Monday, November 11, 2013

What I Preach

I don't know if all teachers, speakers, and pastors have the same experience, but I am not allowed to say anything from the stage that I am not asked to live out within a week. 

In October I was hired to address a group of young mothers at a church in Oceanside, in which many of the women are military wives, and have husbands stationed at nearby Camp Pendelton, or currently deployed oversees. Their speaker coordinator asked for my talk "What Can Postpartum Depression Do for You?" my least popular topic. Really, who wants to get a morning off from their kids and listen to a talk on anxiety and depression? But I'll drive to any group that asks me to talk about this, because the statistics on women who suffer from depression in our country are staggering (about one in four with be diagnosed in their lifetime).

I try to approach the subject with order, humor and a light hand. I have well organized slides, funny stories about breastfeeding on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, and practical tips. 

But it didn't work out that way, on that day. From the moment I began to speak, a woman in the back of the room burst into tears. About 15 minutes in, someone at every table was crying. As I spoke about risk factors and causes of anxiety, I realized that the military wives could probably put a check next to every one on the list. And somehow without making a conscious decision to do so, I set aside my clever outline and instead laid out my raw experience before them: my fear, my pain, my confusion, my brokenness. And eventually, my rescue.

I didn't get to be a wonderful, funny speaker that day; I didn't feel great about my entertainment value or my skills on stage.  But instead I saw that through me, God gave these women an opportunity to share their pain with each other, and shine light on what had been a source of shame for so many of them. In the group I sat with after my talk, the women on either side of me shared that they had both experienced severe PPD, and neither of them had told anyone before but their mothers and husbands. 

I don't know if I got through all my points on "paths to healing" that day, but I did get to the first: Come clean and tell someone what you are going through. And boy, did those brave women take that step. 

I got to my second major point too, and this one I was called on to practice: All of us mothers need to stop trying to do everything alone. We need to accept that each one of us has both physical and emotional limitations, which are unique to us. We are foolish if we aren't willing to ask for help when we have -- or, even better, before we have -- come to the end of our rope. 

I spoke in two different groups that week in October, each over 50 miles from home. I was sick with a nasty cold, but I pushed through with prayer, cold medicine and adrenaline. By the drive home through Camp Pendelton I was both sobbing with sympathy and snuffling with mucus. I had totally lost my voice by dinnertime. 

By the next morning, I had a migraine, so painful it was difficult to stand. Ignoring my own advice, I drove myself to Sophia's soccer game. On the way to the Olivia's game, I almost couldn't drive. I went home instead, crawled (literally) to my bed, and called my neighbor in tears, begging for Excedrin. She offered to go buy some for me (God bless her), but instead I called my mommy. And she came right over. She brought me food, drink, and medicine. She went to Target for me and bought Kleenex, bread, milk and toilet paper (all of which we were out of because I had been too sick and busy to go to the store). 

She patted my hand and sat with me until I went to sleep. I hardly ever let my mom take care of me like this, even though she wants to do it and is excellent at it. In fact, part of why I got PPD six years ago is that I didn't ask her to help me when I had acute bronchitis and a 10 day old child. She respected my boundaries, but at that moment my boundaries were bad. I needed help.

Meanwhile, my husband had the kids with him for Olivia's game, and another game he had to referee. He got them lunch at a drive through. They were tired and bored, but they made it. Mommy couldn't take care of them, but they survived anyway.

Here's what postpartum depression did for me. It stripped me of the illusion that I can make it through motherhood (or life in general) on my own. I can say that now with absolutely no shame. In return, it gave me the comforting knowledge that there are a lot of people in my life willing to stand by me when I can barely stand. I have a lot more of them now than I did five years ago, and most of them are willing to call me when they are sick, desperate, sad, or all three. I'm so grateful! All our children are also reaping the benefit of this village of imperfect moms, a small army of "aunties" and Mrs. So-and-sos that care for and love them. 

Most of all, I'm grateful to be able to share the most precious piece of my story: that when the only prayer I could pray was "Help me!" God did. He comforted me with scripture and His own gentle presence; through my husband and my friends; through medication and therapy. And ultimately, He called me to share the experience with other women. 

So that whether they ever suffer from a clinical mood disorder, or just experience the emotional ups and downs that are part of being human (especially female), they can experience freedom from perfectionism, come out of isolation, and know what it is to love and be loved just as they are. 

Ultimately, this is always the subject on which I "preach." It is for freedom that we have been set free. I'm beyond thankful that there are women willing to listen. God bless you all.

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