Finding the Light

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This pandemic has shone light on countless things, people, places, and activities which I had taken for granted before. Before the social isolation, before the panic-induced hoarding by the masses, before the diminished traffic and before outings with only a mandatory agenda. Coming to the forefront of my mind after ten weeks of social distancing is the mass. 

I miss church. I miss the mass. I miss celebrating Our Lord with my friends and family, being able to receive the Eucharist, jostling children into pews, even the frustration that comes from the diaper changes and tantrums that bring me away from the altar. I have been so lost lately. The postpartum depression blurring my vision and yielding sloth-like habits, these habits seeming to grow roots as week after week there have barely been any restrictions lifted. An extrovert by nature, I thrive from a full social calendar. And this pandemic took my declining postpartum mental health and shot it down the steepest water slide at full speed. So I’ve been drifting, spending days in my bathrobe, days without showering, weeks eating junk food, and weeks neglecting my prayer life. 

I can’t say I’ve been completely neglectful. I have been streaming daily mass pretty regularly since Holy Week in April. And while streaming mass is a beautiful gift to be able to have at my fingertips, it is no replacement for being in a physical church and receiving the Eucharist (and it’s not meant to be). Add that to the fact that my children do not understand that while we watch mass, we should behave as if we’re in church, and as you can imagine, most of my viewings are interrupted with crashing toy cars, a toddler falling off the couch, multiple diaper changes and screaming that makes me wonder if my weak attempts at piety are completely null and void. 

But our church is open. While our local parish is still not holding masses for the public, the priests have kept the doors of the church open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm daily so that people may visit and pray. At the height of the pandemic, I went nowhere. My husband did all the shopping in the outside world, and I cloistered in place with the children as if looking at my neighbor the wrong way would fester a deathly illness when really all it festered was unnecessary anxiety. But as the anxiety lifted a bit and there became more normalcy with wearing masks and keeping distance, I slowly became a bit more comfortable with this new world (I say a bit, I hope this never becomes the normal). 

And so a few weeks ago, I ventured to the church alone. I went equipped with my rosary, ready to pray about all of it, vent to God and have a little heart to heart. But when I got to the altar, I found I had no words to say. My mind went completely blank. I didn’t even take the rosary from its case. I sat there staring at the altar dumbfounded, listening to the creaks of the building around me as the wind shifted and hearing the cars roll by outside the front doors. Everything was so quiet as I sat in the stillness, the only soul in the pews. And that was what I needed then. I needed to merely soak in His presence, to be in the place that had become my home every Sunday, every Holy Day and on the baptisms of my children and our friends’ children. I merely had to sit to feel that peace. I merely had to look up at the banners behind the altar that professed, “I am the Resurrection and the Life, He who believes in me will live” (John 11:25) to know that everything would be okay. 

And that was fine… for a little while. But I’ve found myself searching yet again, feeling lost, wondering just what it is I am supposed to be doing right now during this chaotic time, wondering exactly what it is I need to moor my rocking lifeboat to the shore. And just like that, I heard a homily from our parish priest that knocked me upside the head. He reminded me that what we all need right now is faith. What we need right now is to go back to Jesus. What we need right now is not material things, not worldly distractions. What we need right now is to dive into Scripture. What we need right now is God. 

I was literally in the middle of airing my grievances to my husband when our priest came on and started speaking. I stopped mid-sentence, mouth open as we both looked at the television. My husband smiled and said, “I’m just going to walk away.” And with that, Father handed me my answer on a silver platter. Don’t say the Lord doesn’t show up because He does. It’s not always with a mallet to the temple or brandished in gold sparkling letters, but He gives you your answer (and hint: it’s usually not the one you’re looking for). 

And so I went to church again. J was napping, M was screaming on the changing table at my husband. But I went to go be with Jesus. I walked in the side door with my mask on, past a small rosary group praying before the statue of the Virgin Mary, and let my eyes take in the darkened church. There was only one other person there praying, and so I hustled to my “regular pew,” definitely more than six feet away (I hate that my mind calculates that ill-fated distance now) and knelt down. 

I began saying the rosary. Now, saying the rosary has always been a difficult practice for me. I get distracted, my mind wanders, sometimes I forget the words to the simplest prayers and meld them into others as I fail to pay attention to the task at hand. But lately, I’ve been saying it every night before bed. I hold the beads in my hand, try to think of intentions, but mostly just letting the words flow through my consciousness. I usually don’t finish the whole thing because I’m asleep before I can even make it to the final decade. 

So there I knelt in church, counting off the beads, taking in the altar and the icons that I hadn’t consciously realized I’d missed. The other woman left as I was finishing the first decade and so I continued in the silence of the church, selfishly giddy to have the place all to myself. I listened to the cracks and creaks, and watched as the colors from the stained glass windows bled onto the pews, a melting pot of rays shifting ever so slightly as time wore on. 

I find myself distracted by the colors, wishing to be inside the light, wishing I had moved a row over, wondering if I could find the perfect light to take a photo to remind me of this time. (It should be noted that I do not take pictures in church except maybe during a baptism or wedding because I believe that our time in mass should be solely focused on God. But I am hoping that I can be forgiven for my proclivity to do so during this pandemic because of the strangeness of these times and the lack of physical mass). And so I knelt, fidgeting, sliding my fingers down the smooth wooden beads. My legs were shaking from the effort as I remained staunchly upright in my pose, ashamed that after two months I could barely remain kneeling for these twenty minutes of prayer. 

When I finished praying, I kissed the cross hanging from my rosary and sat back in the pew. My knees were sore from the effort and I noted that the marks on the red plastic kneeler did not fade despite my weight no longer being present upon it. And I sat in that pew wondering if I should move when I realized that I no longer had to seek the light. The light had found me. 

The dappled blues, deep-hued scarlets and bright white light were not only playing across the pews beside me, but had crept to the carpet at my feet, to the end of the pew on which I was sitting, to the pew directly in front of me. And I smiled marveling that as I had stayed still in prayer, the light had found me. He had found me. In the midst of the chaos, in the midst of my darkness, all I had to do was ask and He came. I didn’t have to move, I didn’t have to change, I just had to be and He found me. 

I was filled with an overwhelming sense of no longer being abandoned. And the message that repeated itself in my heart was, “Do not fear.” Do not fear these times. Do not fear uncertainty. Do not fear death. Do not fear disease. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)

Everything was so clear to me in my time there, I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to return to the outside world. I didn’t want to don my mask again. I didn’t even want to return to the chaos of my family because I wanted this peace to continue. But I knew I had to return. I knew I had to attend to an infant who was probably still screaming. I knew I had to return to a toddler who would be waking up from his nap at any moment. And I knew I had to return to my husband who probably needed time to seek his own peace. 

And so I walked up to the altar and knelt down in front of it, bowing as low as I have ever bowed. And I gazed at the crucifix and prayed I would be gazing at it during Sunday mass in weeks to come. I took the time to look at the pictures and icons as I left the church, slowly taking in the face of the Virgin Mary statue as I passed her, gazing on the Divine Mercy image, looking up to Our Lady of Guadalupe, realizing as I studied these images that I never thought I would have to memorize their faces as it would be uncertain when I would return. 

I left the church, waving to the rosary group as I breathed the fresh air. I sat in my car soaking in the silence trying to remember everything about my visit. And I managed to nurture the peace I had found for about a solid hour until the chaos seeped back in on the backs of screaming children, hungry bellies, and mundane household chores. But I have vowed to try to go back to my daily readings, to continue watching mass, to try to say my rosary, and perhaps most importantly, to turn to Scripture. Because when I needed the light, it found me. “So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.” (John 16:22)

Buffering…

I feel like I am stuck buffering. Buffering… buffering… buffering. My thoughts run in circular motion. My sentences always end in a pause and an ellipsis. My brain is fuzzy, my legs rubber, my insides swimming, my throat closing, my body floating. During this time of uncertainty, I feel adrift with no land in sight. Just floating, floating away hoping that I will bump into some island, some solid ground on which to plant my feet, some haven where I can rest my eyes and my thoughts for just a little while.

I think we all feel like this right now. Trying to make it through each day, each hour, each minute of unknowing. Trying to navigate our stress triggers. Trying to deep breathe before we implode. Trying to silently fill in the cracks of our brokenness before they show.

These times are unprecedented for most of us. We weren’t born to sit in isolation. We were made for more than Zoom calls and binge-watching. However, during this time to reflect inward and hone our talents, we remain trapped, stuck in this place of uncertainty, thwarted by the unknown, grappling with our own values and mortality.

I had my eighty-seventh breakdown of this social isolation last night catalyzed by the simplest accident. J dropped a set of books on my foot and as I cried out in pain, a dam broke lose around my heart and the tears wouldn’t stop. J watched me and murmured, “Sorry, mama” from somewhere around my waist. I patted his head and said, “It’s okay baby,” trying to hold back some of the choking sobs. Once my husband was off yet another work call, he took J into his room to read and I retreated to the safety of my daughter’s room.

I often go into M’s room when I need space or quiet. We live in a modest raised ranch and all bedrooms are occupied, including my own with a sleeping infant in a bassinet. So finding a space that is my own can be challenging, especially during the day when my mundane tasks such as going to the bathroom and getting dressed become the highlight of my toddler’s day. So once the kids are in bed, I often retreat to M’s room for some solitude away from the glare of the TV and the sound of restless children.

And so it was that I found myself there last night, staring out the window, sobbing into the cloudy twilight. I cried for the tightness in my chest, for the worry I held over my children’s safety, for the uncertainty of the future, for the loved ones I can’t hold right now. It’s all been building, one Zoom call at a time, each day we go by without seeing loved ones, every text message shared with friends, each news broadcast, every update from the local governor, each time we don a mask, every trip to the store, each time we calculate a six foot distance. The uncertainty, the dread, the big question of When will this end? And will things ever be the same as they were? 

I know this time is shaping us, is making us better, is bringing us back to the things that are important- family, communication with loved ones, goals, self-worth, but it has been so hard to focus. It has been so hard for me to find solid ground. The mass can no longer be celebrated in a church so we tune in on TV. We can no longer eat a nice meal out at a restaurant so we order takeout or run up the grocery bill with more items than normal. We can no longer visit the library so we join virtual story times and sign up for book drops. We can no longer take our children to the parks and playgrounds so we watch them run around the yard and play with the same toys for the thousandth time. We can no longer visit friends and family and so we sit in front of our phones and computers, desperately clinging to any form of socially distant contact we can get.

The world is upside-down. Nothing makes sense anymore. And so we sit, in our separate homes, in our safe havens, trying not to feel closed in by our familiar four walls. We worry about the essential workers. We worry about the non-essential workers. We worry about health. We worry about safety. We worry and worry and worry.

What we need to do is stop thinking and not in a nihilistic, uncautious way, but we need to get out of our heads and into the present moment. After my breakdown last night, I crawled into bed with J who had been calling me from his room (“Mama, tuck [in with his blanket],” “Mama, sleep”). And I pulled the blanket over us and held him, kissing him on the head and telling him that I loved him. My husband came in to check on us and stroked my hair. I started crying again and J immediately sat up and said, “Mama sad,” with a concerned look on his face. I nodded and said, “But you make Mama happy,” and tucked him back in as I left the room.

I hate that my toddler has seen me at my most vulnerable. I hate that I can’t be strong for him. But in some ways, I think he needs to see this side of me. He needs to know that sometimes strength comes in different forms. He needs to see that I fight for happiness, that I strive to be better, but that I’m not perfect and I never will be.

So I retreated back to M’s room to nurse her as she had woken up yet again. I called one of my closest friends who is a priest and always has the right wisdom my heart needs. We discussed the strength that comes from struggle. We talked about prayer not needing to be perfect. And most importantly, we talked about staying in the present, about letting the imperfections of the past go and giving up the worries for the future.

And I rocked in the chair holding M who was staring at me, listening intently. I stroked her face as she fell asleep in my arms, as my friend helped to dry my dripping tears, as my husband checked in on me and J babbled in his room. And I breathed in the present moment, the safety of my home, the love I felt for my family and the thankfulness I had for the grace of the present. All the things that had seemed overwhelming and suffocating mere moments before presented themselves as gifts.

So friends, I wish the same for you. That you may remain present throughout this cloud of doubt. That the uncertainty of this time may not break us but bring us together. That this time may not weaken us but make us stronger. That it won’t make us look backwards, but keep our eyes ahead to a greater future, or better yet to an amazing present.

This is Damn Hard

Yesterday was a bad day at the end of a bad week at the beginning of yet another month in quarantine. This is damn hard, friends. Social isolation is something I never thought I’d live through as a mandated event. I have distanced myself from others before when I was hurt, angry or depressed. But never have I lived through a quarantine decree. Never has my home felt so much like a claustrophobic prison. Never have I felt myself crawling out of my skin from boredom, anxiety, and exhaustion on a daily basis. 

Now, I know that may come across as dramatic, but as someone suffering from depression, I often see the four walls surrounding me start to cave in slowly. My throat closes up, my thoughts fuzz, my eyes glaze, and my skin begins to itch. I want to shout, run away, and crawl back into bed at the same instant. The screaming of my children becomes a roar. And I can’t seem to find one quiet corner in which to escape. 

I’m sick of hearing about social distancing and flattened curves. I’m sick of hearing that we’re all in this together because all I feel is isolation. I’m sick of hearing about plans to reopen our state and the country because I feel like those things will never happen. I’m sick of holding out hope when things feel so hopeless, when I feel so lost.

And I’m sure a lot of this is the depression and also dealing with circumstances that we’ve never encountered before, but it’s been hard. The ups and downs I experience on a daily basis are exhausting. I’ve seen more episodes of Puppy Dog Pals than I care to admit. I’ve spent days binging my way through chips, chocolate, and ice cream. I’ve spent the occasional week trying to stick to an exercise schedule. I’ve spent hours scrolling mindlessly on my phone, and time outside trying to convince myself that I was okay with not being able to get close to my neighbors or friends.

This time is frustrating, it’s soul-sucking. It makes me want to hug my loved ones even closer while simultaneously feeling the need to retreat to the solitude of my car or the comfort of my bed covers. It’s hours of boredom, days of self-doubt, weeks of comparisons. It’s wondering whether the world will ever be normal again. It’s wondering if I’ll take things for granted a month from now, a year from now, a decade from now.

It’s guilt festering as I know I should be continually counting my blessings instead of being endlessly overwhelmed by the Disney channel noise and shrieking of small voices. It’s feeling the desire to give up on potty training and let J wear diapers until he’s 10. It’s wondering if M will ever nap during the day without being physically attached to me. It’s fearing that life will continue to be grueling once the stores and playgrounds are open. It’s hoping that I’m not failing as a mom as I sneak a third cookie in the kitchen, trying to ignore the chaos in the room just beyond.

I’m sick of my bathrobe being acceptable apparel. I’m sick of showering every three days and being okay with it. I’m sick of binge eating and binge watching. I’m sick of not knowing and not caring what day it is. I’m sick of no schedule. I’m sick of feeling trapped, isolated, anxious, and afraid. I’m sick of feeling like I can’t vocalize all that I’m internalizing for fear of others’ reactions. I’m sick of feeling guilty for my anxiety when others are dying, losing their jobs, risking their health. I’m sick of feeling like I’m not allowed to complain. I’m sick of trying to find the silver lining. I’m sick of empty calendars. I’m sick of a full tank of gas with nowhere to go.

We are living through circumstances over which we have no control. We are learning to bear the distance and subsist virtually. We are being told what to do, what not to do, what to wear, where to stand, and how to live. We are forced to communicate solely over the phone or the internet. And friends, I love that we have this capability but the novelty of Zoom, FaceTime and Google Hangouts has lost its luster. Every time I see my family and friends, I’m just upset that I can’t hold them in person.

And I know this is a test, a test of our will, a test of our faith, a test of our patience, a test of our strength. And maybe I’m failing at it or maybe I have to hit rock bottom in order to climb to the top, but right now it’s hard. And I have seen the light through the darkness. And I have had moments of clarity. But overall, it’s been a difficult road, and stating anything less seems dishonest. So friends, if you’re feeling that this is damn hard too, I’m with you… virtually. 😪

 

Made for This Moment

Have you ever had the thought I was made for this moment during an occasion of pure unadulterated peace or joy? In the midst of the chaos that has become our lives during this pandemic, I have had few moments during which I felt like I was destined to be there. I have spent my days potty training a toddler, toting around a clingy infant like an accessory, wasting my time scrolling through my phone, and generally trying to ignore the growing, nauseating feeling of anxiety that is constantly welling up in my throat. I haven’t understood why these moments are important or felt that they are meant to be cherished. In fact, I have felt quite the opposite. 

A few nights ago, I let the panic, the fear, the anxiety, the frustration, the creeping feeling of claustrophobia get the better of me. It took just one additional stubborn toddler fit to throw me into a full-on breakdown of my own. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I couldn’t keep going. I curled myself into the fetal position on the floor of J’s room and rocked back and forth, trying to shut my eyes and cover my ears tight enough so that I could block out all that was happening around me. My husband came into the room to help J finish getting dressed, but J was solely focused on me. 

He immediately got down to my level with panicked pleas of Mama, Mama. I was paralyzed. I didn’t want my son to see me like this, but I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t catch my breath. In that moment, I couldn’t fix anything. I couldn’t pinpoint one thing that was wrong nor could I express one thing that would make me feel better. And then J started to rub my back and say, “Okay, mama. Okay.” And I was amazed at my son’s ability to feel empathy, to understand what was necessary in that moment. I created this little being who knew what it was that I needed when not even I was even sure. 

It took a few wracking breaths and a couple of tears for me to get off his floor, but I sat up and took J in my arms. We walked side by side to the bathroom to brush his teeth and then snuggled in bed to read a story, the world seemingly restored. I felt so guilty about having my breakdown in front of my two year old that I snuck back into his room after he was in bed. I asked him if we could snuggle and he nodded, moving aside so I could fit beside him in his race car bed. I covered him with his blankie and wrapped my arm around him listening to his breathing slow. I was amazed at this little creature whom I created and thankful for this moment of peace amidst the growing chaos. 

And since that moment, I have had small instances of belonging, little signs that remind me why I am here. My good friend and therapist is constantly reminding me that we were all made to live in this time. We were all chosen specifically to live through this. I was made to be a part of this family, to be a partner to my husband, to be a mother to J and M. 

I was live-streaming daily mass from my alma mater yesterday, and I just had this moment of overpowering amazement at my life. It was one of those moments of introspection during which time seemingly freezes for a brief second. I sat curled on the couch cradling lukewarm coffee as the hymns from the TV played. J was quietly organizing his kitchen, on a break from “feeding” M and me. M was watching J intently, staring adoringly at her big brother. And I felt this huge sense of relief, this overwhelming calm pass over and through me. And I just knew that I was made to be experiencing that specific moment in time. I was in that moment for a reason. 

And life inevitably picked right back up again as J needed help and M started to fuss. But I held them close later that morning, truly soaking in their childlike goodness. So often my days are filled with tantrums and tears. So often I take for granted these beautiful beings that I am blessed to have birthed. But yesterday, I just held them. M was asleep on my chest, and J was laying beside me watching a movie. And the three of us just were. There was no anxiety. There were no internal rolling credits of what I should and could be doing instead. There was no internal monologue of criticism. I realized that the three of us were all made for that moment too, as a few tears of gratitude slipped down my cheeks. 

…And then J peed all over the couch less than 20 minutes later. But I was made for that moment as well, the moment on my hands and knees soaking out urine stains from the upholstery. Because life is full of messy moments, not just Instagram-worthy, I wish I could freeze time, joyous ones. In fact, it is often in the mess that we find ourselves and learn to appreciate those perfect moments when they come. The moments of mess in my life- bad relationships, lost friendships, hypertension, emergency delivery, postpartum depression- these have all helped to define the person that I am today. I was made for every single moment I have lived, whether or not I felt up to said moment or even worthy of it.

It is through this chaos that I have come to truly appreciate those moments of order, those defining moments where peace reigns, those beaming moments of light. And though they may flicker and burn out quickly, those are the memories that reside in my head. Those small moments of breakfast with J, smiles with M, laughter with my husband, it is those moments that remain. It is those moments that help keep me afloat during the tough times. It is those moments for which I can truly say I was made. 

Postpartum Depression During a Pandemic

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We are nearing the middle of week six of social isolation, and it’s slowly starting to wear on me. The first couple of weeks were clouded with uncertainty as we tried to navigate the new waters into which we had been thrown. The inability to procure toilet paper morphed into a fear of not being able to provide for the children. Each week there was something we were not able to get at the grocery store, and every day my mind was plagued with thoughts of having to ration our food and not being able to buy diapers.

But now the initial worries have subsided and greater anxieties have taken their place. When will this end? What if someone in my family or one of my friends gets sick? What if it becomes fatal? When will we be able to see people again? When will my children be able to hug their grandparents? Will we be able to have our family vacation?

The questions are endless, the doubts many as we all try to move forward one day at a time with the knowledge that we may not have answers for a long time. I talked to my mom yesterday, and she confirmed in conversation what we all know, that the world will be forever changed after this. May we never take a simple trip to the store for granted again, and truly be thankful for long walks side by side with friends and not six feet apart. I pray that this gives us all a valuable lens through which to view life once we come out of this.

But until then, we are all stuck in limbo. Ready for change and unsure what that change may entail. I have been living in the same space for the past five and a half weeks, emerging briefly from the confines of my home when the weather allows, enmeshed with my children on a daily basis, seemingly attached at all times to a small being. And while I love these dear little souls, mommy needs a minute. And often the only one that comes is at 8:30 pm when both kiddos are in bed (albeit not asleep- ahem, J). But by then I am so exhausted that the remaining energy I have is spent scrolling on my phone or eating junk food.

And when I start to fall into the trap of thinking about all that goes wrong on a daily basis, my mind switches to everyone who has it worse than I do. It keeps shifting to those who are unemployed, those who are essential, those who are in need of medical attention and are afraid to seek it, those who are sick, those who are dying. However, I also know that the way I feel holds its own merit. And I think I need to apologetically state what I am experiencing and not feel the need to make excuses as to why I shouldn’t be feeling the way I do.

Life has been difficult lately. It has been mentally and physically exhausting. As I have mentioned before, I am an extrovert and thrive off of time spent around other people. We went from having play-dates almost daily to nothing. We went from being able to go to the library or play at the park to being cooped up at home running around in circles blaring Disney+ regularly. I went from being able to talk with my friends over coffee and kid babbles to video chatting and texting. Quite frankly, it sucks.

And this has all been compounding in the background as I try to compose myself and overcome the mental health blockade that is postpartum depression. I am thankful that a couple months ago, I made the decision to begin taking antidepressants. I had multiple medical professionals and friends urging me to make the change, and it took one meltdown during which I realized I no longer had control to make the switch and commit to change.

While taking antidepressants had been suggested to me postpartum with J, I remained staunchly opposed. I saw the need to take medication as a failure, and I didn’t want to add it to the list of things I felt I had already failed at- a glowing pregnancy without complications, an unmedicated vaginal birth, a blissful postpartum period. I railed against the need to take medication and struggled through the depression with a strength that I didn’t think I could possess.

Looking back now, I realized that I probably partially struggled unnecessarily. In all truthfulness, I did end up getting a prescription for antidepressants after a particularly low spell, but I took one dose and got violently ill. After that, I was so scared that I didn’t want to hear anything about modified dosages or different medications. I vowed to deal with my mental pain in my own way. And it worked for a while, or at least it was lessened.

I had such a different pregnancy with M, that I thought I would be spared from postpartum depression a second time around. But around the two month postpartum mark after a steeply sliding score on the PPD tests administered by my OB, my children’s pediatrician, and my therapist, I realized that I had to get ahead of things this time around and fast. Not only did I have an infant to take care of, but this time around I had a toddler as well. My rapidly declining mental health plus multiple people strongly advising me to seek help by utilizing medication made me bite what I perceived as a major bullet and allow my doctor to call in a prescription.

As I met with my therapist hours before taking my first dose, she told me not to assign any value to the medication, reminding me that I got glasses when my vision was bothering me and I take cold medication when I feel sick, this was merely the same thing. And so I started to take the meds. It took a while for them to kick in. My first follow-up visit to my doctor was rough as she glance at the PPD survey and stated that things were not good. I already knew that would be her answer as I realized the shift in my mental status with each new answer I circled. Sidenote: those tests are really hard to take because you know which answers to put in order to be “in the clear” so to speak. But I always made myself be completely honest because it was in no one’s best interest for me to lie.

And so here I am, friends, with almost two months of taking antidepressants under my belt. And I didn’t know if I would blog about this as only a few people in my life know about this, but once again I am compelled to do so because the thought that it may help someone else with their decision to take medication or help someone else realize that he/she is not struggling alone means more to me than keeping this to myself.

I am doing a lot better than I was. The Coronavirus has definitely thrown a wrench in things and spiked my anxiety. I often wonder if I need an increased dosage, but the understanding that everyone is living with this anxiety (virtually) alongside me is knowledge enough to keep me fighting, to keep me striving to be better for myself, for my husband, and for my children.

And some days are hard, others are even harder. But I continue to show up, whether fully dressed or in my bathrobe. Because I have no choice but to keep going. Failing or diving backwards can’t be an option. I have already made so much progress, I have to keep striving for more. And sometimes progress is giving myself time to scroll through Instagram so I don’t lose my cool. And sometimes it looks like more quality time spent with the children. Some days it is merely getting dressed, and some days it is getting my butt in front of this computer to write. Every day is different. Hell, every hour is different. But I have to remember to give myself grace for those differences.

Before the pandemic, I was just starting to accept help from others and allow myself to admit that I can’t do it all alone. Sometimes you are at a point in life when you are capable of being there for everyone else, and sometimes you need to be the one on the receiving end of support. I recognized that I needed to be the recipient. And then after a crazy week spent with supportive friends, all that physical support was pulled out from under me. Now my days are spent corralling a stubborn toddler towards the potty and never putting down a clingy infant inside the small popcorn-ceiling space that is beginning to emanate claustrophobia.

But we all have our own trials during this pandemic. These are some of mine, and I hope that it’s helpful to know that you are never struggling along. We are all getting through this together… apart. May we all see each other soon sans barriers and anxiety.

Following the Hearts: In Search of Light in the Darkness

Coming down from a real beast of a Monday, the highlight of which was stepping in J’s poop, I decided to go for a walk with M this afternoon. My previous attempts at exercising having been thwarted by aforementioned bathroom events, I needed to release some energy and calm my nerves.

We have been on several walks around the block as a family in the recent weeks as long as the weather has allowed, but we only make it to the next street and back before J’s little legs give out. He trudges stoically along but you can tell he is tired as his eyes glaze over and he starts to lose ground. And I haven’t made the time to get out and walk (or do anything) by myself although I know I should.

So I went for a walk this afternoon, pushing a gurgling M in the stroller as my husband and J remained in the backyard kicking the soccer ball. As I walked, I looked at the houses and started seeing the hearts. Hearts pasted to windows, hearts taped to doors, signs on front lawns stating “We are in this together.” I passed a woman on the other side of the road and we exchanged pleasantries, eyeing the distance between us and making sure it was acceptable. I listened to M babbling in the carriage and noted the lack of cars driving around the neighborhood. I was simultaneously flooded with sorrow and pride at the new lay of the land.

I think it really hit home for me as I started scanning doors and windows for hearts, as I passed sign after inspirational sign. We are all experiencing the same thing. We are all in the same boat rocking from side to side at the mercy of an endlessly aggressive sea. And none of us know when and how this ends.

For me, the overall experience has been one of isolation and anxiety. I am pretty sure that isolation is the last thing that is recommended for an extroverted person suffering with postpartum depression. But here I sit. Yet I feel guilty even typing those words because I am so very thankful that my husband still has his job and that we all have our health. We remain isolated together most days, and while it can sometimes make me want to tear my hair out, it is also comforting.

And I am thankful that I have not had to experience the peak of anxiety as my husband has been making all store runs for our family. In an effort to not stress me further and keep me from exposure (especially since I am still nursing), he has taken on that responsibility. It’s been hard. Hard because I can’t leave. Hard because J misses his friends. Hard because I miss mine. Hard because for the first time in our relationship, I’m watching my husband struggle with anxiety. Hard because every day is just clouded with uncertainty.

And I can’t watch the news. The couple of times that I have, it induced minor panic attacks and I had to turn off the television. For a few weeks, I was reading articles online, but now I don’t even do that. I prefer to watch uplifting things like daily mass streaming from my alma mater and John Krasinski’s “Some Good News” series on YouTube. I also prefer to lose myself in Netflix (currently binging Community) or become immersed in stupid word games on my phone (I won fourth in a tournament this weekend- that seems so lame to type). So perhaps I have not been dealing with all this as well as I should be or as well as I want to be.

I wrote in a recent post that I am not handling this like those super creative homeschooling Instagram moms you see or the singing families on Facebook. Most days I am in my robe until noon, waiting for J’s nap-time so I can binge chocolate and chips in front of the television while M attaches and detaches herself at will. Only last week did I start working after I took the time to step on the dreaded scale. I had mentally been telling myself that all the breastfeeding I was doing nullified the intake of chips and queso. Wrong. 

So it’s true, I don’t know how to feel right now. I don’t know how to be. I don’t know who to be. It’s hard to know if that’s because of the virus or two small children or life or what. As it is, in order to write this, I had to lock myself in my daughter’s room away from prying hands, the glare of the TV and the overwhelming mess of dirty dishes that has claimed my kitchen counter.

In this time where I feel like everyone has been able to take time for themselves, I have no time to just be me, whatever that means now. I am lost. I am searching. I am stagnant. And the anxiety is crippling. It looms in all the corners of my house and morphs itself into frustration and hopelessness. It is a soul-sucker to be sure.

But I have to remember to think of those hearts. To remember all the people who are doing so much good in this time of trial. To acknowledge those healthcare workers and grocery store employees. To thank all of those essential workers who prioritize the importance of their jobs so that we can continue to function, thrive and ultimately be well. To take pride in the work that all of us are doing from home- working full-time jobs, raising families, trying our damndest to remain worthy of every new day, even if our days are full of struggle and doubt.

I have to remember the hearts. I have to remember the love. I have to remember that in this time of anxiety-inducing darkness, there is great light.

“[T]he people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.” (Matthew 4:16 NABRE)

 

 

With the Faith of a Child

I have been thinking a lot about this new normal. Undoubtedly, this is something at the back or forefront of everyone’s minds nowadays. This week weighs especially heavy as it is Holy Week. Today is Holy Thursday, which marks the beginning of the Paschal Triduum (the three days leading up to Easter). Last year, I was blessed to be able to attend mass with J nearly every day during Holy Week (with little Miss M unknowingly in utero).

While Holy Week is a high point for the Catholic Church- a reprieve from the end of our Lenten fast and a celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord, it has become quite special to me personally over the last few years. In 2016, my husband was confirmed into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil, just two months before our wedding. In 2017, I was pregnant with J, and it was the day of our first ultrasound. Holy Week suddenly held a new significance as I mused on the suffering of not only our Lord but also his mother as she wept at the foot of the cross. I held my belly tight that year. In 2018, I held J in my arms as I celebrated life in a way I had never known before. In 2019, J and I dove into Holy Week with a zeal I hoped would carry us through Ordinary Time, culminating in Easter by which time I knew in my heart of hearts that I was pregnant again.

And so cue 2020… If you had told me that this year we would be unable to attend the mass, that the churches would be empty and that the world would seem uninhabitable as we all quarantine in place, I would not have believed you. If you had told me that places like New York City were basically scenes straight out of I Am Legend, I would have been horrified by the thought but dismissed it with a shudder. If you had told me that there would be lines taped six feet apart in grocery stores, people wearing masks and protective gear, and a resonant quiet pervading throughout towns and neighborhoods, I would have tried to block out the scene immediately.

We are truly living in a new world, trying to navigate something we have never witnessed before. This is a time when we should be growing in faith, a time where we need to focus on Christ being present within our families and our homes. Yet it is also a time to feel isolated, to feel desperate, to feel shaken to our core. I have felt all these things, the anxiety building daily, and I must admit to you that I often fail to see the Lord at work. I know He’s there, I know He is indeed always working, but I have found myself fighting extra hard to find Him.

And I do believe this is a test. More people are flocking to the faith, watching mass online, reading Scripture, trying to stay connected despite the mandated distance. I have been doing my best to turn to my faith in this time of crisis and to see the positive instead of the all-encompassing negative. But that being said, our faith looks a little different right now.

I have to be honest, our Sundays have consisted of watching the mass on EWTN in our pajamas. The coffee is brewing, J is running around the living room playing with cars, M is either sleeping or wailing, and the overarching feeling is not strongly liturgical. I struggle because I know that faith is not grounded in the building of the church but in our hearts and spirits. Yet I am grappling so much with not having a physical place in which to worship. Last Sunday, my husband went to the church to pick up the palms and the church was empty. It was empty on Palm Sunday, a day where we celebrate the coming of our Lord into Jerusalem, a day when we read the passion of the Christ, a day when the church is packed in anticipation of Holy Week and Easter. Yet our churches remain darkened and vacant. It is a travesty. It is a shock. It is a new normal I hope to never get used to.

But that being said, I continue to fight for my faith. I continue to battle daily with putting down my phone and all the other things I have been using to distract myself from the mounting unease, and pick up Scripture or turn on a daily mass. My alma mater has been live-streaming daily masses and so this week, J and I have been watching every morning at 8:30 am. It has started to become a routine even in these last few days, and this morning I smiled as J asked about church “on TV.” And while I will admit that I am still watching in my bathrobe, I am participating in the mass. I am following along with the readings and singing the responses. J will alternately watch the mass, read his Bible and play with his cars. But during the Our Father, he always stops whatever he is doing to come over to me and hold my hand (completely unbidden).

And that is what we need during these times of trial… the faith of a child. My mom has said this to me often throughout the last few weeks as this new normal has found her feeling paralyzed as well. The faith of a child is what we need. The faith of a child when nothing else seems like it makes sense. The faith of a child. We need to keep stretching out our hand to Him and trust that He is holding us tightly in return.

“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” (Philippians 4:6 NABRE)

*Last year was also a time of reflection for me during Holy Week. Here are some of my musings from April 2019:

Of Palm Sunday & Lent’s Redemption

Holy Thursday, You’ve Done It Again

He Is Risen