Tag Archives: sleep

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!!)

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.

image

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.

Survival Skills

Today I needed to give myself a time-out. A long, sleep-filled time-out. I’ve developed a survival skill that allows me to evaluate when I need to ignore the dishes, laundry, gross bathroom sink and completely sticky floor, and TAKE A NAP! Because, I’ll be honest, when I’m tired, I’m no different than my 3 year old daughter: I get grumpy, short-tempered, and my anger and depression symptoms flare up. And a grumpy, short-tempered, angry, depressed mama is not a good mama.

So I took a nap, for as long as I could while my two children blissfully slept, simultaneously, during their afternoon nap.  Granted it lasted only about 35 minutes, but it was better than nothing. AND, when a small hand tickled my foot and giggled, “Mommy, you need to wake up!”, I wasn’t unreasonably irritated.

Have you ever felt guilty about napping? I used to, all the time. There are so many other, better, more useful, more productive things I could be doing. Think of all the cool art projects or scrapbooks or baked goods I could make!! I could fold the clean-but-has -been-sitting-in-the-basket-for-3-days laundry! I could finally scrape off the splattered, bright pink nail polish off the wall, sand it, prime it, and paint it! Or… I could take a nap. And be a better mother.

It has taken me a stupidly long time to understand that one of the most important things I can do for my children is to take care of myself. What good is folded laundry if you’re sobbing while you fold it?

Napping is not a cure-all answer to “how to be a good mom.” But, for me, being tired can become a trigger for my depression, and my depression makes me unable to live in the moment and tolerate, let alone enjoy, my children.  Dr. Deborah Serani, author of  Living with Depression and regular cat-napper, says “Research shows how a nap can promote physical well-being, improve mood and memory, re-energize and sharpen senses.”  (She also mentions that napping much longer than 30 minutes can have the opposite effect!)

 I cannot stress what a big deal it is that I am finally able to recognize my symptoms and acknowledge and accept them for what they are: depression symptoms. They are not just “being moody” or “PMSing”. They are the tip of a very dark, very deep iceberg that can and will destroy anything and everything that comes near it. It is imperative that I kill them at the first sight; my survival as a mother and wife depends on it.  So bring on the catnaps!!