Depression Anniversary

This morning my Facebook memories popped up and showed me that three years ago, I made my first “public” post about my struggle with depression and our decision to put our children in public school. 

I read through the comments again this morning. (All 78 of them!) And what stood out to me was how much of a need we have for people to honestly share their struggles. Knowing that someone else is struggling makes us feel less isolated, it eases some of our shame. 

Keeping that in mind, I’ve decided to give you all a “Depression Update”. 

One of my big disappointments in life is that I haven’t had a full recovery from my depression. While I haven’t been as low as I was three years ago, I still feel like depression is something that I have to actively keep at bay. And when I am not purposeful about taking care of myself, it creeps back in. 

Things I do to keep depression away:

Take a night off. 

Wednesday nights are MY nights. My husband gets home from work and I take off. I very often end up at Panera where it’s ok to sit with your computer or a book for a long period of time. I have a couple different friends who often meet me there for an evening of chatting and encouragement. Sometimes I go walking in the park alone or with friends. Sometimes I just leave the house, go buy myself some supper somewhere and then sneak back into my house in the back door and hide in my bedroom, feet up, reading a good book. 

The whole point though is that I can do whatever I want without feeling any guilt about leaving my husband home alone with the kids. (He gets his own night off.)

Give myself lots of space. 

I do not keep a perfectly clean house. I do not run a tight ship. I do not have a perfect schedule. I do not have a full, busy schedule. I am very purposeful about keeping my daily routine as free from stress as possible. I have found that the only way I can maintain a 24hrs a day, 7 days a week parent-of-many-children lifestyle, is to keep my day as calm as possible. Lots of wiggle room. Maybe it only takes us two hours to get all our homeschooling work done.  I give myself four hours. That way we can take lots of breaks, follow rabbit trails if we want, have time to deal with phone calls that might come in, or a quick chore that has to get done. I do not do well when I have to follow a tight timeline. Occasionally it can’t be avoided. There are doctor’s appointments, extra curricular activities, school meetings. If I have a day that involves me running full stop all day long, then I make sure that the next day I have nothing extra going on and I move slower. 

Date nights

The other day I told my husband something that I don’t think I had ever put into words before. “You are essential to my happiness.” And it’s true. When Andy walks in the door at night, my shoulders visibly relax. He makes me laugh. He uses his words often to tell me how important I am to him, to tell me how he feels about me. And I am encouraged and I feel loved. We need time together. We need to be able to unplug from parenting for a minute and just be two adults who like spending time together. Now, I know that for parents with young children, getting out on a date can be impossible. We went years not being able to get out. Now, we have teenagers who can babysit and we try to get out once a week for a date. But, sometimes money or schedules keeps us from being able to go out. Then we have bedroom dates. And by that I just mean we get the kids to bed, maybe get a snack, watch a movie together in our room or just sit and talk. The main point though is that we are purposeful about setting aside at least one night a week that is ours. 

Daily Devotions/ Daily exercise

Taking time every day to read the Bible and pray feeds my spiritual self. Taking time every day to get my body moving feeds my physical self. Sometimes I don’t do these things. But, when I do, I feel happier and have more energy. 

Talk to a therapist/friend equivalent

I still have monthly or bimonthly phone visits with my therapist. And I always think, before the call, do I really need this? And then afterwards, I am always glad that I was able to talk to her. It is a great help to have another adult look into your life and help you process challenges and get a perspective that is focused on the good of you and your mental health.

Practice Thankfulness

This one is actually an outpouring of my Christian walk. The Bible tells us repeatedly to give thanks in all things. As God has been teaching this to me over my lifetime, I have not only learned how to lose a bad mood or a bad attitude, but I’ve also learned how to stop and just take pleasure from small things. The way the sun is shining just-so on that tree. The sound of fall leaves crunching under my feet. The smell of woodsmoke. Watching my children practice acts of kindness to each other. Being thankful, noticing the goodness around me, these have gone a long way in helping me to not succumb to depression. 

In the end, all of these things are tools, not cures. I have days when I crawl back into bed in the middle of the day. Or I end up sitting in my chair, doing nothing. But the difference between years ago and now, is that the next day, I can usually get up and keep moving, instead of it dragging on and on and on. 

Maybe I will struggle with depression the rest of my life. But I have hope and peace that God will help me through it, one day at a time, one strategy at a time. 

Being Healthy Takes Energy

I have come to some conclusions. My tank is dangerously low and is about to run dry. 

 

Things that used to fill my tank up: Going to church, having all the kids in Children’s church and being able to sit with my husband quietly, enjoy worship and teaching together; going out on Wednesday night’s with my girlfriends and just talking nonstop for several hours; going on a weekly date night with my husband. 

 

The first two have been affected by the quarantine, the last by having foster kids who are a bit much for my teenagers to handle when babysitting. 

 

At the same time, the mental energy that has been required of me has quadrupled. I think what is mostly wearing me out is being the resident Psychologist of the home. 

 

I am what people call a “good listener”. Which is fine, until you are absolutely drained dry and then you just feel like plugging your ears and saying NO MORE! 

 

RIght now, I’m sure there are a lot of people thinking, well, why don’t you try this or that or what about this idea? Just get creative! You can still figure out how to get your tank filled. 

 

And here is what people don’t realize. Exhausted, worn out, anxious or depressed people, they really don’t have the energy to get creative. Getting creative requires mental energy.  

 

 I remember my momentous 6 week postpartum check up after Phoebe was born. The Dr was horrible. She came in, looked at me a little puzzled, “Were you the one that had a C-section?”

Uh no. Wrong patient. I reminded her of who I was and what my birth involved. Ah yes. 

 

Then, at the end she asked me if I was having any problems with depression. I said yes, this was something I struggled with. Her response. Well, for goodness sakes, go find some help somewhere, I don’t want to read about you in the news. 

 

Gee. Thanks. I’ll do that. Because a depressed person definitely has all the motivation and energy in the world to go figure out insurance and find a provider and wait the two months it takes to get into a first appointment. 

 

So helpful. 

 

Compare that to my yearly check up I had with my Primary Care Doctor recently. I told her about some of the things I was struggling with and she said, You know, we have a resident Psychologist here, if you’re willing to wait a little bit, she can come and talk to you right now. And then she came and we talked and then scheduled future appointments. 

 

I know that life doesn’t work that way most of the time. Usually, if you are needing something, you are really the only one that can make sure you get what you need. In the end, you are responsible for your own mental health. I think though, that people who don’t struggle in this area, don’t realize how hard it is to take of yourself. It’s really, really hard. 

 

But, understanding the problem is half the battle. And I guess, that’s partly why I blog. I start writing, and it helps me think through the problem. 

 

So, I guess that’s what I’ve got to concentrate on, getting creative, despite the exhaustion, cause it’s a matter of survival. 

 

Grace and Our Mental Health Crisis

This morning the sun is shining. It feels like it’s been a long time since I’ve seen sunshine, even though I know that’s not true. It was raining yesterday, and yesterday seemed to last about three months. It was a long hard day. Last night our schools announced that they would be staying closed at least through April 24th. Even though I knew that was going to happen, hearing the announcement on the phone felt like a door that I had held cracked open in hope, had been slammed shut in my face. Well shoot. I really AM stuck with figuring out how to school my kids for the next month. 

 

Right now, I am mostly worried about the mental health crisis that has hit our family. I have several children receiving mental health services. I have been receiving mental health services. As life has gotten more overwhelming, my personal doctor offered for me to see their in-house psychologist and we started meeting. It has been helpful to have someone I can talk to in confidence about the challenges I’m facing and who can ask pertinent questions to help me figure out how to proceed. 

 

This week she called me on the phone and said that we would need to do our sessions on the phone for a while. I agreed. Yes. That makes sense. But, it’s sad. I don’t do well talking on the phone. I’m not an auditory person and I find it a bit of a challenge to have phone conversations with anyone except the closest friends and family. I also know that having a private conversation in my home will be next to impossible. And, I know that being able to see someone face-to-face speaks to my soul in a way that phone conversations don’t. 

 

I’m not the only one in the family that is being moved to TeleHealth.  And I know that expecting a child to be able to get anything out of a video conference is ridiculous. It’s not going to be effective. And that is overwhelming to me.

 

At this time, when life has turned upside down, we need these services more, not less. 

 

It’s not anyone’s fault. I understand. Seeing patients face-to-face is putting both patient and provider at risk for exposure to the virus. I understand. 

 

I know that our family isn’t the only one in this boat. This pandemic we are in the middle of is stressful for all members of society. But I think the foster kids and foster parents are being especially hard hit. Strict routine is one of the most valuable tools in the toolbox for helping kids who are processing trauma and hard transitions. It’s also a giant tool for kids who have special needs. There are a lot of families out there whose kids simply can’t handle wearing PJs all day and just doing whatever seems like fun. It just doesn’t work. 

 

As a parent in this situation, I am feeling the urgency to establish a good routine for the house to help give ALL the kids a sense of security. But at the same time, I am so stressed out that I am having a hard time establishing that routine. Are these stay-at-home orders going to affect my husband’s job? (Not yet, thank you Lord.) Are my parents ok? What about my husband’s grandpa in the nursing home? Did my oldest daughter sort out her health insurance? What if she gets sick? Our court case involving our foster kids got delayed because the courts shut down. What is this going to mean for our situation? I heard that covid-19 has reached Haiti. What is this going to mean for our friends and family still there? What will it mean for that country? My friend who lives in Bush Alaska and works in the hospital there told me they only have 7 respirators. What is this going to mean for the town where I graduated high school? What if they get hard-hit? I’m in the process of bringing my son home early from his out-of-state school. How do we get our plane tickets refunded? 

 

All of this is going through my head, and then it’s raining outside, and the kids are fighting with each other, and I feel like I am the last person in the world to be able to handle this situation well. 

 

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

 

I guess this is going to have to be my go-to verse. I’m not feeling it. I’m not feeling God’s power. I’m not feeling super-spiritual. All I can see is my weakness and my need right now. My family’s need. So, it becomes an act of faith. I will keep taking one step at a time, exert my tiny bit of strength, and trust that God is going to magnify that effort and turn it into Enough. 

 

My prayers for all of you today as we push through this crazy time, one day at a time. 

Coronavirus, Kids, and Mental Health

Hey Everyone. I’m wondering how everyone is doing right now with the World Pandemic?  I’ve got friends who have been preparing for this kind of scenario their whole lives, and they are READY! And then I have friends who aren’t taking things too seriously, still doing life as-normal as much as they can. I think I’m probably in the place that most people are. I’m taking it seriously, but I’m really not set up to be SUPER PREPARED. I don’t have the storage space or the extra cash flow to have two months of groceries stored up in my house. I live in the city. I don’t have a wilderness hide-away to retreat to in full-blown quarantine. I’m taking it one day at a time. 

 

So…Kids. Let’s talk kids. 

 

My kids are excited about having a super-long vacation. And mad because we can’t go do all the fun things they normally expect to do on a vacation. Can we go to the Children’s Museum? No. The zoo? No. The library? Well, we can go get a book, but we can’t hang out there. Play at the playground? No, way too many families there. 

 

I’ve seen a lot of posts online about How To Homeschool Your Child During Coronavirus. Homeschooling moms are in their element right now, finally, people willing to listen to their experiences!! I’ve told the kids we are going to start homeschooling next week. I’m starting to feel depressed about this. Our school system has said we are shutting down through April 3rd. I have no hope that they are going to be opening school on April 7th. And that makes me depressed. I stopped homeschooling for a reason. It was One Thing Too Many for me to handle. Right now it still feels like One Thing Too Many for me to handle. But, on the other hand, having a household full of children with no schedule and no real structure is also Too Much To Handle. So, I plan to homeschool just so I can give these kids schedules and structure, so we all don’t go insane. 

 

Here’s the plan. I plan to read devotions and have the younger kids choose a sentence from our Bible story that they can copy neatly and maybe draw a picture. I’ve got a cool history book I like called “Story of the World”. I plan to read this out loud to all the kids and give them paper and pencils to draw a picture of something that stands out to them in what I’m reading.  The older kids can write me a paragraph summary of what we’ve read in history. For math, my 3rd, 4th and 5th graders are going to drill times tables, since none of them have their times tables memorized. I’ve got some cool science books that I’m also going to read out loud and let kids draw pictures and write descriptions of what we’ve read. And then, I’ve got a large selection of quality Children’s Literature. Everyone gets to pick a book and read some of it every day. My middle-schoolers and high-schoolers can get online and use resources that their schools are making available. My preschooler and kindergartner can do phonics workbooks that I already own, and I’ll continue to do reading lessons with them. The first grader can read books and all the little ones can do addition flashcards. Then we’ll run around outside and play a lot of games. And watch some of my favorite orchestra pieces on YouTube. And paint pictures. 

 

Or, I’ll lose all patience and tell the kids to turn on the tv and leave me alone. 

 

We’ll see. 

I guess, the point is, either scenario is fine. We all have structure and learn something. Great. We free roam, watch tv and eat snacks all day. Also ok. 

 

There isn’t a script that we are supposed to be following. This is new for all of us. Grace. We just need to practice grace for each other. Sometimes grace might look like stimulating our kid’s brains and giving them lots of interesting things to do. And sometimes grace might look like throwing the kids out in the yard and making them stay outside all day. Or binge watching Marvel Movies. Or getting Happy Meals. Or learning how to bake bread. 

 

Let’s just take it one moment at a time. 

 

How to Love Your Neighbor

Hello Internet World. Hope you all are well. I am doing pretty good right now. Feeling rather mellow actually. I’m currently sitting at a Panera with my oldest daughter who is home to visit this week. We both have our computers out…writing. It runs in the family. It is my treasured night off that I get once a week and I am feeling pretty peaceful. 

 

I would have to say this a leftover from this past weekend where my husband and I were able to go have a weekend away while my parents watched the kids. It was a much needed break and even though I got thrown right back into the melee when I got home, I am feeling a lot more relaxed about life. 

 

This is having positive effects all around. I’m not feeling on edge, so when the kids are being crazy, I don’t react crazy. I stay calm and that helps everyone else get calm. I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times, Self-Care, take care of yourself…Here’s the weird thing. When you take care of yourself, it helps you to take care of everyone else better. 

 

That verse in the Bible, the Ultimate Golden Rule: Love your neighbor as yourself…it’s hard to love your neighbor if you don’t love yourself. 

 

As a mom, it is so hard to prioritize taking care of myself. It’s my job to be self-sacrificing, the kids come first, my needs aren’t as important. Which is true to an extent, but if I don’t find a healthy balance of taking care of me and taking care of them, if things get out of balance, I end up not being able to take care of them after all. 

 

I know this. I completely burnt out on life several years back and went through a couple years of deep depression. Coming out of that depression took time, and I had to learn some new skills. Here are some things I learned in no particular order.

 

  1. Deal with the inner emotional issues. Get some counseling, therapy, whatever you need, to start digging out the root of your unhealthy behaviors and thought patterns.
  2. Cultivate some outside interests.
  3. Start using your talents that you have allowed to go dormant. 
  4. Speak up. Give honest answers instead of pretending everything is fine. 
  5. Be daring and allow yourself to open up to some trusted friends, show them the real you. 
  6. Prioritize getting regular breaks. Even if they are just a short hour here and there. 
  7. Keep talking to God. Even if you are too tired to read your Bible or listen to a sermon, keep talking to him. He’s the best friend you can ever have. 

 

This is not a complete list, but these are what come to mind when I think back on how God has been teaching me over the years to love myself. And loving myself has made it so much easier to love others. Funny how that works. 

 

Anger Management

I lost it this morning. 

 

While trying to correct a certain child’s behavior, while I was in the middle of moving a very large pot of boiling hot oatmeal onto our buffet, I managed to spill the entire pot on the floor. No one got burned. My slippers DID get covered in oatmeal. I sent all the hovering children to their bedrooms and told them I would call them when breakfast was ready. I went in my room, put on socks and shoes, announced that I was going to the pharmacy (an errand I had planned on doing after breakfast) and that I would make breakfast when I got home. The fifteen minute errand barely calmed me down, and when I got home and had to start scooping up oatmeal off the floor, I felt my emotions start boiling again. I picked up the worst of the oatmeal and announced that I was going to the store to buy cereal. I didn’t have it in me to cook another breakfast. I went to the store, bought cereal, corn dogs and apples, returned to the house, called everyone to breakfast and announced to my husband that I was going out for an indefinite amount of time. Here’s food to keep you covered while I’m gone. (Just to keep it real, while I didn’t say anything mean to anyone this entire time, I was practically vibrating with pent up frustration.)

 

And then I took myself out for breakfast and escaped to the library. My happy place. 

 

And I started doing research on Anger. It has been the topic of conversation in our house for the last couple days. How do you help children who are dealing with a lot of anger? How do we help kids realize that Anger in itself is not a problem, it’s what you do with it? How do we help kids understand that Big Hard Emotions are not something to run away from or pretend they don’t exist, but we have to find healing ways to handle these emotions, not damaging ways that just make the problem worse? 

 

As I have been brain-storming, trying to help the children in my life with their anger problems, it was a bit of a surprise to find myself completely losing it this morning. Why am I so angry?? 

 

I found a really good article online put out by The Center for Parenting Education, called “Parents Anger Turning Down the Heat in Your Home”. The quote that helped me is this:

 

“Many times what passes for anger is actually another emotion such as sadness, jealousy, hopelessness, the sense of being ignored, overworked, overlooked, disappointed, or exhausted.”

 

Ah. Yes. That makes sense. I am definitely feeling overworked and exhausted. Overwhelmed. In need of a break. 

 

On my way out the door, I told my husband that I just needed some time off. I said I probably hadn’t been anywhere in over six weeks. But, if I think that one through, I honestly can’t remember the last time I just took a day off. It’s got to have been a lot longer than six weeks. 

 

And so, I am taking a Mental Health day. Hang out in a building full of books. Maybe do some shopping. Maybe call some people. Recharge. And maybe, in a roundabout way, this will be helpful to the kids in my life. Look, I get angry and overwhelmed too. Let me demonstrate to you a healthy way of dealing with it. 

 

 

Bad Moods Happen

Today is one of those days where I should have just stayed in bed. Nope. This day is not working for me, I’ll try again tomorrow. This happens to me on occasion. I have a million theories as to why. But as far as making the bad moods stop, I haven’t figured that one out yet. 

 

I have reached an age where I have finally figured out that another person can’t solve all my problems. So, while I was longing to call up my husband during his very busy day of work and complain about life to him, I knew that nothing he said would change my mood or make me feel better. In fact, in the mood I’ve been in, I probably would have picked a fight with him instead. So, I didn’t call my husband. 

 

I tossed around the idea of daydreaming about selling my house and moving to some far off location. But, that dream has lost its appeal. I like my house, run down as it is, and I really don’t want to move anywhere else. So, I gave up trying to do that. 

 

Every task I had to do today felt like a herculean task. Which flea medicine should I buy for my cats? Let’s research online. Whoa. Way too much information here…Let’s try and do some preschool with the four year old. Ok. This requires way too much patience. Better not do this anymore. 

 

I finally put some praise music on. That helped some. Took the boys grocery shopping, got some shopping therapy. Bought a yummy snack, medicating with food. Played the piano a bit, sooth my brain with music. It all helped a bit. Not a great deal. But some. 

 

I’m still in a bad mood. 

 

So, I’m going to put a positive spin on this. I can at least recognize when these moods hit. I hope I am at least learning how to contain that mood to myself instead of trying to spread it around to my family. I had a face off with the four year old over picking up toys, and instead of letting it escalate to a place where I might lose control, I decided to fight this battle later when I was in a better place to deal with it calmly. 

 

I’ve spent a lot of time just talking to God. He hasn’t given me any amazing insights, but it’s comforting to know he’s listening. 

 

This is the yucky side of life. Bad moods happen. It’s not all sunshine and princess tiaras. And, I guess it’s ok. I’m hoping that tomorrow will be better. I plan to spend some time this evening just focusing on things to be thankful for. That’s always good. Maybe preach the gospel to myself again. That’s always helpful. And I’ll pray that tomorrow will be a better day. 

 

The Art of Mental Health

I’ve been thinking some about mental health. Our family has been going through a lot of big transitions these last couple weeks as my kids have all started back to school. My oldest son is getting ready to head off to Montana for a year, my oldest daughter is home for a quick visit after her summer in Alaska and then she heads back to Alaska for another year. 

Trying to adjust to a new schedule, new routines, new family dynamics, has been exhausting. My body’s response to lots of stress and change is to kick in the insomnia. So, lately, somewhere around 3am, I wake up and can’t go back to sleep for hours. I think I probably could go back to sleep easier if my thoughts would just stop. Racing thoughts. Anxious thoughts. Little worries that quickly turn into life-threatening tragedies. And I’m laying there just wishing my brain would shut up and go to sleep. 

I have been fighting anxiety and panic attacks since I was nineteen years old. I’ve learned some things over the years. When I’m in a full-blown panic attack I find that reciting my Creed of Beliefs out loud helps things to calm down. Writing down all the things I’m afraid of and then writing on top of those things scriptures where God has promised to take care of these particular worries is also a big thing I can do. But usually my anxiety doesn’t reach those levels. Usually I can keep it under control. 

It was only this week that I connected some dots with my behavior. I suddenly realized that some of my life-long habits are actually ways of controlling anxiety. This week I have been carrying around a book of Sudoku puzzles (very fun math puzzles!). When I’m sitting in a room with all my kids clamoring around me, telling me about their days at school, playing with each other, asking for me to watch them do a trick or look at this picture they colored, I sit there and work on my Sudoku puzzles. Whenever they want my attention I look up and give it to them, but as soon as they’ve moved on, I go back to my puzzle. So, this week, I suddenly realized that when I’m doing Sudoku all my racing thoughts go on pause. It’s like, somehow, doing Sudoku uses enough brain power that it distracts those thoughts, but I can still listen to the conversations around me. 

After this major AH-HAH moment, I started wondering what else I do that has the same effect. Playing the piano definitely does that, though it takes too much brain power to be able to still listen to other people in the room. But playing Bach is kind of like pouring soothing oil on a raw wound. It creates order out of chaos. 

Reading books is also a huge one. I have been a bookworm since I was in Second Grade. But, I can read a book in the room with my family and still hear what’s going on around me, and stop reading and engage and then go back to reading. 

Then there are the times when I can’t do these activities because I’m driving or in a meeting or some other place where those things would be frowned upon. Well, then I usually have some story that I’m creating in my head and I run the story in my mind, kind of like a movie, making it up as I go along. 

I’ve always thought I was a little weird. Why do I do these things? I have to admit, realizing that these habits are actually ways that I manage anxiety is actually a bit of a relief. I feel like instead of being a bit weird and anti-social, I have actually just stumbled on ways of being a bit more mentally healthy. And it didn’t involve any illegal substances or harmful practices. Yay! 

Of course, it would be nice if those racing thoughts would just stop. And I find that I engage less in my Habits when I’m doing well spiritually, physically, mentally. But, I’ve also discovered that I can’t control everything that happens in life. Sometimes I have lots of time and energy to focus on being healthy. But other times life starts throwing a bunch of curve balls and instead of “living victoriously” it’s more like holding on to the roller coaster with an icy grip and just waiting for those big flips and turns to be over before you hit another straight stretch. 

I thank God for his mercy and grace that helps me to soar high, living the Great Life. And I thank God for his mercy and grace that helps me to just hang on and survive when life is hard. And I’m thankful for the coping mechanisms he’s helped me to find without my even realizing it.