I never saw it coming. The anxiety from this past year. I’d heard of postpartum mood disorders, but knew it would never happen to me. Not with my mental health training, my pastor-husband and my strong faith. Not with my friends all around me to support me. Not me. Even my second birth itself was beautiful and empowering.
But months later, something ugly started to grow. My disconnection with my soul and my chronic self-neglect started to reveal themselves. My insides were a skeleton, a garden overgrown with weeds.
I started to feed on the most terrifying media. I always knew where to find the news, and if I didn’t read it, I could envision it in my head – all the worst, goriest scenarios. All-out war and diseased plagued me, if only in my mind.
And as the months dragged and the images magnified, just like that, fear drained the hope and life right out of me.
I felt such peace at first, rocking my newborn to sleep. It was beautiful. I thought everything was fine. I thought I would take care of myself later. But the accumulation of lost sleep, the chronic neglect of my soul and the pain of the world all created a perfect storm.
No one knew the hopelessness of my mind. The fact that over and over in my mind, I asked myself, “What’s the point? What’s the point?”
It felt so grim, so permanent. I thought I would always be this way.
I realized it was soul neglect early enough, and I started doing all the things I knew to do, prayer and singing and reminding myself of God’s promises. I sat in the quiet with Jesus and tried to quiet my soul.
At first, it didn’t work. The waters of refreshing simply pooled on the desert floor of my insides. But after a while, it started to sink in. I started to talk about the fear, the sense that something horrible was just around the corner. I started to realize what was really happening. My husband prayed for me. I told my story.
What I thought would always be true became a memory.
But it was so lonely, and if you are like me, you feel like no one will understand. You think no one could know what your painful world is like. No one will comprehend what it feels like to be trapped in your own mind. No one can understand why you lay in your bed with your heart racing, unable to sleep, with the possibilities of pain and death and loss spread before you in high definition.
But I do understand – it happened to me too.
Here’s the crazy thing though: during all this time, my circumstances never changed. The scary was all in my mind. Fear, panic and paranoia, all trapped inside my inner world.
This taught me that above all things, we must fight for our mental real estate. The state of my soul is something only I can curate. My inner life is my responsibility, and I am daily inviting in darkness or light by the choices I make, what I choose to look at.
As mothers, we have to come to terms with our vulnerability. We have never loved anything like we love this tiny baby. Our bodies broke open to bring them into the world. We can’t imagine losing them. And the fear of this haunts us.
We have never been so open, so vulnerable as when we love. But unless we care for our souls well, our vulnerability, the cracks that love in, will let in the pain of the world too. And the infection will make us sick.
But we don’t have to be ruled by panic, fear, anxiety. We don’t have to be sick and live crippled by things that are only temporary anyway.
I love what Paul told the Galatian Church – this has been a saving grace for me:
“Instead of being anxious, thank God for all the things you can think of, then pray and ask for what you need. Then peace that it so powerful, it doesn’t even make sense, will stand guard at your heart and mind. So whatever is lovely and beautiful and good and worthy of praise and adoration, if anything is wonderful, focus and meditate on and pay attention to these things.”
We become whatever we look at. For years, I read the news, the panic-stricken, fear-mongering news. I became a junkie of fear, and I had to detox.
Now, I don’t read the news. It’s not news to me that there is pain and suffering in the world anyway. I guard my mind and heart and soul vigilantly. Whatever I listen to and watch and think about are seeds planted in my garden, and whatever I plant will grow.
I planted fear in my soul, and panic grew. I planted sorrow in my soul and despair grew.
Now I plant goodness in my soul and beauty grows. I plant peace in my soul and generosity grows.
So what are you looking for, mama? Let me urge you with all of myself to look for beauty. Look for goodness. Look for compassion and kindness and healing and restoration.
Whatever you look for, you will find. You will see it everywhere, the thing you seek.
So stop looking for the scary, terrifying things. Stop looking for evidence that the world is unsafe and no one can be trusted.
Let me give you a prescription for soul-care, for the thing we mamas really need:
Go to museums and art shows and concerts. Take the baby for a walk and listen to the birds sing. Search for beauty in your babies fingers and toes, in the grass beneath your feet and the trees in your yard. Sit in the quiet with God until your soul quiets down. Take a break from always being mother and let yourself be a child with God. Become obsessed with finding beauty and goodness in the unlikeliest of places. I promise you it’s hiding there, waiting to be discovered.
Please, if you do anything this year as a mom, let goodness and beauty cleanse and calm you. Let them restore your faith in Father God and your faith in humanity.
You were made for beauty. You yourself are beautiful. Look for beauty, let it in, let fear go.
Perfect, whole, complete love pushes out fear.
Darkness is only the absence of light.
When we let the light in, the darkness will run, and only love will be left.
Surely goodness and mercy will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in Father God’s house forever and ever. -Psalm 23
Let’s be bright and whole and full of love together.