If you were to glance in my direction, you’d see a typical stay-at-home mom at the park with her kids.
What you wouldn’t see, beneath my calm exterior, is the stream of anxiety circulating through my veins.
Perhaps that’s why adrenaline is coursing faster than normal through my body today. Even though I’m a step removed from postpartum depression, my heart and body remember painful experiences in this place.
I have no logical reason to be anxious today. I’m not worried about anything in particular. The sun is shining, and we’re surrounded by acres of loveliness. It’s a beautiful park, with stately old trees and a walking trail circumventing a manmade pond.
Yet anxiety isn’t always logical. It’s not controllable, and it certainly isn’t kind.
I recall how excruciatingly hard it was for me to bring my children to this park a year-and-a-half ago. Not only did I struggle with a generalized anxiety disorder, which grew worse with each pregnancy, but I also suffered from undiagnosed postpartum depression. Leaving the house with my excitable 3-year-old and tripping-prone 1-year-old felt nearly impossible.
The anxiety flowing through my veins wasn’t a stream in that year of postpartum depression but a raging river. I was emotionally exhausted before we arrived at the park. The couple of times we did make it to The Pond Park (as we affectionately called it), I was a hyper-vigilant mess. My independent toddler insisted on running after his older brother. Every time he inevitably tripped and fell, anxiety surged through my limbs. His regular cries triggered my fight-or-flight response system, “Danger, danger!” My nervous system shrilled, “About to combust! Evacuate!”
But I would stay and let the kids play on the playground, terrified that one of them would fall off the 6-foot ledge and break their arm. Even though I felt miserable, anxious, and like a failure as a mom, I stayed. I wanted to be a good mom and bless my kids with time at the park.
More than anything, I wanted to be normal.
Why was taking my kids to the park so hard for me? Why couldn’t I be like the other calm, yoga pant clad moms without melting into a hot, angry mess? Why did my body feel so jittery, like I’d guzzled four cups of coffee into an empty stomach? I felt ashamed by my body’s over-the-top response to a simple outing with my kids. I hated how the anxiety I felt manifested itself as anger and impatience towards my kids. My sweet, rambunctious boys didn’t deserve sharp, nervous responses from their mom, but I felt powerless to reign them in.
Have you ever felt this way, dear mama? Longing to be fully present in the moment with your children but weighed down by postpartum depression? Desiring to model Christlike grace and patience toward your children, but unleashing unChristlike words and behaviors instead?
If there is anxiety or postpartum depression in your story, please receive these words of encouragement from a mom who’s been there, and who still is there some days.
It won’t always be this way.
You are not less than other mothers who appear confident, relaxed, and carefree.
Mental illness doesn’t define you.
You are defined by the courage you display—imperfect as it may be—in the midst of your struggles.
You are stronger than you believe. In your moments of weakness, Jesus reaches out his hand and whispers, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
My 3-year-old runs toward me and flops down on the grass beside me. His face is flushed from exertion. I rustle his curly hair as he gulps water from his water bottle. Despite the unsettled stream flowing inside of me, I smile.
Even in the midst of anxiety, there is joy.
Today I offer my sons a valuable gift: not a mom who is naturally confident and calm, but an honest example of what it looks like to choose courage in the face of anxiety. Courage and perseverance–aren’t these qualities we desire to impart to our children? Tools to help them overcome their own obstacles and weaknesses?
I may not have felt relaxed at the park today, but I have hope that one day I will be. Until then, I will keep trying. And on the days when I struggle, like this morning, I will hold out my hands to receive His grace.