baby steps: from the hare to the tortoise

You know the fable of the tortoise and the hare, right?. The speedy, hot-headed hare thinks he can beat the slow steady turtle in a race, no problem. After the race starts, he is so far ahead he settles down under a tree to take a little nap. The turtle keeps on going, one step at a time. Because of his steady progress he is able to complete the race as the hare wakes up, realizes his folly, and sprints for the finish line. He is too late; slow and steady won the race.

For most of my life, I self-identified more with the hare. Maybe that’s just the way of the young, or maybe it’s part of who I was. I usually picked things up quickly and excelled at them. I would turn any task into a challenge to myself. How could I do it faster, more efficiently? How could I become better or do things better? I prided myself in my speed as well as my ability to do a job well. Whether I was washing the dishes, hitting a tennis ball against our chimney, practicing the piano, or completing homework, I was driven to improve my technique and speed.

Three-year-old Sarah diligently practicing her piano technique.

Don’t get me wrong; I wasn’t the best athlete around or that kid in the class who was a superstar in everything. I did shine in some areas, though. Weird things like collating papers, or typing, or finishing a book report, or writing fast. As I got older, it was things like painting a room and housecleaning. Nothing flashy or the kind of task in which most people aspire to be great.

As a natural procrastinator, my skills were very handy. I could wait until the last night before a big assignment was due, working through the night to produce an “A” project. I felt like the pressure actually increased my ability to perform well. After I got married and we bought our first house, I was able to undertake huge tasks like tearing down wall paper and painting a room in just one day. I could rearrange whole rooms in our house, moving furniture up and down stairs by myself, while Aaron was gone at work. If I wanted to lose weight I could even do that fast.

My first time painting a room, in our very first house.

Fast forward to 2005. I was experiencing life as a stay-at-home wife for the first time as we attempted to start our family. Even my ability to sleep in or binge watch tv shows (on the brand-new Comcast onDemand) was perfected with intensity, while I also pursued my home improvement projects, cooking and cleaning, helping Aaron with lesson plans, or coaching volleyball. But as November drew to a close, I became overcome with a fatigue that I just couldn’t shake. Right before Christmas, the reason for my malaise was confirmed. I was pregnant with our first child!

And so began my new life. My pregnancy went perfectly in most regards. Baby grew well, I never got low on iron, I was very nauseous but not to a debilitating degree. The fatigue, however, that began with that pregnancy in some ways seems to have never left.

Part of the problem was an intense struggle with antepartum (occurring or existing before birth) depression. Most people have heard of postpartum depression, but according to the American Pregnancy Association:

“Pregnancy is supposed to be one of the happiest times of a woman’s life, but for many women this is a time of confusion, fear, stress, and even depression. According to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), between 14-23% of women will struggle with some symptoms of depression during pregnancy.

Depression is a mood disorder that affects 1 in 4 women at some point during their lifetime, so it should be no surprise that this illness can also touch women who are pregnant. But all too often, depression is not diagnosed properly during pregnancy because people think it is just another type of hormonal imbalance.

Although I had struggled with depression to varying degrees throughout high school and college, pregnancy brought me down to a level that I had never been before. Instead of being active and busy with my many hobbies, I lay in bed crying. I slept for hours and hours. I completely lost interest in anything and struggled through waves of hopelessness and thoughts of self-harm. When I finally broke down at my doctor’s appointment, my doctor held me and listened. Then she helped me form a plan to support me throughout the rest of pregnancy and postpartum period. It included therapy, medication (I started the day my daughter was born), and more frequent ultrasounds and visits. This was such a relief and help, but I didn’t really start to regain my interest in life until after my daughter was born and I started the medication.

I truly believe that the medication for anxiety and depression saved my life. As a new mother, I was exhilarated and ecstatic. I hadn’t felt so good in years, like I was back to the real me that I was during childhood. With my enthusiasm I was renewed in my dedication to “get a lot done.” This time, however, I had another person to contend with. I had a strong-willed baby girl who, despite my best efforts, wouldn’t conform to any kind of schedule. At least she slept well through the night, but daytime was completely unpredictable. I spent a lot of time wondering what to do with this little person. But trying to do anything I wanted was a surefire way to have a crying infant on my hands.

Now it is almost twelve years later. I have five little, and some not-so-little, people. They all have their own unique agendas, schedules, needs, and desires. I no longer have the willpower, strength, and time to power through projects. The days of getting a lot accomplished in a short period of time are long past.

With speed and efficiency taken away from me, I struggled for a long time. I made attempt after attempt to do things my old way. I was thwarted repeatedly; no matter how earnestly I vowed, “I’m going to finish removing all the paneling in the nursery come hell or high water,” I had no choice when three children fell ill and Aaron was away working. My first, and most important job, is to care for my family. I don’t doubt that for a moment, but a lifetime of believing that so much was in my control and that I could do so much was hard to shake. It’s funny to me now to look back, like I’m watching myself beat my head against a wall over and over, wondering why it took me so long to realize that I couldn’t make things happen by sheer determination.

The real progress toward a new way of doing things came after the birth of my fourth child. I was fifty pounds heavier than I’d ever been; debilitating anxiety kept me a prisoner in my own home; I was a slave to bad eating habits; my husband was gone for work more than he was home- I hit another low. I felt out of control in every aspect of my life. I was finally ready to consider that there might be a new strategy to instigate improvement. I wanted to change so much, and I was so overwhelmed. I was forced to start making the changes I wanted one. step. at. a. time.

We all know about baby steps. How every journey begins with a single step. How slow and steady wins the race. I had just never needed to do things that way before. Suddenly, it was the only possible way to do things.

I started by tackling my food habits and addictions. First came adding one vegetable to every meal. After a week or two, I began to remove processed sugar out of my diet. I familiarized myself with the “health food” stores, even though I felt out of place. It may sound silly, but I was finding strength in moving forward one small bit at a time, able to overcome some obstacles that I had never even come close to approaching with my fast and furious ways.

As I modified our family’s eating habits, I began to try the new approach in other areas of my life. I may not be able to do six subjects a day with all my children in our homeschool, but I can consistently start one subject every day for a week- most of the time ;). The next week we can start two classes a day. When that is going smoothly, we can add more. I may not be able to get the entire first floor of our house painted in one day, but I can do one wall at a time and it WILL get done eventually. Every time I start to feel overwhelmed and frustrated, I remind myself, “One step at a time.” If I can make even the most minute progress toward a goal each day, it is a victory for me.

Transforming from the hare into the tortoise hasn’t mean that everything is hunky-dory all the time. It doesn’t mean that I never feel overwhelmed- I do every day! To be so cliche: it’s about the journey, not the destination. Maybe I’m just growing up. I definitely feel more peaceful and relaxed than I did when I was younger, even though I have a lot more responsibility and chaos in my life.

As I approach topics and projects on my blog, I will always come back to the philosophy of “one step at a time.” Of “slow and steady wins the race.” And if I can become that way, anybody can. Even you. 🙂 What challenges have you been able to overcome by being slow and steady? I’d love for you to share; you don’t know who will be encouraged by your progress!


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