I’m back from a postpartum hiatus during which I hit burnout more times than I can count. I finally had to face my “failure” and got some help. Now I’m armed with some new mental health tools and reflections of my own that have lightened my load.

I love themes, even negative ones, because themes teach us patterns and patterns reveal truth.

One of these truth-bearing themes was made clear to me lately. I’ve been big on messages and their effects on us for years now. I’ve seen myself lash out unjustly the moment after reading some horrifying news headline, and I can put two and two together.

That sensitivity has made me careful about what comes in: what I read, what I watch and who I spend a lot of quality time with. My brain ingests information about social mores, justice versus injustice and relationship dynamics. All of this can come just from watching TV, hearing friends converse or reading headlines from a news outlet.

I had a moment of truth years ago when I let my kids watch a certain kids’ movie. As a parent, I was horrified to realize that images and tropes from that movie were the baseline for years of body image issues for me. Not only were the beauty standards untenable, but the complete lack of virtue in the so-called hero seemed like brainwashing.

I remember thinking “This? This is what I want to feed the minds of my pliable, earnest, open-hearted children?”

It was moral garbage. And I was letting them eat it. Mind you, this is a film my husband and I love and quote often, and it is a classic animated children’s movie.

After that, I took a much harder look at all the garbage I was letting myself ingest on a regular basis. This theme has followed me around ever since. The pattern I see is that what I hear becomes what I think, and what I think becomes what I believe.

This is where the new tools come in. Because juggling a new baby, postpartum hormones and the inability to control a lot of things had me wearing my feelings on my sleeve with some dire consequences. Not permanent, thankfully, but certainly enough to cause me to face the need for change.

I found a program called Meru Health that walked me through changes I can make each day. Just small things I can control in my mind and body that incrementally build the strength to face hard things that have usually knocked me over before.

One of the most powerful was about noticing my thoughts. A 20-minute guided meditation challenged me to just let the thoughts come. My job was simply to take note of them, ask myself if they were true or valuable to me, then let them float away and be replaced.

We often believe what we think, but we don’t have to. Many of us feel guilty for what we think because we believe it comes from us and must therefore be true reflections of us.

The truth is that I am not my thoughts. I can’t control what comes in. I can, however, control how I react to it. If I slow down even a little, I can choose what I do with each thought that hits me and pulls me in some direction I didn’t choose.

Sometimes one will come in and I can tell right away it’s just one I’ve been conditioned to have.

You know that thought that pops in when your kid does something and it goes, “you’re a bad parent.” We’ve all had that thought. So many messages around us have taught us to think it. Or perhaps we’ve heard it so often we believe that’s what everybody thinks.

It’s a lie. It’s bunkum. I think it a lot, but I know I don’t believe it, so I tell it to scram. It’s just a thought. It is not who I am. It does not reflect my beliefs or values. It does not even confirm what trusted friends have told me about myself.

Little by little, I am practicing taking control of them. That means choosing carefully what messages I let in, because they inform my thoughts. It means being vigilant and paying attention to my thoughts, intentionally kicking out the lies and developing greater awareness of what I believe and value.

And it means being gentle with myself when the thoughts get dark, because darkness does not come from me.

I can’t afford to fall into my own mind traps all the time anymore. There are too many hearts that need me to teach them what is true and good and beautiful.

If I want to lead by example, then it’s time to harness the thoughts.

Adrienne is a Catholic homeschooling mom with five young children and a mission to raise leaders.

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