Tag Archives: friends

an addendum… the REAL way I survive

So, about three, (ok, more like ONE) days after writing this sweet, naïve post, it hit me again. That nagging, dulling, glimpse of the dark cloud that so strangely beckons me to just enter. Just enter, it says. Enter, succumb to the need. YOUR need. The need to be self-centered, to be ALL CONSUMED with how I feel, how I need. Look, it says. Look at how tired you are. Look at how poorly your kids behave. Look at how bad your skin is. Look at lazy you are. Look at how dirty your floors are. Look at how much weight you’ve gained.

You guys, it is in these moments, (NOT the moments in which I wrote that darling previous post) in which I realize that I am sometimes still merely surviving. And I scramble desperately to all the things I’ve learned, I’ve read, I’ve lived, to grasp the hook of hope to pull me the hell out of hell.

So. After reading that quaint list from that cutesy post, here’s the reality of what the last few days have looked like. First, I started getting a cold. No biggie, right? Then I wrote that lovely post. Then my adorable children woke me up at least 6 times for about four nights straight, because, you know, they’re sick, too. Get over it, you’re a mom, I think. So I’m literally sick and tired. Meanwhile, it rained for like four days. So much for that sunshine I was talking about. And, as one does when one is sick and tired and grumpy, I totally drank plenty of fluids, got exercise, took my vitamins, read the Bible, and spent lots of time praying. (You guys, I did NONE of those things. Not a one.) And the last three days have been some of my lowest since we’ve moved here.

What is it about our lowest moments that make us forget about the things that can HELP US?? The twisted spiral that is depression is like no other medical illness. If you break a leg, you go to the doctor. If you have a headache, you take some pain meds. If you have depression, you just sit. You sit in your depression. The very existence of depression means you are almost completely UNABLE TO HELP YOURSELF.

Unless… unless you know the signs. Unless you can catch it BEFORE you completely succumb. I thank the Lord that I am finally at the point where I can catch it. I can’t erase the feelings, but I can ease them. So today, these are a few things that I actually did. So while my previous list was groovy, here’s more of a real one.

First, I sent a few SOSes. I prayed. It was a I’m-in-the-middle-of-making-breakfast-for-the-kids-who-are-yelling-at-me-from-the-other-room-and-making-each-other-cry-and-I-haven’t-had-coffee-yet “Dear sweet Jesus HELP ME” kind of prayer. But I truly meant it. Then I sent AJ a text that said something like, “My patience and sanity is wearing thin and I think I’m getting a sinus infection” at about 8:30am. (He knows me well enough to know that it was a cry for help and support, sweet man.)

Then I made the kids help me clean the house. (This was after I assessed that my stress level would drop a little if there were not DOZENS of ripped stickers all over the floor and if I could walk down the hallway without stepping on markers.) A tidy house can really do wonders for one’s sanity.

Then I took them outside. I was cranky, they were cranky, but we did it, kicking and literally crying (the two year old was so. angry. about having to sit in the stroller) and I forced them to lie on a swing and close their eyes to absorb the weak, 9:30am sunshine. Because I’m so mean.

Then we had to go to a birthday party, which meant INTERACTING. As in, with PEOPLE WHO ARE ADULTS. This is no small feat if you’ve been beckoned by the dark cloud, but it can often be one of the best remedies.

And later in the afternoon I sent a group text to three ladies I knew would give me the right dose of laughter and practical advice.

So here I am, finally aware that it’s been a rough few days but seeing the light. (And I’ve found a cocktail combination of meds to help my sinus pain…so there’s that…)

Guys. You’ve got to stick with it. All the things you’ve done to pull yourself out, DON’T FORGET THEM. USE THEM. And never think that it’s over. Because, if you’ve suffered from depression once, you’ll probably suffer again. But there’s hope :)

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The worst day of the year: surviving the days with no sunlight

An [American] friend asked me recently, “So are you guys still enjoying your stay over there?” To answer in a word, YES! These last couple of months have flown by so quickly that it’s hard to believe that in a few weeks we will have been in the UK for six months. SIX MONTHS, PEOPLE. That’s a long time. And a short time. You know what I mean.

And, as is the usual, I managed to take a break from writing for, um, a “few” weeks.

To me, these last couple of months have been critical in several ways, but mainly: I’VE SURVIVED THE DARKEST MONTHS OF THE YEAR WITHOUT REGRESSING INTO MY DEPRESSION!!!! Big deal. Huge. You guys, on what I often call “the worst day of the year,” aka December 21, aka the Winter Solstice, the sun rose at 8:00am and set at 3:50pm here in London. Less than 8 hrs of sunlight. And high noon looked like 4pm because the sun is so low here.

Those of you familiar with depression know that the depths of winter can be a trying time. Lack of sunlight = lack of vitamin D and also a lack of visual brightness, both of which are clinically proven to help reduce the effects of depression. Not to mention the potential of added stress of holidays and family and after-Christmas-blues.

I’ll be brutally honest: of all the unknowns and fears and general disruption of moving our family to London, my biggest inner fear was that, even while still taking my anti-depressant, I would not be able to handle the darkness of winter again and my mind would slip back into a state of depression. I was coming from a place where there is sunshine literally 360 days a year, and all I could remember about winters in Boston was being filled with dread, discontent and a general grumpiness.

BUT. So far so good! And here are a few things I believe have contributed to my “staying afloat” these last couple of months.

  • We walk EVERYWHERE.

    We walk EVERYWHERE.

    I’ve been outside a lot. We don’t own a car here (!) so I literally walk EVERYWHERE. I make the point to walk even when I could/should take a bus or cab. And while I wish I could say it was great exercise, it’s moderate at best. BUT being outdoors during the day makes such a big difference than when I was either in school or at work all day, and it was dark when I left home and dark when I returned. My little buddy Anders and I are out and about during the day, which means that when the sun is actually shining, we’re in it.

  • I own a “light therapy” light box, an amazing gift from my mother-in-law. This one, to be exact. It is not UV rays. It’s basically just a bright lamp that you sit in front of to give your eyes the illusion of being in daylight. I use it a couple of times a week, and while it’s not an immediate mood-booster, I’m positive it has benefitted my overall mood.
  • Sunrise Alarm Clock

    Sunrise Alarm Clock

    I also use a “sunrise alarm clock.” It slowly brightens as the hour gets closer to my “awake” time, so that when I need to get out of bed, it’s not pitch black in my room. I also use one in the kids’ room! It’s been most useful, actually, for my son when I need to wake him from his naptime and it’s pretty much dark in his north-facing bedroom.

  • I’ve been pretty regular at taking my vitamin D supplements, along with fish oil (omega 3s) and my multi-vitamin.
  • I’ve been praying against my depression, and I know my close friends and family are, too. (For which I’m so very grateful!!) When I start feeling anxious or stressed, I claim these promises. We’ve also found a church we can truly worship in, yay!
  • I’m still taking 50mg of sertraline. As I’ve written before, this is not a “happy pill”. But for me it’s made a major difference in my life and has enabled me to “wake up” and literally smell the hundreds of roses that are in this lovely city of London :-)

Don’t get me wrong. There are certainly times I can feel hints of my past depression and short-temperedness, usually when I’m tired and trying to haul my stroller/”buggy” and a “soccer/football” and a few bags of groceries and two whining kids up the stairs to my flat and my darling son chooses that moment to lie on the third step throwing a tantrum because he wiped his nose with his hand and now his hand is wet… (Our poor, sweet neighbors have never once complained about our kids…!!)

But for now, for this moment, I’m doing ok. (So thanks for asking!!)

Tough Questions: Handling Cultural Diversity with Young Children

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We were at our local grocery store in north London when my four-year-old daughter, Tori, tugged on my sleeve.

“Mommy. MOMMY.” She whispered fervently, eyes wide and face solemn. “There’s a MONSTER over there.”

She then, as children do, pointed. And when I saw who she was pointing at, I was taken aback. Not because of who I saw, but more because I wasn’t sure how to respond in the moment.

She was pointing to a woman dressed in a full abaya and niqab, a black cloak and veil Muslim women sometimes wear, which draped her from head-to-toe, covering everything except her eyes.

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London’s markets are rich with diversity.

I’m going to be brutally honest here. I wasn’t sure what to say to my daughter. What I did say (whisper) was something like, “Oh, no, that’s not a monster, she’s a woman just like me! I think she’s even a mommy! And do you see how by wearing those clothes we are forced to look at her pretty eyes?” And then we kept shopping.

Yeah… I still have no clue if that was the right thing to say. Here’s what I was feeling: “I know it LOOKS like she could be a monster to you. She is wearing the color of Halloween, she has a mask on, and she’s staring out at you through that mask. And you don’t see people like this very often, do you? It sometimes startles us when we see things we aren’t used to seeing.”

But of course I didn’t say that there. We talked about it more at home, but even then it was on the level a four-year-old could understand, and my main point to her was that those women are mommies and sisters and are just like she and I, and are nothing to be scared of, and should be loved just like everyone else.

Cultural diversity is one of the big reasons we chose to take our adventure to London, and we haven’t been disappointed! Tori literally had NEVER seen a woman in a niqab before. In fact, she had barely seen women wearing a hijab (head covering) until we moved here. I’ll be brutally honest again: our corner of Tucson just wasn’t very ethnically diverse. I’m not saying Muslims and Buddhists and people of MULTIPLE different religions, languages and race don’t live there, I’m just saying it’s not nearly as prevalent as in a city like London. (And, admittedly, we didn’t make a huge effort to leave our little corner often…)

Tori's adorable "Reception" class.

Tori’s adorable “Reception” class. She’s the one with the blonde pig-tails :-)

Tori, with her blonde hair, fair skin and light eyes, is a minority at her school. Many of her playmates are bi- or tri-lingual! They speak Spanish, French, Farsi, Hindi, Italian… One of Anders’ friends has an Italian dad and African-Muslim French-born-in-Paris mum! Tori has a playdate with a friend from India this afternoon, our babysitter is from Romania and we’ll be seeing some German friends later this week.

I love that we are here while my children are young enough to have this become a “norm” for them. One of our goals as parents is to provide our children with the opportunity to LOVE EVERYONE they meet, and to be able to look beyond race or ethnicity or religion or any other lifestyle that might be different from theirs, and show them the love Christ would have shown.

But I’ll admit, answering the cultural questions of a four-year-old is HARD. “Mommy, why does my friend wear a scarf on her head every day?” or “Mommy, is that a man or a woman?” or “Mommy, why is that old man wearing a skirt and a funny hat?” or “Why does my friend live with her mommy and not her daddy?” or “Why are there shops in that church?”

Ummm…. :-) It’s been a challenge for us, but a good one. A NEEDED one. We were getting too lazy and complacent in our little bubble. Answering Tori’s questions has forced AJ and me to really be thoughtful about all those topics, and to be very deliberate in answering them in a way that she’ll understand. Or, in some instances, say, “Um, I’m not sure” and go home and do an internet search to find the answer, haha! (Because, I’ll be honest, I had no idea what the Muslim woman’s face veil was called until I researched it, and even now I HOPE I called it the correct name!!)

How DO we want our children to view the world? It’s a very tricky question but one we’re excited to explore answering.

Let it go…

You guys. This is, in my opinion, the BEST version of ‘Let It Go’ EVER. I mean, seriously. Just watch it.

OK, maybe I’m a bit biased, but whatever. To me, hearing my just-turned-two year old son “sing” is one of the brightest moments of my day!

I’m sure I’m not the only one whose house has been flooded with “Frozen” references. (Right?! Please, tell me I’m not alone here…) Even if you live in Antarctca and don’t have kids, you’ve probably heard the song “Let It Go.” Although, now that I think of it, Antarctica would be, of all places, the most appropriate to watch “Frozen”, yes?

Anyway, in my home, the Oscar-winning song has become well-quoted. It comes in handy, for instance, when Tori is trying to take a toy from Anders and starts singing, “Let It Go…” Or when I get annoyed because the kids just knocked over a pile of FOURTEEN folded shirts and my husband starts singing, “Let It Go…”

It has become ingrained into our American life whether we like it or not. And I promise you, when my daughter is 15 and is sulking about not getting her own way, I WILL be that mom who starts singing “Let It Go” in front of her friends.

But think about it. There’s a reason the song is so well-received. It’s a mantra we’ve all heard and said before, correct? But, and I may be going out on a limb here, it’s a concept that is SO FRIGGING HARD TO DO. And we hate hearing someone say it to us.

When Elsa sings about letting it go, she is talking about releasing pent-up emotions, fears and hidden secrets, and allowing herself to be her own unique person, flaws and all.

But often when someone tells us to “let it go”, they’re implying that we are over-reacting or misinterpreting a situation. Or it can mean that we have to take the high road and JUST IGNORE someone else’s ignorance/hurtfulness/flaws/irrationality. Because, you know, it’s so easy to just ignore things that WE KNOW are wrong, right? All of us have these kinds of people in our lives. People who bring you down, who seem to be clueless about the fact that they are saying hurtful things, or who are so irrational and illogical that you start wondering if THEY are normal and YOU are crazy.

But, as the song implies, there is freedom to be found when you are no longer bound to those things or people that bring you down. I know for me personally, it is easy to let other people affect the way I am feeling. I can very quickly go from being content to feeling self-conscious, stupid (“why did I say that??”), ugly, unwanted, or inadequate. I now realize that half of the time I am over-analyzing things and creating scenarios in my mind. But for the other, real moments, I have finally been able to understand that most often, I just need to LET. IT. GO. This is not, and never has been, easy for me.

Being able to let it go assumes several things. It assumes that you are mentally objective enough to look at a situation and analyze it truthfully. It assumes that you recognize and accept that NO ONE IS PERFECT, including yourself. When you have a very high/unrealistic standard for yourself, naturally, albeit wrongly, that standard gets placed onto other people. This is where I struggle the most. My most current prayer is that God helps me to show people grace and understanding, the same way he shows it to me.

And letting it go assumes that you have the ability to forgive. You truly cannot let it go until you have forgiven. And boy, is that hard. True forgiveness does not come easy to us (me). We want justice. We want revenge. We want to be recognized as RIGHT. And if none of that happens, forgiveness is the last thing we want to do. But again, we cannot truly let it go until we have forgiven.

The challenge I’ve given myself right now is that every time I hear the song “Let It Go” (which, at least in the last 3 days, has been about 2,137 times), I ask myself : Is there something in my life that I need to let go? Is there a person I’m holding a grudge against? Is there something I did a lonnnnggg time ago that I can’t forgive myself for? Is there just something that is part of my life that will never change, that I have to just accept “as is” and just let it go??

I know, perhaps I’ve been waaaay to analytical with a Disney song… Sorry. It’s just how my mind works :) Anyway, the next time you sing or hear the song, “Let It Go,” I’d like to challenge you think for a moment about something that maybe you need to LET GO. And then, let it go!

PS: You’ll now be singing this song for the next hour. You’re welcome.

My Battle Plan: 7 ways I’m fighting depression

My last two posts describe my journey of acknowledging that I suffer from depression. In this post, I’d like to share with you some of the ways I’m fighting that depression. I consider these things to be part of my battle plan; they are, literally, very intentional steps and tools I use to slay the monster that constantly threatens to rise. They are best effective when being done simultaneously; to pick and choose is not an option for me – that would be the same as putting on a chestplate but ignoring the helmet. It’s truly a holistic approach.

So, without further ado, here are 7 ways I’m fighting my depression!

1. I am on an anti-depressant. Please. Don’t stop reading! I reached an all-time low when Anders was about 10 weeks old. At that point, my mind was so overcome with a dark, all-consuming and sometimes frantic cloud that I literally had trouble forming coherent sentences. (You can read more about my symptoms in my earlier post.) When I finally went to my doctor, she recommended a low-dose of sertraline, a “selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitor” (SSRI). I had mixed feelings about starting a prescription medication; didn’t that mean that I was “quitting” my fight? That I wasn’t praying enough? That I was now certifiably “crazy”?

Thankfully, I have wise people in my life to dispel those lies for me. A serotonin imbalance is just that: it’s a physical, chemical imbalance. My husband and I prayed a lot about this. I realized that my perception of God was that if I took this medicine, I’d be turning my back on him. I came to understand, through wise counsel of friends and family, that God does not view us this way! He knows that our physical bodies are FLAWED. We get sick. We get cancer. We get injured. And God has given us the ability to create medicine to help us heal. (Here’s a great article on Christians and anti-depressants.)

Sertraline is not a “happy pill.” That’s just not the way an SSRI works. But what it did do was pull the dark cloud back just enough for me to see my situation in a more objective way. I wasn’t all of a sudden “Happy! Yay! Isn’t life grand!” But I stopped feeling overwhelmed with anger. I stopped sobbing for hours. I started noticing when my daughter laughed and my son smiled.

I started to see clearly for the first time in months, and I could finally breathe.

2. I started exercising regularly. Once my medicine allowed me to come up for air, I knew it was only beginning of my journey. I started researching depression, and one of the most common ways to help fight it is to have a very regular exercise plan. Exercise has been proven to release serotonin into your brain! So we joined the local YMCA and thankfully my kids love the childcare there. :-) I try to go 4-5 times a week. This is a lot, I know, but I NEED to do it. If I go more than a few days without exercising, I notice a distinct change in my mood (yes, even while on the SSRI – again, it’s not a “happy pill”!)

The big thing for me is making the choice to JUST SHOW UP. I never regret going once I’m there!

image3. I started memorizing scripture and being more intentional with my prayers. Why? I know some of you don’t believe in God or prayers, but I do, and I hope you can read this knowing that I’m just sharing my own experience. :-) Now that I know my brain has a tendency to become depressed, I need to arm myself with the peace that comes from the Word of God. Some of you might call it “positive thoughts”, but I truly believe there is power when scripture is spoken. A sweet friend wrote out a few verses for me and I have placed them around my house in spots where I spend a lot of time (my bathroom, my kitchen counter, the laundry room, etc.). This forces me to turn my thoughts to God instead of focusing on the stress of a “To Do” list. Scripture and prayer help me feel more centered and stable, and I swear it makes my blood pressure drop :-)

For a list of my favorite verses that help encourage and empower me, visit my resources page!

4. I surround myself with supportive friends. I have talked about my great circle of friends from my church: strong, loving, non-judgmental and honest women who have been a huge part in my recovery. If you don’t have a group of friends like this (and I’m not talking about friends who just say, “oh, I’m sorry” but friends who call you specifically to say “How are you today? What can I pray for?”), then I’d sincerely encourage finding a counselor or therapist you can talk to. TALKING about your feelings sounds so cliché, but it is SO FREEING!!! I have forced my husband to feel comfortable using the word “depression.” Because, after all, if I’m living with depression, and AJ lives with me, then AJ is living with depression, too.

5. I try to get enough sleep. “Enough” of course, can vary for each individual. Right now, I have two small children. My 3 year old daughter still likes to get “help” using the potty in the middle of the night (beats having an accident!) and my son still suffers from reflux/upset tummy off-and-on. I never know if I’ll have a solid nights’ sleep or, like last night, be awake three times from 12:00-3:00am.

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If I go too long with poor sleep, I REALLY notice my mood gets terrible. This happens to anyone! And it can be especially dangerous for someone battling depression. Therefore, I do two main things to help ensure I am sleep-savvy: 1) I take naps when I feel I need one. Simple. No questions. Laundry and dishes come second to sleep. 2.) I communicate with my husband about it!! If I’m drained, I’ll ask him to be the one to get up in the night, and I’ll put in earplugs. Thankfully he falls back to sleep very quickly and is willing to help in this area.

6. I try to maintain general good health. This means eating well, which, for me means minimal carbs and wheat and focusing more on proteins and produce. (Did you know chronic depression can be a symptom of a gluten sensitivity?!) It means taking the proper vitamin supplements to ensure my body can fight diseases. It means being outside, in the sun (vitamin D can help fight depression!), and being active.image

7. I take breaks. My husband and I try to be intentional about planning regular dates, and this meant working babysitting costs into our budget. I also try to take a break from the kids and house at least once or twice a month, to go shopping or get coffee or go out with some girlfriends. This is so important because it allows you to think about things besides your “duties”! it can be so freeing to get away, even if just for a few hours.

My approach to fighting my depression is, I believe, a holistic one. I’m trying to prepare myself so that if I ever need or want to stop taking my medication, then I am fully able to do so without it being a catastrophe. And in order to do that I need to objectively and deliberately look at ALL areas of my life and adjust them accordingly.

My “battle plan” is unique to me. If you are suffering depression (any kind of depression, not just post-partum!), you need to evaluate your OWN circumstances and create a battle plan that is right for you! But I hope that I have at least given you a place to start, and have sparked some thoughts of change and hope in your life. You can overcome this! And until it is completely overcome, you CAN manage it, and you can live a life in full bloom.  :-)

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Disclaimer:

I am not a medical professional, nor do I play one on TV. The comments and opinions expressed in these articles are merely comments and opinions. Please seek professional medical advice before making any changes to the diet, exercise, or medication of yourself or your children.

Oh yes, it’s ladies night!

…oh what a night!

OK, so we really didn’t go crazy. At all. We are all moms with young kids and were asleep by 10:45 on the second night of our girls’ weekend, thinking to ourselves, “OH MY GOSH IT IS SO FRIGGING LATE.” Haha :)

Following in a recently established annual tradition, last weekend I was privileged to spend two nights at a local resort (thank you, corporate discount!) with some of the most beautiful, loving, encouraging and funny ladies I know. AND we were lucky enough to hear national author Margaret Feinberg speak at our church’s women’s retreat (more on that later!). Doesn’t get much better!

The LadiesThe 6 of us attend the same church and are part of a group that basically does life together.  Our kids play together, we bring meals to each other when we have a newborn or are sick, we text pictures of our kids’ Major Poop Incidents to each other. (That is assuming we aren’t present for said Major Poop Incidents; I have literally wiped my friends’ [newborn] daughter’s poop off the floor at Dunkin Donuts while she whisked her out to the car for a hose down… [TMI??]) Enter song: “That’s What Friends Are For…”

But this weekend marked a BIG milestone for me. Because one year ago was the first time I actually TALKED in depth about my depression to anyone besides my husband. And these women were there for me then, and still are. They saw me weep, laugh, and weep some more. I said things to them I had said only in my mind. I told them things that probably didn’t make any sense and, in hindsight, might have scared them. I have never in my life been so vulnerable with anyone. (Read: it was A REALLY BIG DEAL.)

I think of it as my “coming out”, in a way. For some reason, struggling with depression is considered socially “taboo” in many circles. If you are truly struggling with it, you certainly aren’t talking about it. And because no one talks about it, you think you’re the only one who is struggling with it. It is, pardon my language, bull shit.

Every psychiatrist will tell you that admitting and accepting that you have depression is a very important step in the healing process. Taking the HUGE step of openly talking with my friends about my struggle with depression is one of the biggest elements of my treatment plan toward my recovery and victory. I am so, so grateful that these women are in my life, and are so honest, raw, loving and accepting. I truly don’t think I could’ve come as far as I have without them and their support.

Needless to say, this past weekend was great. We got a much needed break from the daily grind, and some time to reflect on the past year and to catch up on each other’s lives. (Isn’t it amazing how we can see each other so often yet not actually talk about anything important?? Too much “Mommy??? Mommy?? Mommy!!!”)

I got 9 hours of UNINTERRUPTED sleep, AND not a single Major Poop Incident occurred. Yep. I’m feeling good! :)