Not in Vain

Before my third child, I never dropped the JC.

I was no pure linguist, but I did not take the name of the Lord in vain.

In the months and years following her birth, it became a regular part of my vocabulary, satisfyingly venting my rage and frustration at things gone wrong. Stupid things. Teeth not being brushed. Butts not being wiped. Nothing that should unleash rage, but they were the proverbial straws.

I knew its use signaled a loss of center, of control.

Perhaps it was a desperate plea. But it came out sounding like a kid forced to say please and thank you. Totally inappropriate in tone and timbre.

Finally, one Lent, I decided to make a focused effort to stop saying it improperly. Keeping track of my missteps, I counted eight uses during those forty days. A significant reduction. I never did decide what would be an appropriate penance for each of those eight uses, but my non-JC oath habit stuck.

So here I am 32 weeks into pregnancy #4 and I’m being pelted with more stupid little straws.

My six year old has decided this is a fabulous time to assert her independence. Not in a dig-your-heels-in toddler sort of way, but in a snotty teenage you-can’t-make-me sort of way. Holding a stuffie I’d told her to put away at least three times, I stood over her as she sat on the bathroom floor fully dressed and not making any attempts to prepare for bed. I had to fight the urge to bean her over the head with it. After numerous non-oath reminders, I unleashed a torrent of reprimands peppered with choice words (though no JC – does that earn me some credit?).

Having to remove myself from the situation, I stalked in our bedroom, where my husband stood.

“This kid isn’t even born yet and I’m already swearing!”

He laughed. I think he appreciates seeing me get as frustrated as he does sometimes.

But his laughter also signaled to me that perhaps my reaction, while a bit overblown, was natural. I may be hyper-vigilant to signs of rage due to my postpartum experience last time, but that doesn’t mean that every freak-out is a bad sign. It could just be a bad day. Or a bad moment.

Just as uttering Jesus Christ in a proper context is not a bad thing, expressing anger or frustration in an appropriate way is not either. I need to watch the tone of my words and actions to see whether I’m struggling. It may not be a spiral, but a slight dip in the mood of the day.

I know many postpartum women – or anyone who’s suffered a mental health crisis – who see a bad day, a down period, a low point as a relapse. But even if it is, having been where we have and coming back from that place, we are equipped to do so faster, better, and with the proper supports.

We also are entitled to the same bad days our “normal” counterparts have all the time. Not every infraction is a sign of our condition, a harbinger of more to come.

Of course, all of this is easier said than done. Ironically, the organ we must rely on most strongly to convince us of our strength and resiliency is also the one most affected by our illness.

In that case, perhaps a call to the Lord would not be in vain.

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4 Comments

  1. There have been too many times to count that I’ve been caught uttering a string of colorful expletives (out loud, or just in my head), only to end up feeling ridiculously silly for allowing myself to get so worked up over *whatever. As humans, when we reach our breaking straw points, we either relieve the pressure by coloring our words, or by exiting and regrouping.

    Congrats on choosing Option 2 (and perhaps also Option 1). Rather than chastising yourself, (although I think you did a bit of that, too), I’m glad to hear you say that you recognize it as a momentary lapse, and that it’s smart to pay attention when these things happen, so that you can identify whether it is an event-specific response, or whether it signals a turn towards the darker days. Attempting to remain vigilant is good, and a healthy response, especially when your history includes those postpartum episodes that taught you something about paying attention to what our bodies are signaling, when stressed beyond our ability to cope in any given moment. The fact that you are also consciously choosing to maintain your “not in vain” efforts is definitely a plus. Keep your eyes open, and don’t forget to cut yourself some slack. Adulting can be difficult. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • Jennifer Butler Basile

       /  April 14, 2016

      Thank you for walking me through the balance I always need to be mindful of. And helping me laugh (option 2 – and option 1) 😉

      Such a thoughtful response. Thank you for understanding.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  2. Oh my, how often have I thought I’m relapsing into depression when it is a low moment, or a bad day? You articulate your thoughts so well here, i relate.

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