Tag Archives: victory

How to Handle The Skeptic

066e5f6e00bfc228d04c5ec11c40db1bA few days ago I was chatting with a woman and her 4-week-old son. After offering an appropriate amount of cooing over her wee babe, I asked her, “How are YOU doing?” She replied that she was doing really well and was so happy. Then, unprompted and unknowing of my own personal history, she said this:

“I’m not one of those moms who ‘gets sad’. I don’t really think that stuff is real, you know? I mean, I don’t have anything to be sad about. Babies should make people happy.”

Well just slap me in the face and then punch me in the gut, why don’t ya?

Now, I’ve heard opinions like this before. And yet it still threw me off-guard and took all my strength to even answer coherently. I couldn’t just ignore her comments, so I smiled and said something along the lines of “I’m so glad you’re doing so well! It’s not like that for everyone. I struggled with depression after my son was born, and it’s definitely not fun. It’s wonderful you’re feeling so happy!” Or something like that.

She then proceeded to ask me accusatory questions such as “But you must have been sad about SOMETHING. Did something happen to you, like did someone die?” and “How could you just ‘not care’ about things?”

You guys, I’m open about my experiences. I write about it. One might say I’m a quiet type of advocate. But this one short conversation with a stranger floored me, even though I’m currently in what you might call a “good place” regarding my depression! It brought back feelings of guilt, shame, and self-doubt, because all the questions she asked me, I had once asked myself, over and over again.

I think most of us have met a person like this: The Skeptic. This is someone who truly does not believe that depression is a real thing. The Skeptic believes that a mother with post-partum depression is being lazy, selfish, or just looking for attention. The Skeptic believes that a person can just choose to be happy, therefore a person is choosing to be depressed. The Skeptic believes that someone battling depression has too much time on his hands, that if the depressed person would just work more or start doing something productive, his depression would go away. The Skeptic believes that antidepressant medication is a type of “get high” drug, and that taking such medication is unnecessary and is a form of cheating.

The Skeptic is the biggest danger to someone struggling with depression.

In those brief few minutes while I was talking to that Skeptic Mom, I was sharply reminded of why it took me so long to get help in the first place. There was a tangible fear that all of my family and friends would be Skeptics, a fear that if I confided in someone, they’d tell me I was being silly, selfish or a bad Christian. There was a palpable sense of shame because I knew there wasn’t any logical reason for me to feel the way I did. Due to my fear of Skeptics, I didn’t share my experiences, which led me to believe I was the only one struggling.

The Skeptic is not just someone who’s never struggled with depression. I’ve met many people who, praise God, have never experienced depression and therefore can’t fully understand it. But these people are still compassionate and sympathetic, and offer support, whereas the Skeptic offers only criticism and disbelief.

Thankfully, I believe the number of Skeptics out there is slowly decreasing due to a rise in mental-health awareness. We are gradually moving away from The Yellow Wallpaper type of response to female mental illness, but based on the number of women I’ve personally met who have told me “I suffered from depression but I was too scared to tell anyone,” I do believe we have a long way to go.

So what’s the best way to combat The Skeptic? Some of them are persuaded by science; articles that have fancy words like pathophysiology , corticotropin-releasing hormone, serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline might go a long way in helping the Skeptic be less skeptical. But I find that a personal testimony can be even better than science, especially if you’re in a place mentally to be able to share your experience objectively. (If I had come across the Skeptic Mom when I was in the midst of a low phase, I would not have engaged in the conversation, I would’ve just left the room and started crying on the way home.)

If you have Skeptics in your life who are trying to convince you that depression is not real, please, please know that they are wrong. And if you have no one else to talk to, seek a professional therapist, join an online support group or therapy session, or write to me! You have nothing to be ashamed of, you aren’t alone, and you can FIGHT this. Sending love your way. XO

My (revised) Battle Plan: 6 Ways I’m Fighting Depression

Picture of sunset, Cotswolds, England March 2005

“I wish that I had let myself be happier. “ I was reading this article that described the top 5 wishes/regrets of people on their deathbed, and this was #5. It reminded me of a question/accusation people with depression often hear: “Why can’t you just BE HAPPY?”

Here’s the thing. Someone struggling with depression literally cannot “just be happy.” Our brains are malfunctioning in such a way that prevents it. We wish with all our might to have the ability to choose happiness.

When we are crippled with depression, the only thing in our power is to choose to FIGHT. And making that choice is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Choosing to FIGHT depression often looks and sounds simple. Just talk to someone! Just go for a run! Just get better sleep! Just pray! But you guys, there is no “just” about any of that. Each tiny step is HUGE, because every part of you is weighed down with the suffocating blanket of depression.

I write this because I don’t want this post to sound trite. When I say this is my battle plan, I mean it quite literally. As in war, to plan a battle implies there will be fighting and pain. Battle plans are not made flippantly, and are not easily kept. Fear creeps in, opinions differ, doubt rises, and the feeling of self-inadequacy is at its peak.

And making the choice to follow through with ANY of it takes massive effort. If you’re struggling with depression, I hope that this list might be of help to you, even if just to know you’re not alone. If you haven’t yet made your own battle plan, I’m going to be so bold as to suggest you choose something (whatever sounds easiest) from this list to start your own. Baby steps. Because a baby step for other people is a huge, giant leap for us.

My (revised) Battle Plan: 6 Ways I’m Fighting Depression*

  • I talk about my depression. This is one of the biggest issues for me, and for many people. It’s SO HARD to talk about depression, especially during a low moment. The key for me is to be talking about it especially when I’m NOT struggling badly. This enables people (my husband and close friends specifically) to feel comfortable asking me how I’m doing. And this is a big deal. To know that I won’t be judged and that these people love me anyway is a huge relief and support, and it forces me to be open. But choosing to be (sometimes brutally) honest about how I’m feeling is still so hard to do, even though I’ve been talking about it for three years now! But it is by far the healthiest thing I can do for myself and my fight.
  • I get outside and get exercise. We moved to a new flat in September, which now means that Tori’s school is exactly a one-mile walk away. Which means I walk a minimum four miles each day, quite often up to six or seven total, rain or shine. Most days I easily meet my FitBit target of 15,000 steps. While it’s not always fun, it has definitely been providing the exercise I need to help fight my depression. I’m known among my friends for being a “fast-walker” and I do this deliberately to increase my heart rate and serotonin levels. I’ve also noticed that exercising outside has had more positive effects than doing it indoors… Perhaps this is because I’m exposed to natural light, or because I have to be thinking about more than just myself (ie kids, fellow pedestrians, avoiding dog poo, etc). While I liked going to the gym, it got monotonous and dull at times.
  • I take supplements and vitamins. When I remember. For some reason it’s so hard for me to remember to take them! I take a whole-food multi-vitamin, and have adjusted the following vitamin amounts according to what is and isn’t in the multi. All of these have been linked to fighting depression: Vitamin D (it’s physically impossible to get enough Vit D from the sun during the winter if you’re north of Virginia/Spain! I don’t take it during the summer as often), Vitamin B complexKrill Oil (for Omega 3 fatty-acids), and St. John’s Wort. I always look for whole-food, no additive supplements. **PLEASE consult your doctor before adding or adjusting any supplements to your diet. **
  • Light therapy – 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 an extra-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. And when it’s sunny, I try and sit in the sunlight in my living room, even if for 10 minutes while I fold laundry. It really is so therapeutic!!
  • I have memorized Bible verses and am very 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. :-) I can honestly say that I feel a sense of peace and hope when I read the Bible. Hope is something that depression steals from your mind, and focusing on the hope of Christ replenishes my spirit. The best way I can describe it is that it quenches my thirst for peace. 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!
  • I pay extra attention to the calendar. In the past couple of months since I’ve stopped taking my anti-depressant, I’ve noticed I need to be desperately aware of my menstruation cycle. The days before my period is a very low point for me emotionally, so being objective about it and thinking, “just get through these few days!” instead of “my depression has returned” really helps. You guys, I’ve even set an event on my phone reminding me for several days; it literally says “YOU MIGHT BE HORMONAL RIGHT NOW. IT WILL GET BETTER.” Call me crazy, but whatever works!

So there you have it. I wish I could say that one or all of these are a magic, happily-ever-after antidote to depression, but I can’t. They are just little but difficult things I choose to do, in the hopes that the collective effort will be rewarding. After all, my greatest desire is for you and me to live our lives in full bloom!

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” John 14:27 (NLV)

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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, therapy or medication of yourself or your children.

How living in London is teaching me to love myself

The city of London now has over 8.6 million people who call it home. 44% of the city’s people are now of black or ethnic minority origins.* What does this mean for me? I love people-watching, and it’s AMAZING here.

I’ve always loved people-watching. I love seeing other people’s fashion choices, their hairstyles, shoes, umbrellas, hats. There’s just so much to take in!

I’ll be honest: I’m not accustomed to being around so many ethnically diverse people. I think because of this, I find them fascinating to look at. They’re all so very different – Chinese, Indian, Caribbean, African, Turkish, Eastern European, I just love looking at all of their faces and noticing the sometimes-obvious-but-sometimes-subtle differences between all of these races.

I pass dozens of people every morning on our walk to Tori’s school, then Anders and I will, once or twice a week, get coffee and a muffin at a café and just hang out. And I watch as people walk by or sit sipping their drinks. And I’ve come to this conclusion: ALL OF THEM ARE SO BEAUTIFUL.

Which leads me to my main point: LONDON IS TEACHING ME TO LOVE MYSELF, specifically my physical self.

I’ve struggled with poor body image for a long time. It’s the kind of body image that when I’m being rational, I feel fine about myself! But when I’m being irrational (who, me?) I can be overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy, dissatisfaction and loads of self-criticism. This can vary daily. One day I’ll loathe my teeth. The next I’ll be stressing about my skin. And to be honest, I’m sick of it. I’m sick of one day feeling great, and the next day being afraid to eat a blueberry muffin because of its fat content.

I know at this point some of you are rolling your eyes. Because, in the grand scheme of things, I’ve really got nothing to worry about. But that’s not the point. The point is that I FEEL I have something to worry about. As irrational as it may be, it’s still true, and I think a lot of you can relate.

I now realize that I used to people-watch mainly as a way to critique myself. “Look at how well she wears that sweater dress. I couldn’t pull that off.” Or “Wow those jeans look amazing on her. I tried that same pair on and I looked like a mushroom.” Or “How does she look so great in that tunic and riding boots? I always look like Robin Hood.” And so on… (you guys, I’m not even joking about the Robin Hood thing.)

Perhaps it’s because I’m a bit older, or because I’ve had 6 months of truly unique people-watching, but today, as Anders and I sat in Pret and I drank a vanilla latte strong, I watched an Indian woman sitting across the café. There wasn’t anything remarkable about her, not fat or thin, not short or tall, not plain or striking, but in that moment, I truly thought she was beautiful. Then I looked at another woman, massively pregnant, with closely-cropped hair, zero makeup and clearly exhausted, and I thought she looked beautiful. And then there was the barista who called me Madame and had the clearest blue eyes amidst an otherwise plain face and I thought she was stunning. It was like all at once, everyone I looked at suddenly became beautiful just for the sake of being beautiful, not as a means to further my self-critique.

I feel like this is a huge deal. I know some people are naturally blessed with the ability to see all people as beautiful, unique beings, and they can do that without bringing it back to themselves. But clearly I’m not (or I wasn’t!) one of those people. The word selfish comes to mind. Because isn’t that what you call it when everything in your life revolves around yourself? The word selfish is usually used in relation to someone who thinks that they are better than everyone, therefore deserve to get everything they want, but really it’s just about being all-consumed with yourself, good or bad.

angelou8I’ve been selfish. And how lame is that? How exhausting. How boring, really, to constantly be comparing yourself to other people. It has blinded me from truly seeing people for who they are, and how God has created them, and has blinded me from seeing myself as I truly am, and how God created me.

I think this is a turning point for me. In a really cool, unchartered, might-screw-up-once-in-a-while-but-will-get-back-on-track kind of way. I’m so excited to start being deliberate in bettering my body image. I’m not really sure what this looks like in a tangible way. Perhaps I’ll move our full-length mirror to a place I don’t walk past as often. Or maybe I’ll stop meandering through clothing stores a bit less. I’m not sure. But I do know that this is new to me, and I’m really excited about it.

And I’m pretty sure I might not have had this experience if we hadn’t moved to London!

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. ~Psalm 139:14

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*http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-31082941

Two other great articles about the modern issue of self-image:

https://lizboltzranfeld.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/what-happens-if-we-let-fat-people-be-happy/

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/jun/10/body-image-anxiety-eva-wiseman

How I knew it was more than “just hormones” – PART TWO

In my previous post, I talked about the reason why it is so dangerously easy for women suffering from post-partum (or prenatal) depression to think, “Oh, it’s just the hormones.” Because, after all, we’ve been saying and hearing that our entire lives.

I want to preface this post by saying this: HINDSIGHT IS 20/20. And that really sucks, huh?!? No fair! If only we had clarity and common sense and objectiveness DURING our trials instead of AFTER! But alas, it is what it is, and I’m grateful that now I’m looking at things in hindsight and not in the depths of it.

imageWhen I was 7 months pregnant with my second baby (my adorably charming son, Anders, now 21 months old), my husband and I went on a much-needed date. While we were waiting for our food to arrive, my husband looked me in the eye, and said, “How ARE you?” And to thank him for such a kind question, I started sobbing. You guys, I don’t mean like, oh, sniff, a tear! But, GUSH, swollen nose, red eyes, snot and drool. NOT pretty. Poor AJ. He was flabbergasted.

I told him, “I’m just so hormonal…” And then the moment came. I knew I needed to TALK to him, to tell him that, maybe, just maybe? it was MORE than “just hormones” and that, maybe? I was actually depressed. I told him we’d talk when we got home, that P.F. Chang’s other customers didn’t deserve to see or hear what I had to say. :-) And when we got home, I talked. And cried.

This was a pivotal moment for me; it was the first time I’d said the word “depressed” to my husband. I told him how I’d been feeling that everything was pointless and that I just couldn’t get excited about things anymore. I told him I felt like I was walking around outside of myself, watching me interact but not truly being present. I knew he didn’t fully understand; how could he? But he listened and was supportive. And life continued.

I gave birth to Anders on April 5, 2012. He was 8lb 10oz (2 oz shy of his big sister!) and we were so excited. My healthy, strong baby boy was delivered after 3 pushes and being in the hospital for 2 hours. Talk about easy!

But then I tried to breastfeed. And all of my horrible memories of trying to feed my daughter came flooding back. Even our lactation consultant was the same one we had with her!! And Anders had the same exact issue as his sister: he literally could not open his mouth wide enough to feed properly. So we went home.

To read a little more on my struggle with breastfeeding, I wrote a brief post on it during Breastfeeding Awareness Week.

Anders was a perfect little champ (except in the feeding area) for the next 4 weeks. He was a very typical baby, waking every 3 hrs or so, and otherwise just sleeping all day. To be honest, I don’t really remember too much of those first 5 weeks. This is, in hindsight, the first big symptom of my post-partum depression: I was not fully present in my surroundings. It was a complete fog. I was going through the motions.

imageBut I do remember when we first started noticing his acid reflux (how can one forget your child SHRIEKING in pain?!?) and the many, many doctor visits and the trial and error tests of formulas and prescription medicines and refusal to eat and his loss of weight and general discomfort ALL DAY AND NIGHT LONG. His doctor asked me, “How are you doing?” and I said, “It’s been a long month” and I distinctly remember thinking, “Don’t cry, don’t cry, you’re just tired. It’s just the hormones.” He was about 6 weeks old at this point.

I had my 6 week check-up with my OB. I was still sore (I had 3rd degree perineal tearing) but was healing fine. She said, “Any symptoms of depression?” and I said, “Oh, you know, the usual hormonal stuff…”

What I didn’t tell these doctors (kind, caring, professional women who have known me for years, by the way) was that every time I tried to get Anders to fall asleep and he didn’t (which was quite often) I would be so overcome with ANGER and RAGE that I would literally leave him, crying, in his swing, while I fell to the floor shaking and sobbing.

What I didn’t tell them was that when I attended any sort of social function, I felt that my speech was stuttered. That I literally couldn’t form a complete sentence and say it properly.

What I didn’t tell them was that during the night, during those precious few hours when my son was actually asleep, I was wide awake, my mind restless and unrelenting.

I didn’t tell them that in general, I just didn’t care. Don’t get me wrong; I loved my children desperately, and, thank the Lord, I never once felt that I was going to harm anyone, even myself. But, when I wasn’t overcome with anger, I had an extreme apathy for everything. My daughter’s laugh on the swing didn’t make me smile. Her interactions with her baby brother made me feel, if anything, a desperate hopelessness that I would never be the mother they really needed.

I didn’t tell anyone that all day, every day, I felt like a failure.

One of my darkest moments came when Anders was about 8 weeks old. As usual, I was trying to get him to sleep ANYWHERE BUT IN MY ARMS and was failing. My entire being filled with an inexplicable anger. I put him in the swing and sank to the floor, sobbing tears that were desperately uncontrollable. My mind was completely blank yet so out of control that literally the only thing I could think of to pray was the name of Jesus. I said it out loud: “Jesus”, over and over and over again until I finally calmed down. And then I prayed, “Please, please, please, don’t let my children be affected by this. Protect them from this, from me.”

It was that prayer that made me realize that maybe I needed help. The fact that that one day, my children might say, “yeah, my mom was depressed a lot” scared the daylights out of me. I needed to get help, even if just to protect my children from the effects of living with someone with unmanaged depression.

imageMy best friend visited from New Hampshire the next week. She is like a sister to me, and I’ve always been able to be completely honest with her. Talking about how I was feeling was such a relief. I told her what I was experiencing, and she saw it firsthand. She did not judge me, nor did she say, “oh, it’s probably just the hormones.” She was able to look at my situation objectively and simply said, “You need to get help. You need to call your doctor.” What a wise, beautiful woman she is.

I finally saw my doctor about 4 weeks later. 4 WEEKS!! It truly is amazing that, in the midst of feeling so out of control, the last thing I wanted to do was to talk to my doctor about it. As I’ve mentioned before, admitting you struggle with depression is the hardest step.

In my next post, I’m going to talk more about how I decided to fight my depression. I’ll go into detail about what I call my “battle plan” and the steps I’ve taken.

Please, if you have been wondering, “Is it more than ‘just’ hormones?” either about yourself or about a loved one, TALK about it. Share my story. Share my symptoms. Visit the links on my resource page. Use me as an excuse to bring the subject up. That’s why I’m writing this; I truly, firmly believe that all of us need the chance to live our lives in full bloom. :-)

Check Your Pockets!

So I was being a “good wife” and folding my husband’s just-out-of-the-washer-and-dryer gym shorts when I found his iPod. IN THE POCKET OF SAID SHORTS. Needless to say, the iPod is now dead. Gone. No longer able to let AJ tune in to ESPN while enjoying his daily run. SIGH.

If this had happened a year ago, I would have started crying at the helplessness of it all. This one incident would have caused me to question my ability to be a good wife, a good mother, a good ANYthing; if I can’t even check the pockets of the frigging LAUNDRY then how am I supposed to take care of my entire family?? Just one more example of what a failure I am… what’s the point of it all, anyway, if I’m just going to ruin everything I touch??

I’m sure this type of reaction either a) is familiar to you or, b) makes you say, “Whoa, that’s a little extreme, don’t you think?”

If you’ve ever dealt with depression on a personal level, those negative thoughts are imagefamiliar to you. All it takes is one incident to cause a huge downward spiral of self-loathing and hopelessness. In hindsight and with clarity, it’s ridiculous. But in the moment, to you, it’s oh, so real.

I’m writing about this because today, when I found that cursed iPod, I didn’t react that way. And that is A BIG DEAL! I’m trying to document the moments when my story turns from survival to victory so that one day, when my kids are old enough, they can know about my struggles and can be aware of their own.

Don’t get me wrong – I definitely had an “Are you SERIOUS?? Did this really just happen??” moment. I had thoughts of “ahhhh I didn’t check the pockets!” and “ahhhh he left it in his shorts!! In the laundry basket!”  and “why do they have to make these things so darn SMALL?!?!” But that’s where it ended, and oh, such sweet relief to have objectiveness of the situation.

A small triumph in a big world, but I thought it was worth sharing.  Have a happy Thursday, and don’t forget to check your pockets! :)