Saturday, December 31, 2016

No Where I'd Rather Them Be

I had a good realization recently about my motherhood identity. We are taught and I believe in the nobility and Christ-like nature of a mother's sacrifice for our children. But when I am struggling mentally and emotionally, the sacrifice doesn't feel very holy. There was a time in the recent past when other mom's posts about being SO grateful to be a mother left me feeling a little bitter, not knowing whether or not I felt that way.

First of all, getting myself to a better place emotionally has transformed how I feel about motherhood, and it is wonderful and I love it! I could probably talk about the importance of taking care of your mental health all day, but I will leave those details out for now.

A month or so ago I had a day where I did feel full of gratitude to be a mother and to be able to stay home with my children, and so I posted about this on instagram. In expressing this feeling, I used the phrase, "There is no where I would rather them be."

I felt slightly insecure about not being able to honestly say, "There is no where I'd rather be." But a few days later in reflecting on that I realized that yes, sometimes there are places I would rather be or things I would rather be doing, but that I don't do them right now, because I want to be taking care of my children. That I actually care about them more than I care about myself, in that sense. Being selfless doesn't mean you don't care about yourself (in fact, it is extremely important that you do care about yourself) it means that you have a bigger picture in mind.

These girls are my children and there is no where I would rather them be. I want to be the one taking care of my children. I want them to benefit from my love, from the gifts God gave me and the reasons He let me be their mother.

So I am not a perfect mom, and there are still hard things every day, but now I feel more aware and content with the fact that there is no where I would rather my children be. I love being a mother and feel great peace in fulfilling this role.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Letter to Myself

An assignment from my therapist that I enjoyed:

Dear Elisa,

Five years later, and we are settling into a new life. I remember those days in Anzio apartments, in Tempe Arizona, with Jeff in grad school and the bishopric with two little munchkins, like it was yesterday. Things are beautiful now, but I want you to know I miss some things. And more importantly, where we are now is only because of who we became going through that wilderness. 

Now the girls are both in school (??!!) and I sort of miss those simple days at home with both of them, where I was their primary care giver and teacher. Morning fights with Elena over doing her hair, Abigail crying every single time I put on her PJs.

I miss the baby feet. OH those babuh toes!
I don't miss the sleepless nights, but I miss the sweetness of breastfeeding.

As much as I resented the environment of the apartments, I sort of miss those crazy afternoons where I couldn't calm the chaos until I filled the baby bath outside and let the girls play as I watched from the kitchen window. The girls blissfully unaware of the mess of gravel, spit, dog poop, cigarette ashes and who knows what out there in their play yard. I miss chasing Abigail up those stairs because nothing could stop her little active, explorer heart.

I miss baby hands. I miss Elena saying, "I love you, Mommy," and wanting me to put her to bed. I miss Elena's funny words and phrases like "last morning," and, "hanitizer".

I miss the people. The quirky ward. The amazing friends.

I almost miss the crazy smells in the apartment complex -- cigarette smoke, trash, pot, Asian food, Mexican food, fast food. Ok maybe I don't miss those, but the grit. The grit that came from wanting to move to our own home with a yard SO badly, but having to wait. The inner yearning that came from having my morning walks in search for peace disrupted by a parking lot full of cars and greasy pavement, with smoke and swear words lingering in the air.

Most of all I am grateful for who I became, for who we became, from going through that. You did your very best! You tried your very hardest to deal with a climate you hated, a depressing environment, loneliness, discouragement. You put yourself out there and made friends and created a good life for your little family.

Hang on and trust that "all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good, and to my name’s glory, saith the Lord." [D&C 98:3]

With Love,

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A New Dawn

I have recently been reminded of my great need to share things I have learned in order to find meaning in my experiences.

Basically I am emerging from a several month depression. I am doing a LOT better. Yay!

I believe for me it was caused mostly by long-term sleep deprivation. What I mean by that is for months on end, I almost never got longer than three hours of uninterrupted sleep. This post is not about baby sleep, so I will leave it at that.

What did this look like for me? There are different levels of depression, and I would say mine wasn't severe. In fact, I think my coping skills and faith is what kept it almost manageable and hard to identify in myself or to be perceived by other people as needing help.

I was in survival mode, despite being 8 and 10 months down the line from the newborn baby phase that is by nature a survival stage. I was exhausted. Normal tasks like shopping, cooking and cleaning seemed completely overwhelming. I have struggled with shocking and uncharacteristic anger, unfairly directed at my 3 year old. Figuring out the baby sleep seemed impossible, getting my baby to eat more food seemed impossible. I was so tired! I could hardly make decisions. I understood the importance of breaks, exercise, dates, doing things for me, but it was hard to get them, or get them consistently. I felt tied to my breastfed baby so it was hard to schedule things. Even going on dates it was hard to relax (though I know it was still good). Add to that the many other circumstances that are in opposition to my happiness right now. But it's not just these circumstances - it's the mental state of feeling truly "not ok." Going to church and hanging out with friends sometimes left me feeling more isolated, because I felt like people didn't understand what a hard time I was having.

But this is why I am writing this. Realizing I was depressed and reaching out for help made all the difference!

One day I was reading symptoms of postpartum depression and saw that it is not always characterized by lots of crying or feeling sad. Some of the symptoms were anger and feeling totally overwhelmed. That's how I felt! I had depression! I'm not crazy, I don't have a lack of faith, motherhood isn't the worst thing in the world, I'm not a super lame mom, my friends aren't totally inadequate, I have depression! This realization helped me change my expectations for myself, not be so discouraged and reach out and get help.

To me, realizing and accepting mental illness helps you feel better about yourself and your life.

I have many more thoughts on this subject, but I will save that for another post.

Reasons I'm doing better: I started going to therapy which is wonderful to get validated and receive counsel and get some clarity on what I've been going through and where I can go from here. I went on an awesome trip to Indianapolis for a PKU Conference which was great on many levels - a break from parenting, a new place, a hotel stay, a fun and very fulfilling experience, reminding me of who I am and what some of my passions and abilities are. I went to a family reunion in Colorado, escaped the abominable Arizona heat, spent time with family, had breaks from my kids, spent time in nature, enjoyed how happy my children are when playing outside, had fun myself. Upon returning we made changes to get Abigail to sleep more so I have been getting longer stretches of sleep. This is probably the biggest difference. Other good things - Elena has started a part-time pre-school -- yay! I am singing in a professional level choir again for the first time since being married. Fall is almost here and it is our last school year in Arizona/this apartment/grad school. Wohoo!!

Life is looking up. It's a new dawn.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A little Motherhood prose

Lately things have been a little my life...and in my mind. I will just leave it at that.

I just wanted to jot down a few thoughts while the girls eat some veggie sticks. And it may be weird, but this is the way I write sometimes. If you want a much better written blog post, see the previous one. I just re-read it, that was a good one!

Also, I am going to get some "professional help," in addition to this writing therapy.

Maybe I need to re-write my internal dialogue
Instead of focusing on my struggles and all the things I can't do, inside and outside motherhood, focus on
What am I doing?
I am sustaining life, nurturing creativity, blah blah blah. 
All the things that motherhood is.
I just now realized there is throw up from last week on the cupboard...

This is a huge sacrifice.
But if I embrace the sacrifice it will be less scary.

People talk about wishing they enjoyed these moments more.
People also talk about wishing people wouldn't tell them to enjoy it more.
Maybe it's supposed to be hard to enjoy, let alone survive.
Maybe it's also supposed to be looked back on with the fondness that can only come from going through it and struggling.

Some pictures from recently

Sick Elena last Monday. Honestly, the best day of my week. She took two naps. Jeff stayed home from work because it was the first business day after his week long trip to Sweden. It was fun to be with him! We did laundry (see next picture) and got organized and watched Fixer Upper.

First time successfully French-braiding. Now THAT is exciting. I watched some YouTube videos and realized something I had been doing (or, thinking, since I've hardly devoted any time to this) wrong

Awesome Dad. Helping me with aforementioned craziness as well as taking care of me when I got sick Saturday and Monday. Awesome PhD candidate. Just passed his comprehensive exam! Yay! One more year...we will survive!

Elena had this idea to make the crib into a fort today. :) Thus began the poetry in my head. 
Mostly I played with Abigail outside of it so she wouldn't mess it up. But this was a cute moment.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Life is hard and it's OK

I recently read an article from Time about how to deal with anger based on neuroscience. Basically it said that according to science,  neither suppressing anger or venting it helps. The only thing that can help you feel differently is if you distract yourself, or in essence, change your perspective. For instance, if someone is blowing up at you and you tell yourself "it's not about me, they must be having a bad day," you can feel totally calm despite the confrontation. 

This has really stuck with me and I think it can apply to other things as well. I know my husband has learned the only thing to help with anxiety is to accept it and experience it. I know when I have negative thoughts I can't address them, I have to shift to a different thought pattern. It's about re-writing your mental dialogue. That supports what we learn in the gospel, that in our trials our eternal perspective allows us to have peace.

Last night I had a chance to apply this in another way. It hit me that having a child disobey you is a very unpleasant feeling. But as I was praying about it I realized maybe it's not bad to experience unpleasant feelings. I cannot control my child. The scripture came to mind, "Thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high." [D&C 121:7-8] If you endure it well! It's not about avoiding discomfort, it's about doing the right thing. So applied to parenting (my life right now) that means learning how to be a good parent, rather than trying to control my child.

So without getting into specifics of how to parent, I think as in all things, this is a balance of finding God's will - what He wants us to change (and we can only change ourselves, even if that means how we influence our child) and what he wants us to accept.

Lately I have been surprised at how delicate my faith is. Things can be going well and I can feel great one day, and the next feel completely discouraged. Maybe it's part of the package of being a young parent with little sleep, constant change and unpredictability, and not much time for personal devotions or exercise. But I think it is probably just life! The covenant path is not an easy one!

This article in the January Ensign, Revealed Realities of Mortality was also very insightful. Hard work is our common lot, and the way to become more like God. Marriage and parenting are also the vehicle to our refinement and exaltation. This sentence definitely resonated with me right now:

"Bearing children is neither easy nor convenient, but it is a commandment that helps us realize the real blessings of mortality.

So I am trying to embrace that life is hard and turn to the Savior for help. This world is so evil, and life has so much opposition. But I am choosing faith. And I believe that will help me find joy in the journey.

my Joy

To Arizona

I feel like I owe Arizona an apology. Anyone who knows me will know I have whined a lot about living here. I'm sure it's been obnoxious even.

While this Is still not where I want to settle and raise our family, I just want to acknowledge that Arizona is not all bad and explain that my strong negative emotions came I believe as a result of a combination of many circumstances. Yes the summer heat is horrible, but it is also the ghetto complex we live in, the loneliness I felt for a long time, being pregnant during the summer, my husband being in grad school etc.

On the contrary, today I feel there are many beautiful things that are special to me about my time here.

Sunsets, those desert bushes that smell amazingly like water, the mountains and stars.

Mostly the friends. I know once we finally leave this place and settle into our new home who knows where, my heart will ache for the many wonderful and deep friendships I have formed here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

God's Help this week

Can I just share how much Heavenly Father helped me this week? I’ll try to share just enough specifics to illustrate my point, but not so many as to bore (hopefully!).

Last week…was a rough week.

Being sleep deprived from being up with a baby, and parenting a 2 ½ year old can be quite difficult for anyone. Lately I had personally been struggling with mood swings, anxiety and honestly a lot of anger. Not a fun place to be. I felt overwhelmed with all the challenges and discouraged about my parenting. I wasn’t finding relief. I knew something was wrong but didn’t know how to fix it.  

Sunday night I vented to my parents about how discouraged I was and how many things were going wrong with parenting Elena. They were sympathetic as always and gave ideas of how to do things differently. They also sent up some prayers for me which I know helped. 

Monday I finally at least got relief. Since Jeff was home for the holiday, and since he’s awesome, he gave me multiple lengthy breaks from Elena. That at least helped restore my sanity. 

I had prayed many times over the past weeks to help me resist being angry and feel more love. This weekend I added prayers to help me figure out my parenting style, because what I was doing was not working, and it was making me frustrated, thus causing the anger I think.  

I don’t remember the specific moment or prayer that turned things around, but I know that Tuesday I felt changed. I felt the patience I had tried so many times to achieve. I felt relief from my anxiety. I had inspiration about subtle changes I could make in my parenting that were very effective. I came to peace with things that were holding me up. I felt hope for better sleep because the baby is doing better at night. And I have finally started to iron out our weekly schedule that will involve more social time for Elena and more breaks for me. That’s a formula for a happier mom and happier family! 

Maybe the details don’t matter, though if you want to talk parenting, I’d be happy to share what I learned. I just want to share how amazing it is that we can receive personal help to our specific challenges from Heavenly Father. He is so merciful, and Christ’s atonement is so real and accessible to us on a daily basis.

I appreciate that God didn’t just expect me to muster the will power to resist the strong anger I was feeling every day. I feel that God helps me get at the root of my problems, and for me it was digging up the underlying frustration I was feeling and seeing what I could do about it. I wasn’t frustrated at Elena, I was frustrated with myself, and the place we had come to because of my choices. 

The fact that I feel better now doesn’t mean I feel back to who I was before. That’s the cool thing about trials. When our circumstances are making us uncomfortable, it forces us to look inside ourselves to see if there is something we can change. It’s painful. And sometimes when I pray for help I have barely enough faith to believe that I can change. But God is a God of miracles, and when we seek Him, He changes us! I am not back to my old self, I am a new person, with new ideas about parenting and life!

The Bible Dictionary says repentance is “a change of mind, a fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world.” That’s how I feel! And I’m grateful.