Learning to Love Myself

2017 has been an interesting year for me. On one hand I had a nervous breakdown and on the other hand I had an emotional breakthrough. But that is just how my God works.

In January my life long struggle with anxiety hit an all-time high. I still can’t go into all of the details because I’m just not ready. But as I am coming out of this fog I can share with you some of the cool things that have happened during my recovery.

When I realized just how serious and debilitating my condition was I hit the ground running trying to get better. I reached out to friends. I saw a counselor. I went to my doctor. I got on some medicine. I practiced more yoga. And then I did something that I’ve never tried:

I went to a hypnotherapist.

I know. I wasn’t so sure what I thought about that either. My counselor actually recommended this therapist otherwise I’m not sure that I would have sought one out. I had no idea what to expect. Was I going to be “out of control”? I felt very vulnerable letting someone “into my mind”. But I know that the Holy Spirit protects me so I decided to give it a shot.

The whole process was very positive and enjoyable. In fact- it reminded me very much of when I practiced visualization and spoke positive affirmations over myself in preparation for Amera’s (very successful and highly satisfying) home birth.

I won’t give you all the details but one thing that we did was extremely impactful. I have thought about it every day since. The therapist asked me to visualize a time when I was extremely anxious. Immediately I saw myself sitting on a hotel bed in Disney World (the happiest place on earth- I know.) with my children surrounding me.

They had no idea that mommy was crumbling inside. I looked terrified, sad and defeated. My eyes were full of tears and the lines between them were deep. I felt what that Bonnie was feeling: panic. Her vision blurry. Her heart was racing. Her hands were shaking. She wanted to scream. To cry. To run. She wanted to be anywhere but inside her own body.

He asked the present me, to go to that scared me. “Knowing that you make it out of that episode, how would the you now comfort the you then?” Suddenly I was no longer a spectator. I was in the room facing this months younger version of myself and I was overcome with compassion. I walked towards her.

I’m not sure why I was so surprised by what I did next. If it were another family member or friend sitting there my response would have been completely natural and authentic. I sat down on the edge of the bed, hurting for this version of myself. I wanted to hold her. To tell her that she was going to be ok. To make the yuckiness go away.

And then I leaned forward…and kissed myself on the forehead. The warmth of my actual tears streaming down my face temporarily awakened my conscience mind from my trance. The older me was comforting the younger me, and I understood the lesson. I have to love myself. I have to show self-compassion when I feel scared or hurt or flawed. I need to be a friend…to me.

I am drawn to people who are hurting. I want to encourage them and stand beside them through the pain. So why not myself? I have always heard of loving yourself to feel worthy and loved and enough, but I needed this very real visual to remind me that I can make my own situation better or worse depending on my self-talk. My thoughts about who I am are powerful. And so are my words.

So I have decided to practice loving myself. Feeling shame doesn’t do one thing to help me become the best version of me. If I’m struggling, I will be extra kind. If I’m not happy with my body I will say beautiful things to it- holding thankfulness in my heart. If I am fearful or sad I will not run. I will acknowledge my feelings and give myself time and space to make the next best decision. If I feel like a failure, I will pick myself up and try again.  And when I’m overwhelmed- I will laugh.

Instead of my worst critic I will be my biggest supporter, because

I am LOVED. I am WORTHY. I am ENOUGH.

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Recovering Homeschool Mom

This past year was hard. I homeschooled my older two kids (1st and 2nd grade) and made up “work” for my little one in the days she wasn’t in preschool. I was SO excited about it. I transformed our never-eaten-in dining room into a beautiful school room with maps on the walls, bookshelves, a white board, a free-play area with legos and games and even an adorable reading nook with a fluffy rug. I was ready.

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No one in my circle of friends and family ever suggested that I homeschool my kids. If anything I felt the “pull” towards traditional school but I somehow just knew that we would homeschool. I loved the idea of it all- the freedom, the relaxing environment, the time with my babies.

 

Looking back I now see that fear was also factor in my decision. I was fearful of my kids going to “real” school. Not because of the academics (although I’m not crazy about the new math), but because of what they might be exposed to unrelated to education. Not to mention they wouldn’t be under my direct supervision at ALL times.

People would make comments like, “I could NEVER do that.” or “I could homeschool (insert calm child’s name here) but NEVER (insert wild child’s name here.) And I judgingly thought, “You’re the parent? How could you NOT be able to teach your kid? (if you wanted to) You love them the MOST!” Parenting for me has been a steady diet of my own words.

The first couple of weeks were everything I hoped them to be. The kids were excited. I was excited. I loved read-aloud time on the couch, hammock or porch. But then the newness wore off and we got down to the work of school. I tried to make it fun and tailored to their interests. We would slow down on hard days and ride the wave of great days. I was giving it/them my all.

But my kids weren’t treating  me like their teacher. I know this because I SAW how they treated their preschool teachers. (and their teachers always loved them) I got a lot of push back and things never seemed to get easier. I’m sure it’s universal to complain to your mom instead of someone else. I still do. (So sorry mom.) So at the end of most days I was worn out and frustrated and so were they. And then I would have to magically become mom again and be nice to them. I had a difficult time with this:  You were a whiny pain in the butt all morning and now you want a sandwich?! Go make your own flippin’ sandwich! And I assume you want clean underwear in the morning? And a snuggle and a story at bedtime? It was too much. I never found the balance.

Mr. Right was super supportive and sympathetic but I could tell my wearing thin was wearing thin on him as well. Daily he would come home to a joyless wife. Not good. I remember a particularly low point when my mom said something to me that woke me up, “No school is more important than your marriage.” That resonated with me. I was suffering and WE were suffering.

At some point (we are slow learners) we acknowledged that this wasn’t working for our family. We had hit a breaking point. And just to be sure we were picking up the signals, my mind started breaking down as well. I have always struggled with anxiety, but I guess you could say that I have been successful at keeping it at bay. Well, in January of this year the dam broke and debilitating anxiety flooded me. It is too soon for me to write much detail about it but I was suddenly forced to focus on me. I had to get better or things were not going to be ok for anyone in my family.

There was no way I was going to continue to homeschool. The deep desire I had to do so was suddenly absent, and I was left with questions and worries. What were we going to do? We researched private schools and were in sticker shock after multiplying tuition by three. We talked about homeschool co-ops for a short minute until I bravely said out loud, “I don’t want to homeschool anyone. Ever.” That was freeing.

Mr. Right kept bringing up our local public elementary school and I kept shooting him down. Who cared if it was one of the best schools in one of the best counties? Who cared that the teachers (God bless teachers) didn’t want to leave that small school that felt like family. Who cared that the staff and families lived in our neighborhood and went to our salon and attended our church? I had to protect my children!

Here is what I did care about: I cared about protecting my marriage. I cared about my kids making friends and feeling part of their community. I cared about my sanity and health. And I cared about not feeling alone. So I did what any good mother would do. I got on some medicine so I could think clearly, I talked to a counselor and I prayed. And prayed. And prayed some more.

And slowly through the fog His answer became clear. My children are His children. I cannot control everything about their lives. I have to trust that He will lead them when I am not around. And I can’t effectively “mother” them when I am worn down to an emotional and physical mess. As Brene Brown so expertly put it, my breakdown was also my spiritual awakening.  

I had to relinquish my imaginary control over my kid’s lives and trust that God would lead our family and each of our children down the right path. There were so many clues that homeschool wasn’t working: a strained relationship with my husband, strained relationships with my children, a nervous breakdown. And as my heart, being backed into a corner, accepted our reality I soon began to see positive glimpses of our future.

I talked to family, friends, parents, teachers & my counselor and everything pointed us toward the next step: public school. By now I had to laugh because I certainly tried to avoid this. But I paused and even though it was a different time, I thought back to when I was in school. I loved school because I love people. Anyone who has met my kids knows they will talk your ear off and play you a song and show you a handstand, because they love people too. And then the next step was illuminated, and peace overwhelmed me.

It isn’t going to be perfect, but I know it is where He wants us to be. He has called us to be Salt and Light. I still worry: Are my kids salty and bright enough? Are they weird because I homeschooled them or are they just weird? ( they’re just weird) But I have more peace today than I have in a long dang time. I’ve enjoyed these strangely quiet afternoons as I sit in my office writing…and waiting for the school bus. And I am enjoying getting to know my husband better in this new season, and investing in our marriage.

By the way- I think homeschool is awesome…for all of the reasons I set out to do it in the first place. But children, families and mommas need different things in different seasons. So we are walking in the light that we have until he reveals more of the path. And for me the light came in the form of a bright yellow school bus. Will I ever homeschool again? I’ve learned to never say never because God likes jacking with my plans. But it is a little like asking a mother in the delivery room if she wants more kids: Too soon.

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