I spent more time tending to the kids than enjoying them. Time and time again, I let myself be drawn into a contest of wills with the older girl, who adamantly refused to be “mothered.” The “anger button” would go off again, and I wound up feeling defeated in my ability to parent any of them.
* I neglected my own spirit. Over time, I came to see that this was more of a “symptom” of my problem than the “cause.” I was reading incessantly, for work and school, and yet my prayer life had become rather perfunctory, based on the urgent need of the moment rather than cultivating intimacy with God. And yet, I noticed that women who took time for a weekly “holy hour” (with or without the kids) had more energy and a lighter heart than I was able to muster.
* I let my head project too far ahead into the future. One of my lowest point occurred not long after we were told that some of the kids’ birth family had expressed a willingness to adopt the children. For three days my fear paralyzed me. But ultimately, by God’s grace, I was able to push it aside and focus (just as Brother Martin said) just on what was in front of me that day.
If you are feeling overwhelmed with life, there is no shame in making an appointment with your doctor and even getting medical intervention for your symptoms. It does not need to be forever … on the other hand, when a mother’s inner life is disrupted, the whole family suffers. For their sake, get help! You’ll feel better … and so will they.