Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Anatomy of Survival Mode

            It struck me yesterday that we’ve passed through the season of survival mode. Joshua’s colic is over, and it seems like overnight he gained a couple of pounds. Now he’s so happy to just sit around and chew on toys or stare at all the happenings around him in this great big world.
            It struck me as I actually finished washing the dishes with Joshua staring happily at me – we have passed through the tunnel. We made it. We can actually breathe and get back to the other things we care about, like having a clean house, reading and going out with friends.
            Survival mode is a difficult place to be in, but it also teaches a lot of valuable lessons. In the middle of it, it’s easy to feel bitter or upset with all sorts of things – with the child who’s keeping us away from the rest of our lives; with each other, for the littlest faults; with life in general.
            I can see why some new mothers who have a difficult child get really depressed. They even have a big sounding name for it: “post-partum depression,” which is basically a fancy way for saying, “Not only are all your chemicals totally imbalanced after such a huge physical and emotional ordeal, but everything didn’t turn out as you’d expected, so you’re living in survival mode, wondering if and when you’ll be able to pop your head out and breathe.”
            Something like that.
            One thing is for certain, having now come through survival mode, the entire experience has definitely made me appreciate our lives all the more. But in the middle of it, life can be really difficult. If I could dissect the time and pinpoint what it was like, these would be my highlights:
·       No time. Our colicky kid always needed holding, and during the day his naps would only last twenty minutes unless he was being walked, which meant, of course, we took him on long walks. Getting out and taking walks is lovely, but it also means we can’t do anything else. And when it feels like there’s no time to yourself, it generally leads to…
·       Snarkiness. That’s what Michelle and I would call it. We’d try to be civil and nice to each other, but sometimes the stress would feel so enormous we’d snap. Then, the other person would say, “Why so snarky?” That would help us remember to be nice.
·       Tiredness. When we weren’t sleeping enough, our minds would get rough around the edges and we’d start doing things like misplacing important documents, losing vocabulary, or forgetting important events.
·       Lack of Compassion. It’s hard to care when my own needs aren’t being met. It’s like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – a person needs to have their basic needs met (survival) before they care about safety needs (comforts), before they care about psychological needs, before they care about self-actualization (doing something profound). Well, in survival mode, all I could think about was the basics. Who cares about self-actualization when sleep is so hard to come by?

            I could go on, but I think even more helpful would be to make another list of what’s most needed in these kinds of times:
#1. A sense of humor. Without it, you’re toast. Sometimes, the best medicine is to lift your head and laugh. And when things seem rotten, look for the light side peaking through the cracks – it’s always there.
#2. Hope. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. It may be unknown or invisible, but things will get better. The time will pass. You’ve just got to hold on and wait it out.
#3. A community. It’s immeasurably easier to get through difficult times with people around who love you. And if you don’t have a community, do something about it. Try reaching out and making new friends. Help others. Invite them over to lunch. I don’t care if the house is a mess, they’ll love it, trust me, and it will bless you both.
#4. Grace. Be easy on yourself and on everyone around you. Sure, life didn’t turn out exactly as expected, but be forgiving and nice, and it’ll go a long way to uplifting you and those around you, despite whatever’s going on.

            I’m so thankful that we got through Joshua’s colicky stage. The snow is falling outside but it feels like flowers are blooming. For the first time in many months, I can look around and start dreaming. Self-actualization, whatever you want to call it, I’m ready.
            Onto the next adventure.

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