Self-Worth: A Journey Through Paradox Part 2

*Trigger Warning: this post contains description of attempted suicide, please be respectful and courteous to the author*

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PART II

The shame of our homeless, jobless condition really wore me down and left me feeling isolated and ashamed. After a couple of months without a job, my husband started working nights and weekends, and I was working days.  I worked in a daycare so I could take my daughter, now almost 18 months, with me. It was a job that I had done in high school, and I struggled with it now. What had I become? Why wasn’t I “good” at anything anymore? To top it off, I was allergic to the chemicals at work and allergy medication was not helping the sinus headaches. One Saturday, I had a massive anxiety attack while my husband was at work.  Part of me wondered what would happen to our marriage. In tears, I broke down. This was not a typical crying session where I would get up and soldier on though. My mother and sister didn’t understand and quickly became frustrated when I couldn’t be comforted. “Don’t you know there are people that have it way worse than you?” Those words cut me to my core.

I was weak.  I was stupid.  I was ugly. I was a disappointment to everyone that knew me.

I didn’t sleep that night as every racing thought felt like emotional shards of glass within me.  I got up and took my allergy medicine as usual. At church the next morning, my daughter cried and I took her out into the hallway.  Utterly alone except for this little girl, I knew that I was a failure. I was beyond hope, beyond love, and beyond saving. My daughter deserved better than that. When she calmed down, I went back into the chapel, passed my daughter to my husband, and left.

I walked out of the doors and through the parking lot.  When I reached the car, my husband raced out after me. So I just kept walking.  I decided that I was done. Although my husband talked me into getting in the car, it wasn’t going to change my mind.  When he was getting our daughter out of the car, I went inside ahead of them so he couldn’t stop me. I was doing everyone a favor, I reasoned when I attempted to end my life.  I didn’t know exactly what would happen when I swallowed all that allergy medication, but I wanted to just sleep and not wake up.

My husband instantly knew something was wrong when he entered the house.  He ordered me back into the car and drove to the emergency department immediately.  I questioned my choice on the way there. Is this what I really want? Do I really want to die this badly?

At first, the staff didn’t understand what my husband was saying.  They said they weren’t worried about the allergy medication. It was harmless, they said.  I was almost disappointed. In that moment, I felt like a stupid failure even more.

However, it was not harmless in the amount I had taken.  Things quickly turned dangerous. My heart began racing from the drugs in my system.  I couldn’t squeeze the doctor’s hand. They brought in pads in case I started seizing.  My numbness and pain turned to fear then to panic as my daughter starting crying and reaching for me.  What have I done? Is my daughter going to grow up without a mother? I had to decide in that ER whether I was going to fight for my life or not.

So I prayed.  I prayed to God like I had never done before.  I prayed for another chance to live- not for my sake, but for the sake of the crying baby girl the nurses just took from the room.  I weakly grabbed my husband’s hand and told him that I wanted to live. He laid his hands on my head and tearfully asked God for a blessing. It was like angels descended in the room. They seemed to guide my fight.

I felt incredibly drowsy among other things.  The doctor said that if I fell asleep and they couldn’t wake me, then I would have to be intubated.  A little sleep was okay, he said. But a voice warned me that I would not wake up if I slept at all. God would help me, but my job was to stay awake.

My heart was strapped to an EKG because it wasn’t doing very well.  Nausea ripped my stomach apart, so I started to heave. The machines beeped wildly.  I knew from the same voice that warned me not to sleep that my heart wasn’t strong enough to throw up.  The doctor prescribed charcoal to prevent further overdose so I drank it. I shuddered and gasped while trying to swallow, praying to God with my heart the whole time.  It was the beginning of a long and painful journey to redefine myself as someone worth fighting for rather than to be discarded.

As I lay there, I kept drifting away to a dream-like world.  Then the angels called me back to reality just before falling asleep.  Finally, I picked one point in the room, the curtain, and just locked my eyes onto it. I willed myself to stay awake, and I felt the support of a loving God.

When the most immediate danger had passed, I was transferred to a quiet room in the ICU so that my heart could be monitored for lasting damage overnight.  Some nurses seemed wary of me, but one went so far to chew me out for doing something so “stupid.”

In the quiet moments on the hospital bed, I asked God why the angels didn’t come to my aid until it was almost too late.  Then, like Elisha’s servant, my eyes were opened during that conversation with God. (2 Kings 6:17) I saw that they were there in the hallway at church, but I hadn’t seen them.  I had blinded myself to God’s love.

I went back to work the day after I was discharged.  I didn’t know what else to do but pretend that nothing had happened.  Very few family members were aware of the nature of the visit to the hospital.  My health was such a fragile thing that no one truly questioned it.

I started therapy again.  My intake appointment did not go well.  She wanted me to verbally say that I loved and accepted myself.  I couldn’t do it. Thinking of saying something like that aloud made me physically ill.

I started working with a different therapist, found the courage to quit my job, and soon was expecting my second child. We had prayed about this baby because we felt like it was a “bad” time but felt that we should anyway.  That precious life inside of me gave me the courage to hang in there on hard days. I couldn’t take my life without taking my baby’s too.

My husband was accepted to medical school.  Quickly people wanted to tell me how hard it was going to be for our little family.  I wished they’d stop comparing my future to others. Somewhere now forgotten on the internet I stumbled across the advice to not wait to live life until after medical school.  This blogger had taken her kids on vacations and camping without her husband. Would I ever be strong enough to do that?

Medical school approached.  We had our son and moved to our new house.  I still faltered with my courage and determination.  Breastfeeding proved challenging for my son and I, so I started to feel the familiar sensation of failure.  I reached out to breastfeeding coaches, lactation consultants… Their advice was less than helpful and sometimes conflicting. I was exhausted from long, unproductive nursing sessions at night.  I was anxious, irritable, and feeling incapable. I wanted to give up completely. I found myself wondering if the children would even remember me. Maybe it would be better if they didn’t.

No.  

I have worked too hard to fight for this life with my children.  

My son isn’t going to remember if I nursed him or bottle-fed him, but he will feel loved if I bond with him.  My daughter isn’t going to shame me for not nursing, but she will be happy if I am less irritable. So I began exclusively pumping and I went back to therapy.  There were naysayers among other moms about pumping exclusively, but I knew that I needed to do this for my children. Little did I know that this choice would become life-changing.  As I stopped looking for acceptance from others and searched for peace from within, I had to change a few paradigms.

My change was further helped along by the women in my new congregation.  We counseled together about how unkind we are to ourselves in our thoughts.  God doesn’t want us to speak unkindly of anyone, including ourselves.

The real kicker for me during our discussion was the way we treat ourselves is being observed by our children.  I did not want my daughter to grow up with the self-hatred and insecurity that I wrangled with on a daily basis.  I wanted her to experience confidence and hope.

Over the next few weeks, I stopped myself when I criticized.  

“I’m fat.  No. I’ve had two children and my body has adjusted.”

“I’m stupid.  No. I just need more opportunities to practice my skills.”

As I advocated for myself more and bullied myself less, I found myself more inclined to be kind in the first place.  

Here’s the catch: I also think less negative things about others.  Giving myself the benefit of the doubt has made it easier to do for others.  

Jesus said to love thy neighbor as thyself. (Matthew 22:39) I figured all these years that if I loved others more than I loved myself, then that met the standard.  I was blinded to the fact that by seeking acceptance from others when I could not give it to myself, I was tainting every relationship. I missed the fact that this commandment is two-fold.  It’s a comparison that can be flipped to teach, “Love thyself as thy neighbor.”

My insecurity threatened to pull me apart from my husband because I could not accept his love without accepting that I am, indeed, lovable. Since being willing to accept that I can be loved, we fight less.  I was too tightly wound from my constant suspicion that he regrets being with me. The change in attitude to think that it’s possible he’s happy has strengthened my marriage. The less we fight, the happier we become.  It’s broken a negative cycle and replaced it with a positive trend.

I cannot have faith in Jesus Christ without acknowledging His love for me which I cannot see if I do not find a way to love myself.  Without love of self and a personal acceptance of Jesus Christ’s power to save me, I have placed limits on God’s power.

I have learned that we all face the refiner’s fire in this life.  We are all precious metals that must be heated in specific ways to help us become pure.  It is entirely counterproductive to look at someone else’s refining process and think it is any easier or harder than our own.  Their fire was not meant to refine me, and mine will not refine them. It is only when we accept these truths and stop shaming ourselves that we will be able to stop shaming others.

I always thought that I was being kind by esteeming everyone as better than me, but it often involved minimizing their struggles or imperfections.  Without meaning to, I was doing a great disservice. I assumed that so many people were doing better than I was that I may have missed so many opportunities to help someone else in need.

Along the similar lines, I stopped withholding happiness because something was not perfect.  I am allowed to be happy now, imperfections and all. That permission has led to more light-hearted moments with my kids.  It has allowed me to experience awe in the moment even when I am the only one to witness it. I’m not waiting for my husband to be done with school or hoping that someday he will be less busy so we can be happy.  I’m not waiting for children to grow up so that my current parenting challenges will be over and therefore happier. We are happy. Hard does not mean unhappy. Imperfect does not mean unhappy or unlovable. I accept myself, my children, my husband, and my life as we are.

And thus we see the paradox of self worth.  You must love and accept yourself in order to fully love and accept anyone else.

-Anonymous

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