My Dragon

What I know for sure…asking for help helps
One of the ways I am taking care of “Mommy” in this new year is by attending a restorative/ meditative yoga session once a week. At the end of each session, the teacher shares a meditation or spiritual teaching. Recently she told the story of Milarepa, a Tibetan saint, and his dragon. The story goes that this mythic character found himself in the woods one day, being chased by a dragon. He ran away from it to escape into his cave, where the sense of dread and fear lingered like a heavy blanket. This continued to happen to Milarepa, and he continued to run, to be chased, and to escape. But the dragon was always waiting for him in the woods the next day. Finally, Milarepa stopped running. He turned towards the dragon and invited the dragon back to his cave for tea, at which point the dragon receded into the woods, never to bother Milarepa again. Once he turned toward it, it began to lose its power over him. Once he mustered the courage and wisdom to face his dragon, he did not have to slay it. He simply confronted it, made peace with it.

What is your dragon? What reality or challenge or dream are you running away from, trying to ignore, and struggling to escape? Is it catching up with you? Does it keep showing up in startling and frightening ways, interrupting your peaceful walk in the woods? What is the dragon that you need to have the courage to turn to face, to address, to acknowledge, perhaps to conquer through pro-action? What is the difficult reality, broken relationship, addiction, or regret that you need to try to stop out-running so that you can take back your power, your sense of security in the woods? For me, the dragon is depression. I have recently confronted the dragon, acknowledging his presence in my life, taking action to take back my control, and the dragon has receded into the woods. I feel as though I have been liberated from the darkness of my cave, from the heaviness of that ever-present blanket of dread and insecurity, into the light of joy and peace. And I know my dragon is still out there, but I feel much more prepared to face him now with a sense of acceptance, because I have some tools to deal with him. (But I don’t plan on inviting him back for tea anytime soon…)

I want to share my journey with you moms in case your dragon is also depression. Maybe you haven’t realized it yet. It took me a long time to figure it out, but now that I’m on the other side of the realization (thanks to some therapy and medication), it seems clear that my dragon was keeping me from being myself. I think because “myself'” is an outgoing, optimistic, loving, effusive, highly-productive person, and because I was still that person some of the time, it was hard for me or others to consider the word “depression” for what I was going through. When I first went to the psychiatrist in January, he asked me some questions about symptoms – did I ever feel sleepy, sluggish, irritable, isolated, anxious, worried, overwhelmed, guilty, inadequate?   I laughed at him. “Isn’t this how all mothers feel?“, I asked. I thought these feelings were just “normal” for this stage in my life, for my circumstances – raising 2 young children, working, having a frequently-absent husband. And the truth is that these feelings are normal some of the time, but for me, they had become too much, too often, too debilitating. They had begun to interfere with my relationships (mainly with my husband and children) in negative ways that only added to my sadness. They had begun to to make it hard for me to muster the energy. motivation, and cheery personality for my teaching, though I always managed to. Because I continued to reflect, to write,  to think, to read,  to  learn,  to create,  and to serve, my struggle with this demon was not intolerable. Sometimes there were good days, and wonderful experiences. Perhaps that is why I thought the struggle was normal. But, the good news is that, with medication, I no longer feel that I am struggling, and I have a new and much better “normal.” I am no longer as “on edge” with my children. I am much better able to handle their upset in appropriate, teachable, loving ways. I am much better able to handle the “chaos” of motherhood, of a household with 2 creative, messy, bossy, strong-willed children. The medicine has helped me to be the kind of mother and wife that I want to be, that I have always been in my best moments. I feel like I am myself again.

I asked Dustin if it I was “cheating” by taking the drugs, and he asked me if I think that people with diabetes are cheating by taking insulin. Here is Dr. Dustin’s helpful spiel on the subject: “Many people wrongly believe depression is a sign of “weakness” or “inability to handle stress” or some other personal failing, and that with just a little more strength or effort, it can be overcome.  But that isn’t true.  It’s a real medical condition with a biochemical basis, and just like diabetes, high cholesterol or thyroid disease, it can’t be overcome with willpower alone.  As with those medical conditions, the treatment is to replace the hormone or chemical that is lacking.  We don’t know why this happened, but at least we now know what it is.”  And to me, this is a relief.

I think my depression and anxiety have probably always been there to some degree, since my teenage years. I have always felt and fought passionately, loved and lost exquisitely, grieved and given gratitude vigorously. And there is nothing wrong with this, but the intensity has sometimes caused me unnecessary pain, and the anxiety has always caused me unnecessary stress.  I have told many of you that I believe I suffered from post-partum depression during the difficult first year with Ellie. And though I experienced a re-birth and renewal of myself and my life when the difficulties of that year had passed, when I began getting more sleep, when Dustin was around more to help, when we were no longer crammed in a little apartment, when I began pursuing some of my own interests and passions, I now believe the depression lingered. Though it subsided for a while, it really reared its head in the final months of 2011 which were extremely challenging for me, following the death of my grandmother, facing the stress of the fellowship “match”, the financial uncertainty of my new business and blog, the increased defiance of my children (which I now know was related to my own overreactions and desire for control), challenges in my marriage, increasing sciatica pain, all in combination with the normal daily grind.  Now that I have faced my dragon head-on, treating my depression with not only daily medication, but also with daily walks in nature, daily naps, daily connections with adults, and a healthy diet; all of these challenges have been made easier, and there is much more joy in my daily grind!

You might be surprised that I am willing to share this personal story. That is what my blog is about – honesty, sharing of feelings, ideas, reflections, knowledge, so that no parent has to feel alone on this journey. If reading this chapter of my life helps any of you, I am happy to be an “open book”. I want you to feel free to talk to me about my dragon. To ask me how I’m doing. To ask me questions about my journey to wholeness. Some of you are going through incredible life changes and struggles – divorce, miscarriages, chemotherapy, cholicky babies, tantrum-throwing toddlers, loss of a parent, loss of a career…some of you are struggling with just the normal stresses of daily life  – balancing work and family, balancing internal and external expectations. Don’t try to go through these challenges alone or without help. We women tend not to ask for help, wanting to handle everything on our own.  We think it shows strength of character. This woman, this Mommy disagrees. Your struggle will be made easier by reaching out, your character will be made stronger by getting help and support. I’m so thankful I finally did, and so is my family. I wish you peace with your dragon.

{I would love for you to join me for more conversation on this topic and more at my next Intentional Parenting 2012 Seminar, “Who’s Mothering Mommy?“. Next Monday, Feb. 27th. We will discuss what the research says about the importance of Mommy-care in relation to the emotional health of our children. We will discuss what brings you peace, joy, and sanity as a parent, and brainstorm ways to nurture yourself along the journey. Click for more Info on My Meetup Page }

 

Comments

  1. Tamara says:

    Such a great post and topic to broach!

  2. Jake says:

    Nice one. And it’s not just women who tend not to ask for help. It’s all of us. It takes a lot of courage to admit that we need help, to accept our state, and to ask for the help we need. Thanks for your courage, and I’m so glad you’ve got a leash on that dragon!

  3. Melanie says:

    What a gift to have the courage to face your dragon, the medical expertise available to “equip” you, and the money to “purchase” the tools. I’m so grateful for your courage and openness. Thank you for taking the time – and the risk – to share this so others will feel less alone. We all need various kinds of help to face our various kinds of dragons. Way to go, Mommy Manders!

  4. Irina says:

    Lowry, thank you for sharing this with all of us, this is tremendously important.
    I think there are a lot of factors contributing to depression in mommies of young children. These are very energetic creatures, loving to assert themselves no matter what time/situation it is. As a mommy of a 28 month-old “terrible twoer”, I can very much attest to the feeling of utter loss of control when the child is being especially willful. We try to be the best mommies possible, and blame ourselves first when the reality does not fit the perfect picture in our head. “My baby insists on running around the house naked and refuses to eat anything but strawberries. Where did I fail?” It does not occur to us naturally to relax and just enjoy the sight of mischief. We tend to blame ourselves for any deviation from (our) expectations. Add chronic, long-standing sleep deprivation (this is HUGE!), constant need for multitasking, outside-of-home pressures. It’s no wonder mommies get depressed.
    This subject is often (more often than not) overlooked, because mommies are usually not complainers, and they think that if only they work a little harder, things will get better. There was an article in Washington Post recently that spoke about introverts. I was very happy to see it; I feel that a lot of my feelings as an introvert were validated. I think an article about what you discuss here is just as long overdue.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    This is very courageous. A friend of mine with twins made a similar “confession” to me last week. I told her I thought she seemed so not stressed and coping well with the demands of the two little ones, and a husband who works 12 hour days, 6 days a week. She told me she had seen a counselor for depression recently and gotten some medication that was helping her tremendously and that she was truly able to enjoy her life and little ones so much more since then. Admitting you need help is good all around–for the marriage and the children. For me I have to exercise a few days per week and I work 5-10 hours per week writing as well. My mom recently commented that it seems I am doing “too much” and why not let the work go? I had to admit to her that the work was just for me–my time to connect with a skill set I had all but given up since having kids and just to be alone and productive doing a totally different kind of work. We all have to find what works for us so we can be the best mothers (and wives) possible. There is no shame in admitting it and seeking help but unfortunately that feels like a failure to too many women. Thanks for helping advance this conversation!

  6. Alaire says:

    Maybe the most important blog post you could write! Asking for help is truly the first step to getting what we need. Your courage, honesty,openness and generosity in sharing this modern American story will make some miracles happen for other moms, I’m sure. Bless you, Lowry!

  7. Erin says:

    Thank you for sharing such a personal story. Depression runs in my family and I know I battle it regularly. One thing that has helped me immensely is intense exercise — I’m talking the heavy sweat-inducing kind. I seriously used to let it go in one ear and out the other about how exercise can help with depression, and I struggled to find the motivation to get off the couch. But I’ve been committed to regular exercise now for over a year and I can really see the improvements in my mindset. Joining a gym that has childcare has been one of the best decisions I’ve made as a mother. At first I worried that it was selfish of me to drag my children to a gym daycare that most certainly has lots of germs, but that one hour there makes me a better parent the rest of the day. The endorphins I get from exercise make such a difference. The days I do not exercise I can truly tell I don’t handle stress as effectively. Anyway! I so appreciate you posting about your depression and wish you the best. Thank you!

  8. Adrienne says:

    That you have faced this dragon of yours is wonderful. Anything that tries to keep the singing, giving, loving, and inspiring Mommy Manders in a cave should be fought off valiantly and in great numbers. Yes, asking for help is essential…and shining a light for others, what you have done with this post, so that they can see they are not alone and deserve help fighting their dragons, too, well, that is selfless. Thank you.

  9. Julia says:

    Your story is my story, exactly! What a gift it is to find others through our writing. Please, come and find me at http://bravevibrations.blogspot.com/2010_07_01_archive.html
    You have a soul sister!

  10. Shannon says:

    Thanks for sharing. This is exactly how I’m feeling and I hope that I am able to get the support I need.

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