Published on June 27th, 2013 | by Amy Jane Helmericks
Strength is Overrated: Weakness Is Allowed
The short, bitter version is that I thought I could do it all, and I was wrong.
The longer, more compassionate version is that I never saw it as inappropriate to “do it all.” It didn’t seem like too much, at first.
I was home, by choice, in a house I loved, with a husband who honored my work. My first baby was so easy that adding another baby less than 18 months later didn’t feel like a problem. And my recently widowed grandmother came over frequently, balancing my life and personally encouraging me.
Less than two years after that, I brought baby #3 home, and now my precious, best-friend grandma was sick. She died 10 weeks after #3 was born.
This latest baby was even more sensitive than my demanding #2, but I’d attended a class shortly before #3 was born, and it gave me the skills I needed to manage his increased sensitivity. I was thankful for the class and used what I’d learned, chalking up his more-tightly-wound sensibilities to personality differences.
Now I wonder if it was an indicator of the increasing stress I carried in my body along with him.
I felt that I had a better life than most of the people I met, and that perception created a quiet desperation in me to prove I was worthy of the great goodness I had received.
So I worked harder (tried harder, at least) even though it felt increasingly pointless.
Nothing stayed done!
The thing is, I had no experience or means by which to determine natural limits– what my limits should be. That place where I could stop and say, “It is enough.”
At the same time, I was really close to “having it all together.” At least, that’s what it seemed like—this carrot, just out of reach. If I pushed myself, my house could be spotless, after the kids went to bed. If I stayed up late.
So I’d proven it possible.
Compliments were not appreciated. I’m sure they were meant to encourage me, but considering how hard I had to work to earn them they set the bar exhaustingly high.
As a smart, determined woman, I knew I had to be able to figure out this stuff: how to manage my home, run my life, and be purposeful with my three children. I’d run the numbers so many times: on paper, days ‘sheared into fragments’ really did have enough time to do everything I thought I should.
What no one ever warned me about was the something extra I’d need to keep my brain from eating me alive.
I read once about a woman who spoke of her “lion.” The thing inside her that needed to be fed constantly or it made its presence known in unwelcome ways.
I thought “being present for my kids” meant one thing, and without something to “feed my lion,” the draining necessities of detail-management in daily life siphoned away the energy I needed to be that way. One of my biggest “guilty pleasures” was when a child had some sort of problem I could apply my energies to– then I could feel like a cohesive whole, my skills growing with my children.
I always needed a challenge: something to stretch myself and force me to adapt in a way that made me stronger. Something to keep the lion-part of my brain busy. I gauged each challenge by how interesting it was, rather than by any objective criteria like load-limits or tradeoffs in hours or energy.
Operating past ideal limits didn’t mess me up too badly in my college years, but after birthing three children in just-over three years, my body was whupped.
I can’t remember the first time I heard the old parable about the time-jar and how you must “put the big rocks in first” to make sure the important parts of your life fit before you fritter away your time on less important things—the sand and water that fill the cracks.
Let me tell you, if you’ve never heard it before:
Fueling yourself needs to be one of those big rocks.
Sleep. Recreation (that restores, not depleting you further!). Time alone or with friends that leave you more happy and peaceful than you were before.
Without these things to keep the lion at bay, you could be doing everything “right” and still be exhausted, agitated, and cranky (Seriously! I had a “perfect” week or so where I proved this).
Getting all your doing right is not enough to feel healthy and alive and good about yourself. I say this because I told myself for a long time that *I* was the problem: that if *I* could just be personally disciplined and get the *right system* in place I could do. it. all.
And that is a Lie.
There is always more to do.
After a few years I added homeschooling, then the economy tanked and we put our house on the market to eliminate our debt. Our family’s health tanked too.
I found some food sensitivities to blame and added re-learning how to cook to my already-at-capacity life.
I also became suddenly aware of an injustice that was beyond my reach to change or rectify, aware of my intense helplessness in the face of pain I could touch but not fix.
All along my journey, I accumulated stresses like straw (or hay bales) on the camel’s back, finally collapsing under their weight.
Considered individually, the choices (homeschooling, moving) were not too much, but along with the enormous things I could not control, the stresses’ cumulative effect was to smother me. Once I was down, removing that last straw (whatever it was) was not enough to restore me.
I staggered under that load for two years. I would start to get better, which would let me see how deep I’d been buried, then I would slide back down– terrified– not knowing why or how.
“Depression” was a term I was willing to accept, but it was so nebulous and un-empirical that I didn’t know how to fight. And believe-you-me, chronic depression is a fight. After that much time, I can see evidence I was damaged– in the ease I fall back toward depression, for one thing. (The term for this is kindling.)
I have become a sort of forgiving-angry at all the songs and poems (and flippant acquaintances) who repeat the folk wisdom that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
This fight did NOT make me stronger. While I suppose that can be true of some challenges, I don’t think depression is one of those. The fact is, I’m weaker. I’m more vulnerable. The depression sometimes returns (again, see kindling), and I can’t back off for a minute in my fight.
Depression’s primary attack is to take out the main elements that could defeat it: it denies our individual value (that we’re worth fighting for!), our hope, and our capacity to look squarely at what the depression is doing to us and think clearly what we can do about it.
That assertion, that strength always comes from struggle, is tied into and trapped with the cultural image that stronger = better. I think it’s a collective myth we use to comfort ourselves in the midst of the unexplainable: I must be getting better, that’s the only reason to go through this, so I must be made stronger by it.
What I learned—what I needed to live—was that being weak, being fallible, is not the same thing as being shamed or useless.
Changing my perspective on weakness was an important step toward healing.
My value and delight in this world do not hinge on how much I accomplish or how many people approve of me.
My value comes from who I am as an adopted child of God, and my delight grows out of experiencing the good things He has prepared me to do, the unique way I have been equipped to love the people around me.
My value is no longer about my effort, so my level of strength is no longer what matters. I don’t have to have it all together; I am acceptable even in my weakness.
Image courtesy of getye1 via stock.xchg