Quelling The Rage Monster
My beloved teacher Alison Armstrong also discusses in her magnificent talk “Understanding Women” the concept of a rage monster. This is when insult piles up upon injury and women (because men don’t generally do this) stuff it all down, put smiles on their faces, and continue to nurture everybody else and everything around her. She has a running tally, according to Armstrong, called the “petty offense file”. One day, she can’t stuff down one more offense and she blows her lid. Similar to what I did at the doctor’s office. This, friends, is when some sorry fella meets the rage monster.
If my husband too busy to take the baby, I hired babysitters starting when my son was 6 months old who I trusted who could come over while I did my own share of tinkering, hiking, writing, or napping.
If my family wasn’t showing empathy for my PPD, I’d reconnect with beloved friends who showed support for me.
There were a lot more take-out dinners. But I began to feel like myself again. That’s what you do. You have a kid and it’s inherently the most selfless job in the world.
Instead of rushing around like I did during my fourth trimester trying to be everything to everybody, I finally gave in. I hauled ass every day as a wife, mother, coworker, and host; but when I started to get lost in it all, I stopped. I took the sleep I could get when I could get it. And above all, the rage monster stayed away for longer and longer periods of time.
A New Man In My Life…
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christʼs power may rest on me.” 2 Cor. 12:9
My son wasn’t the only new man in my life. I reconnected with God during my pregnancy after many years of a dormant spiritual life.
I’ll keep this part of my postpartum recovery short with this simple story.
One day I lamented to my friend Tracie that I desperately wanted help with the baby and I needed tips on how to stop resenting my husband around the issue. I told her I’d read a dozen books on the subject (Audible, really. Who has time to pick up a book when you have a baby?!) I explained that I’d been listening to counselors on YouTube and had even connected with a therapist in town and another on Skype.
She said these simple words, “why aren’t you trying to let the God of Everything help you?”
Ironically I had actually spent the better part of my pregnancy and postpartum life having a wildly awesome reconnection with God. And then suddenly I hit PPD and instead of relying on God, I was reading books, using tricks, and relying exclusively on human wisdom to help with all my problems. Problem is, many of my problems were spiritual in nature. Tracie conveyed something utterly simple and yet profound to me. WHOA. I need to give this stuff to God. Not in a passive way, but in an active way.
Active submission to God has empowered me with a faith that improves my mood, floods my soul with optimism, and recognition of the sublime miracles that happen every day.
2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “But he said to me, ‘my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
From this I took refuge in the fact that I didn’t have to have it all together. I didn’t have to be smiling every moment of the day. I didn’t have to be in perpetual recognition of good things. Sometimes I needed to mourn and weep in order to flush out the clouds in my life.
Romans 8:26 states, “… The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intervedes for us through wordless groans.”
The sweet spirit of God began to comfort my heart. I began to give total, sweet surrender to Him. When I was hitting a wall, I didn’t search for a more clever trick or tactic. I stopped, said a prayer, put on music, and relied on Him to meet my needs. I began to see Him ministering in that dark time of my PPD. Indeed, his Power was made perfect in my weakness! And how weak I was.
I look at the woman who was fumbling around with a half-hearted relationship with God a year ago and see how the light of God has exploded in my life now (with dedication to prayer, study, worship, and devotion to Him). I can’t even recognize her.. but I do love her and want to wrap my arms around her and tell her it’s going to all be okay!
Reengaging My Sapiosexual
Perhaps as taxing as the sleeplessness and relationship fatigue during postpartum was my mental exhaustion. There were days I woke up dreaming of the moment my son would go back to sleep. I didn’t hate my son, but I began to get really, really tired of singing “E-I-E-I-O” and reading the same wordless board books with him over and over again.
I’ve always been a sapiosexual. With few exceptions, I’ve always dated the most intelligent men I know. In high school and college it was Greg, the brilliant, rigid, devoted musician and academic whiz. Later it was Jake, a tortured philosopher and, coincidentally, musician. Finally, my husband Robert. He literally doesn’t do anything at less than a level 10 and he has a striking mind for business. I, too, have always had a bend towards philosophy, foreign languages, apologetics, and other such nerd things. But as a mom, my voluptuous mind became emaciated.
What’s more, I suffered from severe mommy guilt about getting a sitter for some “me” time. I’m a total introvert. I’m fine chatting with friends and partying to an extent, but I always prefer the comfort and silence of my own room with a book. I’ll stay home over going to a party 10 times out of 10.
After I sold the tea company, I couldn’t fathom hiring a sitter so that I could get some “me” time; I felt too much like I was already “not working” and it would be the epitome of a spoiled princess move. I know, total crappola.
Then these words changed my life:
Show the same love for yourself that you’d show your best friend.
Suddenly I envisioned my best friend desperately needing a nap, a hike, some time to read a book with an actual pen in her hand, or some time to not feel like a mom but to feel like a woman. Of-freaking-COURSE I would want her to have that time!
More importantly, I realized that I was working. Not 40 hours a week. Not 50 hours a week. I was with my son precisely 168 hours per week. My husband still wasn’t taking him for even 15 minutes at a stretch at this time. We were still cosleeping. (Hell, we still are.) I had never worked so hard in my entire life.
So I finally found some reliable babysitters. One woman in particular was a vision of feminine light, love, and grace. Elizabeth was a singer and actress with palpable optimism and lust for life. She was thin and lovely and had wavy blond hair like a fairy tale princess. She was a horse trainer and worked part time at Whole Foods. My son was one of two families she cared for. Undoubtedly, both of us families wanted the other to take a long vacation so we could have more of this “Disney Princess” in our kids’ lives.
Finding a woman with who genuinely loved my son freed me up to show myself some love. I did that neither by going and getting massages and pedicures every week, nor by working out to extreme for a six-pack. Rather, I used this time to write a book. It started as a series of letters to my friends who were desperate to know how my son and I traveled so expertly together. It became a behemoth of a letter, over 82,000 words. So I got an editor to help with some spelling and organizational quirks and voila- I wrote a book on baby travel.
Writing was a way for me to engage with my most fundamental need for significance and achievement in life à la Strengthsfinder 2.0.
That book was one of the most important ways that I healed in my postpartum life. Writing for me is like somebody else playing chess or golf. It’s a game I thrive in and feel desperate to play every single day. It’s also something that I hadn’t had the time to do for many months. I was drying up inside, wilting on the vine. Reconnecting with my passions, as quirky as they are, helped me heal tremendously from the PPD I had until my son was 3 months old.
In addition, for the times I couldn’t get a babysitter but was dying for intellectual stimulation, I loved to listen to books on Audible. Since my son was born I’ve devoured no less than 70 books on Audible, some fiction but mostly non-fiction. I’ve been thereby able to keep up with the hottest trends in business, biographies, marketing, and the overall movements in the world around me despite my not being in the workforce or even getting the chance to check my Facebook more than twice a week.
Reconnecting with my adult intellectual mind also helped me stop having nightmares about my son. I live in the mountains and tend to obsess over mountain lions coming into our yard and eating my child. I know, it’s perverse. But the nightmares almost totally ceased when my rational mind started to get a little more massaging.
The Ultimate Balance
As a relatively new mom, there are still things I make too hard for myself. I know that I could snag an extra 30 to 90 minutes of self-care at nights by allowing my son to watch television, movies, or home videos on my cell phone. But I have made a commitment to no screens until he’s 2. (The exception is home videos on my cell phone when we’re in a restaurant and I need to placate him or leave the premises.) The studies I’ve read about screens and children’s brains have given me a very firm stance on this issue. Perhaps with a second child I’ll relent. Either way, I’ll do my best and love myself through the rest.
Today is September 24, 2016. My son is 18 months old.
I’m driving in the car after an uplifting church service and my son is wailing for no apparent reason. The piercing screech is so loud that it makes my face contort and cringe.
I think about when he’ll be 5, 10, 15, or 25. The problems will not be with car seat confinement. They may be with drugs, depression, or hopelessness. He may hate his teachers, his job, or his wife. The problem won’t be that I nursed him all night long and we’re both lacking sleep. It may be that he’s in real danger. For the time being, he’s completely safe in my arms and the most complex danger in his world is contracting a cootie on the playground. I smile amidst the crying. In the timeline of my life as a woman, a wife, and as a mother; I want to remain fully present in this sweet moment.