But religion - and spirituality - is a completely different ball of wax.
One Thursday afternoon in mid-January, things were bad. I was in the thick of new baby exhaustion, had spent several days crying on and off, and found myself standing next to Noah's crib, rocking him and willing him to sleep. I just felt awful. "This family would be better off if I wasn't here," I thought, and then I let that thought hover in the air for a moment, repulsed and fascinated by it. I wasn't a threat to myself, I wasn't going to hurt myself, but I did contemplate leaving. I saw myself on a train, heading somewhere where no one knew me and no one expected anything of me, leaving Chris and Noah to a more peaceful existence without someone who was clearly not so good at mothering.
I called Chris at work and asked him to come home. He knew it was serious, so he left immediately and told his team he wouldn't be back the next day either. In the 18 minutes it took for him to walk home, I stood at the crib, rocking, ashamed that I was having these feelings, stupefied that the beautiful life I had led up to that moment was resulting in such shambles.
What does one do when they've reached the bottom? For me, the answer was surprising. Back in January I was months away from discovering Anne Lamott books... but the truth is that I started to pray. To whom, I have no idea. And it wasn't a complex or religious prayer either... I stood at the crib, I rocked Noah, and for 18 minutes while I waited for Chris to come home, I prayed.
My prayer was this: "helphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelp."
We called the midwives that afternoon and I was diagnosed over the phone with postpartum depression. We made a first therapy appointment for the next week and got the ball rolling so that our family could do whatever we needed to do for me to find my way. Later there would be a trip to the Bahamas for the sunshine and forming a mom's group and baby classes. But back then, for a few weeks, we were quietly and carefully constructing a plan. It was lonely and it was difficult and every time that Noah would wake up in the middle of the night, I would feed him and then I would pray:
Now it's June and we are well past the difficult moments of January. The past six months have probably been the most maturing and growing that I've done in my entire life. Part of that is Noah and learning to be a mother, but an enormous part of this is all of the reading and studying and thinking and reflecting (and yes, praying) that I've done. Because something in me snapped that day back in January when I realized that I needed help, that I cannot do this alone. And by this, I mean life.
I am allergic to religion. It is so polarizing, so political these days, that I have not had a taste for it. I grew up Christian but somewhere along the way I realized that I did not want to support anything that did not welcome gay people. I had loved the community and the kindness that I grew up with, but the academic side of my brain saw religion (all of them, not just Christianity) as strange, cultish type places whose intentions were not good.
So it was surprising to me when suddenly I decided to start church shopping in March. I found a church a few blocks from our apartment, a nice little place where the diversity is amazing and the music is wonderful. Most Sundays I attend church and I leave Noah in the nursery, where he flirts with everyone he encounters. I am actively practicing NOT JOINING, something that is very difficult for me because sometimes it feels like I sneeze and I'm signed up for 1500 extra-curriculars. Instead of joining, I show up at church and I sit for 60 minutes and I listen. Some of the stuff resonates with me and some of it doesn't, so I just let it float over my head.
My church doesn't feel like a cult. It feels like nice and thoughtful (and intelligent) people getting together to sing a little and think. It feels like old ladies who remember my name and pinch Noah's cheeks and give me the gift of exposure to an older and wiser generation. It feels like relief.
If I were to write the recipe for how I arrived here, June 11th, from mid-January, it would sound like this:
- Stop taking care of anyone but my son.
- Be really, really kind with myself and use the little energy I have at the end of the day to connect with things and people who make me feel great.
- Find communities (church, moms, and otherwise) where I can just show up, showered or not.
- Read lots of books, most of which were written by people who have appeared on Super Soul Sunday with Oprah.
- Even though it is sososososo hard, ask for help. Ask neighbors, ask friends, ask family, and ask the universe.
- Add mysterious magic.
It's the mysterious magic that fascinates me these days. I still don't know what I think; I don't know why praying the word "help" made me feel better or why I cry most Sundays in church or why I am reading four books at a time and keeping up with them all. I feel great - amazing, even. I'm curious about the world and everything beyond the world.
It is a very fruitful time in my life, which feels like a miracle given where I was six months ago.
Here are the books I've been reading. If you are having a tough time or wondering about mysterious magic or finding yourself with a long summer ahead of you without a book list, then maybe this will be inspiring. I've finished most of them, but there are a few that I'm still working my way through slowly, in the background. (* means I'm in the middle)
- Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott
- Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott
- Some Assembly Required by Anne Lamott
- Plan B by Anne Lamott
- Grace (Eventually) by Anne Lamott
- Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lamott
- This is Not the Story You Think it is by Laura Munson
- Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander
- Down Came the Rain by Brooke Shields
- A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas
- Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou
- Preemie by Kasey Mathews
- The Things That Matter by Nate Berkus*
- Many Minds, Many Masters by Brian Weiss
- Daring Greatly by Brene Brown*
- Miracles Happen by Brian Weiss*
- The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz*
- Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time by Marcus Borg*
I made this offer a few posts ago and got a few really powerful emails from people wanting some perspective, so I'll make it again. If you need someone to talk to, if you're having a tough time, or if you're wondering about all this stuff (aka life?) too, then please shoot me an email. Others have given me a hand in times of need and I'm very, very happy to pay that forward.