We all can feel overwhelmed at least at some point in our lives and for many different reasons. Personally, it doesn’t take much to get me overwhelmed. Maybe it’s because I habitually try to do too much and maintain impossibly high expectations of myself. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that I am no stranger to having too much on my plate and feeling stressed out. So, as a mother to a 18-month old and newborn, I expected my fair share of feeling overwhelmed. What I didn’t expect was how confused it made me feel to evaluate if I wasn’t coping as well as I had in the past. I had a really difficult time answering Question #6 on the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale which asks the mother to respond to the statement “Things have been getting on top of me” with one of the following…
- Yes, most of the time I haven’t been able to cope at all
- Yes, sometimes I haven’t been able to cope as well as usual
- No, most of the time I have coped quite well
- No, I have been coping as well as ever
There were some days where I was doing alright, but then there were many hard days. I answered that I wasn’t coping as well as usual. I thought things would get better as my baby started sleeping more and I got the hang of being a stay-at-home mom of two. As time went on, I felt more and more pressure to perform daily duties. Where I would normally just put my nose to the grindstone, I increasingly retreated more inward. When I shared what I was experiencing with some other moms, I was told that the way I felt was just part of being a mom. I remember thinking “if it’s true that other women are feeling how I am and manage to perform all of their mom-duties where as I am not, then I am completely inept as a mother.” Then I felt all hope rush out of me because the thought of it “just being” this way for the duration of parenthood was overwhelming in itself. (I later learned that I had PPD and motherhood does not always have to be as bad as I was experiencing.) If you are questioning like I did about how well you are able to cope in the midst of an overwhelming season, it can be helpful to look at definitions and descriptions.
I like how Jessica DuBois-Maahs described what ‘overwhelm’ is in her article “How to Manage When We Feel Overwhelmed” on Talkspace.com. She explained that when a person experiences emotional overwhelm “it entails being completely overcome by an intense and unruly emotion that something is too challenging to manage and overcome…it can be difficult to think and act rationally, and even function in a normal way.” Later in her article, she mentioned that it can also look like being “completely submerged by your thoughts and emotions about all of life’s current problems, to the point where you lack efficacy and feel frozen or paralyzed.”
I wish this article was written when I experienced PPD because that is EXACTLY how I felt. Instead, I struggled to adequately explain my feelings since I didn’t have these concise words. What I did find back then was a poetic description of being overwhelmed written in Psalm 42.
The verse that I identified the most with was Psalm 42:7 “Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.” I have gotten tossed about in an ocean wave while attempting to boogie board to shore. It only lasted for a second or two; I remember it so clearly. I couldn’t see. I didn’t know which way was up. And I couldn’t catch my breath on the surface because I kept getting knocked down by the wave’s energy. This verse perfectly described my experience and how I felt emotionally while in the postpartum season. My thoughts led me to believe that my responsibilities were too much for me to handle and I couldn’t perform them. I began to realize that I was not coping well at all.
I also could relate to Psalm 42:3 where the psalmist wrote “My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me continually ‘Where is your God?‘” The thing from this verse that I really struggled with was the thought that God had deserted me. While crying I would plead with God to help me, to change my heart (as I knew He could), and bring peace to my soul. When the angst didn’t dissipate, I became upset at God for not answering my prayers. Going back to verse 7, it says “your waves…” and I knew that it was God who was allowing me to get knocked down over and over again. I came to the conclusion that He was standing on the sidelines and simply didn’t want to help me. Then I would feel guilty because I knew that I shouldn’t think that He had abandoned me. His very character makes it impossible for Him to leave me because 2 Timothy 2:13 says that “if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot disown himself.”
This cycle of thinking happened over and over again, often multiple times in one day. But sometimes, the merry-go-round in my head would pause and tell me that God was testing me to see if I would cling to Him. I held on to the promise that if I continued to hope in God during this season, I would again praise Him (Psalm 42:5). I just had to stay the course and continue to cry out to Him. In His own perfect timing, He would give me peace and a heart of worship.
Once I admitted that I was overwhelmed and that I wasn’t coping well, I asked for more help with my children, sought out encouragement and sound counseling, and received lots of love. Eventually, I was able to praise Him for how He delivered me through the valley of depression and brought joy back. I still have days where I am tempted to get overwhelmed, but have learned to combat any bombarding thoughts so that I can cope better and continue on.
If you are questioning whether you’re overwhelmed and might not being coping as well as you had hoped, continue to HOPE in God! Keep trusting in His faithfulness. You will again praise Him. And while you wait, reach out to those around you and ask for support. If there is any helpful verse for you, I’d love for you to share it!