Last summer was one of the darkest times of my life. It sounds really dramatic, when I put it that way, but it was a season where days, weeks and months blurred together and I thought I’d never get out of it. I was ashamed of myself, disappointed in myself and hurt for my family that I was such a mess. I really believed they deserved more.
It was kind of a perfect storm that led to fall out. For starters, I was leaving my job of being a Spanish teacher to work from home full time teaching online. On paper it seemed like a dream come true, but I did not adjust very gracefully. I had unrealistic expectations for myself of what it would be like to be at home working with a mobile infant (when I went back to work after maternity leave Lincoln was 12 weeks old and didn’t really do much besides eat, sleep, poop and stare at things). I am strikingly terrible at time management, and without having bells or a school schedule to tell me where to go, what to do and when to eat lunch and pee, I was overwhelmed with all the hours I was suddenly expected to commandeer . There was no structure to my days or when the baby napped, and some days he wouldn’t nap and I wouldn’t eat or pee all day. I found it really overwhelming to keep up with housework, feeding the baby (and myself) and getting work done. I failed pretty miserably, and straight up didn’t get work done like I was supposed to and had to explain myself to my supervisor twice in two months. It was embarrassing, as I try to maintain a good reputation in professional circles, but I remember feeling like I was just trying to make it to bedtime. Could have cared less about my inbox.
Another element that really surprised me about the job change, was the juxtaposition of all the expectations that others had for me and how much I cared! I felt caught between these unrealistic expectations for myself and professional expectations that I had from former professors and colleagues and it seemed unwise to leave my job right when it seemed like all my friends my age were excelling in theirs. Was I making a huge mistake leaving a job that I loved, to be at home in a job that didn’t provide benefits or any type of security? Why couldn’t I be the kind of mom to send my kid to daycare? How did other teacher moms afford it? How did other teacher moms enjoy being around kids but away from their own? I hated to be away from Lincoln. This had it’s own stigma attached to it (that mom), it just seemed like a lose-lose at every angle. I was failing as a working woman to trade my career for motherhood. I was soft for wanting to spend time with my baby. It must be nice to be able to stay at home. I’d find myself correcting people, telling them that I worked from home, I don’t stay at home, like somehow that made me more legitimate.
On top of the job change, I had been struggling my gradually worsening eczema since Lincoln had been born and it was in the summer months it began to flare the worst. I tried a variety of creams, ointments and finally resorted to topical steroids and shortly thereafter experienced a flare on 80% of my body. It was all over my face, torso, limbs and everywhere in between. It was painful. It was ugly. It was itchy. It was terrifying. I saw many doctors and none could do anything for me because I was breastfeeding, and didn’t recommend any steroids (which would clear it up) because of the risk for a rebound flare which could be worse than the initial flare. I saw so many doctors, sneaking into the office mid-July wearing long sleeves and a baseball cap to avoid stares in the waiting room, just to pay an $80 co-pay to be told “sorry”.
Personally, things were on the fritz. New parenthood was hard on our marriage, and it took lots of hard conversations and intentional time spent in prayer for and with each other to get to the point where we could have pleasant conversations (in retrospect, 6 months of not sleeping through the night will make you a pretty irritable person). During the summer within days of each other, someone really close to me had a late miscarriage of their third child, and some dear friends of ours lost their newborn to a disease they found out about at their 20 week anatomy scan. The emotions of pregnancy and birth were still so fresh, I could barely get out of bed. Not too long later, my dad casually announced he had been dating someone for a year, and my mom got remarried to guy I’ve never met. Suddenly I looked up and I had no idea who I was, where I came from and what it all meant. There was no meaning, rhyme or reason to anything. I liked to sleep, and eat brownies. That was about it.
I was just really struggling, you know? Becoming a mom had been hard, leaving my job was hard, my new job was hard, figuring out my body after having and breastfeeding a baby was hard, having eczema and wondering what causes it was hard, finding out that my parents had started new lives without me was hard, seeing my husband, friends and family move on about their normal lives was hard. I’d begun having anxiety attacks multiple times a day– and I had just come to terms with this was my new life, and I had to get used to it. I hated silence and being alone with my thoughts. I binge watched any and everything on Netflix in the background always and listened to podcast after podcast after podcast. Anything to drown out the deafening silence. I really just wanted to do normal new mom stuff: do some work at home in my leggings, watch TV and nurse my baby, lose the babyweight. I did not sign up for this despair that I found myself in.
I read this entry from Jess Connolly today. I’ve been half-heartedly reading her new book Wild and Free for the past 6 weeks or so, but I am praying and asking God to give me the self-discipline to turn off Netflix before bed and read for ten minutes until I finish it. It’s so good, and so real, and so what I need to hear in this season of my life. But it’s almost too good. Like, I don’t want to read it because I can’t just space out and read it. I actually have to read the words and think about the implications of them. It’s taking forever.
But, the entry I read today is titled Women of God: Please Come Undone, and I thought there was no better time than to share this fountain of emotions, warmed by the gradual increasing temperatures of summer, has begun to bubble over from my soul. Please read it. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be religious, spiritual, a Christian–whatever– it is so honest and real and every woman should read it, and know that there are other women out there that feel this way.
Depression is weird. Anxiety is weird. I was diagnosed with clinical depression in high school, and was medicated for a while. I don’t really remember much of high school (which it what I wanted to shout to everyone that I saw at my 10 year reunion last weekend– “I studied Facebook so I’d know your names!”) and if you’ve ever swapped crazy parent stories with me, you can probably attest that a little extra serotonin production wouldn’t have been a bad thing for high school me. But it’s just a really weird thing to experience, and to talk about. What really resonated to me about Jess’ blog post is when she sent a message out to her church people and was honest about her depression and suicidal thoughts and asked people to hang out with her– no one did. It’s weird territory, I get it. Especially as a mom now, taking my kid over to play with the self-proclaimed suicidal mom’s kids may not be my first choice. It’s just messy, and complicated and we think that the first step to getting a nice, clean, uncomplicated and tidy life is to surround ourselves by people who lead nice, clean, uncomplicated and tidy lives.
That could not be farther from the truth. First of all, there’s no one in the whole wide world that leads a nice, clean, uncomplicated and tidy life. We’ve all got messes somewhere, and if for some reason we were blessed with two sane parents and no uncles with a drinking problem, we’ve got a cabinet full of self-doubt, other fears or things like poverty, disease and abuse. Nobody’s life is perfect.
Second of all, experiencing a connection with another person through their deepest, darkest moment that they wish that they could erase is nothing but supernatural. The mutual understanding of, “me too!” is what binds us, connects us, and gives us the push we need to keep going through the hard stuff. Me, too. I’ve been there, too. You aren’t alone. Last summer, that’s what I needed the most. I needed someone to come beside me that had been there, and to reassure me that I was in fact, not turning into my mother, and that things would come out in the wash. Because, that’s the truth. I’m still Kellie and I made it out.
I have mixed thoughts and feelings about sharing how much my life has changed since last year. There’s nothing coherent, or predictable about the way God moved. I knew on some level while it was happening that he was working for my good, but I couldn’t have even explicitly asked for what would come. He’s so rad like that. This year has brought some serious crap, but because of it God has revealed life to me like I’ve never experienced it. I never want to go back to how it was before. Eczema, postpartum depression and all– it’s shaped my life and made me better. Not an uncomplicated, clean, tidy better, but my perspective is better. My perspective on everything– being a wife, mom, teacher and friend– is wider. I feel like I see a bigger picture than I used to. And in the realest, most honest sense– I’m way better at self care, time management, eating food that nourishes me, exercising and sleeping. I’m still taking meds prescribed by my OB last year, and eventually I’ll try life off of them, but I’m really enjoying not having anxiety attacks. A lot of those things were out of necessity, but I count them. God answered the deepest cries of my heart that I’d never uttered out loud and made me better in ways that I’ve longed for my whole life.
I want to shout from the rooftops that God has brought me from the depths to this place, but I have these fears that it comes off as bragging. You know how people do sometimes? Post a picture of something ridiculous and hashtag “blessed” and are all humble braggy, but try to play it off that they are thanking God about it. I have these fears, that as soon as I start to talk about what God has done for me that I’ll have an eczema flare and then I’ll find myself soaking in a tub back at square one. It’s a weird place, crediting my healing to God, and accepting that it’s temporary. I still have fears. I have so many fears, but they don’t define me anymore. They don’t have a place here, there’s too much light!
All that to say, one of my favorite lines from UnQualified was: There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. There is joy, beauty and connection waiting in the cracks. My hope in sharing this story is that you’ll be free to come undone too– there’s certain restoration waiting for us there. Amen.