The Heartbreak of Changing Adult Friendships

“My friends have made the story of my life.  In a thousand ways they have turned my limitations into beautiful privileges, and enabled me to walk serene and happy in the shadow cast by my deprivation.” -Helen Keller

“Intimacies between women often go backwards, beginning in revelations and ending in small talk.” -Elizabeth Bowenpexels-photo-110440.jpeg

I have never been the quickest to make friends.  I approach friendship cautiously, tip-toeing into intimacy until I can be sure I can trust someone.  But then, after a shy, guarded, initial few times hanging out, I decide to take the leap and put myself out there.  It is probably a good method; I can judge whether the friendship has the necessary staying power: things in common, similar values, someone I can talk to without worrying I’m being judged.

That being said, I feel like I have and maintain a small group of really excellent women friends.  I feel lucky to have found people I can really be myself around.  We have been there for each other, in the midst of dealing with sleepless postpartum nights and toddler meltdowns.  We get together to wax poetic on the trials of potty-training and discuss our future career goals and what our hopes and dreams for our children are.  We attend plays and symphonies together because our husbands don’t desire to be as cultured as we do.  We complain about our parents, we vent about the idiotic things our better halves do.  I can honestly say, as someone who battles clinical depression on a daily basis, they are as vital to my mental health as my antidepressants are.

But sometimes, things change.  People grow apart.  Life stages change, and you suddenly find out you have less in common than you previously assumed.  What then?

This has been a rough year for one of my previously close friendships.  I met my friend, “Melanie” shortly after she moved to town several years ago with her young family.  She attended our church moms’ group and we became friends because we had children the same ages, our husbands were employed at the same company, and we had many other things in common.  I was enthralled by her calm demeanor and seemingly effortless wrangling of her many children.   I wasn’t sure what her secret was, but I knew that I wanted to be her friend and possibly learn from her!  She was a mentor of sorts, not really older than me but I was pretty sure wiser since she obviously had it all together.

She and our other friends formed a Bible study and met regularly while our children played, usually at her house.  The kids were all really great friends with each other, which was awesome.  I felt like all of us bonded in ways that strengthened both our faith and our friendships.  We shared our anxieties about parenting and our feelings about God and his plan.  We talked about everything.  We were all so close.

Our families hung out often.  We went camping together.  Our husbands were all friends.  I had visions of us being like a real-life Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood group of friends.

Then, last year, out of nowhere (from our estimation, anyway), Melanie and her husband suddenly split in a huge, contentious, acrimonious divorce.  It through all of us for a loop.

Many things transpired with the friendship of Melanie and me, but to make a long story short, I was trying to be supportive of her.  My husband and I were also trying to be supportive and friendly to her ex, who was good friends with Hubby.  Ultimately, it proved impossible to be friends with them both, as each one felt it was disloyal on our part to be friends with the spouse they now hated.  We now no longer have a relationship with either of the estranged spouses, since it proved too difficult (and confusing) to be friends with either.

I grieve for the loss of my friendship with Melanie.  I still love her and care about her very much.  I know she is going through something very difficult that I don’t understand.  It doesn’t mean I don’t still wish to be friends with her.  I just think that her life has changed so much that it is not feasible for us to be in each other’s lives any more.

But it is awkward.  I still see her at church and around town.  I know she thinks I betrayed her somehow.  I believe she doesn’t like me anymore.  Any kind of apology would make no difference, since I am not even really sure what to apologize for anyway.

Friendships do change.  Even without the divorce, Melanie and I may have grown apart anyway.  She had recently gone back to work, creating a difference between us that wasn’t there before: SAHM vs. working mom.  I didn’t see her that much after she made that transition.  Perhaps we would have just drifted apart due to our lack of seeing each other.

A stay-at-home mom might find her mom friends leaving her in droves to return to work.  A single girl might suddenly feel alienated once her best friend gets married.  Young couples who did everything together suddenly find they are not as important to their friends who have a baby.  It’s hard to accept the change and not to grieve over it.

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So, what can you do?  How do you navigate these changing adult friendships that seem to be for the worse instead of the better?

  1.  ACCEPT THAT IT MIGHT NOT BE ALL ABOUT YOU.  It is most likely not your fault.  You can’t help that life circumstances for your friend (or you) have changed.  If you had a huge argument with a friend and have now fallen out, remember that it takes two to tango.  If an apology is warranted on your end, apologize.  But realize that the ball is now in their court.  What they choose to do from here is not up to you.
  2. IF THE FRIENDSHIP IS WORTH SAVING, VOCALIZE IT.  Your best friend just had a baby and now she has no time for you.  Call her up and tell her that you miss her.  Tell her you value her friendship and want to come up with a plan to make time for each other.  The baby is her main focus right now, so make it easy for her.  Bring her a coffee while the baby is napping and catch up.  Be creative.  It is worth it to keep this friendship going.  Plus, she will be a great resource when you find yourself in a similar stage of life.
  3. IF THE FRIENDSHIP IS FLOUNDERING, YOU MIGHT NEED TO LET IT GO.  Don’t feel guilty.  Sometimes relationships just run their course, and you need to let it be.  Not all friends are friends for life.  People move away, circumstances change, and people can be fickle.  It is what it is.  And if you aren’t “feeling it” anymore, don’t be afraid to end the friendship.  It can either die a slow, unremarked-upon death by fading into the sunset or you can compose a gentle “break up” speech.  Either way,  friendship shouldn’t be work.  If you feel exhausted or always unhappy after you’ve spent time with a friend, it may be time to sever ties.
  4. PRAY FOR YOUR FRIENDS.  Sometimes nothing can be done to save or improve a friendship.  You can always pray for your friends.  For example, with my friend Melanie, I just say something along the lines of, “God, I don’t know what she needs right now, but please help her with whatever that is and let her know she is loved.”  I may not be able to change our friendship/ lack of friendship, but I leave it to God to figure out how to move forward.
  5. SEEK OUT NEW OPPORTUNITIES.  Most of my good friends have kids that are older, namely at the same ages as Junior and Bellie.  I met them when I was a young mom and we were in the exact same stage of life.  I love and treasure these friendships but can’t always talk to them about the rigors of having younger kids.  They don’t really want to hear about my potty-training challenges.  (Well, they listen politely but I can see their eyes glazing over.  I don’t blame them!)  If we’re talking about elementary-school related things, ferrying kids from one activity to the next, or our fears about children soon entering puberty, they are my guys!  But the nitty-gritty-stay-at-home toddler stuff? I find that once you outgrow that stage with your kids, you forget a little.  And sometimes become less interested in having it as your main topic of conversation.  (I loved breastfeeding my kids, but now that they have outgrown that I don’t think I could spend an entire hour at moms’ group talking about it like I once did!)  The solution?  Seek out new kindred spirits.  You might have to travel out of your comfort zone to discover new friends, but they are out there!  Your group of friends are now married and want to stay home all the time?  Find a book club where you can find some new things to discuss and wine to drink.  You need someone to talk to about your 3-week-old because your other friends don’t have kids yet?  Join a MOPS group.  You’re going crazy because all your friends have gone back to work and you have no one to talk to during the day?  Take a Mommy and Me fitness class at the gym.  It might take a few tries, but you’re bound to come across some new opportunities for friendship.

How have your adult friendships challenged you and how have you navigated those challenges?    What are some tips you have for making new friends in adulthood?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

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Good Friday Venting Session

Hello!  Yes, unlike the Easter Bunny on his little hippity-hoppity way, I DO Exist!!  It has been a crazy and hectic and all-around exhausting school year with the kids thus far.  And I am not shy to say I am going slightly batty with all of it.  Deep breath.

Life is good.  I can’t complain about anything major.  We are all in good health, Hubby’s job provides well for us, we have clothes and food and leisure time.  Lots of blessings and things to be thankful for all around.  I hate to be a complainer.

But….

…..Ugh.  Sometimes I just need to VENT.

I have somehow gotten into the “thinking falacy” of believing that Everything Is (Or Should Be) Great.  All. The. Time.  Even if it doesn’t feel like it.  Even if you are going slowly downhill after the drive to school, then the drive to ballet, then the drive home to make dinner then thirty minutes later the drive back to ballet to pick up the ballerina before dropping of the karate master at karate before driving home again for an hour of waiting to leave to pick up the karate master and then driving home again.  And this all in the middle of a 45-minute production where the toddler hosts a massive and completely ridiculous screaming session in the car because I took away the pound of bubble gum she had “collected” from the minivan garbage can and the (not potty-trained, not trying) 5-year-old demands time on his portable video game for the 47th time today (…the answer STILL being surprisingly, “No.”) as the unmistakable scent of urine wafts up to me in the front seat.  And then go to bed and repeat!!! And repeat.  And repeat.pexels-photo-208216.jpeg

I haven’t vented to anyone in quite a long time because I don’t feel I deserve to vent.  I feel like being frustrated with life is an inexcusable sin that a “good” person (especially a good mother) doesn’t get the luxury of feeling.  I mean, I chose this life, didn’t I?  I chose to have a bigger-ish family; to have 4 beautiful and special yet ofttimes extremely challenging children.  I chose to live 30 minutes outside of the city limits, necessitating long and dull commutes rife with the opportunity for siblings to fight and every last one of them to take of his or her shoes and socks and make a “quick run to the store” a virtual impossibility.  I chose to put my children in after-school activities that they seem to enjoy.  I am not being forced to do any of this.

Motherhood, for all its joys, can just be plain hard sometimes.  And it seems to be even harder when you don’t have a good outlet to vent.  I have a few very close friends, but I don’t feel comfortable venting to them.  Why is that?  I know they won’t judge me for complaining about life.  Maybe I feel it is that they won’t understand?  Which is stupid because, even though their youngest children are older than mine, they have still been there!  Of course, maybe it is also because most of my good friends (all with older school-age children, now) have gone back to a career and no longer seem as “desperate housewife-y” along with me as they once did.  Their frame-of-reference has, quite simply, shifted.  And I no longer feel as though I have that many friends who are “down in the trenches” with me.

Anyhow.

This being Good Friday, I should probably note that Lent has been a bust over here, folks.  This year I started off with the best intentions (not going to give up anything, but add in daily Bible reading and rosary) but that fell by the wayside about three days in.  I wanted to get the kids to Stations of the Cross at least once but realized yesterday that the last opportunity (not having partaken earlier like I had wanted) was today at 3.  I suggested to the school-agers that I pick them up from school to attend, at which I received a steady stream of whining and complaining and then getting stuck at the grocery store with the two youngest who were fighting over “unicorn poop” (those pastel multi-colored mini marshmallows I intend to put on the Easter jello) at the top of their oh-so-shrill little lungs, I just decided that I COULD NOT HANDLE Stations of the Cross this afternoon as a good Catholic.  Instead of focusing on the suffering of Jesus on His way to death, I would just be sitting there thinking about how much suffering I was enduring caused by my children elbowing each other maliciously through me (as I tried to separate them) and the negative effects of child self-applied sugar.

I ask forgiveness.

Sigh.  Well, I feel better cyber-friends.  I think the glass of wine helped, too.

Let’s try and make this more of a regular thing, shall we?

 

 

 

That darn perfection illusion

I apologize for my long hiatus…it has been insanely busy!  Between a post-election trip to Washington D.C., Thanksgiving, Bellie’s third annual round of Nutcracker performances, Christmas preparations and the like, I have been swamped.  But I promise to fill you in on all those adventures in due course.  Life has been good, I have been staying upbeat, but wouldn’t you know it…once the kids finished school for the year and I was finally allowed a break I came down with the flu (flu shot notwithstanding!).  It has been a fun three days of that but I think I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Right when I start feeling better I am sure the rest of the family will follow suit and get sick.  Right around Christmas day, I’m sure:-)  Oh well, c’est la vie.

I think I mentioned earlier that I have befriended a new-to-motherhood and new-to-the-area young lady who is married to a coworker of Hubby.  We’ve been hanging out every few weeks or so; I have been introducing her and her baby daughter to the various activities available in our town for family fun/child enrichment.  My younger kids get a kick out of hanging out with her baby, and I think she is genuinely appreciative to have the companionship.  It is fun for me, too, to experience, through her, how far I’ve come as a mom.  I mean, ten short years ago, I was that new, slightly uncertain and definitely appreciative for friendship – young mom.  Several years later, I don’t know if I would claim that I’m an expert or anything…but I am WAAAAAAAAY more laid back and more confident (sometimes) about my parenting skills.  Still, it made me dissolve in laughter when Hubby called me from work one day.

Hubby: [previously mentioned co-worker] told me his wife is super-jealous of you.

Me: What???!!!!  Why???? (silently thinking, “Did she SEE my four-year-old eat that gum off the bathroom floor at playgroup?”)

Hubby:  Yeah, she thinks you are like the perfect mom.  She thinks the kids are always so well-behaved and you discipline them so well.  And you always are on time and have your makeup and hair done when you guys get together.

Me: (Trying not to choke on my 8th cup of coffee that morning while the kids dump an entire box of cereal onto the floor)  !!!! Oh my gosh!!!  I have TOTALLY mislead her.  That was not my intention.

Thinking back, I really was only trying to not scare her off with my frumpy slovenliness.  Generally I am not on time, anywhere.  And I don’t usually do my hair, but I thought I should put forth a little more of an effort with someone I am getting to know. (It’s weird how friendship with other moms is sort-of like dating.  You want to put on your best face until you know you can relax a little around them in your own skin.)  I certainly did not mean to make her think I was…Perfect.

Hubby to the rescue:  It’s OK.  I set [previously mentioned co-worker] straight.  I told him that generally I come home to a house with cereal all over the floor and no one has gotten dressed for the day.

OK, that was once.  But if it serves to burst the perfection illusion my new-found friend has developed about me, so be it.  I don’t want to be seen as perfect!  That is a lot of pressure.

I think women, moms especially, are set up for failure with the perfectionism thing.  I mean, we start out young, unmarried and childless bombarded during our preteen and teen years with images on Cosmo and Vogue of these gorgeous supermodel/actresses and are convinced that is who we need to be (airbrushing be damned!).  Our images of perfection may also be tied up in being the smartest, getting into the best college, having the most prestigious (and lucrative) career.  We may spend hours on facebook and instagram looking at our friends’ “perfect lives”.  Then, we graduate to the competitive mom-ing.  Oh wow, that mom fits into her size-2 jeans and always looks like a million bucks, with her five beautiful children in tow who look like they stepped out of a Gymboree ad.   And that mom volunteers for Everything at school.  Isn’t she superwoman?  Plus she holds down a full-time job AND is going to grad school at the same time!  How is it possible this other mom keeps her home so immaculate with her two sets of multiples?  I have never seen her with a hair out of place, and she’s always cheery and friendly.  I’m sure her life is so charmed.

The danger in this “Projected perfectionism” thinking is that it tends to be a whole pack of bulls**tPeople, no matter how hard they try to make outsiders believe it is so, are not perfectionistic automatons.  There are happy, hard-working people who are living their best life, sure.  But they will be the first (often) to admit that their lives are not “perfect”.

Just yesterday, my little group of best girlfriends was blindsided out of the blue with some information that left us stunned and devastated.  A marriage we had always viewed as strong, a couple with a strong commitment to their family and community, had suddenly spiraled into a place none of us would have imagined.  Domestic violence, safe houses, and divorce proceedings.  The whole story is not immediately clear, but what an incredible shock for friends who have only ever seen the one face of their relationship.  How could we have missed if something so dangerous was going on with our friend?  Why didn’t she come to us for help before?  I always had (and still do) look up to her for mentoring with my parenting.  She was always so calm, so serene and so capable that I never would have imagined anything like this could happen to her.  And as a couple, they completed our little group that hung out camping and doing fancy dinners.  Our several families of combined children were good friends.  We were all so happy together.  I grieve for my friend and her family in this.  (Prayers greatly appreciated on her behalf)

The lesson?  Well, I could say “Try not to appear too perfect.”  But, in reality, it might be more prescient to say, “Don’t assume anyone’s life is perfect.”  Everyone has challenges.  Everyone has things they keep hidden.  If you suspect something with one of your friends that seems “off”, follow up.  They may not be ready to share, but they might be able to tell you how to help.

Meanwhile, next time I get together with my new-mom friend and her baby, I think I will put her more at ease by showing up 5 minutes late in my sweats, leaving that grape jelly smeared all over my kids’ faces and regale her with the tale of the “Floor Donuts” (that delightful time I let Spike carry the dozen-box of frosted donuts to the register at the grocery store.  He dumped them, the box came open, and all of them plopped juicily to the grubby floor, frosting side down.  And before I could begin cleaning them up, Spike wipes his hand over the frosting-smeared floor and begins eating it the delicious goo.)

Who’s a perfect mom, now?  🙂

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In the Land of Blahs: how to cure a tired routine

may-you-walk-a-lighted-pathI am really good in times of crisis.  Not that I am asking for one (kay, God, got that?) but I have observed that I wind up being resourceful, focused and disciplined when called upon if things get suddenly very bad, very fast.  When my dad had a heart attack.  When, at two separate times my children had to be hospitalized.  When hubby lost his job.  I think it is something about the immediacy, the necessity of a plan, the life-and-death sort of reality that is more concrete than abstract, if that makes sense.  There is one goal: to get through this.  Often there is one course of action – to just keep buggering on.  And I feel adept at that.

Where my resolve starts to falter and my focus and motivation leaves me is when the routine of daily life becomes so repetitive – so predictable – that each day seems more dull and difficult to find joy in than the last.  I don’t believe this is a problem unique to stay-at-home moms.  I know Hubby feels the same way about going to work, as I am sure most people do when the day-in-day-out tends to more repetitive than stimulating.

Don’t get me wrong:  I love my life.  I love my family.  I feel blessed and grateful that we live in such a safe and healthy environment where my children have enough to eat and the opportunity to go to school and extracurricular activities.  I have a roof over my head and don’t need to worry about where the next paycheck is coming from.  I certainly don’t take any of that for granted.

But lately, I have been feeling….I don’t know….Blah.  Part of it is probably the weather.  Part of it might be due to the fact that I pick up 10 million toys that are littered around the house about 15 times a day and it gets old.  I get tired of the routine of yelling at the kids to get their lesson stuff together and get into the car (a process that takes, at best, 30 minutes)  and then arriving at said lesson with one of them missing their shoes.  I get bored to death with having to cook dinner every night (fancy cuisine-preparing genius I am not) and change two sets of diapers on a regular basis, with an almost 2-year-old and almost 4-year-old (yes, he is resolutely not interested in using the potty!) fighting me every step of the way.  I groan at the end of the day when I see the dishes piled up still on the table (Hubby doesn’t get the memo that yes, on nights when I am running with Junior to karate, the dinner chores still need to be done).

On Monday, the younger two were taking turns whining and fighting with each other, while simultaneously following me around trying to bite me out of love (I guess?) and I couldn’t take it anymore.  I turned on Paw Patrol and locked myself in my office and researched lodging options for Europe.  For two hours.  It was as though after all the figurative trudging through the muck and mire of daily life I just needed a mind vacation.  The mind vacation of fantasizing about a real vacation.  A real vacation that I keep struggling with feeling OK about taking.  Needless to say, I feel like if I didn’t have that to look forward to, life would feel very bleak indeed.

Which leads me to try to come up with some other ways I can Fight the Blahs.  I can’t always be planning a trip.  (Or maybe I can, but I still need some other outlets!)

Learn Something New

I admit, I have a problem with this one.  I think it is because I have so many interests, yet once I start something, I lose motivation pretty quickly.  Especially if I get bogged down if I feel it is difficult or tedious.  I took up knitting a few winters ago because several friends were learning how to knit.  They all seemed to excel at it (rather quickly, silly overachievers!) and I was still struggling with how to count stitches while they were already on patterns.  They were knitting socks with circular needles while I only managed a lopsided pot holder.  So I guess the goal for me is to learn something new that might yield positive results right away and that I can learn at my own pace, which might be really slow.

Set a Goal

This ties in with Learn Something New.  It occurred to me that I haven’t actually set a goal in my life for a looooooong time.  And I am talking something realistic, not just “be the perfect wife and mother with zero stress and a supermodel body.”  Something attainable yet challenging.  Something to look forward to, not something to be viewed as an obligation.

Vary Routines

A lot of my day is set in stone, with the times and days of lessons being set.  But if I look at some pockets of time, I realize that I can vary what I do, and when.  The easiest thing to do is just to drive a different way to and from my destination.  I could drive by the river instead of through town.  I could leave a little earlier and take the scenic route.  Sometimes just a change of scenery can break you out of the Blahs.

Wear Pearls

Part of my frustration with my daily routines is that I don’t feel good.  I mean, I don’t really feel good about myself.  Going through daily life in yoga pants and a t-shirt might be comfortable, but it was not giving me the boost of confidence I think that would make my interactions with people more pleasant.  I read a blog posting a while back saying that stay-at-home moms should “dress for success” just like their working-mom counterparts.  Which is somewhat hard for me to stomach, when I spend the majority of my day cleaning up smushed floorbanana and poopy diapers and trying to avoid being used as human kleenex.  But maybe if I treat myself more “professionally”, my family might see me as less of a doormat and more of a woman worthy to be respected.  And that might make me respect myself more, too.  I am not talking dresses and heels or anything here; I am just thinking taking a little more time choosing what I wear and perhaps throwing on that string of pearls might be a positive boost for my day.

Practice Gratitude

One of my favorite books is Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place.  She and her sister were very religious and were sent to a concentration camp during WWII for hiding Jews.    While Corrie found it hard to stomach the conditions they were living in, her sister reminded her of St. Paul’s admonition to “give thanks in all things”- even horrible things, like life in a concentration camp.  Corrie tells her sister, “I see what you’re saying, but how are we supposed to be grateful for the fleas and the lice that are infesting this cell block?”  Her sister didn’t have a good answer.  Earlier,  Corrie related a story of how she and her sister smuggled a Bible into the camp, somewhat miraculously.  With the Bible, they were able to encourage fellow prisoners to keep everyone’s spirits up.  Later on, they thought it was incredible that the Nazis had never come into the cell block to confiscate the Bible (and, most likely, enact a brutal punishment on the women for smuggling it in).  In fact, they never entered that cell block at all.  The reason?  The lice and fleas that Corrie was reluctant to give thanks for.  Their presence had been the reason God’s Word could still be heard in the most unlikely of places.

This story reminds me that, even in the doldrums of daily routine, there is plenty to be thankful for!

Deepen Spiritual Life

I find everything is easier to deal with when I am focused on the most important routine of all: spending time with God each day.  Of course most of the time I don’t make this a priority.   There is always something “more important” to do.  Housework, for example!  Chasing the kids!  It is hard to find time with these more pressing, immediate, concerns.  I think God gets that.  So I wait around for a quiet moment and try to get in a bit of Bible reading.  I find that sometimes I won’t even be thinking about it, but will feel a little nudge as though God is telling me, “Spend a little time with Me right now.”  And I try to listen.   I feel that by making Him a priority, I can more easily get the rest of my priorities in order.

And perhaps that is why “The Blahs” occur anyhow – they are a call to take stock of life and figure out what is really important, what is really necessary, and what really brings joy to one’s life.

I’d love to hear some other suggestions for how to Fight the Blahs!

 

 

 

 

 

Asking for what you need and guilt-laden “me time”

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lovely image of Paris courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I have been struggling with two main emotions  challenges stumbling blocks lately.  And they are guilt and my struggle to be assertive.

I struggled with this last month when my in-laws were visiting.  I have been struggling with it this month while I try to plan my upcoming Europe trip, as well as take some much-needed “me time” in the form of my monthly Bunco get-together.  Hubby, understandably, is resistant to the times I spend away from the family.  It places extra burden on him and he really doesn’t get anything concrete in return.  (One could argue a happier, more rested wife, but we’ll get back to that in a minute…)

Things came to a head last week when I was discussing the aforesaid European trip with Hubby, complaining that there wouldn’t be enough time to comfortably see EVERYTHING, and he suddenly said, “I am not sympathetic; I am not supportive of this trip in the first place.”

Wow.

I was thrown for a loop.  Here I am, glibly planning this two week trip for next summer with friends and – heck- we’re almost ready to buy plane tickets, when Hubby suddenly brings to my attention the fact that, ahem, he is not supportive of this trip.  I admit I never really asked permission to take this trip with friends -a trip that I have been saving both my money and airline miles for.  I had, at first, mentioned to Hubby that we take a trip together, just the two of us.  I suggested Alaska, a place Hubby had always wanted to see.  I figured out a little itinerary (Denali! Kenai Fjords! A fishing charter!) and asked my sister if she would be willing to come out to Idaho to watch the kids while we were gone.  I had it all planned, and presented the plan to Hubby on his birthday.

The response was not as I had expected.  He replied that he didn’t want to spend that kind of money, that his idea of an Alaskan trip was much different than my idea of an Alaskan trip (think flying into a remote North Pole-ery location and rustic camping/fishing for a week) and he reminded me that we don’t travel well together.  (Which is true, we have very different traveling styles).  I told him that we had enough airline miles for both of us to fly to Alaska for no cost.  He said, “I’m sure you’d rather go to Europe with those miles.”  And I said, “Yes, actually I would.  Can I go to Europe with those miles if you really really don’t want to do Alaska with me?”  And he said yes.  So I really really thought he was completely OK with me going to Europe next summer.

After the conversation (the one where he said he wasn’t going to support my trip), I was wracked with horrendous amounts of Guilt.  Who was I, thinking that it was completely OK to ditch my young family for a couple of weeks, leaving my poor frazzled husband to deal with them?  Who was I to make my husband take vacation from work to watch the kiddos while I gallivanted around Europe while he was forced to stay home and be stressed out?   Why did I think I deserved that?  What if something happened to the kids while I was gone?  What if something happened to me?  How selfish was that?  How selfish was I?

While I kept trying to make sense of my emotions regarding this I tried to ascertain exactly why Hubby said he was non supportive.  What he had said was he wasn’t supportive of my trip.  What I heard is that he wasn’t supportive of me.  When I asked him to clarify, he said he thought the expense of travel was too great and that he didn’t believe I would be able to save enough money beforehand to finance my trip.  He also was unhappy about having to take work off, using up valuable vacation time that he would rather use for….um, vacation.  He also was worried for my safety, in light of the terrorism that seems to run rampant in Europe these days.  Additionally, and perhaps a little “selfishly” on his part, he was jealous.  When had he gotten to take a two-week trip with his friends?  I reminded him of the cool locations he had traveled to for work (Sweden, for example).  Also, I reminded him that I had tried to get us to plan a trip to Alaska, a #1 bucket-list item on his agenda, but he had declined.

Nevertheless, even after finding out the reasons for my husband’s reluctance to this trip, I still felt guilty.  I assured him I would try even harder to save money.  I would sell stuff I was no longer using on ebay.  I would pare down my spending.  I also assured him I would try to figure out childcare options for while I was gone, perhaps hiring someone or seeing if a family member would come out to provide babysitting.  I can’t do anything about terrorism or crime except to keep alert and stick with my traveling companions, and I told him I would be supportive of any travel scheme he came up with in the future – with or without me.  But the guilt remained.

As a wife and a mother, and especially as a woman of God, we are taught the intrinsic value of sacrifice.  We sacrifice for our spouse.  We sacrifice, especially, for our children.  Our sleep, our time, our energy, our bodies.  We are happy to do it because our families are worth it.  No one wants to be that mom or that wife who selfishly puts her wants ahead of her family’s needs.

So when, if ever, is it OK to say “Time Out!  I need to focus on my needs a little bit.  And they might look like ‘wants’ to you, but believe me, THEY ARE NEEDS!”  Like rest and rejuvenation.  Intellectual and cultural stimulation.  Exercise time.  Heck, a shower!

I guess, ultimately, I don’t want my kids to look back at me during their childhood as a woman who had no identity except that as their mother or their father’s wife.  I want them to see me as a dynamic, interesting, and joyful  woman who sacrificed for them but never forgot to take time out for herself.  I don’t want them to remember me as bitter and frustrated and failing to be a person in my own right.  I also don’t want them to remember me as a woman racked with guilt over following my dreams.

That said, I am forging ahead with the planning for my Europe trip.  I will try to come up with ways to make the time I am gone (and the expense) less painful for Hubby.  I am sure I will continue to struggle with feelings of guilt, but I need to focus on the actual goal which is to create enough joy that I come back to nurture my family even better.  One can’t feel guilty about that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Depression taking over my life

OK, so I clearly haven’t been on here for awhile.  I have been busy, true, but I wouldn’t be completely honest with you if I didn’t admit that I have been having quite some time keeping the negativity at bay.  There have been a few days-long stretches where I could barely get out of bed.  And I blame myself and heap oodles of self-hatred my way, saying that I should try harder and that I need to ignore my feelings and just be there for my children and my husband.  I feel guilty and awful most of the time, paired with debilitating anxiety.  Hubby, although he tries extremely hard to be understanding and supportive, is understandably frustrated and overwhelmed with dealing with our crazy household (the kids don’t stop) as well as a spouse who wants to check out most of the time.

I don’t exactly know what set it off.  I am feeling overwhelmed with the task of housekeeping and motherhood right now.  I am tired of barely keeping up with the mess and the needs of five other creatures (eight, if you include the pets).  I am exhausted with not being enough.  I crave the delicious feeling of accomplishment – of feeling pride in a job well-done and the satisfaction of being competent at a task.  Motherhood doesn’t offer this emotion….not really, anyhow.  The task of raising a child is never done.  Even when they are adults – they could screw up badly and, as a parent, you will always wonder if that failure of theirs is somehow tied to your failure to feed them organic meat.

When I was younger, unmarried and childless, I was an organizational freak.  I loved having everything neat and tidy, everything in its place.  I thrived on making my space beautiful and having my decor reflect who I was and what I loved.  I think that is why, now that I am part of a household with young children, I become so discouraged with the state of my surroundings.  These surroundings are messy.  They are dirty.  They are disorderly.  They are ugly.  I could spend every second following my children around, yelling at them to pick up, to not take that out, to leave my stuff alone, but that would still probably not achieve my desired goal: to have a beautiful and orderly and calm place to call home 24/7.

Readers will argue that having a home-design-magazine-worthy home is a silly goal while being a SAHM to youngin’s – that they are only young once, and energy and time should be spent playing with them instead of worrying about the amount of mess they make.  I would agree.  But perfectionism and depression are filled with a font of irrational thoughts that don’t make sense and obsessively spin around in your mind making you feel that there really is no point and you might as well give up.

So, this last month I really have.  I have dropped the ball on housework, I have let the kids watch day-long marathons of Netflix, and I have essentially checked out.  Occasionally I have been able to summon enough gumption to cook dinner or do laundry.  I still run the kids to lessons and play-dates and if any of my friends ask I am doing JUST FINE.  But I am locked in a gloom that is very difficult to shake.

We took a family vacation last week and I was able to get outside of myself and just be for a few days, which was nice.  But coming back home was hard, getting back to real life was hard.

I go through something with my medication every two years or so where the normal dosage suddenly just doesn’t cut it anymore.  So I am starting a supplemental medication along with my normal prescription.  I am hoping that there is an improvement.  Generally, I have always felt that before the positive thinking and self-care suggestions my doctor and psychologist have suggested can kick in, there needs to be a biological “jump start” in the form of drugs in order to to be able to move forward.  And I feel like the current dosage is no longer cutting it.  I worry that by the time I am 60 I will be taking such an inordinately large dosage of psychotropic prescription drugs that I will no longer, chemically, be me.  Or that after so many years of taking antidepressants my brain will be severely damaged or I will develop a giant, inoperable tumor thanks to the miracle drugs that have gotten me out of bed and into the land of the living for 40 years.  But I suppose it will have been worth it.  Not living under a constant, debilitating cloud of depression is worth it.  I think.

So that’s what has been going on.  I am hoping to check in more often going forward.  I am hoping I will have happier, more sunny things to write about next time.  I know I will be fine, the sky is not falling, and life is actually beautiful.  I know all of that.  I just need a little help (and prayers) getting to the point where I can really feel it, too.

Thanks.

A Perfect Marriage

 

ScheuWedding06052004

Hubby showing me his moves on the dance floor.  (And he is doing a bent-leg shimmy here…he is short but not THAT short!)  It’s always a good thing when you can laugh at with your spouse.

I’ve been musing about marriage lately,  and it just so happens today is my Twelfth wedding anniversary!  That seems crazy to me that we’ve been married a dozen years.  It has gone by very quickly, but there are alternately those times where it feels like it has been forev-ah.

Jacob and Nancy Crookse

Marriage means stickin’ it out through thick and thin…and sometimes making do with chicken wire instead of those fancy backdrop thingees.

 

Which leads me to wonder how many marriages, particularly those of my generation,  will end only with the death of a spouse instead of divorce. How many couples will choose “til death do us part” instead of dissolution and lawyers and custody battles and alimony. Because it’s hard. It’s hard to stay in a marriage when you are having problems. It’s hard to “work on it” when your spouse seems indifferent, when you feel neglected or unappreciated or just too dang overwhelmed and frazzled with LIFE to really be willing to focus energy on a marriage you secretly wonder may have been a “mistake”.  Especially when all of your friends and others you respect seem to have their love lives all together…

EECrooks wedding 1936A

You don’t just marry your spouse…you marry their whole family.

Back in the day, when Hubby and I were doing marriage prep classes, I felt like I was mooning around in a hazy rose-colored fog of smugness.  He and I were so “compatible” (the little test they gave at one of the sessions said, apparently, that Hubby and I were an emotionally mature couple who had no unrealistic expectations of marriage.  Which, at the time was entirely true. ) We were both ready to be married and loved and respected each other.  Stupidly, at that time, I also thought (for that reason) we were much better matched and ready for a lifetime of conjugal bliss than the majority of the population.  That we would Never. Have. Problems.  (Well, at least not more concerning than someone leaving clothes on the floor or the toilet seat up.) That simply being “made for each other” as the trite little saying goes, would make us utterly and completely immune to the forces of the world that would try to tear us apart.  That we would be one of those marriages that people looked at, years from now, when we were little old people puttering around in Assisted Living, as “such a Perfect Marriage.”

A and J Lagowski c1950

If it isn’t work, you are not doing it right!

Oh, I realized that marriage was bound to be work.  But I didn’t realize to what magnitude that work would be.  No one really goes into the nitty gritty of how hard life as a spouse gets when you have to face things together you hoped you’d never have to deal with.  Job loss, serious illness, sick children, fights over how to best care for elderly parents.  I didn’t think seriously about what it was going to be like with four young children in the house screaming all day and then the violent, irrational Resentment I would feel when he got home from work and wanted to “relax”.  How it creeps up on you; you start looking at your spouse as that man who “did this to you”, instead of as this wonderful human being who God placed in your path to fulfill your vocation as wife and mother.  How you begin to blame each other for life’s annoyances.  How you begin to question, “would I be happier, really, if I could just leave?”  And, “Do I deserve better?”

Paul Wedding1 1936

For better or for worse.  But never for perfection.

Thank God that marriage is a sacrament.  Thank God for the vows that I exchanged with my Hubby, who really is a good, Godly, honorable man who loves me deeply.  But I honestly don’t believe love alone would have saved our marriage during its dark times.  I meant, very seriously, those words I said twelve years ago.

I promise to love you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.  I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.

Burvee Marriage 1890

“You want to do what?  Homestead in a barren wasteland?  Yes, please, I’ll follow you anywhere!”  Now that’s love.

The vows I made have gotten me through the tough times.  And the knowledge that Hubby and I am not in this marriage alone.  (God’s definitely got His work cut out for Him.)

Do you like all these wedding/couple pictures?  As I was putting this post together I was thinking how each one of these married couples, my antecedents, made a commitment for the long haul.  They did make it to “til death do us part.”  Did they have perfect marriages?  Did they have blissfully romantic unions chock full of whimsical serendipity and only marred by small inconveniences?  Hell no.  They knew hardship.  They knew loss.  They may have spent more time thinking about how unhappy they were in their marriages than anything else, I don’t know.  They may not have even liked each other very much.  Who knows, some of them (those I have known personally excluded of course) might have been miserable human beings who really weren’t balls of fun to be around.  But they stayed together.  Of course divorce wasn’t as viable an option back then, but maybe they too had some sense that marriage was a fundamental building block of society, that remaining married proved economically smarter, and children retained untold benefits from their parents being and remaining married.

 

momdad89

This photo was taken right before they realized they’d left my little brother at the gas station.

 

One day, in the midst of one of our nastier arguments, I made some snide comment to Hubby about something I felt he had done wrong.  I will never forget the look on his face when he said, very quietly, “I never said I was a perfect person.”  That statement gave me pause and I recognized that I had been expecting him to be.  Why is that?

Years ago, I read the novel Recipes for a Perfect Marriage by Morag Prunty.  It was a great book that captured the way I think many of my generation think about marriage: as a fairy tale romance for those lucky souls who meet and marry their “soul mate”.  It comes down to the idea that if you find the “right one” marriage should be a breeze.  Oh, and you should always feel blissfully “in love” most of the time.  If that isn’t the case, you should probably get divorced so you can find someone else who might, this time, satisfy your every emotional need and desire.

In Prunty’s novel, the reader follows the protagonist, Tressa, who is newly married and carries an idealistic view of how marriage works, due, mainly, to her perception of her grandparents’ “perfect” marriage.  When her own marriage isn’t as great as she thinks it ought to be, Tressa wants out.  Little does she know, her grandparents’ marriage was not the magical union she thinks it was.  Tressa learns, as she reads her grandmother’s diary, that her grandfather was a “consolation prize” for her heartbroken grandmother, who refused to show affection for the husband she felt almost forced to marry.  In fact, it wasn’t until years later that love finally began to take root, nurtured by shared experiences and affection.  But even on his deathbed, Tressa’s grandmother struggled to tell her husband she loved him.  Even though she did.  Very much.  Not your typical “romantic” marriage, but it worked.  It was imperfect, but happy.

Why do we want to have that “perfect” union? Our heads are filled with visions of Hollywood romance, usually focusing on the wedding, but also filled with spouses who listen always, criticize never, and always, always know what we want (love means being a mind-reader).  We think we should perpetually feel a deep, sensual and exciting love for our spouse.  We constantly want to feel as though we are “in love”, like we did when we first met.  We don’t want to ever fight.  People who love each other shouldn’t disagree, right?  We also want someone who respects our individuality while remaining completely selfless when it comes to our desires.  Someone to have and to hold who never has a bad day and takes it out on us.  Someone who will uncomplainingly do all the household chores (most particularly the ones we don’t enjoy), go to work, and still have time and energy for long, intimate talks and walks on the beach.

Ha.  This person doesn’t exist. (Well, maybe on someone’s match.com profile) Because this kind of perfection is not attainable by human beings.  So, what do we do?  Give up on marriage as an institution because we can’t make it what we want, because we can’t expect it (and our spouses) to be our end-all, be-all?

No.  We need to realize that God adds that element to our marriages.  Our marriage can be “perfection” but only through God.  I will never be able to be the perfect wife.  Hubby will never be able to be the perfect husband.  But Christ is the Perfect Spouse.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  This includes a loving marriage.

With His help, our marriages can be Holy.  Our marriages can be purposeful.  Our marriages can be Perfect.

40

When did suicide become the “attractive” option?

WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS.  There has been a lot of press regarding the new film, Me Before You, which was released in theaters yesterday.  I have not seen the film, but I did read JoJo Moyes’s novel by the same name.  And I thought it was sad.  I thought it was a tragic story being passed off as a romantically-packaged tale championing the Right to Die.

MeBeforeYouposter

The story centers around an adventurous, vibrant, sexy young man, Will,  in the prime of his life who suffers an accident and, as a result, becomes a quadriplegic.   This complete and total humbling of his body and subsequent utter reliance on others is morally repugnant for him.  He becomes deeply depressed, focusing his thoughts on how much his life has lost and how he can never again be “whole”.  So he chooses to die, planning a trip to a Swiss clinic to be given a pill that will end his life.

His parents, however, are against his plan and hire Lou, a girl who is desperate for employment.  Initially repulsed by Will’s unpleasant manner, Lou eventually comes to see Will as a funny, interesting – lovable – man who has much to offer the world despite his crippled body.  When she learns of his plan to die, she is horrified, and, with the assistance of Will’s parents, devises a plan to make Will realize that life is still worth living.

At this point, the story could pan out to be a fantastic tale of triumph over adversity, the acceptance of things we cannot change, and a powerful message about the sanctity of human life.  While I was reading, I really, really, wanted this outcome.  I hoped that Lou and Will would fall in love, he would realize he loved her too much to willingly leave her, they would both find renewed purpose in life, and would live happily ever after.  Or something like that.

Let me break it to you, though.  That is not how the story ends.

I read this book for a book club I belonged to, and the overwhelming feeling was one of sadness.  I will say that we were all reading the book from a Christian viewpoint, but most people were unnerved with Will’s total belief that death was the answer.  He had no faith that God (or any higher power) had a plan for him.  If I can’t live my life the way I want to, I might as well die.  Also troubling was the belief that if our lives don’t resemble our “ideal” they (and we) are not worth living.

Blessedly, I am not physically disabled, so I don’t know the mental struggle that goes on day after day, or the bodily pains or daily indignities that characterize those lives.  But I do consider myself well-versed in how it feels to question the worthiness of my life.  (Come on, is there anyone out there who has not?)  What if you suffer from depression?  Anxiety?  PTSD?  Eating disorders?  Cancer?  Anyone who has suffered from any chronic illness, mental or physical, has probably at one time or another felt that they were burdening others, they weren’t happy or making others happy, and maybe?  Maybe it would be better for all involved if I could just disappear.  Happiness, freedom from pain, and the ability to make your own decisions makes life worth living, right?  Oh and the ability to not be a burden.

That’s why I find Me Before You so troubling.  Because it touts the assisted suicide route as a compassionate choice.  Will’s decision is, for the most part, selfish.  He is only thinking of his pain, his loss of mobility, his dashed hopes and dreams.  The feelings of those who love him are not considered, or if they are, it is an afterthought.  Critics argue that every human should be able to make the choice when and how to end their own lives.  Because that is dignity.  That is compassionate.  That is the most selfless route.  But the problem with this thinking is that it persuades society that suicide is attractive.

1200px-Bath_Melancholy

By N. Renaud from Ottawa, Canada – [1], CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10411862

I suffer from depression.  Well-managed and medicated, to be sure, but always with me.  During my darkest moments I have had all those thoughts, that I wasn’t worthy of life, that it would be easier for my loved ones if I weren’t around, that it would be cheaper to not have to pay those therapist bills, or those anti-depressant prescription fees.  What if I had given in during those moments of weakness?  What if I really had convinced myself that suicide was the most attractive choice?  In that dark time, it might have been, but that was because I was depressed.  I wasn’t thinking normally.

But what if I had a doctor who was tired of treating me?  What if I told my doctor I wanted to die?  That I felt it wasn’t worth it, wasn’t fair to keep making minuscule progress in my mental illness just to fall back into depression again and again.  Isn’t this a sign that I am suffering from something incurable?  I will probably never completely be “whole”, I will have to take medication to treat this illness the rest of my life.  I may get really bad again and have to be hospitalized.  Not all suicide attempts end in death, either.  What if I attempted to die and ended up with horrible wounds that required thousands of dollars of medical treatment?   Or stay in a nursing home because I caused myself to suffer brain damage?  A doctor weighing all these options may just give me the go-ahead to take a trip next door to Oregon and end my pitiable existence.  [Well, it might give American assisted-suicide providers pause that I was suffering from depression (at least for now) but it wouldn’t probably bother them in Europe.]

Recently, I was saddened to learn of this story of a woman with a history of mental illness being helped to die in Holland.  Some might argue that she could have easily ended her own life without the help from the authorities.  And I would agree.  But the tacit acceptance from her health-care providers that her mental anguish was all-encompassing, total, and incurable is the very antithesis of mental healthcare.  A depressed person’s disordered thoughts leads them to believe their suffering is global,  complete and fatal.  I don’t argue that this Dutch patient felt all of that.  I don’t argue that the injuries inflicted upon her were not horrific and devastating.  But I do argue that there was hope.  There is always hope.  The minute you, as a mental health patient, have your (possibly exhausted and frustrated – because they are human, too) doctors start agreeing with you that you are a hopeless case, all is lost.  The march toward treatment only becomes a march toward death.  And this is becoming reality in our messed-up world.

I will always champion the idea to sufferers of depression that THERE IS HOPE.  You are not a hopeless case, a lost cause.  I bring myself to tears sometimes thinking about how much I would have missed if I had packed it all in back several years ago and decided to end it all.  My sweet daughter reading Chicka Chicka Boom Boom to her precious little sister at the table as I write this.  My handsome son and his handsome daddy playing football at a festive and lovely graduation party last evening.  My silly younger boy talking about how he is going to tell God he should have created us with only one foot (because putting two shoes on is such a pain, don’t cha know?).  The gorgeous setting sun as it illuminates the mountains out my back window.

LIFE IS WORTH LIVING.  Suffering happens.  There is no way to sugar-coat that.  But it is also what makes us human.  The moment we decide that our humanness is a liability is the moment we condemn our culture to assisted suicide.