Harry recently turned two. The jumble of emotions that statement creates in me is dominated by one: relief. Relief that we are through two of the worst years of my life.
Whoa, that’s a pretty bold statement, you may be saying. Sure. It is. And it’s true. We had a baby who didn’t sleep. Turns out he was in chronic pain from the miniscule amount of dairy in his formula and constipation from the formula we tried without dairy.
Oh and the ear infections. He didn’t go longer than 3 weeks without an ear infection from the time he was two months old until he nearly two (even with tubes). Seriously. Right now we are at a streak of four months without an ear infection and it feel miraculous.
These challenges combined with those of just generally having a baby and then the having a baby late in life stuff really took a toll. I have struggled with depression for 20 years and anxiety for 5 years. These elements added up to one hell of a post-partum experience.
For two years I haven’t wanted to leave the house. I have made it to work and performed the minimum of what’s expected. I’ve canceled many lunches, demurred after work drinks, ignored coffee invites, and declined evening events. But suddenly, right around Harry’s birthday, it was like a switch flipped and I felt so much better.
I was sharing this with friends at a recent dinner out. They asked to what I attributed the change. Before I could respond, my husband cut in and said, “She’s eating better and drinking less.” I paused. He was right, but until this point, he hadn’t really commented about those choices I was making. He is so patient and so tactful and had never suggested I do either. But when I arrived at the conclusion that I needed to do those things in order to improve my mental health, he was supportive. And it was very unlike him to even comment on the conversation about it. By weighing it, he delivered the message loudly and clearly that he had not only been supportive of my choices, but he had been concerned about my well-being and that he was relieved that I was on the upswing. I nodded. The choices to eat better and drink less were a critical part of my recovery.
Medication played a role in my recovery. And saying no played a role in my recovery. In the book Present over Perfect, Shauna Niequist explains the concept of concentric circles as it relates to saying no. She writes,
“Picture your relationships like concentric circles: the inner circle is your spouse, your children, your very best friends. Then the next circle out is your extended family and good friends. Then people you know, but not well, colleagues, and so on, to the outer edge. Aim to disappoint the people at the center as rarely as possible. And then learn to be more and more comfortable with disappointing the people who lie at the edges of the circle—people you’re not as close to, people who do not and should not require your unflagging dedication. To do this, though, you have to give even the people closest to you—maybe especially the people closest to you —realistic expectations for what you can give to them. We disappoint people because we’re limited. We have to accept the idea of our own limitations in order to accept the idea that we’ll disappoint people. I have this much time. I have this much energy. I have this much relational capacity. And it does get easier. The first few times I had to say no were excruciating. But as you regularly tell the truth about what you can and can’t do, who you are and who you’re not, you’ll be surprised at how some people will cheer you on. And, frankly, how much less you’ll care when other people don’t. When you say, This is what I can do; this is what I can’t, you’ll find so much freedom in that.”
For me, the concentric circles were my husband, my kids, my parents and siblings, and my job. That was all I could handle. And to everything else, I said no. I alienated people by doing that. I pushed away casual friends and I irritated close friends. But for me, it was a matter of survival. I needed to manage my household, I wanted to be there for my parents and siblings, and I needed to keep my job. I sacrificed some relationships by doing this. That hurt, but I had to survive and that meant squashing down my own disappointment and fears.
Now that I’m out of the two years of the fog, I’m intentionally reaching out to friends I have lost contact with. I’m being more choosy–and that’s okay. I have after work time for socializing with the deadline of having to get Harry by 6pm from daycare every day. It’s been an adjustment. But the Year of Saying No has helped to prepare me for this. Things have changed–and that’s okay.
So this is both an explanation and an encouragement. An explanation of where in the world this blog has been for a year and an explanation for friends of where I have been, both literally and figuratively. But let this be an encouragement, whether you’re in a post-partum fog or just a fog: do what you need to do. Say no to things and to people. Identify your concentric circles and give yourself permission to just focus on those. It may take longer than you think–and that’s okay, too. One hour at a time. One day at a time. One week at a time. It all adds up.