Monday, December 12, 2011

Self-nurturing, stress and depression

I would like to thank all who have taken the time to send a comment, particularly in private, in response to my last post about meeting one's own needs. Writing this makes me feel a bit exposed, but I'm still taking the time and effort to do it because I feel it's really important, and to be frank, right now I cannot afford the time or energy to do, write or research what isn't truly important.

What I'm about to write now is basically a response to the comments, public and private, that have been directed to me. I beg your apology if this post appears incoherent or rambling to some or many of you.

So, here goes: if you are a mother, you are probably fine-tuned to meeting the needs of others, which is good and right. However, you must also be alert to your own basic needs, and make sure they aren't neglected, because on your well-being depends the welfare of small and helpless beings who have been entrusted to your care.

I'm deliberating on the correct wording now, because I really do not wish to be misunderstood. Our culture often embraces the focusing on "self", at the expense of all else, and this is the last thing I'm advocating. But if I am a mother and primary caretaker of a family, and I feel I am about to crack (for any reason), yet I'm pushing myself forward and making myself pretend all is good and well, it's not going to work. It might be a necessity during a brief period of critical circumstances that parents put themselves aside wholly and completely, but I believe it is highly inadvisable to let the father and mother go along, for an indefinite period of time, with their needs entirely suppressed.

I'm not saying we are entitled to anything that will "make us happy". That can often slide into imbalanced self-indulgence. Yet no one's life is supposed to feel like a prison, and if it does, it means something has gone badly wrong. We all deserve laughter, pleasant companionship, peace, joy, basic respect and the presence of our Almighty Father in our lives - on a daily basis. Under basic respect I list, among other things, orderly meals, daily showers and clean dignified clothes for Mama - and sadly, I have seen instances when women chose to forgo this basic dignity, and look unkempt, constantly exhausted, and on the brink of breakdown. I do not believe it is good for children to grow up with a role model who does not induce respect.

It is also good and right to pursue and develop one's unique talents, within the scope of realistic possibilities available to us at the moment. For someone like me, whose main creative outlet is writing, it means (at this stage of my life) that I cannot shut myself in the office for hours and work on the many projects I have drafted throughout the years - but I can do some work bit by bit, using a spare 15 minutes here and there, and I can still run a blog (although at times, not as regularly as I would like to). Sure, it takes a lower priority than my basic duty of caring for my family, but there's a place in my life for this as well. It is, after all, part of who I am, as a person as well as a mother - as I certainly pour a lot of my personality into motherhood. I am hoping that someday, my children will read all I ever wrote, and thus will spring a new level of knowledge and understanding between us. 

Sometimes there will be days when not all of our basic needs are met. However, the important thing is keeping in mind what we need, so that we can make sure we'll attend to these need as soon as we are able. If we suppress our needs, if we disqualify our feelings, if we try to act as though we can live without proper food, rest, love, faith, hope and joy, eventually it will backfire - on us as well as those we are supposed to care for.

In the eyes of our Father, we are all special, important, cherished and loved. Think of the treatment you believe your children rightfully deserve - the nurturing, the support, the understanding and care. Doesn't it logically follow that His children - ourselves included - deserve to be treated the same way? There is good reason why the Torah commands us to love others as we love ourselves. It makes perfect sense, spiritually as well as practically.

Our worth does not depend on our accomplishments. Sure, there are things we must do, and there are things which are nice to have, but we are loved regardless. We are loved unconditionally. There's the love of G-d, which is sometimes difficult to grasp, and there is the reflection of His love in the many people we come across, along our life's journey. I know, personally, that many times tears of gratitude welled up in my eyes, as I contemplated the friendship, support and generosity of others towards me, and told myself, "I do not deserve this." Yet apparently it is not so much about deserving, as it is about accepting, as a gift, what is sent our way - with humble gratitude when we can give nothing in return.

Gratitude, however, doesn't mean we must always feel bouncy-happy, with an unchanging smile plastered on to our face. As I have discovered, it is pointless to try and shame myself into cheerfulness, when I actually feel sad, weak and confused, by comparing myself to others. I am immeasurably grateful for many things I have been blessed with - a lovely family, a nice and spacious home, many comforts of life, the unlimited use of my five senses, the delights of nature, books and music, and much more. Yet the woes and worries, the challenges and troubles exist in every life, and serve to bring us closer to the one and only eternal source of our comfort. It is no use firmly telling oneself that "many would love to swap with me" or that "centuries ago, people were so focused on surviving they had no time for contemplation." Our feelings are valid. We are valid. 

I'm not sure how I'm supposed to close this, except that I feel I really should round this post up while it can still be published in one reasonable piece. I thank you, again, for your friendship and kindness, your attention and kind wishes, your concern and your prayers, and remain, warmly,

Your friend,

Mrs. T


Melissa said...

Please take care of yourself and know that I am keeping you and your family in my thoughts and prayers.

Rachel said...

I pretty much agree completely with everything you just said, especially the bit about if your life feels like a prison, something is badly wrong. That is very, very true.
Also much agreement with the idea that a mother ought to be able to have a daily shower and clean clothes. I can see that if one had a newborn baby in the first 2 to 3 weeks of life, or a very ill child, or perhaps was in the middle of moving house, that she might not have time for such things. But otherwise I think it's very healthy to take a half hour somewhere in the day and shower and fix your hair and makeup and look generally pretty and presentable, and is also practical because you can be ready for visitors or to go run errands at a moment's notice, instead of having to rush around and put your hair in a messy ponytail when the doorbell rings.
This is probably one of my favorite posts that you've done =)

momto9 said...

Very well said!!!! I agree 100% and hope this will help mothers who feel guilty about doing the smallest things for themselves.

Lady Anne said...

Ah! To love others as we love ourselves. So few people seem to grasp ALL of this. We DO indeed need to love ourselves; if you collapse (physically or emotionally) then who will take care of your children, your husbnad, your parents, or whomever? This is something social workers and clergy of all faiths have trouble getting across to people. (It sometimes seems as if we are pounding it into wooden skulls!)

And, if we are obligated to love others, then we are also obligated to accept that love, in whatever form it takes. If you are "down and out", allow somebody to fix a casserole and drop it off, come by and do a load of two of laundry, take the kiddos out to the park while Mama takes a nap. Saying "Oh, no, I can handle it" is probably a lie, and it does prevent other people from showing their love for you, which is, at best, unkind to them, and keeps them from doing G-d's work in this world.

And that's the sermon for today!

Lillian the Ponderer said...

Dear Anna, I'm sorry that you have perhaps received comments that have suggested that you or others should take extreme views or that people have perhaps missunderstood. I think you have always come accross as very balanced in your views, I have never seen you as being the sort of "selfish" person that considers yourself before others, however unfortunately there are some women who will not (due to perhaps some missguided view of "selflessness") do anything to care for themselves and when they see others who point out that we are people too that are worthy of self-respect and care they see that as selfish. I don't see how it could be selfish however as if Mamma goes under (through exhaustion, ill health etc.) then nobody will be cared for. Also our families are better off if we are well-rounded (i.e. have our own personal life - hobbies, interests and friends etc)because we will bring more of that into our families too. Our dear husbands (hopefully) married us because they liked our personality amongst other things and we should not give that up when we get married because then we are taking away from our husbands part of who we were when we married, after all a maid can be paid to do all the "things" at home that we do but only we can do it with love, that love comes from our personalities.
Sorry I'm rambling a bit myself but I really related to your original post "is this really me?" because that is how I can feel alot at the moment (hormones I think!) We must remember that these are passing phases of a life that has both ups and downs and when we look back at it all we will be grateful that we chose as we did.
Your friend Lillian

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Anna for your thoughts in this post. You have expressed (in your second language, no less!) very well what I also have been learning in the past few years. How blessed you are, though, to be learning these things earlier in your life rather than later (I'm probably about 20 years older than you). May the loving Father continue to bless you and your family and draw you closer to Himself.
Diana in Seattle

Andrea said...


I've not commented a lot lately but especially following your last few posts I've had you and your family on my mind and my heart a lot. It's my hope and prayer that your strength will only increase in the days to come, and that you will stay in tune with what your body has to tell you. With wee ones to look after, it makes sense you might not notice something right away, be it an illness, exhaustion or something else, until it begins to outright demand your attention!

Hoping the holiday season and the year to come are merry, bright, full of promise and good health for all of you :)

Krystal said...

I must say I have been following your blog for a while because I found it interesting, but a lot of the posts were so beyond where I was. I was just trying to survive motherhood(I have 15 month twin boys), that I haven't always related to all of your posts, although I love your style and your writing. I completely relate to this post though. I was not doing anything for myself for a while, and it was not good for me, my husband, or my kids. It is so important to get out there and socialize, and even get breaks from the kids. Letting someone watch your kids while you take a break does not make you a bad mom. Take care of yourself, you are doing a great job!