Here's to life change.
Today, I’m journaling and processing all that I’ve learned about myself in the past two years. If you’re an enneagram “two,” or if you’re someone who struggles with depression or people-pleasing, this might be a helpful read for you. For me, it is my own “ebenezer stone” of processing and remembering all that God has done and is doing in my heart. I wrote it for me. And I’m learning to be ok with that.
Well. This round of counseling has been a hard hit.
This is the fourth time in my life that I’ve gone to counseling. The first was during college, after several major things didn’t go as I expected them to, and my underlying depression came out in full force. The second was after we moved to Austin and I felt that I needed some help adjusting.
The third was in Mississippi, after Grace was born and after I had my suicidal day. Chris and I attended counseling both individually and together. A lot of hard work happened during our time with Barb, and I am forever thankful for her presence and encouragement to us in that season.
This fourth time, I went to counseling preemptively, hoping to set myself up for success with the upcoming birth of our second baby – knowing it was very likely I’d encounter postpartum depression again. Instead, I found a lot of residual depression still lingering within me that needed my attention.
Obviously, I think counseling is a wise thing to do. It takes a lot of work to get to know yourself and it helps having someone professionally trained to walk with you in that. At first, I looked at counseling as what I needed to do to “fix” my depression. I was shocked at myself when I went for a second time… I thought I had “fixed” my depression already? I thought that in my first round of counseling, I had been given tools to handle it and keep it from ever happening again. My thoughts were that I was absolutely not supposed to be depressed, that I hadn’t been strong enough to keep it away, and that I had let the people around me down. Walking into counseling a third time probably would’ve crushed me if I hadn’t already felt crushed. My life was crumbling all around me and I was finally willing to seek help.
So choosing to go a fourth time was a big step in me being an advocate for myself. Which seems to be the root of everything I am learning.
I am realizing that I am walking through a season of complete life change.
No wonder I feel delicate, vulnerable and exposed. No wonder my capacity for activity and relationships has felt so low… not only am I chasing a toddler and growing another baby, but I am doing serious internal work. I need to respect and honor that, instead of being disappointed in myself for not doing more. I need rest upon rest in my life, and I find myself saying “no” often. I have to practice being ok with that.
The big shift in my life is this…
I have lived my entire life looking to serve others and deny my own needs and desires. I am very gifted in serving others, but I can only do this well and in a way that is healthy if I am taking good care of myself. I do not like this solution because of the messages that I have told myself my whole life, which I’ll get into next. Overall, I fear emotional abandonment from the people around me if I make my needs, desires, or feelings known, so I stuff them until I’ve made it very clear to myself that I am not important and I point myself right down the road to depression. No wonder I’ve found myself there again and again. I have additionally made the people around me, who I have intimate relationships with, the most important thing in my life. This is very easy for me to justify! But what I’ve done is made them an idol that I find my value and pride in, and made them more important that God. That is why “Emmanuel” is so important to me… He declares that He will never abandon me. That wherever I go, He is “God with us.” I can never be too needy for Him… and I can never serve Him enough to find my value in my servitude. He asks me simply to abide in Him, and to watch the fruit of that grow.
Here are those messages that are hard for me to rewire…
As a child of an unwed mother, the message I received from the world was that I was unwanted and a mistake, and the solution I found to that was to not be a burden and to prove that I was worthy of keeping. I wanted so badly to be wanted. There were specific messages I received that said to me that I was not valuable, not worthy of investment or time, not worthy of protecting, and, repeatedly, that my feelings were invalid. That how I felt was “wrong” or unimportant, and instead of being addressed, were not allowed to be felt. As I grew to be an adult and went through difficult seasons of life, I would put a Biblical band-aid on my feelings… that the Bible says our “heart is deceitful above all things.” My personal interpretation was that my feelings were not to be trusted, and instead to be ignored entirely. I needed to simply have enough faith to get through the hard times, to put my head down and serve those around me, and then God would get me through.
What I was doing was not taking responsibility for myself. By denying my emotions over and over again, I built up a tidal wave of lies that Satan danced all over, until it came crashing down and I couldn’t serve anymore, felt completely invaluable, and believed on that suicidal day that “no one would notice if I was gone.”
How crazy is that?
Not so crazy, if you’re me. Or if you’re a “two” on the enneagram. If you are, have you heard hints of yourself here yet?
Pride in service of others. Denying your own needs. Perhaps not even knowing what you need. Able to take yourself completely apart for the benefit of those important to you. Extremely emotionally vulnerable and exposed in unhealthy relationships. Why don’t they love me? What can I do differently? Why do you treat me so poorly when all I’ve ever done was serve you? Finding your value, again and again, in the response you get from the people around you. Your circle may be wide – you’d take apart your life for a stranger – or your circle may be very small – you’ve created boundaries that only the people you are closest to are allowed in.
But when you reach the point of burn-out, you turn defensive, questioning why no one is taking care of you when all you’ve done is take care of them.
I find myself there with Chris often. Since I believe it’s selfish to take care of myself, I think he as my spouse should know how best to take care of me. I think I should be able to rely on that… that he should notice I’ve been buzzing around all morning and haven’t eaten breakfast. That he should know I could use a break and book us a weekend away, or even insist I go and be alone at a coffee shop for an hour. That he should come home with flowers or even just an anecdote of something specific that made him think of me. Instead, I take every moment that I have to stand up for my own care – asking for time alone, asking for a break, finally getting myself into the kitchen to eat something for breakfast – as a reminder that I’m right, I’m not important, and I only have myself to take care of me, and I will always put me at the bottom of the totem pole.
I think a lot of this is how moms feel in general – taking care of other humans all day without much gratitude received will do that to you – but I also think it is a trademark trait of a two. We spend our whole lives serving and pouring out for others, hoping that somewhere along the way, someone will notice and return the favor. It’s “strings attached” thinking without realizing it’s so, and it’s incredibly unfair. I did this with my mom often growing up, thinking I was doing everything to please her or make her proud of me, when often she already was proud of me. When I didn’t receive the praise or care I’d hoped for, I became defensive and emotionally distraught, thinking that this unmet expectation meant that she didn’t love me. Now I do it with my husband. Poor guy tries so hard and desires deeply to take care of me. He reminds me often that he will never be as good at noticing the deep needs of others as I am. I need the reminder that I can’t ask him, or expect him to be, a two. He’s allowed to be different.
So here’s my shift… I’m learning that I have to make room for myself. And in this season of serious internal growth and raising two small children (which is a direct path to burn-out and potential depression for me), I have to make a LOT of room for myself. I hate it. I don’t feel like “me.” I feel like I have such a lack of capacity and am unable to do many of the things I enjoy (i.e. serving other adults emotionally/”being there for them”). In the past, I have prided myself on my ability to have my “ish” together all of the time, so that I am completely available to take myself apart for the benefit of the people God puts close to me in my life. At what I would consider my highest point in life, this circle included everyone. Look at my incredible capacity to love others well! God has given me the strength to say “yes” to everything! God definitely gave me a giftedness to love others well, but He didn’t give me a god-like capacity for doing it. He made me human, with a human capacity, and by resting in that, I find very healthy ground for good things to grow.
Right now, caring for myself includes… Grace at school two days a week so that I have time alone and “off-duty.” Attending counseling. Seeking out a prenatal chiropractor to help with all the aches and pains I like to pretend I don’t have. Drinking an actually hot cup of coffee instead of the cold one I poured hours ago and have yet to drink. Going to Bible study and praying with the other women in my life; sitting under the teaching of God’s Word, discussing and applying it to my life, hearing reminders that I am not alone. After the baby is born, I plan to take a maternity leave for myself and then go back to work in some capacity. I feel like this is too big of an ask. Am I choosing to work over precious time with my kids? What an honor and privilege it is to get to stay home with them full-time! I should never take that for granted. I would have to seek out childcare for them… it’s so much to ask of someone else’s time and of our finances. I should just stay home.
I am thankful for the resounding feedback I’ve gotten from those close to me… “I’ve been waiting for you to say you’ll go back to work for a long time. I’m so glad you’re finally going to do it.”
I need to go back to work and take this step for myself, even though that is very difficult for me to do. I need to go back to work doing something that fuels me so that I am a better mama to my babies. I needed to attend counseling to work out these lies and begin to question what exactly fuels me, and why that isn’t taking care of little babies. I’ve learned that I have the most to gain from intimate, emotional adult relationships. I loved my design work because I would get to know someone so intimately in creating a logo and brand for them. I loved writing five days a week because I was connecting with and serving other women, even highlighting them and their stories. I am praying God makes it incredibly clear what I need to go back to work doing – design, writing, ministry, or some combo – so that I feel immense peace in the time I spend away from my babies to serve others, but mostly serve myself.
So, here’s to life change. Here’s to honoring and loving myself. Here’s to protecting my heart, not so that others can’t come in, but so that I can love them best. Here’s to knowing myself better, a job only I can do. Here’s to my health, and the way it benefits my family for me to be healthy. Here’s to learning that God loves me more intimately and deeply than I could ever imagine… that He designed me, He wrote the Owner’s Manual, and He built me to be a wonderful “hand” in the body of His people, but I can only be a “hand” and not both hands and an eye and a foot… you get it. I need daily reminders of my own humility and His own mightiness, and that just like I am important to Him, I need to be important to myself, too.
Here’s where I close my laptop, drink the last sip of my coffee, and go home to love my family better than I could have without this time to heal, write, and process. I don’t have to be ashamed or feel guilty. I don’t have to feel like I asked for too much in taking time away and asking Chris to watch Grace (something he loves to do). I get to go home and love my people well because I loved myself well today.