the following is an excerpt from Messy Bun Mantras

One day a song on the radio caught my attention. The lyric that popped into my ear essentially said: hey, maybe it’s alright that I’m a train wreck sometimes. I remember thinking, Oh, thank God.

I may look like I’m neat and orderly, but I secretly operate at a strange level of organized chaos. The truth is that I am a major procrastinator. I’m always late for everything – everything. The only exception to my perpetual tardiness is Sunday service and only because we sit in the front and I know Pastor will totally notice if we sneak in late. I know this doesn’t sound like someone who previously claimed to have a Type A personality but hear me out. I think there is only so much effort I can make before something has to give. I know that I am organized and attentive to detail and great at multitasking and deserve a gold star for that, but sometimes, perhaps because of those traits, I need some of my life to spill over into the realm of natural disaster. Sometimes I just need permission to not have it all together. I’ve spent the past couple of years coming to terms with that identity, finally accepting that’s who I’ve been all along.

At the time of this writing, I am approaching the two-year mark since my diagnosis of anxiety. If you have never suffered from anxiety, you might not understand it. That’s okay. Here’s the abridged explanation: there are different levels of worry. There are simple, commonplace worries like trying to remember everything on the grocery list or coordinating the family schedule. Then there are complicated worries like medical issues or company lay-offs or global pandemics. None of these are ideal, but there’s still a clear reason for the stress.

Meet anxiety. It comes in different forms too, as do most illnesses. There are specific types of anxiety that correlate with phobias or traumas, and there’s generalized anxiety, which is mine. Suffering from general anxiety means that I worry all the time, am restless all the time, and might even go through periods of insomnia. I can’t put a finger on the main cause of my stress because there might not be a primary source. There might be multiple sources or there might just be an overhanging sense of impending doom. I want it to go away so I can feel normal, but it’s not something that merely goes away. I can’t turn it off. It is not something I can simply get over. It takes work. It comes in waves but praise the Lord those waves are getting a little calmer.

For almost two years now I have been consciously working on my mental health. I learned to give myself permission to have days where I just accept that I am not okay. I’m not sure where the idealization of perfection came from, but that’s not me. It’s not what I want. It’s an unrealistic expectation and I don’t want to live a perfect life. I want a little mess, especially in this season when my children are young. Toddlers taught me to roll with whatever comes. It changes by the hour. As a mom of two curious boys, very little is going to go as planned. Things happen. My kids have this uncanny ability to poop right as we are walking out the door. Literally. Bags in hand, key in the lock, and suddenly it smells like a gas balloon exploded.

So if I’m ever late to church, Pastor, you’ll know it’s because one of my kids pooped. Sorry.

Working on my mental health is an ongoing process. Giving myself permission to not be okay is a repetitive exercise. A lot of my anxiety centers on things being in or out of my control. Once things start spiraling out of control in my mind, I start doubting that I am Capable of doing anything, being anything, or getting anything accomplished that day.

But I am Capable.

Taking care of my mental health means being proactive. I can’t wait to manage my mindset until the next panic attack. It needs to be part of my focus every day, just like my physical health. Cultivating good physical health means fueling my body with nutrients instead of junk and showing up to my workouts like they are smoking hot dates. It means limiting my caffeine intake because I know it makes me crazy. It means not eating or drinking things that will hurt my stomach later (I am allergic to bananas and avocados…I know, I know). It means making the best decision I can make in that present moment. But physical health also has cheat days, which are important in maintaining a good attitude and balance. If a friend brings me a slice of cake when she comes to visit, I’m going to eat it, just saying. If there are free cookies in the office Bermuda triangle (where extra, unwanted food appears and magically disappears minutes later) I’m probably going to eat one. And that’s okay. I make exercise a priority but if something else comes up, I’m going to drop the workout and hang out with my family or friends. And that’s okay. Sometimes cookies and friends are the best decisions I can make in those moments. It is okay to skip a workout, because I know I am Capable of picking it up again. It’s okay to have a cheat day, because I know I am Capable of self-control the other days of the week.

Mental health is similar. I know I am Capable of doing five hundred things, skipping sleep, and whittling down that to-do list, but are those the best decisions I can make? Nope. Five hundred is a ridiculously high number and the only woman on this planet who can function without sleep is my mile-a-minute Spanish teacher from high school. So sure, I can work and strive and press on toward my goals, but where does that leave me? Stressed, worn out, tired, and mentally drained. God rested on the seventh day after He finished creating. I should work and create to the best of my ability for six days and take a page from His book on the seventh. Do I? No, and that’s probably a good contributor to some of my stress. So taking care of my mental health means taking time to rest. I need time to abide in the Lord, and I need time Alone. As an introvert I recharge best when I am left Alone. As a woman and a mom, I spend a lot of time pouring into others, which is a blessing, but I can’t forget to pour into myself as well. I can’t give anyone any more pieces of me if there are none left.

If I don’t take time to pour into myself, that’s when anxiety – I call her Fanny – comes back to whisper terrible things in my ear. In fact, almost every mantra in this book was born from something that Fanny has whispered to me.

We all need encouragement to believe we are Capable. We are much more Capable than we even realize. We can go further than we ever thought if we believe in ourselves, because we have a Father who believes in us too. Imagine what we could accomplish if we listened to our Father’s voice and not the voices of doubt, fear, and anxiety.

Not every day can be productive. While I work on believing in myself and trusting the Father, I can rest in the knowledge that sometimes it’s alright that I’m not okay. I am becoming a better version of myself and that doesn’t come without setbacks. Exhaustion is part of being human. Failure is a part of being human. And that’s okay.

I am made Capable through Christ.