Wednesday, March 2, 2016

When Blessings Feel Like Burdens

It’s 5:45 pm on a Friday night and I’m driving home after an excruciatingly long day.  The stress from the week has finally reached a boiling point and hot tears start falling down my face. It’s just been one of those weeks, and I’m on the ledge in danger of falling into a deep pit of self pity.

I start thinking about the fact that I stayed at school for an hour after the last bell to grade student work and I still had a pile waiting for me when I returned. I reflected on the school week. A week I wanted to forget. I broke up two fights, my eighth period’s misogynistic comments forced me to tears (in the privacy of the bathroom), my computer broke, and I couldn’t shake the feeling of being overworked and under-appreciated.  I planned out the following week in my mind, which included several after-school meetings. I thought about how my last after-school meeting ran so long that by the time I got home, my daughter was tucked in her bed, asleep, even though she didn’t see me at all. My chest ached because I was pulled into a last-minute meeting at school and missed a pump session. I thought I had made up for it later that day, but the lasting effects were starting to hit me as sharp pains shot through my chest.

The to-do list for the weekend started scrolling through my mind. The ACT class I had to teach Saturday morning was not yet planned for, the shopping list I had  for my daughter’s upcoming baptism reception kept growing, yet the RSVP’s were rolling in slowly and I knew I would have to start tracking down the invitees to get a final count.

I couldn’t remember the last time I had alone time with my husband, and even though he slept next to me every night, he felt a million miles away. The idea of planning a date night seemed ridiculous in the light of everything we had going on.

In the short ride between school and home I had worked myself into a full-on anxiety meltdown. I kept telling myself that it was impossible to do it all: mother, teacher (both during the week and on the weekend), wife, club moderator, union member (who is in the middle of contract negotiations),caretaker, party planner...and as I climbed the steps to my house I was ready to throw in the towel. I was ready to declare to my husband that I QUIT! Adulting was not for me, and I was over all of it.

My husband knew I was having an off week, as I had complained about it over the last few days, so he didn’t question my sullen silence as I came into the house and prepared to nurse my daughter. She was hungry and a bit fussy, so I hurried to my seat on the couch and arranged myself. As he handed her to me, she smiled as she knew what was happening- dinner! She nursed and I felt a surge of relief as the engorgement that was ailing me before began to subside as did my anxiety.

Over the course of the weekend I began to realize I had it all wrong, I had so much to be grateful for! I was looking at my life -- and the things that were making me upset -- as a problem. In reality, all of those “problems” were things I had prayed for, wished for, and worked for. It was at that point that I saw that I am not in fact burdened, but I am blessed.

I thought more and more about why I was unhappy, and I began to see that I was allowing the challenges I was facing overshadow the fact that I have so many things going right in my life. I have a job that, although is a major stressor at times, is meaningful and gives me a purpose every day. I have the privilege of being on the team that is building a fair and comprehensive union contract that will benefit many students and teachers who enter the school doors even once I am no longer there.

I have a huge family! And yes, that can mean that parties and gatherings can get pretty expensive and are hectic to plan, but it’s only because everyone wants to be a part of the celebration. How can I be upset with that? There will always be opportunities to make more money, but making memories is much more important.

Of course, there is my daughter. The greatest gift I have ever been given, and I have the ability to give her the best form of nourishment and immunities through breastfeeding. I made a goal for myself to exclusively breastfeed my daughter for the first year of her life, and we are five and half months into it, and I am determined to make it to twelve months. I stand by the statement, “Breast is Best,” and I am grateful that I am able to provide what is best for my daughter. There are so many times when I would rather be in bed than attached to a pump at 3 am. Numerous times when nursing her is painful. I have dealt with the stares and eye rolls of strangers when I’ve nursed in public. There have been times when I can’t get to her or my pump soon enough and I ache or leak through my blouse. But it all continues to be worth it because it is for my daughter.

As I continued to go over what I am grateful for, I started to feel lighter. There is still so much in my life that can cause me stress, but I have come to see that it is only because I care so much about it all--and that’s not a bad thing! As my identity expands to include more and more roles, I get that there may be some growing pains associated with each. I have to trust that the skills, knowledge, and experience needed to be successful in those roles will also shift, grow, and change. To not have change is to be stagnant, and that is definitely something I don’t want.

By the end of the weekend, I was determined to make a shift in my thinking. I spoke to my husband about what I had been on my mind. I shared my frustrations and guilt. To top it off, in all of this, never did I even ask him how he was doing. Why did I think I was the only one struggling? My guilt became heavier.

I decided we needed make a point everyday to be positive and grateful. So, we agreed to do one little thing everyday that would not only give us time to connect, but also help us to see the blessings in our lives. We set a timer on our phones, to everyday, share with each other something we are grateful for. Something specific to the events of that day. It can be something the other person did, or something related to work or family-anything really. To hold ourselves accountable we made three rules:
  1. We BOTH have to do it, even on the bad days. If there is ever a time when we are not together at the end of the day, we must share our gratitudes in a phone call or text message.
  2. It must be specific- not a vague cop-out statement like, “I’m grateful for my husband.”
  3. It must be genuine gratitude ( this one was mostly for me since I can get pretty sarcastic when I’m in a bad mood)

I know it may seem like a silly thing, but so far it has made such an improvement in my life and in my marriage. It forces me to stop and think about all the good moments I had throughout the day that can easily be overlooked, and it’s an opportunity to spend a genuine and intimate moment with my husband. It can be said over dinner, or during my daughter’s bath time. It can be just a statement or it can open the conversation to a story from the day I want to share. Eventually, this will be a tradition we will extend to our daughter and future children. We’ve only been doing it for a short time, but I believe it’s something that will last because it makes us feel good and it’s not hard to keep up.

As I conclude my thoughts, I have to admit I am a little embarrassed. I let myself go on and on thinking I had it so rough, when in reality it’s the opposite. I am grateful to my readers, for allowing me to be self-centered for a page (or two). We all need to sulk sometimes, but we also need to figure out ways to pull ourselves out of those moments as well. As a reader, I hope my you were able to gain some perspective about your own life, like I was able to. How have you been feeling lately? Have you been looking at your blessings as burdens like I was? It’s never too late to open your eyes and heart, and make a small change that can improve your outlook on life.