I have always had grand plans, high ambition, passion, and a desire to do it all myself. When I set a goal, I pursue it ruthlessly, and if you stand in the way of my plan—look out (I remember a college friend describing me as “bulldozing,” which upset me at the time, though I now see she was right). And so, in 2019, I got my teaching license. That same year, I began my first full time teaching position. When my husband told me at the beginning of 2020 that I needed to change something or resign, I accused him of being “stifling” and “controlling.” I could do it all, why didn’t he see that? I could be an excellent teacher, a great mother, and a wonderful wife. He just had to give me more time to figure it out—why couldn’t he be more patient with me?
And then in 2020, a series of unexpected, uncontrollable events happened. The pandemic, school shut downs, teaching from home, being pregnant with our beautiful baby girl. Suddenly, I couldn’t just fight my way out of my problems. I couldn’t ignore what was in front of me, although I sincerely tried to do so. All of it wore on me and finally culminated in PPA and PPD after the birth of our beautiful daughter in October.
I found myself having to stare in the face of the lie that I told myself over and over: I can do it all, I do not need help, and I will just power through everything and make it all work.
Slowly, I began accepting this as a lie. I resigned my teaching position and didn’t return from my maternity leave. I had planned and hoped to return to full time work in the fall. I began treatment for my PPD and PPA, but often stubbornly insisted that I was “just fine” and sometimes failed to schedule appointments. I threw myself into blogging as a creative outlet.
I found myself crashing again. I was still trying to do it all and do it without help. Suddenly, everything fell away. All the threads of my identity, all the things that I considered to be myself…they fell away. I wasn’t teaching anymore, I didn’t want to teach anymore, I was now home, I was struggling, I didn’t recognize my physical body in the mirror, and I suddenly found myself looking in the mirror and wondering: “Who am I?”
I threw myself into reading. I read The Anti-Mary Exposed by Carrie Gresser, The Sunshine Principle by Melody Lyons, Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, The Temperament God Gave You by Art and Larraine Bennet, Eat Smarter by Shawn Stevenson, In Over Our Heads by Robert Kegan, and a few others. Slowly, I began to see that I had been seeking to define myself by my roles and by what others think of me.
I had been asking all the wrong questions.
I had been asking, “Who do others say that I am?” and “Who do I say that I am?” instead of “Who does Christ say that I am and wish me to be?”
I worked through childhood wounds. I worked through negative patterns of behavior. I am still doing this work; it is difficult and painful. But most of all, I worked through the lie: that I can do it all myself, that I do not need others, that I can power through all my problems instead of facing them in humility.
The Anti-Mary Exposed showed me the lie of the “I can do it myself” attitude. It showed me the bitterness that I had carried into my marriage and life as a mother, the poison that I was willingly drinking. Her work showed me that my resentment toward the work of my home came from a den of snakes that wished to devour myself and my children. I began to see that my rebellious spirit that wished to rebel against the leadership of my husband was a result of a dangerous message fed to us by our culture: that a woman does not need a man, that she do can do everything, that woman should not be “imprisoned” by her spouse.
The Sunshine Principle and Eat Smarter challenged my thoughts about food, medicine, and healing. I began to see the opportunity to practice St. Therese’s little way even in my choices around food and exercise, seeing that choosing health is choosing the ability to better serve my family, and that I can choose health through the small, daily little things.
I am still working through In Over Our Heads, but I know it will challenge my patterns of thinking and encourage me to stop defining myself through the lens of my relationships with others and instead seek to engage in Christ motivated self-authorship (an area of scholarship my husband explored in his Master’s thesis).
We carry lies with us constantly, accepting them as truth. When dealing with anxiety or depression, these lies become our reality: You are not enough. You cannot be enough. Nothing will change. You cannot change. You have to do this all by yourself.
There is a reason that Satan is called both the Great Deceiver and the Father of Lies. He seeks to whisper these deceits into our ear as if they were sweet nothings, repeating them again and again to our hearts until our hearts begin to repeat them as a beating drum, sounding in our ears, deafening truth, drowning us in despair.
Untangling these lies within our hearts requires staring them in the face, recognizing them as false, and humbly handing them over to Our Blessed Mother. She whose heel crushed the snake will gently hold our hearts, rooting out all the painful deceits we have come to believe. It is not always easy work, but it is work with doing. If we are to truly live out our faith, we must live it out in truth. We must truly know ourselves, and that means understanding our deepest faults and wounds. For if we cannot know our faults and wounds, we cannot bring them to Christ, and if we cannot offer our wounds to Christ, he cannot pour His Mercy over them, and if our wounds are unable to receive Christ’s mercy, they will fester, spreading to our whole selves, poisoning not only our own body, but the Body of Christ itself.
In our baptism, we have died and been raised in Christ. Our struggle is in continuing to choose that self-death, so that Christ may live in our hearts rather than trying to fill our hearts with empty and vain things. For Christ can only fill what we have emptied out, and his Divine Mercy reaches into our hearts only insofar as we allow Him to reach. We must return again and again to the Cross, embracing our sufferings, embracing our vocations, and asking Christ to reign over us. For our identity can only be found in Him, and we must always be first a son or daughter of God. Our hearts yearn for truth, who is Christ, and Christ, who is Love. In finding our identity in Christ, we answer the deepest longings of our hearts and crush the lies that Satan wishes to feed our souls, and in doing so, we can allow others to do the same.
Allowing Christ to form me is not an easy task, and often my pride gets in the way. Frequent confession (minimum once a month) has helped in increasing my willingness to serve my family. For in that sacrament, I am humbled. My soul is laid bare before Christ, and he loves me, even in all my sin and littleness. Confession helps to keep me humble, to help me to say “Fiat” rather than “Non serviam.” Little by little, Christ chips away at all my attachments, and I am made new. I am made whole. And in that wholeness, I find I am better able to serve, to be present, to love.