I could not write this post, or open my heart when I really needed help.
I have been in the shadow-lands, my friends. Perhaps I still am, although I'm able to take some enjoyment in life again and most tellingly, I'm dancing again, a bit.
But those were some dark months. I often live by a saying: "fake it till you make it". The idea is that if I act happy, I'll be happy. If I act like I love my husband, I'll start to actually love him again. I also tend to live for my responsibilities. I'm needed, therefore I keep going.
But all that faking and focusing on responsibilities and duties started to have a very brittle feeling to it. My smile was getting strained, my resiliency was gone, and the "bend or break" aspect of my job and of parenting (of caregiving in general) was leaning toward me breaking. The more I pile on my plate, the more I focus on the needs of others, and set a highly ambitious agenda for EVERYTHING, the more I worry about achievement, the more I worry that I'm not good enough just as I am - the closer to burn-out I get.
The job of a religious educator is a giving and care-taking profession, and I'm also a care-giver to my family. People will take what you give. They will bring their problems to you. They will expect you to be present to them, in 100% authentic openness, no matter how many other people are standing there waiting in line for the same attention. You'll sometimes mess up, be less than perfect, and you'll beg forgiveness with a heartfelt and honestly self-reflective gesture. You'll sometimes be helped, and you'll give thoughtful thank-you's. You'll sometimes feel helpless, faced with the fact that people are people, the world is imperfect, and the best-laid plans fall prey to the unforeseen. People will be cranky with you, or fabulous, or hurt, but no matter what, you will find yourself saying these things over and over again: "I'm sorry", "It's OK", "you're fine", "thank you". You will pour love into others' cups, and hold their hands, and clap extravagantly. And, always, always, you will embody happiness, smile serenely, and never looked stressed out. Fake. It. Till. You. Make. It.
If that is what you expect from yourself all the time, you risk running dry.
It came to a head for me in a staff meeting at church. I brought up our bust-the-seams high attendance in religious education classes at our second service, and our minister responded by focusing on how low the first service attendance had gotten, and what was I going to do about that?
I had no resilience left. I had no bend left in me. I fought back tears, and just was quiet for the rest of the meeting. Then I walked into my office, shut the door, turned my back on my kids who were in there watching a DVD, and burst into tears.
And I called a counselor and made an appointment.
Really, when you feel like you just. cannot. deal. anymore - it's time to reach out for help.
More on what I'm doing to "press the sustain pedal on the piano of my soul" in my next post.