Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Talk about Perspective (Part 2)

This is the second installment of a two-part piece that I divided up because this is a freaking blog, and blog posts are supposed to be short.  I can’t help but write long pieces, and I apologize for that, but this blog isn’t really about you, now is it?  So, read part 1 first, and then continue with this. Much love to any of you who actually read all of it.
So, here’s my life:
Loving parents---->Education---->Marriage---->Children---->Friends---->Writing---->
Pretty much a summary of what I view to be a close-to-perfect life in progress.
In May of this year, my husband returned from a deployment and was asked to attend an Air Force program called High Flight.  The purpose of the conference was to educate us about his future in the Air Force, while providing opportunities for us to learn from and socialize with people in much higher positions.  At first, I was just glad he was going to be home, and if it meant I had to travel to St. Louis for us to spend some time with him, so be it.  I’d make a mini-vaca out of it (it’s kind of what I do).
Two days into the conference I got this terrible sinking feeling.  I didn’t sleep for several nights in a row (and for once, it wasn’t because I was up with sick/cranky children).  I started feeling so incredibly overwhelmed by the things I was learning in all of our briefings that I was literally feeling short of breath and nauseous.  Not exactly the effects the planners of the conference were going for, I don’t think.
I met some very dedicated officers and wives who have led impressive and admirable lives.  However, the more I listened the more I realized how I did not want their lives to be my life.  Basically, as each (very enlightening and interesting) moment ticked by, I saw all my hopes and dreams swirling down the Air Force toilet.  I know it’s not like me, but I’m not trying to be funny.
So here’s the deal.  Scott and I got married in 2003 after he graduated from the Air Force Academy and before he went to pilot training.  After pilot training, we moved to Charleston, SC to start his assignment as a C-17 pilot.  I finished my Masters degree the first year we were married while working part-time at a chemical manufacturing plant (this is a typical AF wife job, found through a temp agency and not related to my degrees).
I had Will two months after we arrived in Charleston and began my life as a stay-at-home mom, something I had always planned on doing.  When Will was a baby, I did some freelance editing from home to keep my brain moving but focused most of my energy on hanging out with the cutest/smartest kid to ever walk to the face of Earth.  
Right before Ben was born, I started the ball rolling on something I had been thinking/talking/praying about for a few months.  I knew Ben would be our last child, and I was trying to think about the future.  A very long story short, I decided to start seminary classes because if I wasn’t going to start working at our next base, I knew I wanted to be working TOWARD something.  
We added Ben to the mix three years and three months after Will (who knew two people could create TWO perfect children?), and I was still loving being a stay-at-home mom.  (Obviously, there are days I want to run away, but to get back to the theme of the beginning of this post, my life as a SAHM is pretty awesome.)
Without getting into any gritty details (mainly because I have a tendency to turn bitter and angry when talking about this, and that’s not the road I’m wanting to go down here), it became increasingly clear that beginning my seminary classes was not going to be a possibility.  Simply put, I was disappointed.
As Scott and I discussed the next few years of our life, I started feeling more and more suffocated.  There was nothing I could do to change the fact that Scott was in the Air Force and in turn the fact that all major decisions (where we live, when we’ll move) will be in the hands of someone else (someone who has little regard for my feelings) for a very long time.  Going back to school seemed like a way to take back some even if they sent me somewhere else, if I was working toward another degree, it would be okay.  I would be doing something purposeful and stimulating, something that was just mine.  But that wasn’t going to happen.
I started having daily emotional breakdowns--like crying in the shower because I didn’t want to leave the house kind of breakdowns.  My kids were certainly my saving grace because they gave me a reason to get out of bed.  I mean, they had to have breakfast, and no one else was going to change Ben’s diapers or take Will to school.
So, going back to part 1 of this post, I kept telling myself I needed to get a grip, find some perspective.  This was not as bad as it could be.  Lots of people have it harder than me.  Things could be worse.  I mean, nothing all that tragic had really happened, right?  I talked to my parents.  I talked to my husband.  I talked to God.  I tried to focus on the details of my life (so many great things going on!) instead of being overwhelmed by the big picture.  I did all the things that made sense, trying to get rid of these awful feelings.
I knew it was getting bad when I saw this sign on the way home one night and cried the rest of the way home.
This is what I learned: anger, bitterness, and resentment are the ugly stepsisters of happiness.  And the ugly stepmother?  Depression.  Until this point in my life, depression was something dramatic people dealt with.  I mean, depression is classified as a mental illness, for God’s sake.  I was obviously not depressed.  That’s something that weak, stupid people fall back on when they can’t handle reality.  Right?  
I’m strong (one of the strongest!), self-confident, and level-headed.  Not to mention the fact that I’m a Christian.  And Christians are just supposed to cast their burdens on Jesus, right?  Simple as that.  In the church I grew up in, I’m pretty sure we would have just prayed for deliverance and healing, and everything would have just been better.  So, why, when I had all the answers, all the coping mechanisms, all the solutions right in front of me did I not feel any better when I woke up each morning?  
I hung this in my bathroom to remind me (in some of the only moments I had by myself) that things would get better.  Things were going to get better, right?
I was watching TV late one night (one of the wonderful effects of depression was the inability to sleep despite the fact that I was constantly tired) and saw a commercial for an anti-depressant.  It was a commercial I’d seen before but never paid attention to.  All of a sudden, something clicked.  I was that person in the commercial.  The person staring out the window at nothing.  That was me.  I was depressed.  I literally started laughing.  Out loud.  Scott was sleeping beside me, and he started to stir, so I cupped my hand over my mouth, stifling the noise until it became painful, and I just cried.  And kept crying.  Long after the commercial was over and the Golden Girls was back on.  I probably cried for a solid twenty minutes, and not a steady flow of tears, but massive heaving bellows from my gut.  At one point, I got up to get some tissues because my face was starting to sting.  Every couple of minutes, I would hold my breath in an effort to stop, but instead, I would start laughing again.  Followed by more blubbering.
Shortly after this episode, the days started getting better.  Not good, but better.  Giving the feelings a name, calling it what it was was liberating.  I was moving toward my thirtieth birthday and had started terming this period of my life as my “1/3 life crisis.”  Before, I had just been talking to people about finding solutions.  What should I do?  How do I fix this?  Help me find perspective!
But now, I started talking about it.  Like really talking about it.  I thought about going to therapy--the Air Force actually offers free counseling on base, but even that seemed like a way to share my feelings without actually sharing my feelings.  Instead of bottling my thoughts inside my head, I would bottle them in an office with a stranger.  
I knew the only way I was going to get where I need to go was to be honest with the people who knew and loved me--and to not worry about what they were going to think.  I started talking openly about how angry I was that so much of my life was controlled by the Air Force.  I talked about how badly I didn’t want to be bitter about how I’d been treated by “the church.”  I wanted to know how to not end up resentful ten, fifteen, twenty years into my marriage when I looked back to see that I had “supported” my husband and “the mission” to the point that I had no identity as an individual.
And the most important part is that I wasn’t sugarcoating it.  I find myself surrounded by people who are afraid to talk about what is really going on.  And I was as guilty as any of them.  I’m not saying you have to share all your business all the time with all people ( by blogging publicly about it or something), but I have got to be real about this.  At the core of who I am is someone who hates being dishonest.  Probably more than any other negative quality I can think of.  I strive to be the same person to all people, and it makes me squirm when someone thinks I’m someone I’m not.  
And my whole life--all of it--I have tried to be me while other people created characterizations of me that I didn’t really like.  When I say I’m a Christian or an Air Force wife or a stay-at-home mom, all of those things are true, but I think I have a different definition of those things than a lot of people--and that’s where the problem lies.  I can’t be someone else’s definition of me.
On some level, this is the same struggle I had in first grade as a pretty little blonde from a working class family entering the world of wealth and prestige at a private school. It’s the same struggle I had in junior high when I was navigating the passage from child to teenager.  It was the same struggle I had in college when I was finding independence.  I have a sneaking suspicion it’s the same struggle I’m going to have until the day I die.  
And that’s okay.
Will gave me this tattoo that he got at a birthday party.  He said it was too girlish for him.  Ironically, I cried a little bit the day the last bits washed off.
Here’s where I am today, though.  In reality, I do, for the most part have it together.  I’m generally balanced, and on some level, I pride myself in being a rock for my family and friends.  I have never (nor will I ever) purport to have to it all figured out, but I think the nature of who I am to others makes people believe I’m a little bit superhuman.  I want to correct that misperception in part to take the pressure off myself, but mainly to help other people take the pressure off themselves.  We are not made to be superhuman.
The last month has been a bit strange for me.  I’ve had really good days and really bad days (which I blame on the fact that my husband got a vasectomy and I went off the pill and am thus a hormonal nightmare), but I know I’m moving in the right direction.  At first I thought I was feeling better because of the days I get up and and say "I choose to be happy."  But I've realized that what is far more important is forgiving myself for the days when I wake up and say "I'm not strong enough to be happy."
Putting this all out there is my way of banishing anger, bitterness, and resentment--the three ugly daughters of depression--from my kingdom.  Happiness might be sweeping floors now, but the glass slipper is in sight, and oddly enough, I am my own Prince Charming.


  1. That's heartbreaking, beautiful, and honest all at once. And one of the most thoughtful and inspiring things I have read in a long time. Thank you for posting it.

  2. I am always a phone call away Leia. Loved the honesty in this post and can totally relate to it.

  3. I just read this. I have to say I AM PROUD OF YOU!! You are like no other person. God intended it that way. We all learn from one another. You have shown me I am not alone in some of my feelings. Even though I know I'm not, it's nice to actually hear it!
    And I think you are pretty amazing!

  4. Thank you all for the kind words. I am constantly humbled by the response I've gotten to this post and grateful to have such kind people in my life.