Global Mom: Burying the Bar

From Global Mom: A Memoir

(Continued from the last post, “Mr. Psy”)

Louvre pyramid against gray skies

That I didn’t take the rest of those blue pills does not in any way mean I judge anyone else for taking theirs. I know that for many of my friends they are necessary – without a question life-saving. Nor do I judge my benevolent Montessori mother friend who’d suggested them in the first place.

Luc at Montessori

Luc at Montessori

It just means I could not function so well for my family as a muted cello or dulled bell living in a chalky mirage. I preferred, believe it or not, functioning like the wrung out metallic wad of last year’s tube of Colgate because even if it was curled, pressed flat, emptied-out, and pasty, well at least I could feel it.

So I tried another approach. I took ahold of the bar I’d rigged (again) too high above my head. I lifted it out of its slot and lowered it down. A notch. Or four. I closed my eyes, literally, to the complete disarray I’d been trying to dig through and work around. And I walked out.

At 6:00 a.m. five days a week, in fact, I walked out and ran several kilometers along the Seine with my husband.

Then I lowered the bar another notch. I stopped tidying and list-making and got to bed by ten o’clock. Every single night.

I figured out ways to simplify some basics, like I ordered groceries online and had them delivered to my kitchen floor. I relinquished control over that part and other parts of my existence. I let things go – I let so many things go – lowering the bar another notch.

I ate carefully and regularly. (I have never since eaten lapsed yogurts with pretzel shavings).

I slowed down to read, very slowly, sacred scripture without fail every day and for at least thirty minutes at a time. I prayed in a steady stream. Or at least I listened inwardly in a steady stream. I let God pour His love into my open tank.

I did not immediately take on any major volunteer positions at school or at church, as had always been my tendency. I let other people volunteer for a while since they obviously wanted to. That meant I lowered the bar seventy-times-seven notches.

And my beautiful family, including my good parents, who came to stay for a couple of weeks over the holidays, rallied around me. We rallied around us.

Finally, I realized I’d let enough things go so that the bar was ground level. I could even step over it in stilettos. And okay, okay. I took off the stilettos. (I only needed their sharp heels to dig the hole to actually bury the bar.)

With the bar buried, with the permission I gave myself to not achieve or work hard or do things perfectly, with the permission to be broken and hobbling for as long as it took and that that – just existing – was fabulous enough, I grew better. Quickly, you might say.


In a matter of about a month, actually, I realized I was even whistling (who whistles in Paris?) and smiling involuntarily (and who smiles?), skipping, as I recall, on a Thursday right past this century’s grouchiest old soul, the man who stood guard at the entrance of our parking box two blocks away from Colonel Combes. I skipped, he snarled and hucked a cigarette butt in my path, and I think I might have kicked my lovely heels together leprechaun style just as I winked at him.

Wink-wink, Monsieur.


Someone might conclude that it was one week of blue pills that pulled me out of the death spiral. I have no hard evidence to the contrary. Could be. And someone else might think, well, duh, it was Paris. Of course she was happy.
But tell me, has that someone actually lived in Paris in January? This is not Happy Land.


No, I believe something else happened, although I still cannot pin down in its every element what that something was. It had much to do with sleeping more, eating well and exercising reasonably. It also had a great deal to do with asking folks (namely my family) to give me some help, since I am normally a poor model for that. It also had something to do with disciplining myself to be nice and unproductive for a while. Yes, it was all that and something more, and I thank my terrestrial and celestial partners for that something, because that something tugged, shook, and Swedish-massaged my contorted double helix into fresh and hale alignment.

And having such things straightened out would be needful. Because we were galloping right into Camelot.

Portraits courtesy of Audrey White

These four portraits courtesy of Audrey White

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melissa Dalton-Bradford and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

28 thoughts on “Global Mom: Burying the Bar

  1. Thank you Melissa for your post today on burying the bar. It was timely. We are expecting company this weekend. And then traveling with them next week to Canada. My house is not ready nor will it be ready for company with piles of this here, unfinished project there, cookies to bake for tonight’s church youth activity, visits to make to several women in our congregation, an e-mail to send to my sister who is struggling, lawn to mow, beds to change, pick up Josh from one middle school and bring him to another so he can play with his band at a variety show (walk to car repair shop to pick up van first), send check to another sister, pay bills, dinners to make, a monthly leadership meeting for the church organization I oversee, Car pools to drive (first 8-10 kids from Bible study to school) then 5 kids to middle school, exercise, read scriptures, take time to pray, talk with Katie about something she is struggling with, take van back to car repair shop a second day to finish some work, find time to spend with my husband, grocery shopping, decide menus for this weekend as well as next week, laundry to do, bathroom to clean, oversee Katie and Josh in chores as well as homework, hot tub to empty, clean and refill (had I known how much work hot tubs were I wouldn’t have got one. It has been good for my fibromyalgia symptoms–if I have time to actually sit in it! Josh likes to destress in it before school–and he showers afterwards–which he would only do 2-3 times a week before)

    So, I had been thinking the past day or two as I thought about all that needed to be done, that maybe I shouldn’t worry about all the house stuff, just worry about the minimun stuff like clean sheets, clean bathrooms, clean sheets and floors swept or vacuumed. Anything else is gravy.

    Also make sure I take time for important things like scripture reading and pondering, exercise (today’s will be walking to and from car repair shop, mowing lawn, and free weight exercises) and being nice to people, especially my family.

    Your post helped to reaffirm that we can let go of some things.


    • Stop!!! Carrie, I’m panting and am going to hyperventilate. Whooahhh friend, a fraction of that To-Do list is already too much. I’m obviously not one to dispense advice on this, so I’ve deleted the entire paragraph here where I gave suggestions (like taking apples instead of baking cookies, delegating absolutely all you can this week to others who are not expecting company, and letting your dear friends change their own bedsheets) and simply hope you can drop anything not absolutely essential to the relationships that matter most. Here’s to burying that bar. Or tossing it altogether.

      Along with the hot tub. 🙂

      Warmth and a 45 minute virtual shoulder rub—M.

  2. Your words are always profoundly beautiful. They are, still. But the photos of you are lovely, too! xoMonique

  3. I was thinking about the commandment love thy neighbor as thy self. sometimes in our life we need to think of ourselves and get back to who we are and why are we here. in order grow closer to heavely father and christ’s atonement to work for us. especially at a time when we are over whelmed. and stressed. I have turned down volunteering in church 2 times in my life.. last year i was a challenged to teach youth Bible study despite my health challenges and i was blessed. a couple months ago i turned down volunteering to help out in the church nursery with the littlest children.. I am on an insulin pump and i take care of my 4 year old grand daughter. . i am exhausted and my sugars are still not stable. an exucuse maybe . i confered with Heavely father and i feel good of my descion . The best year and worst was 1994 when my son was born , my sister died, and a move and few major things that could have taken my newborn away. i had my year check up after giving birth and I rattled off all the stuff i was grwoing through. She looked at me with shock and surprise and concern. Do you want a pill? How on earth are you holding up. . I did not tell her all my ways I said pray. blessings. Nursing my baby was the best time for me.. and few other things. well since then i learned a few more things when i had my cancer scare in germany. I have to thankk you for your Sunday Bible lessons. it was the most I looked forward too . after being in a small church congregation I needed to be challenged and needed to be fed by someone whose sprituality and knowledge was higher than mine. I needed that. so thank you. you were my slavation and teacher a mentor and you did not know it.

    • Well, catherine, this must have been hard for you to write. What a sweet message, and a stream of consciousness that tells so much. And let me just say this in all openness: teaching that Sunday class in our Munich congregation was for me an immense oxygen tank for me. I’m deeply grateful it meant something for others, but I can assure you and everyone who was there that the benefits were undoubtedly greater for me than than they could have been for anyone who attended. And this is interesting: I was in the very throes of major grief. You’d think that would be the time to sink into a major depressive episode. But for me,at least, grief end depression were hardly the same animal. In my deepest months of grief, (and we’de just moved internationally, too, and my whole family was suffering all around me), I felt none of the traces of self-loathing. In fact, I felt just the opposite.

      But at a certain point when I could speak to people without weeping (after six months and one week from impact, to be exact), I then volunteered to turn outwardly and serve others by teaching those and other classes in our church setting. And that, dear Catherine, was the beginning of transformation for me and for my whole family.

      Striking, huh?

      I’ve learned much, and am still learning. Thank you for your message. It’s humbled me, because I know your life has been full of serious challenges. And that was kind of you to write that our little Sunday classes helped you at that point. (And I thought they were all for my healing!)—M.

      • I forgot to write that the only church volunteer position i accepted in 1997 was to visit certain women in our congregation. My position today is called “compassionate service leader”. You’re right about grief and depression being different animals. There are different types and forms of depression I have discovered throughout the experiences i’ve had.. We cannot be happy all the time; that would be too perfect. Your body has natural depressions, if you’re healthy it still goes through depressions, and when you’re not healthy it’s a little more challenging either way, especially when events and transitions happen in life. And we must not forget it all works closely with our spiritual health. One can help the other to be at a healthy level. (I do hope you can understand what I am trying to say!) We always say that the lessons we teach really benefit us more than those whom we teach, yet both are edified. The choice of course is ours if we listen or not. I loved teaching Bible study, then my daughter moved in who is going through a divorce, and we had challenges again. Some, we’ll never get rid of. The worst year was 1997 not ’94. That year was great and it was hard, because I married and became an instant mom to teenagers. A whole other story with that…Any thanks for every thing, cathy.

  4. I had a similar emotional/psychological response to our move to Turkey, which was a wonderful place in so many ways. The beginning of the cure turned out to be a trip to Paris/Dijon at Eastertime. 😉 The end of the cure was to move back home. Home being the place where I had circles of competency, could communicate (Turkish is so hard!!), and felt free to practice my religion openly again. But I didn’t learn to lower the bar until I had four children and lived in a barless place: Vermont. It’s been such a blessing. Let’s hope I can remain without a bar when I leave this place.

    • Maren: Maybe I need to move to Vermont. Barless? Is there such an existence? Sign me up.

      And I had not know that you had lived in Turkey. Very, very interesting. We had had an opportunity to move to Istanbul instead of Versailles from Norway, and I had researched extensively in order to assess things. Were you in Istanbul or Ankara? When was this? Was this during the major string of earthquakes? (Don’t know about anyone else, but a little 6.5 earthquake here and there in the hood would increase my stress levels somewhat. . .) You’ve struck on something critical here, that the addition of a language (and a difficult one) in order to simply survive daily as a family exponentially increases the probability of stress in an international move. And Turkish is…well, beautiful, yes, but terribly difficult!! Not being able to worship freely would be a significant challenge, too. I respect all of you who live in places where you have to literally hide your beliefs. I know many out there,in the Middle East, deep in mainland China. . .It’s an intense experience, one I can only begin to imagine. We’ve traveled to Istanbul and attended the 15-member congregation of our church there, three floors above a hardware store. What sturdy families, what ability to bear stress.

      Love having you here, Maren—M.

      • Yes, Vermont is as close to barless as one can get in a “developed” country. Not kidding. Sometimes, when I am outside it, I realize I have been living under a rock and I am out of date. Then I go back home and don’t care again. 🙂 People are wonderfully accepting of others, very little judging or expectations or things that help create our “bars”. There are some disadvantages, though. (Won’t get into that here.) Turkey: September, 2001 to summer 2002 while my husband studied Islamic political parties. No earthquakes. It was right, right after 9/11 and Turks were very supportive and friendly to Americans and they love children. Especially blonde children and I had a little 2 year old blonde with me everywhere I went. We lived in Ankara. Small church group with Embassy families and several LDS Charities missionaries. But we all left at the same time so I’m not sure what kind of group there is in Ankara anymore. Istanbul is lovely, too.

  5. Melissa, you have shown that it is those things we do in life that affect our health. You used exercise, diet, sleep and support to get you through…. Kudos! You should submit this story to a magazine or newspaper. It is a powerful success story of a woman’s battle and ultimate defeat of depression.

    I am in a similar place of lowering the bar and simplifying. I got off the treadmill, no longer volunteer, and rarely do I attend social events. I have a story similar to yours ( though not a very happy ending like yours) but I am not ready to share because I don’t how….yet! 🙂

    • Dearest Angela–I hope that my message never reads as a holier-healthier-than-thou diatribe. (I cringe lightly, knowing it can come across as that.) I have so very many friends who must rely on medication to make it, and I am grateful for that. Manic depressive, bipolar, OCD, paranoid schizophrenic…I have these people in my closest circle of friends, and they are warriors. I admire their beauty and effort to face life. I should indeed write some stuff for magazines, and get into the granular uglies of what this has meant for others who are frightened at what they cannot do for someone who is suffocating in their own negative brain chants.

      Actually, Angela, I would love to read a big, chunky piece in your blog about depression, US mental health trends, overmedication and overdiagnosis and underdiagnosis and undertreatment, etc. You are the mind and the voice for that. I am sure it would knock the socks off of every reader.

      And for how you are making your way: I want to learn from your wisdom. And for happy endings: we are all in the middle of our stories, no matter where we are, and so the ending perhaps is yet to be seen for you. I wish you every good and life-elevating thing. You are an inspiration.—M

  6. I think it’s important to note that even as you were letting some things go (the trivial and superficial things), you were focusing with increased awareness–raising the bar even–on the truly vital things: sleep, nutrition, your health, your family, your spiritual well-being. It’s really a matter of choosing, isn’t it? You have taught me much about choosing well, Melissa.

  7. This resonates deeply with me, as it has with so many others, Melissa.

    I have found that committing to those truly vital things, as Sharlee describes them—sleep, nutrition, reducing commitments, seeking out holy writ and spiritual sustenance and circling the wagons that are our families and loved ones—can seem almost overwhelmingly difficult in the midst of the darkest depression. Baby steps have been my salvation. Starting with even one of those vital things can make the next step seem possible.

    I have also found that reading about depression is incredibly sustaining when things are at their most difficult. I have turned, in particular, to William Stegner’s _Darkness Visible_ more than once. Knowing that at least aspects of my experience are shared with another — and being able to that other’s gorgeously painful rendering of it — has been immensely, almost unspeakably comforting to me.

    Your posts about depression and grief clearly offer this gift of shared experience with many. Thank you for being a voice that makes us nod, “yes, yes.”

    • KM; Oh, I’m so glad to find you stopping by here. You have put you finger on it; small steps toward the truly vital things, which center on caring for our sacred selves and the sacred in others. This is in many ways what CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) would probably direct one to do: To retrain the spiraling mind toward inch-wise rehabilitation.

      I realize, too, that there was this other crucial thing that happened in that phase that also helped me, and that was that the point when I had my head at least above the dark waters, I met someone who needed my help, my expertise. To realize I had something to offer another was encouraging for me, since I was convinced I had so litte to offer, that I was, in fact, toxic to the world. Actively loving others in need has a revitalizing effect, at least it had on me.

      I’d love to post much more on this (and do hope to write a book on it soon), and would appreciate anyone’s reading list. I’ve found the works of Kaye Redfield Jamison a great aid. And yes, thank you for mentioning William Styron’s Darkness Visible, as I’ve read excerpts and find it powerful.

      Wonderful to have you join the conversation, KM.—M

  8. Sharlee: yes, yes. I learned a completely new alignment of such things when we lost Parker, and nothing but my small, invisible cocoon of my home and core family mattered. I slept, read, read, read, prayed, slept, thought, and wrote. ALl that, naturally, was a luxury. What about those who find themselves in such a vortex of self-loathing, but cannot pull out of a highly competitive culture, a superficial society? What about all the hurting people who cannot choose, as I could , to retreat, as I could do? Out of the drive that we are stupidly convinced matters, but which is ultimately is robbing us of peace and our most sacred relationships, namely with our closest beloveds and with God (however you define divinity). I admit that I am learning, and have so much yet to learn. Love to you, Sharlee.

  9. Melissa, thanks for this posting! Many people would only consider the “glamour” of living and moving internationally, but only someone like you can adequately describe what the effect of so much upheaval can be. I love your prescription for climbing out of such a deep, deep hole……so full of good ideas. And I noticed in your response to a friend your mention of doing something for someone else — while it doesn’t totally solve other problems, my experience puts you in a better place every single time. Love you, dear friend!

    • Geri- precisely. I have spent too much of my adult life trying to combat some common prejudgments of observers who make all sorts of assumptions about international living. It is the life we have chosen, yes, and we are grateful for it as a whole, no question. And would we change the 20 years on the road for something else? No. And trying to extend yourself (once you’re stable enough) to help another person is a way to gain strength. At least it has been for me every single time.—M

  10. Melissa – this is a great story. I assume it’s in your book? You could easily turn this into a small e-book to give away on your blog (as a teaser for your book). It’s a great encouragement for all of us who have struggled with overdoing it. I went through this when God called me to go back to work when my daughter was little. There were so many things that I had to stop doing or else be completely miserable.

    I bought a new book recently called Good Enough Is the New Perfect. It’s directed towards mothers, but I think (from the article I saw on it) that it’s applicable to anyone who struggles.

    Seriously though, without development it would be a good e-book. With some development, it would be great. But all I’m doing is leaving an idea for you.

    Sorry I haven’t been around much. My time has been short and I don’t want to casually skim your posts.


    • Nancy, what a great idea. I have roughly seven book projects percolating on every back burner I can heat up right now while trying to officially launch this major book. I will talk with my publisher about this, since I know lots of folks are running to small ebooks, and digital is gradually meeting up with sales of conventional (sensually pleasing) hard copy.

      I am a hard copy gal myself, need to touch pages and smell the print, but hey, I once also swore an oath I would never blog.

      Goes to show. . .


      Great ideas, Nancy. Good luck to you in this thick time. Bar low, heart high. —M.

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