I used to drag myself out of bed after a night full of Isaac screaming in my arms, only to wake up to what was bound to be an entire day of him screaming in my arms. I often thought I couldn't go on. And I fell into this horrible pit of darkness where nothing made sense and it was like my mind had left my body and my body was just going through the motions. Hold the baby. Feed the baby. Bounce the baby. Explain to yet another doctor that something is wrong with the baby. Drive to more appointments. Sleep an hour here, an hour there. Never enough sleep.
There are a few books that I feel have completely changed my life, one of them being, One Thousand Gifts: a dare to live fully right where you are by Ann Voskamp. My friends are going to say I am such a broken record because I swear I can bring everything back to this book. I guess it fell into my lap at just the perfect moment. I read it at a time when I was grappling with the decisions I'd made that had propelled me into becoming a wife and a mother. I read it at time when I desperately longed to run away and truly every single time I drove on the highway and passed the Marriott, I dreamt of checking into a room and not telling a single sole and being gone for days. I read it at a time when I felt like was letting down my toddler, and when I held a baby whom I loved with all of my heart but at the same time I feared becoming too attached because passing him off to surgeons was happening far too often.
So when I read:
[...] I wake to the discontent of life in my skin. I wake to self-hatred. To the wrestle to get it all done, the relentless anxiety that I am failing. Always, the failing. I yell at children, fester with bitterness, forget doctor appointments, lose library books, live selfishly, skip prayer, complain, go to bed too late, neglect cleaning the toilets. I live tired. Afraid. Anxious. Weary. Years, I feel it in the veins, the pulsing of ruptured hopes. Would I ever be enough, find enough, do enough? [...]
It's the in between that drives us mad.
It's the life in between, the days of walking lifeless, the years calloused and simply going through the motions, the self-protecting by self-distracting, the body never waking, that's lost all capacity to fully feel--this is the life in between that makes us the wild walking dead. (27)
I knew that Voskamp was a gift to me and eventually her book helped bring me back to life.
Now, this didn't happen overnight. As I said, I was in that pit, or, "the depths of despair" as Ann of Green Gables coined it so well. I didn't understand what God was doing to me and why He'd given me a baby I felt so detached from. But I began to take in earnest that "we only enter into the full life if our faith gives thanks. Because how else do we accept His free gift of salvation if not with thanksgiving? Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of whatever He gives. Thanksgiving is the manifestation of our Yes! to His grace" (39). As a disclaimer, this doesn't mean I'm always thinking, "Yay, thank you so much for giving me a kid with a feeding tube!" or "Thank you so much for this day that sucked!" No. But I have learned to intentionally take even a fleeting moment to note the most subtle element worthy of thanks.
Gradually, as the mind shifts perspective and thanks is given for the birds at the feeder, the squirrel performing acrobatics and making the kids laugh, the clothes smelling fresh even if they aren't put away, the scattered toys in remembrance of creative play, then we notice less what we feel our life is missing and more of what is present exactly where we are. Over the past four years this has been my challenge to myself. Some days I literally write down my list of thanks, and some days it's just enough to take note in my mind. Actually, I recently discovered a really great app just for this purpose. It's called, Grid Diary and you can choose from a list of writing prompts for each day, one of which is, "What am I grateful for?" and another related one is, "What are three good things about today?" I definitely suggest checking it out if you have a smart phone. I don't actually have a smart phone (but I use it on my iPod) since we're cheap and I also like leaving my house and being mostly 'unplugged' as they say.
None of this easy. And the process is ongoing. Just last year I experienced one of the worst and longest bouts of depression I have experienced. Hence the major break in writing and photography. But I always like to have a toolkit in place for the times when things beyond my control take over. Just as I have my toolkit for dealing with Isaac's sensory processing disorder and one for Isabella's meltdowns and drama, I have one for my moments of despair and the times in my life when it feels like there is no end in sight to the exhaustion. We each have to discover what is essential to our toolkit and for me, Ann Voskamp is front and center.
I think Ann Voskamp's approach is an extension of mindfulness. Dr. Patrizia Collard, author of The Little Book of Mindfulness: 10 minutes a day to less stress, more peace, defines mindfulness as "being aware of or bringing attention to this moment in time, deliberately and without judging the experience" (6). When Walter and I go on hikes I completely annoy him with my mindfulness jibber jabber: "are you being mindful right now? Did you notice the sound the leaves are making beneath your feet? Did you hear that bird?"
I really appreciate that Collard includes "without judging the experience" in her definition. Far too often we get in the habit of running circles around our thoughts. I know I do. I'm going to share a Rumi poem that she included in her book. I think it's important, especially for Christians, because too often people think, "oh I shouldn't feel that because it's bad and I should be thankful." No! Feel it. That doesn't mean you have to become it.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of it's furniture, still,
treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the
malice, meet them at the door
laughing, and invite them in.
Be grateful for whomever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Jalal Al-Din Rumi (1207-1273)
translated by Coleman Barks
If you'd like to share, I'd love to hear what you keep in your toolkit for those tough days. The other life-changing books I've read are, Daring Greatly and Rising Strong both by Brene Brown. The rest of my toolkit is filled with my friends. I really don't know what I would do without such a strong support system.