I think I’ve managed to climb out of the Dark Place. It took an intense fight with the Hubs, but I think it has lifted. It took a conversation with Jesus to get me there, honestly. I was at my wits’ end, again. Bubs is at the age where he can’t regulate his emotions and flies off into violent tantrums. Peanut is dealing with her own hormones and becomes a moody grump that doesn’t want to obey instruction. Hubs isn’t getting the emotional support he needs in all this so he starts to build up those defensive walls. By Saturday I had to just escape.
The power had been out all night thanks to an intense storm the night before, so I was a hot, sweaty, sleepy mess come morning. I decided to manually open my garage door and take the kids to the gym to get out of the house. But life happened and I ended up storming out alone not knowing where I would go or when I would return. I landed at Starbucks for an iced coffee, then washed my car and vacuumed it out. By that point I was ready to see my family again and came home. But I knew something had to change.
I know I can’t pray to change them, so I prayed to change me.
I know I can’t pray to change them, so I prayed to change me. I can’t pray, “Lord, let my husband see that I’m trying and that these mood swings aren’t me.” So instead I prayed, “Lord, these mood swings are hurting my marriage. Help me to manage them and to identify triggers that cause them.”
Talking to a good friend via text that morning, I realized that it was likely hormones creating this Dark Place and I thought back to what could be different. I think I found my answer. I ran out of NAC supplements last week. They are supposed to help with insulin levels and oxidation, but my reading has also brought up the idea that they could be a powerful supplement for depression. I ordered more. (I also ordered Vitex, which helps balance hormones and can relieve depression and anxiety, then realized that something that messes with hormones will also affect the effectiveness of birth control pills. Back away!).
Our church just started a new series called “Habits” this weekend and it thumped me right between the eyes. The first message in the series was very academic in nature, which I enjoyed. It dug into the root of how habits form. It was this idea of CUE > CRAVING > RESPONSE > RESULT. So something cues us, it could be a time of day or an emotional trigger. There is a result our brain craves, so it troubleshoots what response (action) it should take to get the result. If we are able to get the desired result we are likely to repeat that response every time there is a cue, until the repetition of it all creates a habit, or automatic response.
So for me there are a few bad habits, namely coping mechanisms involving food (specifically chocolate or McDonalds gravy biscuits) and retail (when I want to feel better about myself I buy something to enhance my physical appearance).
I’m actively trying to rewrite those habits into more productive and healthy responses. For instance, when I am emotionally stressed, I’ve started translating that physical energy into scrubbing something around the house. By the time the energy is gone, I feel better and my house is cleaner, making it less likely that I’ll get anxiety about messes later.
For “retail therapy” the cue is diminished self esteem, usually brought on by a comment about my weight or not seeing results at the end of a hard week. Instead of diving into Amazon or the Target app (because you don’t take Bubs to Target. That is a disaster), I research new recipes that can help me with my goals. I read research about what foods do what. When I’m out of that funk I’m armed with more knowledge to help me win the fight, and I’m also not broke.
According to the message this weekend, if I can keep redirecting my response to these cues I may build healthier habits.
The Big One
There is one last issue that I know I need to get under control: the irritability. This one specifically focuses on the kids. I guess I need to read some books or get some training in how to parent more effectively because sometimes these kids just don’t want to listen. I cannot fathom why a kid would want to go to the gym and when you direct him to put on his shoes it turns into a tantrum with shoes flying across the room. Now imagine situations like that, but multiplied and spread across entire days, weeks, months. And you can’t escape the little tyrants because one of them “has bad dreams” almost every night and comes to your bed.
I get jealous of the Hubs’ ability to leave and take care of grown-up drama at work
It makes you resentful and it makes you irritable. I get jealous of the Hubs’ ability to leave and take care of grown-up drama at work rather than the monotony of daily reminders like “don’t throw things at the TV” and “get your finger out of your nose.” Did you know I have to remind my kid to brush her teeth every morning and she pushes back on that? Seriously. The kid with thousands of dollars worth of orthodontia to date somehow thinks dental hygiene is optional, and reminding her is a hassle.
My kids are great kids when they go out into the world. They are sweet and respectful. Their teachers say all these wonderful things about how they do what they are told and are considerate. I hear about how I’m their safe space where they can unpack all those uglier emotions. So am I supposed to be OK with being the emotional punching bag for an entire family? Literally save the drama for your mama?
Part of what sends me into the Dark Place is this idea that I’m a household slave. That isn’t a phrase I think should be used lightly, but think about it: Someone who doesn’t get paid but is required to take care of all the domestic responsibilities, child care, appointments, bills and physical needs. No vacation. No resignation. No yearly performance review with the chance for promotion. It turns you from a human with your own thoughts and desires into a worker who is forced to do whatever the masters request — on demand, around the clock. I can allow myself to be treated like that or I can push back.
It turns you from a human with your own thoughts and desires into a worker who is forced to do whatever the masters request — on demand. I can allow myself to be treated like that or I can push back.
That is the Big One.
So back to reforming habits. If the cue is irritation from being the emotional punching bag for the kids or not getting respect, the new response I’m trying out is the idea of backing away and taking care of my own business. They won’t get the ugly energy that comes from trying to put the fear of God into them. Instead they won’t get any energy. I will direct it elsewhere into something that makes my life easier. And if that means they don’t get to go to an activity, or they are late to school, or their toy gets wrecked, so be it.
Since when is parenthood so all-engrossing that you have to sacrifice your entire self for humans that haven’t yet developed skills like moderation or self-control? It’s not like I don’t spend time enriching their lives or teaching them skills. They get positive reinforcement. They know I’m their biggest supporter. It is more that they need to see that I am a person with thoughts and interests AND emotions that I need to tend to myself.
Since when is parenthood so all-engrossing that you have to sacrifice your entire self for humans that haven’t yet developed skills like moderation or self-control?
I actively go out of my way to intentionally do things for myself these days. The Hubs commented at the pool yesterday about how I would have to tag in soon and start playing with the kids rather than leisurely floating around. Hard pass. They can play by themselves and are content in doing so. I’m going to float, cool off and contemplate my navel. I am actively creating quiet in a chaotic environment.
If I look at it really hard, the root of this irritation is the idea that my worth comes from how I am able to serve my family. Service through parenting, marriage, domesticity. When the kids are misbehaving or I’m fighting with Hubs or the house is a train wreck, those things aren’t indicators of my worth. Time to give myself a break — a habit break.