Parenting with a Pastor: Any Chance You’re Experiencing Stress?
Updated: 2 days ago
It would have been nice to have some downtime after Christmas. I took some time off from the blog, I prepared for a little break before Lent, and then we watched as our nation experienced a violent takeover of our nation's capital. A few weeks later, the kids and I witnessed the swearing in of our first female vice president. Between January 6th and January 20th we all waited with bated breath to see if there would be any more violent attempts to overturn the election. Despite the joy of the first female Vice President, this time has been stressful and unfortunately stress always takes its toll. Additionally, I’m a minister. I don't know if you know this, but being a minister is a rather stressful occupation. Being a parent is perhaps more stressful than ministry. Right now I'm doing both of those things, and just for the heck of it I've added in more graduate school work so I can finish my master's degree in English lit. I have the best ideas all the time. I'm so grateful to be back doing my master's work in English, and I can't tell you how much my fun I'm having using my brain in a whole new way to analyze whole new texts, but it comes with its own level of stress and exhaustion.
And here's the point of this week’s blog. I don't know that I can tell you how to deal with stress, because when I'm stressed my body feels every bit of it. I get sick. My stomach is a knot and screws with me to the point of being bedridden. I'm isolated from my family and it's awful. Of course this isn't everyday stress but when things and situations get big, this is how my body reacts. Everybody carries some level of trauma in their bodies. Even if we never feel like the trauma we experience is big trauma, our bodies remember the time when trauma made us tense up or made us feel like we needed to run. We carry it with us. I was diagnosed a few years ago with PTSD. Some of it is related to the traumatic birth of my daughter. Some of it is related to stuff that I can’t really talk about in an online forum like this. Just know that PTSD makes stress that much worse because our body reacts in ways that we can't necessarily control. Our brain remembers how we reacted to trauma before and it reacts that way again even if the trauma we’re experiencing now isn't quite the same. If I hear voices raised voice in anger in my direction, or if someone tells me they know what is best for me and tries to control me, it can result in me trying to make myself small and I feel sick and weak and useless. I make myself sick and weak and useless because if I'm small enough and if I'm quiet enough and if I'm weak enough, my previous trauma won't come back to hurt me.This is not a fun way to live life, and I don't always know when it's happening.
For the past few weeks I have been dealing with stressful situations that have made things difficult. I didn't realize that I was reverting to my traumatic response. All I knew is that I was hiding myself away from my children, that I was wanting to sleep all the time, and that my body was unhealthy. I was very physically ill. It took my parents and my husband reminding me that this is not who I am for me to get myself back up again. It took an amazing ministerial group for first year pastors reminding me how to be a healthy pastor. My family and this group showed me and prayed for me and the transformation from the weak and sick person into who I was before was almost instantaneous.The second I remembered that this is not who I am and that I had control in the situation is the second that I felt better. I think that's my advice to you this week.
When things are stressful and hard, find a way to remember who you are. Remember your core. There are different ways to accomplish this. What works for one won't necessarily work for all. For me it was my family reminding me who I am and I am grateful for that because they know me. Not everybody has a supportive family who can see them and know when they're not themselves, or a group of supportive and loving colleagues. That doesn't mean you're without help for situations like this. Write a journal. Somewhere you should write down who you are at your core and how you deal with problems when you face traumatic situations. Write so you can remember how you handle your life. That can be your guide. If you’re a parent, help your kids come up with a plan. My son and I made mental health tool boxes awhile back. We decorated a box and filled it with tools to help him when he feels sad or out of control. We put in music, pictures of family, art supplies, and something soft for him to hold and remember what’s good in the world. We made him a way back to himself. I strongly encourage other parents to do this with their children, and make boxes for yourself too. If you can’t find the words to pray when you’re in stress mode, write down prayers and mantras to read when you’re in that space. Have tangible things to go to when the intangible is too hard to deal with.
You can also surround yourself with friends. I realize right now it is very difficult to surround yourself with friends in the physical sense, but you can still have a support system with phone calls and zoom meetings and emails. You can ask friends and family online or over the phone to pray with you and for you. I know it's not the same, which is why this time makes stressful situations that much harder. These suggestions may not be right for you, but what I know is that remembering my core helps me remember myself, and having people and tools in place to help me remember my core brought me out of my stress reaction. Once I was out of my trauma response mode, I could deal with things in a healthier and more productive way.
Find out when you're in a good way what you need. It's important to come up with a plan for when things get really hard and the stress gets really big. Maybe you won't be able recognize the stress right away because sometimes we miss what's right in front of our faces, but eventually you will see that this is not the way you are normally interacting with the world. When that happens you'll have a plan in place to help you remember how to get back to your normal, to the space where you need to be. If you have kids, the joy when you come back to yourself will be indescribable. Yesterday I heard my son giggle for the first time in a really long time and I realized that the reason I missed it is because I was hiding inside myself. I cannot describe to you the feeling when I realized that I was back. Also, the picture for this blog is a shamelessly adorable picture of my daughter that I share to tempt you into reading. Sorry, not sorry!