Sunday, November 13, 2011

change (part 4)

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

This section, which I anticipate will be the last, has certainly been the hardest to write. I’ve sat down several times and nothing I’ve written seems right. I suspect it’s because I’m in the midst of it. Some days when I sit down I’m hopeful and eager while other days are more discouraging.

I’ve been seeing a counselor at the MIT medical center for the last 7 or 8 weeks. It’s free here which gave me the will to finally pick up the phone and call someone for help. I can't tell you how much I’ve appreciated having someone to talk to about my situation who isn’t really invested in the outcome. With my counselor, I’ve talked a lot about my support network and have realized just how much I need friends to talk to, people to appreciate me, and time to myself.

However, what I really long for is the ability to be at peace with my current situation, and I mean that in a moment-to-moment way, and not just in a big-picture way (though that would be nice, too). I’ve been wanting to learn some tools to let go of the frustration and anger that seem to haunt my interactions with my children, and the self-deprecating internal dialogue that tells me I’m not good enough. We’ve spent a little time talking about this, but I remember expressing this desire to her and her response was, “Isn’t that what we all want?” with the tone of “Sorry, can't help you there.”

But unlike my therapist, I know this kind of peace and contentment is possible because of grace. Paul said, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:11-13) Isn’t that beautiful? Through times of struggle and times of power, through emptiness and fullness, through abundance and want, we can find contentment through the grace of Jesus Christ. It is a gift freely given that I must learn to accept.

The Savior has promised me that if I will seek His help, He has the power to change me. He promised, “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (Ether 12:27) Though finding peace is now my weakness, it can become my strength. I will be able to share that peace with others, especially my children, all through grace.

But how do I find that grace? How do I let it permeate my thoughts to forgive rather than to punish myself? How do I stand firm through the waves of abundance and emptiness, joy and loneliness? It will not be easy. It may even be the hardest thing I ever do. D. Todd Christofferson said, “It would mock the Savior’s suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross for us to expect that He should transform us into angelic beings with no real effort on our part. Rather, we seek His grace to complement and reward our most diligent efforts (see 2 Nephi 25:23). Perhaps as much as praying for mercy, we should pray for time and opportunity to work and strive and overcome. Surely the Lord smiles upon one who desires to come to judgment worthily, who resolutely labors day by day to replace weakness with strength. … real Linkchange may require repeated attempts, but there is something refining and holy in such striving. Divine forgiveness and healing flow quite naturally to such a soul, for indeed “virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; [and] mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own” (D&C 88:40).”

I am ready to be diligent. I have been praying for the strength to strive and overcome. I have fasted and prayed. Today, after these efforts, I was given a place to start. Paul wrote, “Be careful for nothing (meaning, don’t worry so much); but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) Through prayer and gratitude, I will begin to seek the peace of God. I will not and can not understand it, but it will keep my heart and mind grounded in my Savior instead of in my worry and self-doubt.

I want to finish this with something I wrote in my journal a few months ago. It’s back to the topic of motherhood and finding myself within it:

“Motherhood is the most important aspect of my life. Everything I do for the rest of my life will be affected by the fact that I am a mother. I would guess that any woman who has been a mother—even just for a few minutes—would agree that motherhood changes everything in your life. Even things that seemingly have nothing to do with my role as a mother are affected by what I have learned as a mother. Motherhood changes you. It makes you stronger and weaker, more confident and more vulnerable; it plays with time, stretching and compressing it; it brightens and darkens the world around you. When you become a mother you are given new eyes, new hands, and a new heart which you can never trade back.

And yet they are still my eyes, my hands, and my heart. Though motherhood will always be a defining part of my life, it will not define my life. I am more than a mother, and that more part of me makes me a better mother.”

What I’m working and hoping and praying for is that while I seek that more part of myself, I will be given the peace to share the joys that I find with my children. I hope that they will see my love for myself and know that my love for them is simply an extension of that since they are part of who I am. I hope they will learn how to accept their mistakes, forgive themselves, and try again as they watch me struggle to make this change.

Tonight, thankfully, I’m feeling hopeful. That serene feeling that washed over me in a tiny kickboxing class in the basement is here again, and I’m hoping it will stay.


Kirsta and Morian said...

Heather- I admire you for writing all this down and letting all of your readers in on how you are feeling. I have many down days (and hours and minutes), but no one knows. I don't feel like I could begin to express what I am feeling when I see someone who is doing just that...kudos to you.

Karen Ahlstrom said...

I also admire you for writing it down, and for seeing a therapist. It can be hard work to go through therapy, but I have certainly become better for it. I agree that having somebody to talk to who is entirely outside the situation is really important.

You probably heard that I sold a short story to a pretty high profile anthology last week. I was thinking about why it mattered so much since I've seen my name in print lots of times. I finally decided that it was that a group of total strangers said, "This person's contribution is one of the best we've seen, and people will think we're cool if we publish it."

Motherhood is the most important job around, but you don't get recognition like that every day from the crying toddlers. I was very gratifying to be reminded that people value me for more than my ability to change diapers, and that when I'm not changing diapers all the time any more, I'll still have something to offer the world. I know it sounds silly, but I do kind of wonder sometimes, you know?

It has made it a lot easier to go back to changing diapers to know that there are totally people out there who would happily pay me to do any number of other things, but I'm not even looking for them, because THIS is what I've chosen for my life right now, and those other things will still be there later.

I love you. Good luck with everything.


D said...

It sounds like what you are asking for is a way to change your basic desires to better fit with the situation you're in, so that you can feel satisfied and at peace.
Maybe here's a different way to look at things.
Changing desires is a funny thing. In a certain sense, our wants are who we are. If you think about Saturday morning cartoons where someone is hypnotized to have a different set of desires, it's never a good thing.
Discomfort with a situation is a kind of potential energy that drives us to make changes to the world. If everyone could change themselves to feel comfortable with their lot in life, we'd all be more comfortable, but the world would stagnate.
Reading your blog, it seems like you want to want these things because you've been told that you should. But when people give advice about what the ideal family life should be, they're pretty much describing the prevailing picture of an ideal family from their childhoods. It's not the ideal family of Abraham and Sarah's time, or Mary and Joseph's time they are describing, right? It's not some eternal constant. And in the future, as more and more jobs can be handled by machines, society will have to change again.
People aren't adapted to the world very well. We keep changing the world faster than our instincts and bodies can keep up. It would be a wonder if you did feel settled.
So if you were to ask this question: "what is it I really want, and how can I get more of it?" what would you answer? You want peace, but that comes from having the life you want. So I would suggest instead of changing your wants (which is hard and kind of creepy) you change your life.
Do you want more intellectual stimulation? How about running scientifically valid observational child psychology experiments on your kids?
Do you want more conversations with other adults? How about hiring a babysitter and going out with friends?
Do you want a part time or full time job? You could do that. Most people do.
There really isn't any way that your life is supposed to be. The hard part is figuring out what you want and how to get it.

D said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marci said...

I absolutely love what you wrote in your journal and shared a the end of the post. I think it is so very true!
I wish I could go see a counselor for free, I think we would all be better off if we could! Addie and I went together to a therapist this summer and I felt like we both learned so much (and made such positive changes) from the experience. Lately I've been wishing we could start going again because it has been rough
(but ours is not free unfortunately).
Being a mother is definitely a hard, hard thing and I definitely worry sometimes that I'm doing a terrible job. I know I get angry and impatient too easily and just wish everything would be easier!
You are SO amazing Heather! I was always impressed by how smart you are and how much you have and do accomplish and what a great mom you are. Thanks for sharing your journey during this time, I for one have learned a lot through it and really appreciate it!

D said...

Rereading my original comment, it came across as seeming kind of heartless. A lot of times it seems to me people want to know what my advice would be when they really would just like me to reassure them that they're doing okay. Which of course, you are, and its very sensible of you to try to understand why you feel the way you do instead of waiting for it to build up to a crisis like most of us do.

Erin Gong said...

This has sparked a lot of thoughts for me, and resonated with many feelings I've had in the last 1+ year of being a mother. I'm going to check out Staal's book (although it may take some courage to read it because sometimes I feel like it's just easier not to think about these things rather than try to sort them out...)

Leighanna said...

Heather - You are so brave to share this. You probably will have many people you know who will benefit from your story and honesty. I know. When I went through a very dark period of depression - nobody even knew. I guess my pride wouldn't allow me to let that wall down. I was honestly embarrassed to ask for help. It took a lot for me to get to that point. I wish I would have had someone whom I could relate to back then. I hope that the therapy helps and that you will one day wake up and find the struggles diminishing. I don't remember exactly when things changed for me, but I do know that I just strived on giving my sorrows and pain over to the Lord. I didn't understand how to fix it, or how it could even be fixed, but I found that he took my pain away when I learned to trust in Him over the things I had no control over. Thank you for being brave. Your voice makes a difference.

Cath and co. said...

Kudos to you for acknowledging your feelings and doing something about it. Wishing you the best of luck in working through it all. Lots of love-Cath