Perspective. When you are dealing with depression, perspective is crucial. It seems that the counseling I once had, not to mention a slew of self-help and inspirational books I've eyed, are focused on changing our perspective. Once changed, we can move along with life, our minds no longer playing games with us.
Once, I worked in an office. I had a great salary and incredible benefits. I complained about my work sometimes, but I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the sense of accomplishment I had, I enjoyed the people I worked with, I enjoyed having my very own office with four walls and a private door, lit with lamps I'd brought from home and my giant Moonstruck movie poster on the wall (I was working in a film school in New York City and living in Brooklyn, after all).
Back then, I had a fairly healthy perspective on my life. I worked a bit too much, but I also did things I enjoyed, starting a graduate degree in a field I found interesting, spending lots of time with friends and my amazing husband, developing hobbies and interests, and worshiping God in wonderfully powerful ways, both at church and intertwined in the lives of a beautiful community of faith.
When I had my first child, my perspective shifted...well, it sort of fell off a cliff. I was wholly unprepared and incapable of caring for this beautiful person. My whole life up to that point was moot, a waste. This child had needs I couldn't fill. I wanted to escape -- all the time. I eventually sought out community among other moms so I wouldn't feel quite so desperate. That gave me a purpose I was having a hard time finding with this one little child who was to be my world. For him, I was simply not enough and I never would be enough.
When my daughter was born, my perspective was altered again. Now, I was really a Mother in my mind. I had a newborn baby and a three-year-old with very different needs. Their needs filled up my day, and it somehow seemed more worthwhile to spend the majority of my energy on two kids as opposed to one. We were a Family, and I was the linchpin holding us all together. Sometimes, I still looked for non-profit jobs online, but it seemed ridiculous for me to even consider working for peanuts and putting two kids in childcare; the economics alone made no sense.
One day, my daughter almost died from sudden respiratory failure. After three weeks in the hospital, we brought her home without answers, but more thankful for our children than ever before. We soon learned that she had a genetic disorder that necessitated life support and continual monitoring every time she slept. It was a very unpredictable disorder aside from the standard need for breathing support. Today, I never know if we will be in the hospital again tonight, next week, or next season. She can go from playful and happy to respiratory arrest in less than 24 hours. To say my perspective has shifted again would be an understatement.
My new perspective is bizarre. There is no other word for it. I'm still trying to figure it out, and I'm certainly not making sense to a lot of other people who perhaps once felt they understood me. I'm not looking at life or even each day in a "normal" way. It would be crazy to convince myself that our lives are normal. There are very few people who share my perspective, and even my husband doesn't have the near constant burden that I feel...the sheer weight of my child's life or death, of her mental and physical health on my shoulders 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It's difficult to find inspirational messages that match my perspective. The Bible doesn't seem to cover daily looking at your child and trying to discern if her life is threatened by something unseen like rising carbon dioxide levels in her blood and daily hooking her up to machines that keep her alive. It's hard to maintain the perspective that God is in control when her life seems to hang on the medical decisions we as parents make for her.
Our perspective is unique, and that makes it hard to relate to us many times. But your perspective is unique, and so is everyone else's really. We might cleave to others who have similar perspectives, and in doing so we begin to feel like our perspective is somehow better or fuller or wiser. Or we might set ourselves up against others with different perspectives to make ourselves feel superior...or just plain different, unique.
The current "Mommy Wars" highlight how different perspectives can cause strife. Not just about "values," these conflicts emerge from how we view the world and our lives in the whole. A wise mother I greatly admire recently said to me, "I don't even think about organic food." She is a craftswoman, a highly thoughtful and intelligent mother, but she lacks the resources to afford organic food. I have no doubt that she does her best to offer her children a healthy diet and that if she chose to work full-time rather than stay home with them, she might be better able to afford organic food if she so desired. Instead, she doesn't think about it. That is her perspective on the world around her. Can I fault her for it? Should I judge her and think that she's not doing the "best" for her kids?
A lot of the decisions that are battled in the "Mommy Wars" come from a securely middle-class perspective. Whether to stay home or not, whether to provide organic food or not, whether to breastfeed or not, all assume that mothers have full luxury of choice. Women who do not anatomically make enough milk or whose babies have palate issues do not have a choice to breasfeed. The poor, rural women among whom I grew up did not have a lot of choice to stay home or live organically. Single mothers often have very clear choices. Unfortunately, these are not choices made purely on values. They are choices made out of one's perspective. Taking into account the full sum of my life, of my responsibilities, of my resources, how do I soldier on?
Our perspectives are all different. Built from the sum of our experiences, of our hopes and dreams, of the roles we must fill, they color how we lead our lives. They color how we judge the people we encounter in our lives. Sometimes, they make it hard to simply live out our lives. If you want to truly love someone, if you want to touch a heart and not simply a need, try to wrap your head around her perspective. It will be different from yours, your assumptions will be shot to bits, and your perspective will be changed, too.
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