• Dana L. Butler

On Needing Help {or: Life’s hard. Play Mario Kart.}

I never title a post before I write it. Except, apparently, for when I do.

I’ve had this post title sitting here alone in my WordPress Chrome tab, blank screen looming, and I’ve been straight up procrastinating — also known as aimlessly surfing Facebook. Which, by the way, is a veritable minefield of politically charged emotions these days, eh? Yipes.

::zips lips and closes eyes tight::

Anyway. As you can see, I’m still procrastinating.

As I try and wrangle my focus toward the things I’m planning to say here today, my stomach does flips. This post has been brewing for a while. Months. I’ve felt it coming, eyed it with trepidation.

I want to tell you about some places in which I’ve fallen very short of my own {previous} expectations of myself. Some places I’m learning to admit I need help.


When Maia entered our family, Isaac still wasn’t sleeping through the night. And while Maia’s babyhood was nowhere near as challenging as her big brother’s, it wasn’t a piece of cake, either.

Sleep loss began to take a significant toll on my health. It weakened my immune system, and in those days, a common cold could easily take hold in my lungs, develop into bronchitis or even pneumonia, and mess with my breathing and my vocal chords and my energy level for months.

Very quickly, Stan began spending the vast majority of nights sleeping in the living room or the guest room. He took the baby monitor and made himself available to our littles during those nighttime hours so that I would be able to sleep uninterrupted. He chose to sacrifice sleep so I’d have a better shot at staying well.

Now, over three years later, Stan’s sleeping in our room with me probably 50-60% of the time. It’s been a long journey. He still sometimes sleeps in the living room if I’m fighting sickness or have a headache, and the kids know where to find him if they’re up in the night.

Y’all, I can’t begin to explain the degree to which I’ve battled shame over needing this degree of sacrificial help from Stan. But over the last year and a half as my frequent headaches have developed into full-blown migraines, my need for plentiful sleep has been inescapable.

Which brings me to another facet of my life in which I’m coming to grips with my need for help: my kiddos.

Lemme say this first: y’all, my kids are stinking AWESOME. I adore them. Isaac is imaginative and articulate and brilliant and hilarious. Maia is strong and affectionate and creative and engaging. Parenting them is the most fulfilling part of my life.

Annnnnd the most challenging. A dichotomy to which I’m sure most, if not all, parents would attest.

All of that said, I’m admitting to you that particularly in the last year and a half, my life has been frequently punctuated by periods during which I feel completely unequipped to bear the weight of parenting my kiddos.

My kids’ relationship with one another is incredibly intense, a dynamic that’s exacerbated by Maia’s indomitable will, and Isaac’s deficits that stem from some of his cognitive/developmental needs. For those same reasons, their individual relationships with me (and with Stan, too) can also be very intense.

In the interest of walking the fine line between sharing parts of my kids’ stories because their stories so deeply impact mine, and then not sharing other parts, because their stories are first their own — I’ll just say that the combo of Maia’s strength and drive, with Isaac’s special needs, is highly, highly combustible.

Said combustibility impacts me in a zillion or so ways, but there are a couple arenas of impact that stand out in my mind above the rest:

Headaches and stress. The intensity of the dynamics I’m speaking of, y’all, on many days it’s been enough to take me from zero — or very mild — headache, to a migraine that lands me in bed for a couple days.

I’ve tried lots of things — natural, homeopathic, western medicine. I’m on preventative medications for my migraines. I’m seeing a neurologist regularly, and I’m certainly not looking for medical advice here.

But y’all, my headaches (many of which were undeniably parenting-stress-induced) became so frequent that a few months ago, Stan insisted I procure more help with our kiddos. Our precious ones who’re already in school three (for Maia) and four (for Isaac) mornings per week.

I cried my eyes out, y’all. I wept because it killed me inside to admit my need for more help. To admit at a new level that I am not the mom I always thought I’d be. That I don’t have the physical or emotional capacity I always thought I’d have to navigate my children’s needs and struggles in the nitty-gritty. The day-to-day.

And? I wept because I spent a lot of years in a church culture where, for a mom to ask for regular alone time, away from her children, was frowned upon. Where for me to admit that I needed time out, away from my kids, by myself, would most definitely mean I “wasn’t getting my needs met by the Lord.” I’d bought it, y’all.

I’m still unlearning things.

So, yeah. I wept. I processed with the Lord, with a couple of close girlfriends, and with my counselor. And then… I began to accept the reality (not to mention the validity) of my need, and, however reluctantly, followed Stan’s urging.

We have a lovely, incredible sitter 2 afternoons per week nowadays. She bakes cookies with the kids and leaves the kitchen spotless; she takes them swimming… and y’all, she folds our laundry. I had no idea what a load (pun sort of intended) it’d take off my shoulders to come home to a clean apartment and already-folded laundry.

The kids adore her, and she’s fun and novel enough that they clash with one another significantly less than they do when I have them. We joke that she is the real Mary Poppins.

So I’m coming to grips these days with the fact that, right now, this is responsible, God-honoring self care. Carving out these blocks of time is what I need to do, so that during the times I have with my little peeps, I’m able to wholly give myself to them. So I have the internal reserves to shepherd and invest in their hearts at a deep level.

It’s what I need to keep my migraines on the decline (they’re much less intense and frequent this last month or two), and… it’s what I need for my mental and emotional wellbeing.

Okay. So…

About this whole mental and emotional health thing. True confessions impending here, you guys — and I’m saying this stuff out loud, shaky voice and all, because there’s still shame and this overall sense of taboo that shroud and silence those of us with various mental and emotional difficulties, particularly in the church.

And in a future post, I’ll maybe say some stuff about Christians and mental health. About why I still trust God’s heart to heal bodies and to meet the needs of hearts and how I’ve experienced Him in the midst of navigating this particular need in my life.

But for now, I’m just gonna say this to y’all:

I am on medication for depression and anxiety. I have been for something like two years intermittently, and consistently for the last year.

Gosh. Never, ever did I think I would need medical help to support my mental/emotional wellbeing. (Nor, by the way, did I think I’d ever share this out loud, public-ish-ly.)

I’d never been prone to depression, at least not that I or anyone close to me recognized. And I’d never remotely considered the possibility that my anxiety level might be a little more extreme than most. Not until we went through some deeply painful, stressful circumstances in 2014, which was when I first talked to my doctor in Kansas City about a medication for anxiety.

With all of life’s intensity — the dynamics with my kids I alluded to above, combined with other heavy circumstances that I won’t go into here — I’ve been incredibly thankful for this type of emotional support.

It’s making a really, really noticeable difference for me. I’m significantly less discouraged and less overwhelmed, less of the time, than I previously was. My capacity to deal with my kids’ crazy in all its various forms is remarkably higher than it was and holding steady-ish, I think.

Like I told my doctor when I first went in to chat about medication, “I’m not out of control — I just don’t want my kids to grow up and remember me being irritable and borderline overwhelmed through the entirety of their early childhood years.”


So. Here I am, shaky voice and all, telling you this stuff — all these ways in which I haven’t met my own expectations for myself, all these places that would feel like so much defeat if Jesus weren’t tangibly near, whispering within my weakness — and praying God takes something I’ve said here and makes it healing balm to your hearts today, my friends.

And… if you’re still here reading (and if you are, bless your heart) I want to tell you one more thing.

Stan and I are buying a house — did I tell you that? We’re under contract and should be closing on or before the 26th of this month. We couldn’t be more excited. A back yard, separate rooms for the kids, and more space in general promise to radically improve our lives on several different practical levels.

Oh — another thing:

I may or may not have purchased a 10-year-old, used Wii for Stan’s birthday last month. Because I’m a kid at heart, and so’s he.

Isaac loves Mario and Wii Sports and Maia’s hand-eye coordination is gradually improving.

But y’all – here’s what happens after the kids are in bed:

Stan and I play Mario Kart. We race to our hearts’ content. We are zooming around like crazy people and running into walls and falling off cliffs and being attacked by plant-like chomper-dudes, and Stan beats me a HECK of a lot more often than I beat him.

And we’re laughing together. A ton. I didn’t realize how much we weren’t doing that. How much all these pressures can cause us to take ourselves way, way too seriously, for way, way too long.

So. Like I’ve already said: Life’s hard. Play Mario Kart.

Thanks for your presence here, friends. For listening. For caring. For graciously receiving my heart here. I love y’all so big. <3

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