Did you know that Zelie Martin yelled at her daughter, Marie, at least once? The mother of St. Therese of Lisieux tells the story in a letter to her sister, a Visitation nun. Zelie was in great pain from her breast cancer and Marie told her, “Mama! Don’t make that face, it’s worrying auntie!” Zelie snapped back, “Well, I’m doing the best I can!”
She regretted it.
In that same letter, she writes of how irritable she has become in her final illness, of her anxiety for her children who will soon be orphaned, and of their financial woes.
Her life had become for her a fog and darkness.
Sounds familiar. When I was in the throes of postpartum depression and anxiety last year, everything was a fog. I still, when the stressors of life pile up too quickly, fall back into that fog and dim twilight. Sometimes it’s my own fault–I haven’t slept enough or I’ve scheduled too many evenings out. Sometimes it can’t be helped–the kids are sick, the Scientist Dad has a good 60 hours of work for a week, and the babysitter cancels. The past few weeks have been a whirl of activities–all joyful and good–and a fog of exhaustion.
And in that fog, the ugliest parts of me emerge. I snip at the Scientist Dad or my in-laws. I lose my temper and yell at the 4-year-old. I simply cannot fold another piece of laundry, even though the living room has been covered in wrinkled t-shirts for three days.
Then, it lifts.
The hardest times are the most beautiful, when they’re over. We can see, if we can’t articulate, the presence of God.
I look back at the depression now and recognize that Todd and I came through it by no strength of our own: we were so totally brought low that we had no power. And when we had no power, all power was Christ. He came to us in our families, our friends, perfect strangers, and the sacraments. The extraordinary graces of our vows somehow carried us. And here we are. More humble. Older. Quieter. Happier.
This little bit of foggy weather in my heart was a little reminder of what men live by. And we do not live by bread alone.