The instant I read the words, I regretted picking up my BlackBerry that one last time before going to bed. A well-meaning relative of mine had read my recent post about my health and my leaky gut problem and told me: “This is not the time to volunteer for things.” She intended to point out that there would be plenty of time later in life for me to pursue my interests when I didn’t have as many health challenges to face and when I wasn’t in such a busy time of motherhood with a kindergartener and opinionated non-verbal toddler.
I get her point. Really, I do. The problem is that her note assumes that volunteering is something that detracts from my well-being. Sure, it might have seemed that way in the post she read. I’d rushed to finish it and get it up rather than wait until who knows when I’d get a free moment to sit down again. I did, I realize, sound a little overwhelmed. And yes, balance is something I’m working on.
But I don’t regret my choices, and I don’t want them restricted. That wouldn’t help. If I weren’t busy with something that felt meaningful, that contributed to my priorities, that gave me joy, or that fueled me with passion, I would be, simply put, depressed. Staying busy and engaged in something bigger than myself is a necessity for me to stay mentally healthy without medication.
And staying off medication is something I feel is a physical necessity as well; I simply don’t think my body can handle being on anti-depressants. They made an amazing difference for two years, and then again for a year while I sought treatment for hyperthyroidism (Graves’ Disease).
But they are drugs. Even if I weren’t a true believer in the healing power of nutrition and energy work, my system has shown me it simply cannot handle anything artificial. As much as SSRIs helped, I’m also pretty convinced that they contributed to the mess I’m in now — a much smaller role than 30 years of eating gluten, probably, but a role nonetheless.
No amount of saying no to volunteer work is going to undo all the damage that was caused by decades of eating food my body couldn’t handle, to say nothing of mild but young substance abuse. What will help me heal is continuing to eat real food, pursuing what makes me happy, and cultivating a mindfulness practice. It takes a lot more time and energy than popping a pill, but I really don’t see that I have a choice if I have my long-term health in mind.
Until I got this late-night email, I was, I admit, stewing a little about the lack of time to do everything I cared about. But rather than push me to step aside, as was its intention, the note inspired me to remember why I have chosen what I’ve chosen to do and to be grateful that I have the opportunity to do it.
The fundraiser I was working on was a great success, both in money raised and in positive momentum and a spirit of community, which was probably even more valuable to this project about which I care deeply. Even as I wished for more hours in the day to proofread the program and organize the volunteer schedule, I remembered that I proposed this event because I believe in the cause and that I offered to head it up because it’s something I knew I could do well. I knew it could be a great thing, and I wanted to create that.
So I carried that purpose with me into the event and sincerely enjoyed it. I lapped up the kudos with nary a self-critical remark or “if only we could have” lament. It was just good, plain and simple. We can debrief and learn from it, sure, but the thing I am most proud of is just enjoying it.
And then, when I came home after being gone at the school 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and launched right back into domestic goddess mode, I took on that role without resentment. Sure, there was a smidge of “really?” in my brain when my husband said he was super tired, but rather than go to a place of bitterness, I just chalked it up to a confirmation that the job I usually do of managing house and home is, indeed, a tiring one!
I wanted the laundry and dishes dealt with, so I did them.
I wanted celery and other veggies for the next day and to not cook that night or ask my tired husband to rally, so I went out to the grocery store after picking up take-out.
I wanted to do yoga before eating in peace and quiet, so I waited until after the family meal and bedtime to get on my mat and then eat my own safe food.
Somehow, that email sparked — or stoked — a fire. What started as angry turned cozy and glowing. The email inspired me, in part, to take the Mother’s Self-Renewal workshop to explore issues of balance and honoring our many selves. That first session then gave me the sense that I am both not alone in my dilemmas about time and also that my process is one to honor. It is part of my mothering to model not perfection but an embracing of personal growth and inquiry.
So thank you, dear relative, even if noting you wish you’d gotten advice from your elders still doesn’t convince me that you weren’t being more judgmental than supportive. Regardless of their intent, your words helped me see through the messiness of internal conflict and to look toward something varied and beautiful.