Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Make it a Veggie-rific New Year

I wanted to do a big, long, gushing post about my CSA--how much better I feel since eating all those veggies, how much more exciting our meals have become since we added so many new foods, how much our neighbors love us for giving them that bottle of wine we got with our Christmas delivery (really!), how much I love the challenge and surprise of a box of greens every week--but, my oldest is still out of school (read: "Mom, I'm BORED.")and my other two are sick (there's nothing like the smell of vomit in the wee, small hours of the morning to let you know you're in for a good day) so this sentence will have to suffice. Joining the CSA was one of the best things I did in 2008. Not only did I learn to cook with more veggies (I can now work them into anything. And it *usually* tastes good!), but I learned to freeze and can a ton of things too. I made salsas, pickles, pickled beets (so much better than store-bought!), sauerkraut, pumpkin butter, apple butter, salad dressings, and marinades. I learned to cook with fresh herbs. I learned that I love leeks, kohlrahbi, garlic scapes, kobacha squash, and even kale. Well, love may be too strong a word for that last one, but I do have several recipes that just don't taste as good without the kale.

So here's the link for my CSA--which works if you are in Colorado or southern Wyoming. Or, for those of you who live nearby, you can google it and try any of the others in the Boulder area. And for those of you living in Utah, here's some good news: you have CSA's out there! They aren't just for us hippies on the Eastern slope! Here are a couple to check out (I have no idea if they are any good, but they are worth looking at). Utah's Own, Slow Food Utah, Copper Moose Farm. Or check localharvest.org. They have everybody.

My sister wants me to add that not all CSAs are as good as mine--and they may not be. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't look into it!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

We Fish You a Fairy Frissmas!

I thought it would be fun to make a little video Christmas card for you all, so I rounded up the kiddos and asked them to sing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas". After about, oh, 27 takes of frustration and silliness we ended up with this:

So, we fish you a fairy Frissmas and a fappy (no, wait, make that "not un-fappy") Foo Fear!

Oh, and thanks for reading my blog and sharing your thoughts and experiences. I have the best readers! I'm excited for the new year and all the blogging it will bring. Upcoming posts: support systems--does gender matter?; a series on homeopathic therapies for mood disorders; and a guest post by a creative arts therapist!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Fun!

Well, the kiddos are out of school, there is (some) snow on the ground, and my husband actually started his Christmas shopping. We must be getting close to Christmas!

If you are like me (which all of you are, right? Because everything in this world is about me. ME! ME! ME! Hmmm. I think my kids are rubbing off on me.), then you might like a link to some holiday activities to do with your kids.

Or, you might like a funny Christmas story. The story is mine--it's the one I entered at LDS Publisher--and I think it's hysterical. But nobody else did. At least not anyone voting in the contest. I guess that's what you get when you kill off the main character. :) But it's still a Christmas story and, in my opinion, it's still funny. Enjoy!

Or you might want to know some really silly Christmas statistics. I found 'em, especially for you!

Santa Stats
From http://www.JOKE-OF-THE-DAY.com

There are currently 78 people named S. Claus living in the U.S. -- and one Kriss Kringle. (You gotta wonder about that one kid's parents)

December is the most popular month for nose jobs.

Weight of Santa's sleigh loaded with one Beanie Baby for every kid on earth: 333,333 tons.

Number of reindeer required to pull a 333,333-ton sleigh: 214,206 -- plus Rudolph.

Average wage of a mall Santa: $11 an hour. With real beard: $20.

To deliver his gifts in one night, Santa would have to make 822.6 visits per second, sleighing at 3,000 times the speed of sound.

At that speed, Santa and his reindeer would burst into flame instantaneously.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The But Not Unhappy Holiday Playlist

To be honest (and we're all about honesty here), there is a lot of holiday music that makes me nuts. I do not like "The Twelve Days of Christmas". If I have to hear "Feliz Navidad" one more time--whether it's the original or Los Lonely Boys--I think I'll scream. Oh, and don't get me started on "Grandma Got Ran Over By A Reindeer."

Bad Christmas songs are blog fodder for a lot of people (checkout Musical Fruitcake for some truly pitiful songs and be sure to check out the worst Christmas song EVER. According to their list it's only number 2, but really, it's the worst.)but, while that is entertaining, that's not what I'm going for here. No, what I'm aiming to provide is a playlist that brings a little quiet to your mind and a little sanity to the sounds around you. A playlist that doesn't exacerbate your mood swings. Here's my depressed (but not unhappy) Christmas playlist:

*"Where are You Christmas" sung by Faith Hill. Hated the movie it came from but loved the song. Seriously, where is the Christmas I remember? Why can't I find it? Okay, it might be a little melodramatic but it works for me. If you're a country music fan, the sweeping emotionality of her new song, "A Baby Changes Everything", will really work for you.

*"River" by Joni Mitchell. The version I have is the live version sung by the Indigo Girls and I love it. There are plenty of days I wish I had a river I could skate away on. And just hearing those chicks croon it out makes me feel a little bit better.

*"Winter Song" sung by Sarah Bareilles. That's right, that feisty chick who won't write you a love song is happy to write you a haunting winter ballad that asks the question we all want an answer to: Is love alive? In my mind that's what Christmas is all about. Is love alive in my heart? Is the Spirit of Christ working within me so that I can share that love with those around me?

*"December" by the Counting Crows. This is actually a Christmas song but it is about December (duh, Laura)which makes it tangentially related to Christmas. And it's moody. So, you know, that works.

*Sarah Mclachlan's album Wintersong seems pretty good. I've only heard a few snippets but I really, really like it. Oh and it's not jaunty or bouncy and there are no sleigh bells. The only problem: it's so soothing it might make you want to get back into bed and never get out again--and don't we have enough problems with that already? *wink*

Those are just a few of my favorite Christmas songs--besides the standards like "O Holy Night" and "I Wonder as I Wander". Hopefully these will help you de-stress a bit during the last week before Christmas. And then, maybe, just maybe, you'll be ready for another round of Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You".

What's on your playlist this year?

Oh, and for extra giggles (especially for you, TJ! All those nightmares you gave me from blasting this song in the middle night are forever gone!), here's a little Metallica Magic from the dude that brought you a truly awesome Star Wars/John Williams tribute:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Support Where You Need it the Most! (part three): Men vs. Women

Remember when I put up that really weird-o picture of a bra made out of veggies? Well, I'm sparing you another one but, for this week's But Not Unhappy Science Friday, I do want to return to the idea of support.

I originally planned for this to be a two part series (you can read part one here and part two here), but Breakdown's comment really got my attention. He said:

I have no problem asking for help. My problem is often that I can't get anyone to help me when I need it. Home teachers, friends, family. For the most part I usually find myself fighting my own battles. I do all I can to help anyone that asks but when I need it it usually seems like I have to pull teeth. Now, it's not all the time. I have had some good people help me from time to time, just there are those times when I really need it and nobody is there to help. It's a bit discouraging.

Now, there are a lot of unknowns here. To be honest, I don't know any specifics about Breakdown's life (but I love his comments! Thanks dude!). But as I pondered his statements I began to wonder if his experience encapsulates one of the many stereotypical differences between men and women. After all common wisdom holds that women are "wired" for community building. In psycho-speak this is sometimes referred to as a "self in relation" (as opposed to an autonomous self, which is stereotypically more masculine). My experience, in many cases, tends to back this assumption up. Women like to talk. A lot. Men, for whatever social/biological/possibly screwed up reason, don't talk as much. Well, maybe they talk but they don't seem to emote as much. Men are wired for competition and conquering, not hugging. Right?

So now that I've laid out the stereotype, how true is all this? Cue the science. Check out this study: Gender, culture, and social support: a male-female, Israeli Jewish-Arab comparison. After all, what can we learn from the Israeli Jewish-Arab conflict if not insights into social support systems? (Actually, because of their physical proximity yet independent cultures, the Israeli Arabs and Jews present an ideal population for this kind of research. Surprise!)

The study was actually a phone survey in which participants were asked to rate their likelihood of asking for help in different difficult scenarios (such as depressive episode, job loss, or financial hardship). The study looked at culture and gender and compared their findings with evolutionary, social, and psychological theories about the role of gender and culture in developing a support system.

Okay, now that we got the science out of the way, what does it all mean to us? It means exactly what we already knew: culture and gender do define who we ask for help and how we build our support systems.

The study said, "Culture influences people's perception of appropriate behavior and thus how and when they seek, obtain, and enact supportive behavior, and studies show that social support is constructed within a specific cultural context . . .Indeed, gender roles promulgated by culture were found to influence how men and women seek, obtain, and enact supportive behavior in stressful situations".

Israeli Arabs ended up fitting a more masculine profile ("A masculine culture is characterized by such masculine stereotypes as assertiveness and competitiveness, whereas feminine cultures are characterized by feminine stereotypes such as warmth and collaboration") and as such tended to ask no one for help. The study conjectured that this was because Arab cultures believed that their lives were dictated by outside forces (like God and/or fate) and that problems should be handled within families first in order to avoid embarrassment. The study also pointed out that because of the patriarchal nature of the Israeli Arab culture men were less likely to have an emotional support system.

This really struck me because the Israeli Arab view seemed remarkably similar to the way I have heard people describe men in the LDS culture. We do believe that our lives are determined by God--although for us God is not the same as fate. We always have a choice as to how we will react; God will never take away our agency. Also, we believe problems should be handled in families first. When a person needs financial help they are to look to their family first, not the Church, right? Those two ideas can isolate us. I don't think they have to (I think it's the first lesson of bishop-ing: tell them to call a therapist!), but they can.

I also wonder how the idea or priesthood leadership and of a man being the steward of the family makes men feel like they have to be invincible. I remember what an epiphany it was when a lit. theory professor pointed out that chauvinistic patriarchal societies are as limiting for men as they are for women. After all, in a typical (not LDS) patriarchy men aren't allowed to be weak. They must always dominate. That has to get tiring.

Of course, our LDS concept of male leadership is not chauvinistic or traditionally patriarchal (at least not in the way feminists use the term). Men are not supposed to be Peter Priesthood Ken dolls. They are sojourners on this earth like the rest of us and entitled to failures and the resulting relationship with Christ just like all of us chicks.

I don't know. I've gotta ask the men, how have these issues played out for you. Have you struggled with the worldly definition of what it means to be a strong man and what the Church's definition of a strong man is (i.e. you SHOULD ask for help!)? Is it different because you are a man? I hope all my male readers will respond because I really do want an answer :)

Depression Profile: Kelly "Depression can't be fixed, it can only be managed"

Name: Kelly (name has been selected from a random name generator. Well, not really. But wouldn't one of those come in handy?)
Age: 33
Location: Utah

1. Have you ever been officially diagnosed? How do you classify your depression? (i.e. post partum depression, anxiety/depression, clinical depression, etc.)
I have been diagnosed by my doctor with clinical depression and anxiety disorder. I also suffer from post partum depression.

2. How long have you been depressed?
I remember being sad and having anxiety since I was about ten. I remember contemplating suicide often during my teen and early adult years. My symptoms became the worst after I had kids. When my life is overwhelming, then my symptoms become worse.

3. What are you like on your worst days?
My mind won’t stop. I think about way too many things in a very negative way. Everything sucks…Everyone sucks…The world is out to get me. I have the type of depression that makes it so I don’t stop moving and worrying about everything (versus the type where you stay in bed all day). On my worst days I am running around like a mad woman while I stress and freak out about everything around me. My body can’t keep up with my brain. This is frustrating to the point of me yelling and screaming and panicking over everything. I cry a lot, and feel so alone.

4.What are you like on your best days?
I am calm and can think things through reasonably. It occurs to me on my good days that this is what “normal” feels like. I can accomplish things. I am not annoyed by everything. I smile and mean it.

5. What kind of treatments have you pursued?
I have taken Lexapro and Zoloft without any great results. Lexapro made me gain 60 pounds so I decided to go get off it. I tapered off it slowly, but the withdrawals were still unbelievable. I came very close to killing myself while in the withdrawal stage. It was one of the darkest periods of my life. I decided, after that experience, that I didn’t want to be dependent on medication again. While initially it helped, and I am not against medication for anyone with depression and anxiety, it just isn’t for me.

Since then I have tried to take a more holistic approach. This approach takes a lot more time and effort, but the benefits have been positive for me. I exercise at least two hours a day and I take a combination of B vitamins, vitamin D, and a supplement called inositol. [Laura's note: Hi Readers--sorry to interrupt. I have never heard of inositol before. Drop me a line or comment and tell me what you know about it. I plan on doing a more in depth post on it in the future and would love your input.] I also get at least 20 minutes of sunshine/outdoor light a day. While I still have really bad days occasionally, and every day is a little bit of a challenge, all of these things I do make it better.

At one point this last year I was walking 12 miles a day and this made me feel better than I ever did on medication. But of course that kind of commitment is hard to continue on a daily basis.

I have also tried therapy and I have not found many benefits to this for me personally. I suppose I just haven’t found the right therapist, though I have tried several. I feel like they want to fix me and move on. Depression can’t be fixed, only managed.

6. How do you feel your depression has affected your spirituality? How would you describe your current relationship with the Church?
I once had someone of my faith tell me, “You’re kids deserve a happy mom.” It was said in a judgmental way. That sums up my feelings about the Church. Mental illness is misunderstood. I feel judged by most people of my faith. I also feel like the Church has way too many expectations to meet, and it is impossible for a depressed LDS person to meet all these expectations. This leaves me feeling less than whole and guilty and not quite up to par.

I have also been told to pray harder, read my scriptures more, have more faith. It is funny that these things are not told to people with physical illnesses, only mental illness. Sometimes this makes me feel bitter and lonely.

I hope to someday have the faith I need to make it through this life without being angry and feeling misunderstood. I need to look past other people's weaknesses and insensitivity. However, right now in my life I need more people to lean on and it seems there doesn’t seem to be many who are willing. Where is the Christ-like attitude we are all supposed to have?

Sometimes the thought of going through this illness every day is overwhelming to me. I lose faith, I become angry at God, I don’t understand why I have to deal with this lonely disease that very few people understand. I also see some signs of mental illness in my children, and this makes me angry that they will have to go through this, and I had a part in it.

So to be honest the last couple of years while my depression has been at its highest, my spirit and faith have been at their lowest.

7. What do you wish other people understood about depression?
The thing I wish people mostly understood is that depression and anxiety are real. They can be just as debilitating and life threatening as a physical illness. And for the most part depressed people just want someone to talk to without judgment.

I want to thank Kelly for this. I really appreciate her honesty about her relationship with the Church. There are so many demands on our time and energy and there are a lot of individuals who don't understand how consuming mood disorders can be. All that makes it so difficult to remember that we go to Church to worship the Lord and reconnect with our Savior--not to tell others what to do or judge them. Some Sundays, when I'm depressed, a spiritual experience feels impossible. I want to commend Kelly for persevering through this. She is woman of real inner strength.

If you would like to share your story (as anonymously as you'd like) please email me at lolapalooza AT hotmail DOT com. Please put "depression profile" in the subject line so I know you aren't a spammer.

Monday, December 15, 2008

LDS Publisher's Christmas Story Contest

Christmas Graphics

Hi friends!
I just wanted to let you all know that I entered a story in this year's Christmas Story contest over at LDS Publisher. Here's the link to the contest. There are two categories: published authors and unpublished authors and you can vote for two stories in both. I can't tell you which story is mine (nuts!) but I hope you'll go over and vote. A lot of these stories are touching, some are fun, and all are worth reading. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Support Where You Need it the Most! (part two)

I'll spare you another bizarre bra picture, but yes, we are still talking about building a support system. But, you know, if you really stop and think about it a bra is a good analogy for how to build a support system.

Okay, I'm kidding.

Here's my real point: One of the hardest things about building a support system (besides being honest with others and yourself) is actually calling in that support system. Case in point: me.

When I was preggers with baby #3, J, I was justifiably nervous about the postpartum period. Given the fact that I pretty much fell apart after the first two babies (we were lucky if Mommy quit crying and sleeping and yelling long enough to get everybody dressed and fed--housework, cooking, and laundry were nowhere on my radar), I knew I needed to make some serious preparations for when J would arrive.

So I started cooking. I made several lasagnas, shepherd's pies, and chicken broccoli casseroles and stuffed them in the freezer. Then I made quart after quart of soup and jammed those in too. Next I organized the house. I tore apart all the closets and cleaned them out. I inventoried our food storage. Then I scrubbed everything from top to bottom. Then, while I was weighing the merits of disposable dishes during a session, my therapist asked if I had any help lined up for after J was born.

"Well, my mom's coming out for a while," I stumbled.

"Okay. What about after she's gone?"

"Um. My husband was going to try working from home a bit." I was starting to get uncomfortable.

"What about nights when he's at school?"

"I don't know."

"Okay. What are you going to do on days that you just need a break?" My therapist paused. I squirmed. She continued, "Now, I just want you to consider this. You don't have to decide now. Just consider. What about asking someone to come in and visit once or twice a week and helping with the kids? You could hire someone or you could ask a friend. Just think about it."

I didn't just think about it. I started to argue about it. I listed all the reasons why that just wasn't feasible: money, the need to pay back favors, my kids wouldn't like the person, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. But, as the pregnancy came to its end I began to wonder if my therapist was right. Maybe I could ask someone for help.

Well, J turned out to be a bit of a high maintenance baby (acid reflux disease and possible lactose intolerance. Wheee!) and I suffered along as best I could. There were times, though, that he would just cry and cry. It set everybody on edge. Soon my oldest, N, was having panic attacks and E--who was not even two years old--was throwing tantrums and breaking things. I needed help. And I started to ask for it.

First I found a good child therapist to help N with her panic attacks. Then I attempted letting a friend do my dishes without "paying her back." One day I called my visiting teacher to see if she would fill in when a babysitter canceled at the last minute. I even called another friend late at night to come over and hold my screaming baby while my husband was at school so I could get the other two kiddos to sleep. The thing that amazed me the most: everybody I asked for help said yes. And they were happy about it.

Things are less stressful these days. J is on an acid reducer. N is starting to manage her panic attacks. E is beginning to understands logic and cause and effect so time outs (and hugs!) are effective. But I still have my really bad days--like the one a week and a half ago--and on those days I can't bring myself to call anyone to come help me. I don't want to intrude on their lives. I keep telling myself that if other people can handle the stress of life with three kids then I should too. I am too embarrassed about how lame I am when I am at my worst. I don't want people to see it. I'm too afraid of what they will think.

But, the other day, a couple days after I'd been down, I told my visiting teachers how rough it had been. The offered to clean my house. I said no. They said, "When do you want us?" I said, "NO." They said, "We'll be here on Friday." And I said, "Okay." And they came last Friday and they cleaned my house. It was nice. I couldn't believe how good my kitchen looked. I couldn't believe how much better I felt. Not just because my kitchen was clean but because I realized I wasn't in this alone. I had support. People would show up. People would help. I breathed a little easier.

I gotta ask, am I the only one with this problem? Do you all find it easy to ask for and receive help? What are some of the most supportive things people have done for you?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Support Where You Need it the Most! (part one)

No, I'm not talking about that kind of support (although you all do know how much I love my veggies!). I'm talking about an emotional support system--how to build one and how to use it.

Building a Support System
I think we all know what a support system is and, if you all are anything like me, we fantasize about that perfect spouse/friend/parent/home or visiting teacher who intuits our needs so well that we hardly have to do anything. But building a support system isn't something that is easily done. It takes time and effort. The big thing I've learned a long the way: *Honesty* In order to build a support system you need to be honest with yourself and with those close to you about how your mood disorder affects you. Both of these things can be difficult.

Being honest with yourself is hard because you likely over-estimate your faults and your worthiness. You likely believe you should do things on your own and that because of the way you struggle you don't deserve the love and attention of others. You may even believe it is more righteous to struggle on your own. This is not true. Even in the throes of the bad days, especially in the throes of the bad days, you deserve to have someone there to help. There's a reason God organized us in families and wards/branches. We are meant to help each other out. How else are we supposed to fulfill our baptismal covenants? (See Mosiah 18:8-10)

Being honest with others is hard for a couple reasons. First, you don't know how they'll react (my favorite: "When I get down I know that's just Satan inside me and if I repent he'll go away." Great. So now I'm depressed and possessed. That's super.). And second, you may lack the words to describe what you are going through. The only way to figure these two things out is through trial and error (or as I like to say, trial and effort). Therapists are a really good place to start with this. They've heard it all so no matter what you say you can't weird them out--or if you do you can always find another one! They are also good at aiding introspection. They just seem to know how to help you hear yourself better and the better you understand yourself the easier it will be for you to explain all that to others.

Not everybody you know is going to be the right fit for you. This website has some nice tips to help you figure out who to start reaching out to (disclaimer: I'm not so sure about their tip to include stuffed animals in your support system. I mean, for me, personally, it's hard to talk to a teddy bear when I know my preschooler is doing the same thing in the next room).

Another great idea to aid you in building your support system is one I got from Coffinberry. She got this table from her brother and I think it encourages some good thinking and communicating. It is called "Mad Maps". In a Mad Map, you make a list as such:

*In Every-day Times
Things you should do:
(For example)
Bring me herbal tea
Tell me how great I am

Things you should not do:
(For example)
Give me Caffeine
Make me stay up late

*In Times of Crisis
Things you should do:
(For example)
Help me find a quiet place
Sit with me and listen

Things you should not do
(For example)
Tell other people what's going on

Coffinberry said, "This list would be available for those who wish to support you in times of sadness or crisis. This seems to me like a great tool for care-teams. It helps people to know how to support you, but it also helps you explore how yourself and what kind of support you need. It also gets you in the mindset of building a support network for yourself."

So whether you start with a therapist or with a Mad Map, take a good look at the people around you and see who you can depend on because as a good friend once told me, "We're all waiting to love you. Just give us the chance!"

Friday, December 5, 2008

Depression Profile: Annalee "It's Not A Made Up Thing"

Name: Annalee (name has not only been changed but been pulled from thin air!)
Age: 28
Location: Colorado
Occupation: SAHM and other part time stuff

1. Have you ever been officially diagnosed? How do you classify your depression? (i.e. post partum depression, anxiety/depression, clinical depression, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, etc.)
I have been diagnosed. i think if i remember correctly i was diagnosed as being moderate to severely depressed, seasonal affective disorder, OCD(I count things. I used to count my fingers to make sure I had 10. And I count random things at least three times), and tendencies of schizophrenia. And I'm a cutter.

2.How long have you been depressed?
For as long as I can remember. Maybe from the age of five. I can always remember hating myself. That is when I started counting my fingers. When I was around 10 I started to count other things. I noticed that I started to count road mile markings and windows on buildings. Right around this time is when the self abuse started too.

3.What are you like on your worst days?
I stay in bed and sleep all day. It's too much work or an effort to shower and I think about how to hang myself in the closet. I'm angry and sad all at the same time. Very short tempered. And I cry very easily. I abuse myself. Mostly with just my hands. In the past, I have cut myself with razor blades, scissors, anything sharp really. But I tend to lean towards the scissors. I also hit my head on things--walls, doors, anything hard that is close to me. I have given myself black eyes before.

4. What are you like on your best days?
You would never know that I was depressed.

5. What kind of treatments have you pursued?
I didn't get help till I was 16. I started on Prozac and it mad me a zombie; no ups or downs. I flat-lined. Then I switched to St. Johns Wort, but heard of long term side effects and stopped using that. Then I went on Zoloft and was off and on this for a few years. I then went to Lexapro and from there I went to Wellbutrin 150. I have always been inconsistent with my meds. I stop and start on my own and have huge withdrawals. It took me awhile to come to grips with my depression. I got in a huge low where I started to see things again and just couldn't function with daily tasks like showering, eating, taking care of the house, family. I then went to a psychiatrist. He is the one who diagnosed me. He started me on Lexapro and Wellbutrin 300.

6. How have those treatments worked for you?
Since being diagnosed I have come to terms with my depression/disorders. I felt for a long time that I wasn't myself on meds. That I wasn't really me. That I was supposed to be an angry person and that's who I was. That people couldn't get to see who I really was, like I was just pretending all the time. Since coming to terms with it I have been so good at taking my meds regularly. I was seeing my Dr. every week for two months and then it went to every other week to once a month to every three. Once I went to every three months I felt like i didn't need to see him anymore. It was a waste of my time and money to go see him to say,"Yep, everything is working just fine. I haven't really had any episodes--only when i forget to take my meds for a couple day can I notice a change. But that happens very rarely." Then he reminds me to take them and sends me on my way.

8. How do you feel your depression has effected your spirituality? How would you describe your current relationship with the Church?
To be honest I don't connect the two. I never really thought of it. I guess that I am more in tune with the Spirit when I am on my meds and doing well. I tend to want to do the right things and everything that I'm supposed to be doing. With the Church right now I'm in a good place. Everything seems to be making more sense now that I have gotten myself to a healthy place.

8. What do you wish other people understood about depression?
That it's not a made-up thing. That people don't choose to be depressed and that we can't just be happy. It's not that easy.

What I really appreciate about Annalee's story is, first off, her honesty and, secondly, how she has been dealing with this her whole life. I see a lot of courage in her. It also gives me hope for the future. Thinking about my depression as a chronic condition is so scary. I can't imagine dealing with this year after year after year. But Annalee has and she is HAPPY. Amazing! Thanks so much Annalee! You are awesome!

If you would like to share your story here (as anonymously as you want) please email me at lolapalooza AT hotmail DOT com. Every story counts. The more we share, the more we learn, and the better-equipped we are to help ourselves and each other.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

It was the strangest thing . . .

Yesterday after I posted I tried a number of things to break up the depressed-thought-cycle but nothing was working. When I found myself standing in the kitchen contemplating my selection of knives I knew whatever I was doing wasn't enough. Since my husband was working from home I decided to ask him for a blessing. When he distractedly looked up and asked, "Why?" he got waaaay more of answer than he had bargained for.

After crying so hard I made my nose bleed (seriously. Who knew you could do that?) and getting the kids somewhat settled he gave me the blessing. As he pulled out a chair he said, "I don't exactly know how to give this kind of blessing."

"What's that supposed to mean? It's just a blessing," I snapped.

"Well, usually there's a little more faith involved. You don't seem to have any right now."

"I asked for a blessing didn't I? That's as much faith as I can muster."

He looked me up and down, took a deep breath, and placed his hands on my head. He started the blessing and I didn't feel a thing. I was a little irked by this but I also kind of expected it. When I'm feeling really down I can't feel the Spirit. It just can't get through the crazy. I took mental notes of what he said and gave him an empty hug when he finished. Then I cleaned the front room. Then I made dinner. Then we had family night and put up Christmas decorations. By the time I went to bed I was quite surprised by what I got done. I figured the day was a bust but I was starting to think maybe it was okay.

This morning I woke up late and remembered that I had a visiting teaching appointment. I was a half hour late but I did get there. My companion had the flu and couldn't come so it was up to me to supply the message. When I finally cracked the Ensign I was surprised to find the quotation from President Uchtdorf:

The gospel of Jesus Christ has the divine power to lift you to great heights from what appears at times to be an unbearable burden or weakness. The Lord know your circumstances and your challenges. He said to Paul ad to all of us, 'My grace is sufficient for thee.' And like Paul we can answer: 'My strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.'

Those were the words my husband had said in my blessing. He didn't say it exactly the way President Uchtdorf did but that's what he said. I'm still surprised--and grateful. The Lord gave me the blessing twice; once when I needed it and once when He knew I'd hear it. That means a lot to me. He truly is the God that knows us so well he can number the hairs of our heads.

Oh, also in the blessing the Lord reminded me to reach out to the support systems I've built. So thanks to you all for being a part of my support system and for reaching out to me. Your comments really helped!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Everything is bad

It's been a fairly long time since I've had one of these days. I should have known it was coming. After all, some of these breakdowns are predictable. PMS brings them on--gotta always remember to take it easy during that time of the month. Bad weather pulls me down too. And coming home from trips. The first day back is hell.

Last week we went to Minnesota to visit my sister and we had a great time. We went to the Mall of America, ate tons of turkey, chopped down a real live Christmas tree (the tree farm kept telling us this was so much more environmentally friendly, but I'm not so sure. I mean, come on, trees are the best thing this planet has going for it and chopping it down is good?), and somebody else was always there to help with the kids and clean up the messes. I liked it. A lot.

Now we're home. I was happy to be back to my house with all my stuff--especially the various books and things reminding me of writing projects I've got waiting. I was even happy when I got up this morning. Well, not happy really but not sad either. I was doing all right.

As the day has gone on things have just piled up and I'm remembering why being a mother is the most frustrating thing in the world. It feels like the absolute definition of insanity. After all every day I do the same things over and over (like the dishes, the laundry, telling the children to not scream at each other or hurt the baby) and every day I expect it to make a difference. And it never does. The house is always a mess, the laundry is never done, my children still argue all the time, and I'm always tired. Nothing changes.

I know that people say that this is only a phase of life and I'll miss it when it's gone. I'll wish for these days back. But right now all I want to do is hide. But I can't hide. There are too many other people to answer to. So instead of hiding I yelled at everyone and made them cry. The kids are in their rooms and I'm blogging while listening to John Mayer's version of "Free Fallin'" over and over again. In my brain the song is about suicide and I find listening to it strangely comforting. I am so pathetic.

My husband is working from home today and he hates it when I get like this. He doesn't know what to do and neither do I. I'm so useless.

I've got to snap out of this but I don't know how. The more I sit the more I find myself thinking scary thoughts and wishing my brain wouldn't go there but not knowing how to make it quit. I wish this was a happy blog entry. I wish I had inspiring words to tell you all and say that there is something that makes it so days like this don't happen. But they do. No matter how hard you try the bad days still roll around. And they suck.

Well, I'm gonna get off the computer and call my therapist. I should be able to get an appointment for this week. Talking it out always helps. And after that I'm going to find a quiet corner to sit and tell myself that "this too shall pass" until I believe it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Grin and BARE It

For those of us who are depressed the holidays are some of the worst times of the year. The bad weather (SAD anyone?) combined with the extra stress and expectations are a perfect combination for a depressive episode. Last year my kids got ear infections and fevers for every holiday from Halloween to Valentine's Day. I had no family to be with and, with my husband in graduate school, I was completely alone with the cranky kids all the time. I thought I was going to go insane. Which I kind of did. But we survived last year and I have hopes that this year will be better. Here a few things that helped me:

*remember to take time for yourself. If the pies are store-bought, so be it. If the presents aren't perfectly wrapped, that's okay. The important part is that you are able to enjoy your family and remember why we celebrate holidays in the first place. (Hint: it has something to do with being happy).

*Grin. Even if you don't mean it. Sometimes even the act of smiling can lighten your mood. And, hey, maybe once you're smiling you'll even find yourself cracking a couple jokes (most likely sarcastic ones, but a little sarcasm can go a loooong way).

*Bare it. As in your soul. As in all those emotions you try to hide for fear of freaking others out or making them feel sad too. You are depressed. Sometimes you need a little extra support, especially during the holidays. Tell people what you are sad or anxious about. Tell people what you need. When we're depressed we usually assume that no one understands us or even cares, but the fact is people do care. And people are often surprising. When you ask for what you need, you might just get it.

Good luck! This can be a difficult time of year but you can survive it. You can even, maybe, enjoy it.

This is an issue for a lot of people so, please, if you have any ideas for surviving the most wonderful (yet depressing) time of the year post them here!

Oh, and have a happy turkey day tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Finding Joy

When I first started this blog I spent days writing my initial post, Finding Happy. In this last conference President Monson gave a talk entitled Finding Joy in the Journey. He, of course, offers way better advice than I do!

Here are some of my favorite quotations:

* "This is our one and only chance at mortal life—here and now. The longer we live, the greater is our realization that it is brief. Opportunities come, and then they are gone. I believe that among the greatest lessons we are to learn in this short sojourn upon the earth are lessons that help us distinguish between what is important and what is not. I plead with you not to let those most important things pass you by as you plan for that illusive and non-existent future when you will have time to do all that you want to do. Instead, find joy in the journey—now."

* "If you are still in the process of raising children, be aware that the tiny fingerprints that show up on almost every newly cleaned surface, the toys scattered about the house, the piles and piles of laundry to be tackled will disappear all too soon and that you will—to your surprise—miss them profoundly. Stresses in our lives come regardless of our circumstances. We must deal with them the best we can. But we should not let them get in the way of what is most important—and what is most important almost always involves the people around us. . . We will never regret the kind words spoken or the affection shown. Rather, our regrets will come if such things are omitted from our relationships with those who mean the most to us."

President Monson also quoted a scripture, Doctrine and Covenants 88:33, which says, "For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.” This is a scripture I have never really considered before, but the art of receiving is one I definitely need to work on. Receiving blessings graciously, it seems, is the first step of faith in God. Perhaps it is the first step in really learning to give my life over to Him. Perhaps it is the first step to finding joy.

p.s. A big thanks to my Visiting Teachers for using this talk as part of their lesson today. You ladies are such a good influence on me :)

Monday, November 17, 2008

What's funnier than depression? Therapeutic Humor!

Common sense (and Reader's Digest) has long held that laughter is the best medicine. But what common sense couldn't have guessed was what that sentiment would spawn.

Have you all ever heard of World Laughter Day? Or how about Laughing Yoga? There's even an Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor. (A treatment needs its own association before it's a "real" option, right?) Oh, and according to the ever-venerable WebMD, laughing 100 times equals ten minutes of cardio.

But seriously people, this is more than Patch Adams. This is serious science with serious health benefits. Besides the usual stuff like laughter helps ease mood disorders(did all you depressed people catch that!) and lightens up emotional situations, laughter can help ward off heart attacks, boost your immune system, and help you lose weight! (Okay, that last one is pretty old science, but I like the idea so I put it up. Hmmm, Charlotte do I hear an experiment coming?)

Anyway, you've probably heard a lot of that before but I think it is worth reminding you of. Oh, and in case you haven't gotten your laugh on today, here's the funniest dancing video. It starts out slow but the end is a real whammy :)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Just because something is hard . . .

When I first started going to therapy (for real, the first first time I saw a therapist I wasn't really sure about it so I didn't do the work so it doesn't count)I talked a lot about my kids and my husband. After all, they were (are!) the people I spent most of my time and energy taking care of and supporting. Back then I felt like I was sacrificing so much to be the wife and mother they needed and, well, I wasn't sure I felt very good about that. It was just so hard. So hard that I was drained and frustrated and angry all the time. This wasn't how it was supposed to be. Something, somewhere must have gone wrong. I was in therapy to ferret that out and exorcise it.

I got married pretty young (19) and had my first baby pretty young (21). Being young and naive, I thought that because I had married a righteous priesthood holder in the temple and because I had received spiritual confirmation about getting pregnant that I was doing everything right. I mean, I knew I had little weaknesses; I knew I needed some tweaking before I would be ready to meet my maker, but I was doing all the important stuff right. I figured my life would be easy because I followed the path that my Primary teachers, Young Women leaders, and my parents had laid out. I mean, that's how it's supposed to work right? God told the Nephites and Lamanites over and over that if they were righteous they would prosper in the land. It was only hard when they were bad. Temple marriage was like a fairy tale. As soon as you got the girl in the beautiful dress with the handsome RM at her side in front of the castle-like building the battles had already been fought, the dragon slayed, and it was time for the happily forever after. Right?

Wrong. Very wrong.

Look at Nephi. He was a prophet who never failed to declare the word of the Lord--even when it made his brothers time him to the ship's mast for days. Remember Abinadi? He was pretty righteous and he got burned at the stake. And then there's Jesus, our Savior and Redeemer. He suffered tremendously--words are inadequate to express what He went through in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross--and He was perfect. Hard things happen for a lot of reasons, many of which are not the direct result of the individual.

Don't misunderstand me. When we intentionally sin the consequences are real and painful. Even when we don't intentionally sin, when we only trangress or make mistakes there are consequences. But everything in our lives can't be traced back to our own choices. There are too many other people in the world for that to be the case.

My therapist is not LDS and didn't think to point out the cosmic nature and purpose of trials. (Which is probably for the best because I sure wasn't hearing that lesson. I mean, how many had that been taught in Church and I didn't hear it? Apparently I needed a different presentation of that truth.) Instead she listened as I dissected every choice that lead to my marriage and my children and my life. She listened as I unburdened and re-burdened my weary mind. And then she quipped, "You know, just because something is hard doesn't mean it's wrong. It just means it's hard. Some things, like marriage, are just hard some of the time."

I snatched an appointment card off the table and scribbled her words on it. I told her I wanted to believe it but I wasn't sure if I could. What did it mean? "Just because something is hard doesn't mean it's wrong." Did it mean that I could make good choices and some things in my life would still be hard? Did it mean that I had no control?

Yes. And no. Yes my life would still be hard--the Lord chastens and scourges those He loves--and no because I still did have some control. I didn't have control over all my circumstances or my trials. I didn't choose to have depression or the other things that made me feel like my life was headed for the trash can. God was (is!) the one in control of all that. My job was to figure out how those circumstances and trials would change me and my relationships. Would it be a refiner's fire or just fire and brimstone? That's all I need to figure out. The rest I can give up to God.

Of course I'm still working on figuring all that out--it will probably take me the rest of my life and maybe even some of eternity to really get it--but when things get rough, on the really bad days when the house is a wreck and the kids are all screaming and I just want to lay in bed because I can't face it all, I remember, "Just because something is hard doesn't mean it's wrong. It just means it's hard." And I breathe a little easier.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Importance of Revisionist History (or, why I scrapbook)

Okay. I'll admit it. I'm what self-help books refer to as a "negative first reactor". (I actually got that term from one of my favorite parenting books, Raising Your Spirited Child, by Mary Kurcinka. I loved it because it talked about how my feelings and attitudes interacted with my kids' feelings and attitudes. Lots of self-insight there!)

"So what is a negative first reactor?" you say. Here's an example: my trip to NYC with my sister Charlotte so we could be on TV. The trip was an absolute surprise and thanks to the way TV works I had no time to think about it or process the whole thing until I was alone in a hotel room staring down at the 1:00 am milieu that is Times Square. I started to shudder and backed away from the window. I frantically phoned Charlotte--our cell phones are more like walky-talkies than anything else--while I lay in the fetal position on the bed. It had all happened so fast and I just kept wondering what I had been thinking.

Charlotte eventually arrived and we spent the night plucking my eyebrows (which always need a good weed whacking) and planning what we were going to say on the show the next day. We woke up early and helped each other get ready. We laughed when we realized we had unintentionally bought matching pants. We giggled when our driver opened our doors for us. We gagged when we realized how much make-up they had put on us. We pulled faces at each other when we thought the cameras weren't on us (they were). After the show, we wandered around Times Square for three hours gawking at all the weirdos (you've heard of the Naked Cowboy, right?) and stopping in all the shops. We ate the famous ice cream and posed with giant toys. The only thing we didn't do was take in a Broadway show (there wasn't time), but I did tap dance on 42nd street :)

When we were saying goodbye at the airport she asked me if I was glad I had come. I couldn't answer her. My first reaction was no. I had hated New York. It was all materialistic and shallow and loud and, well, cement. I swear we didn't see a living plant anywhere. We could barely see the sky above the massive, moving billboards Yuck.

That was in April. Now, fast forward to a few weeks ago. Winkflash was having a deal so I decided to get my pics printed and try to catch up my scrapbook. As I looked through the folder that had our pics from New York I found myself smiling. Then when the pictures arrived in the mail, I found myself laughing. It was such a crazy thing to do! It was great story to tell people! It was fun! I was glad I had gone! As I scrapbooked the pictures, the happy memories grew stronger and the frustrated, scary moments faded.

I've had similar experiences with pictures of my kids. While many of my memories of the months after my first baby was born are frightening, looking at her scrapbook reminds me that not every moment was bad; I wasn't always a screw up. The process of choosing my favorite pictures, handling them, cropping them, gluing them, decorating them has become a celebratory process. It gives me the opportunity to go through my memories and examine them and, well, rewrite them. Leafing through the books with my children reminds me that our family is good family--even if we have problems. My scrapbooks give me back the feelings and experiences that my depression erases.

How do you restore your perspective? What things do you do to help you combat those nagging, ever-present negative impulses?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sometimes we all need a reality check

So, here's the funniest one I've come across in a long time! Enjoy! (Oh, and I'll send you a quarter if you can tell me which actor was formerly on So You Think You Can Dance. Okay, not really, but maybe if you look under your couch or in your car or something you can find yourself a quarter and buy a gumball. That'll make you happy ;)

See more funny videos at Funny or Die

p.s. Sorry for the dumb "scanscout" popup. You just have to keep closing it.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Guest Post: Why ARE Mormons so depressed?

This is the second post on this subject. See the first post (my take) here. Becca is a friend and has a fun family blog where she talks about her kids antics, her passion for homeschooling, and, well, anything else that interests her! Check her out at http://beccajones.blogspot.com/.

I have thought about this for a long time and I've come to some
questions and thoughts (I don't think they're conclusions yet).

1. I haven't read the original study, nor even the link Laura put to
the analysis of it (bad me....), but I have always wondered if UTAH
being the most depressed state can actually be equated with Mormons
being the most depressed people. It seems likely to me that anyone on
the 'outside,' like non-mormons and non-active-mormons are in Uah,
would feel prone to report symptoms of depression and skew the

2. Orson Scott Card once said that Mormons are, by nature, not
followers, but rebels. I heard him say this is a lecture, so I don't
have a source note for you. He explained that Mormons, at least
initially, tended to be the people who were unsettled and willing to
try new things, look at new ideas, and reject the establishment's way
of doing things in search of a higher way. This character trait can
also be expressed in people as 'creativity', which recently was linked
fairly definitively with depression--the same traits that make a
person prone to creativity also make them prone to express depression.
You can read more about this in "Delivered from Distraction," a book
on ADD that has a chapter on the links between creativity, depression,
and ADD and discusses how people with ADD or depression can avoid the
extremes of their illnesses by managing their creativity properly.

Unfortunately, my experience with Mormons is that, although we are
taught explicitly to express our creativity and develop our talents
(see the most recent women's conference for this), we don't allow
ourselves to really make time for this or embrace this because we are
too busy living up to that unrealistic cultural ideal that Laura made
reference to--the perfect woman equals perfect house syndrome. For
creative people, according to Halliwell (the author of 'Delivered,'),
this can lead to increased feelings of depression.

In other words, the genetic predisposition doesn't conflict with the
doctrine, but it can very strongly conflict with the culture, like
Laura said, and the very thing that makes people prone to join the
church also makes their descendants prone to creativity and

3. I always wonder, when I see ideas like 'most depressed state' or
'autism has higher incidence' reported in studies if the actual issue
is more prevalent, or if the reporting of it and seeking treatment for
it are more prevalent. Are Mormons really the most depressed people,
or, with their understanding that 'Happiness is [our] heritage' (as
Elder Uchtdorf said), they don't identify depression (even in its
anxiety/anger expressions) and seek treatment more often.

Likewise, with our emphasis on women having children and staying home
with them and not abusing them, we may be more in tune with the
symptoms of depression (all of them, even if we don't call them
depression) than women who work full time outside the home, or have no
children by choice. I'm not saying our lifestyle CAUSES depression,
but merely that it makes it more noticeable and imperative that we get
treatment for it.

Many of the non-mormons I know just expect that life is going to be
unhappy, or 'gray-to-black', all the time, or assume that it's normal
for people to feel extreme anxiety or anger. When it gets to be too
much, they self-medicate with alcohol or other soft drugs, or they
(often) have the freedom that mothers of many don't have to exercise
for 2 hours a day, or sink themselves for 24 hours into their art, or
even, often, change their diets significantly. And many many of them,
not knowing any better, figure that's life and just go along.

I have also been told by many people that their LDS parents told them
that getting help for mental illness is a sign of weakness or a lack
of faith. The church has most emphatically tried to squelch this
falsehood, but many many people let all kinds of mental illness
flourish and interfere in their lives because of a lie that trusting
Jesus is enough, and if he doesn't heal you, you don't have enough

Because of this, I have appreciated Laura's perspective that God made
her with depression for a reason--not that she shouldn't treat it and
seek happiness, but that perhaps she has things to learn that will
make it so that all her faith and reliance on Christ may not relieve
her of her challenges, but that does not mean she has to spend her
whole life suffering with her illness.

Just like faith in Christ does not mean we acknowledge he exists and
then 'do it on my own,' it also doesn't mean we don't act at all and
wait for him to fix everything up the way we demand or expect, or that
it will be a fast and easy ride.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Just when I thought my life was perfect (or, another Cymbalta update)

I've been taking my Cymbalta for three and a half months now and I've been feeling really good. My only complaint is that I'm still feeling pretty tired, although I only need to nap every few days. And I still sweat a lot. The intrusive thoughts are gone. I've started praying in the morning out of a sense of duty instead of desperation. I haven't screamed at my kids in weeks. So basically my life is perfect now, right?

Well, turns out a lot is still up to me. (Nuts!)

Take last night, for example. I recently joined our ward choir and yesterday they had two practices. The first was our normal ward choir practice and I had a good time. (This is the best time of year to be in choir because of all the Christmas music. P.S. Our ward still needs sopranos and basses, so if you know anyone . . .) The second practice was with another ward to rehearse a combined choir for our upcoming Stake Conference. This is when the trouble started.

Like most things psychological, you should probably know a little background info first. I was in my high school's performing choir. So were some really talented singers--a couple of them were working on cutting their own albums. (One girl actually did go on to a career in music. Check her out here. Another is now a stand up comic. Check him out here--beware this one though; plenty of foul language!) The choir director was pretty enamored of the three or four extremely talented kids and, in my opinion, kind of hung the rest of us out to dry. He had a habit of skipping the teaching parts of his job and just expecting us to perform perfectly. He yelled a lot and made fun of some kids behind their backs. There were a couple times that I felt directly humiliated. The choir director's attitude brought about/set off some of the most intense anxiety attacks I had as a teenager. I ended up lip syncing for most of my time with him. It took a fair amount of patience and a couple good friends to get me singing in public again. Which may not mean much to the universe at large, but, since I love singing, was very meaningful to me.

All right, so back to last night's choir practice. Something about the manner of the other ward's choir director took me right back to high school and I found my throat tightening, my heart feeling like lead, my breath shortening, and, well, I got worried I was going to throw up. Then I started to cry. I cut out of there pretty quick.

More than anything, though, I was surprised. I couldn't believe I was having an anxiety attack. Not only was it a ridiculous situation to be freaking out about--it was just stake choir, after all--but I'm on an antidepressant/anti-anxiety drug! The crazies are all supposed to be gone!

I sat down in a dark corner and, just like my therapist taught me, proceeded to take stock of my body. I stopped and observed all the different parts of my body noting if they were tense or not (most of them were). Then I began to move through the different areas of my body flexing and relaxing the muscles, slowing my breathing. Once I felt relaxed I began to contemplate returning to the chapel to finish the rehearsal. If my body started to tighten up again I consciously relaxed and tried to remind myself of the truth of the situation at hand (it was just stake choir, I don't sing loud enough to really embarrass myself, and, well, odds are the choir director didn't care about me enough to humiliate me). Eventually I felt pulled together enough to return to the practice. Although it wasn't until after practice, while chatting with some friends, that my anxiety worked itself out completely through a series of involuntary shudders. Thankfully, one friend was telling some story about dental problems and everyone was shuddering so no one noticed me :)

I'm still a little baffled by the anxiety attack. Sometimes they come on at the strangest times. However, it was a good reminder of how us mood disordered people need different tools to help us navigate these situations. I would probably be having a lot more general anxiety and more anxiety attacks if I wasn't on my meds. But the medicine doesn't erase all my symptoms--I still need the therapy techniques to help me manage my moods.

How about you all? How have you seen your therapy and medicine interact and help each other?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Another depression profile (sort of)

My husband's cousin, Heidi, has a fun family blog and today she had a great post about her experiences with depression. Introspection tells the story of how Heidi dealt with a depressive episode after a difficult pregnancy and death of her child. In my book, Heidi is one of those rare every day heroes who has been through hell and found a way out. Be sure to check out her post. She also put together a great website, Angel Babies, full of important info for people dealing with the loss of a baby. I am amazed by her ability to transform her pain into help for other. I know her efforts have blessed so many people.

*If anyone else has shared their stories about depression on their blogs or would like to share it here email me at lolapalooza AT hotmail DOT com with the phrase "depression profile" in the subject line. I would love to link you. Remember, the more we share our stories, the more we strengthen each other!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Just For Fun!

I literally have five minutes until I have to pick up my kindergartener, but I got tagged by another blogger so here it is:

My Seven Random Facts (because that's what they asked for)

1. I have three sizeable zits right now. I really shouldn't talk about them, but they're grossing me out so I can't help it.
2. If I was going to be on a reality TV show it would be American Idol. I'd get my butt whooped but it would be fun to perform again.
3. The most recent book I read was Kindred Spirits by Chris Bigelow. It was weird.
4. I have watched three full episodes of the new 90210. There's no explaining why; I don't like the show. Maybe I just like to gawk at the main characters extremely thin legs. Really, how can she walk on those things? I looked for a picture online but I couldn't find any. So just imagine two lotion-y fake tanned toothpicks with knobby knees and you'll be set.
5. Hmmm. . . I'll have to come back to this one later.
6. I made a chocolate banana cream pie for the first time on Saturday. Hubby requested one and I was in the mood for an adventure. It was SO GOOD.
7. The most awesome anti-tobacco ads I've ever seen were at a gas station in Wyoming. You should use them in your FHE tonight!

Oh, and, you know, I'm supposed to pass this tag thing on, but I've never been a big fan of chain letters--so if you want to be, consider yourself tagged!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Room For Two: Abel Keogh Responds

You all remember my latest book review, right? Room For Two by Abel Keogh? Well, Mr. Keogh got wind of my review and took the time to respond! Here is the email he sent me:

Hi Laura,

I’m an occasional reader of A Motley Vision as was surprised to see a link to your review of my book, Room for Two, on your other blog. After reading your review, I thought I’d offer some clarification as to the purpose and message of the book.

I’m not “horrified” you had the reaction you did to Room for Two. I actually received a lot of comments on the depression issue from readers – usually from people who have some degree of depression themselves. Like you, they feel that scene with Julie on the mountain perpetuated some misconceptions about antidepressants. The purpose of that scene wasn’t to preach one way or the other about medication but to show that I loved Julie enough to move forward with the relationship even though that meant dealing with an issue that I had dealt with before.

"A memory of Krista flashed through my mind. She was having one of her bad days and telling me that there was no hope for anyone and that we were all going to die. The look in her eyes was dark and dreadful.

"Though I doubted Julianna’s depression would lead to any dark episodes like I experienced with Krista, it was enough to make me pause and wonder if it was something I was willing to live with….

"I looked at the ground....Krista’s dark days had been difficult. There was no guarantee that Julianna wouldn’t act similar or that one day she could wake up and her depression would be much worse. I had to decide if this was something I could live with. It was tempting to simply give up and find someone who did have depression. I’d been through a lot. Who would blame me if I decided to throw in the towel?

"Then my mind went back to Krista. Despite those hard days, I never thought once about giving up on her. I wanted to see her through those hard times because I loved her. She had meant more to me than anyone else and I was willing to be help no matter how bad the situation became. And in that moment I realized it didn’t matter if Julianna would have good days or bad. She was trying her best to work through her depression, and I was willing to take a chance and love her not matter what lay ahead." (p. 165-166)

My comments about antidepressants weren’t intended to perpetuate stereotypes about medication or those who are on them. In context, Julie’s approach contrasted with the approach Krista and her family generally took. I was just happy she was trying to do something other than medication to fight it.

Early drafts of the manuscript actually dealt with the depression issue quite a bit. I cut them out however because after feedback from editors and others I showed the manuscript to before shopping it to publishers felt it slowed down the pace of the story and detracted from the story I was trying to tell – one of putting a shattered life back together. I have no regrets about cutting that material.

I’m not against depression medication. I think it does wonders for a lot of people – especially for those who are severely depressed. However, I also believe, like you, it’s a mix of approaches (e.g., exercise and medication) than just one approach alone that usually works the best. However, I also believe it overprescribed by doctors to a lot of mildly depressed people (those who are in no way suicidal but simply feel blue occasionally) who simply prescribe antidepressants to patients instead of trying to make changes to their life (exercising, getting out of a bad relationship, changing jobs, taking a vacation etc.) to see if that helps before taking medication.

Finally, I didn’t link Krista’s death to depression because no one knows what actually pushed her over the edge. There were signs in the weeks before she died that she may have been schizophrenic or bi-polar. There were probably a lot of factors contributed to her death and, as I wrote the book, I felt it wouldn’t be right to pin her suicide on depression or anything else when no one could prove as to why she put the gun to her head in the first place.

I will admit, however, I was surprised you thought I should focus on the storm clouds more. The feedback I generally receive from LDS readers is that the book was too dark, heavy, and depressing for them. Non-LDS readers generally feel the books strikes a good balance. But this is my “reader feedback” basis kicking in. :-)

I want to thank Abel for responding and for letting me post his email. I also nosed around his site, www.abelkeogh.com, a little more and came across his letter to Elizabeth and found it quite moving. The other writing on his site was worth checking out.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Why ARE Mormons so depressed?

A few posts ago, in the comments Katie asked me this, "How [do] you see Mormonism intersecting with mental health? Specifically, do you think there's something in the culture or our teachings that tends to create this high incidence of mental health problems (depression, anxiety, etc.) in Mormon women? Or do you think we're pretty representative of the population as a whole?"

I've taken a while to respond to it because I've been trying to figure out how to go about this. In my mind there are a few facts about depression we need to lay out first.

Fact #1: Depression IS an illness--a permanent, although ebbing and flowing, condition of the body. But, the term is also used to describe an emotional state--which may or may not be a long term condition. Not everyone who is having a hard time and views the world pessimistically is depressed in the clinical sense. The difference is that for some people feeling grouchy and pessimistic gets in the way of life, sometimes to the point of hopelessness and self-harm. These are the people with clinical depression. It is hard to talk about depression in cultural terms without accidentally conflating the two meanings, but I usually talk about depression in terms of the illness.

Fact #2: Clinical depression can manifest itself in a number of ways. Stereotypically speaking depressed people have no motivation, cry a lot, stay in bed all day, and wear pajamas to the grocery store. (You all know what commercial I'm referencing here!)However, depression also manifests itself through explosive anger, anger that never goes away, anxiety, racing thoughts, and inability to sleep. Through the ups and downs of my depression I have experienced both types. It's important to remember that depression has a wide set of behaviors when discussing it culturally.

Fact #3: It is almost impossible to pinpoint a "cause" of depression. Depression, in the clinical or temporary sense, usually occurs due to a constellation of factors including genetic predispositions, environmental conditions, previous emotional education, and other things.

So, to get to Katie's question: Why ARE Mormons so depressed? Is it a cultural issue, a doctrinal issue, or physical issue?

Mormon Matters blogger Andrew Ainsworth took these questions on in a couple of posts earlier this year (you can read Part One here and Part Two here. In the first part he talks about the biases in the study that concluded that Utah is the most depressed state in the nation and in Part Two he talks about some interesting theories (genetics and the lack of alcohol are among them) as to why Utah is depressed.

For me I would say that I do not think it is a doctrinal issue, but I do think there is an issue in the way many, many LDS people digest the doctrine. I think there are way that we internalize ideas that furthers our depression. For me, since I am depressed in the clinical sense, I think of these issues as triggers. Triggers are something that set off a cascade of negative thoughts which in turn transform themselves into negative behaviors. For a long time a big trigger for me was the scripture, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as my father which is in heaven is perfect." I'd read this scripture--almost compulsively and times--and tally my imperfections and fret about what to do. Sometimes I would stay up at night praying and praying myself to distraction. Other times I'd try to come up with some sort of penance--I think I usually picked not eating or abstaining from TV--to ease my anxiety on this issue. Another doctrinal trigger for me has been "No success can compensate for failure in the home." In my mind that meant that mothers had to be perfect or we, and possibly our children, would be damned. That created a set of impossible benchmarks and a flurry of nervous activity that depleted me and left me discouraged and not wanting to get out of bed.

Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with either of those doctrines. Neither of them is saying to make yourself nuts or intending to drive people insane--it was simply how my set of experiences and circumstances interpreted them that made them harmful in my life. An important facet of cognitive behavioral therapy is being able to examine your thoughts and find the parts that are NOT true and being able to dispute them. I was able to do this by looking at the big doctrinal picture and viewing things through the lens of the plan of salvation. When I looked at this life as a time to learn and grow and that the next life was the time to find perfection, well, that eased my mind.

(Now, all this is rather OCD of me, but depression and OCD are sort of sister disorders and, from what I understand, there is a high incidence of OCD in the Church also. That is an issue that definitely needs more discussion.)

Those kind of misinterpretations and misapplications tend to feed off each other, especially in the community of the Church. Our church is unique in its efforts to build a social structure within its members. This social structure is a good thing most of the time, but one unintended consequence (that is perhaps also due to pride) is the idea that our place in the social structure reflects on our righteousness. Many wards have "power couples" and cliques--they don't mean to, but it just happens. These can phenomenon can further isolate people who are predisposed to depression.

There are a lot of issues like these and I can't cover them all in one post--or even in a million posts. That's why it is so important that we talk about this stuff and help each other work through it. That's why we need to read our scriptures and attend our meetings even when we don't feel like it. We need to give the Spirit as many opportunities as possible to correct our misinterpretations!

Of course, there is one HUGE doctrinal misapplication that I haven't mentioned yet and that is our relationship with our Savior Jesus Christ. As Katie mentioned in the comments in another post, many LDS people misunderstand the relationship of grace and works. We mistakenly believe that our efforts make some sort of difference in how we are perceived by our Father in Heaven and what our eternities will be like. The truth is the only thing our righteousness does is signal to the Savior that we need His help. As scripture tells us even if we were to be perfect in all that we do every day of our lives--which we can't--we would still be unprofitable servants (Mosiah 2:21). After all, the Savior lived a perfect life and it was still required that he give his blood and body for us. We need to be righteous so that we can access His grace, but it is HIS GRACE that redeems and saves us--not anything we do. Trying to learn and accept that in my life has been a humbling process, one that is ongoing.

What roles the Savior's atonement and Heavenly Father's plan play in my depression I have yet to figure out, but I do know that my depression is a part of those two things. Because Jesus suffered for me He knows how I feel and is with me in my trials. Because my depression is part of Heavenly Father's plan for me I know that there is a reason for it and that it is in my (eventual) best interest. Anything beyond that, I still don't know. But what I do know is enough for now.

Katie, does that answer your question? Let me know what you think!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Book Review: Room for Two by Abel Koegh

I usually end up posting my in depth reviews on my other blogs: A Motley Vision and LDS Readers, but my reaction to this book was too personal (and therefore unprofessional?) for AMV and too conflicted for LDS Readers (they have a policy of not saying anything negative--which makes it difficult to review stuff. . .) so I'm posting this here.

Anyway, the book was a memoir, Room for Two by Abel Keogh. It literally starts with a bang--that of gun that Keogh's pregnant wife's has aimed at her own head. He runs to the bedroom of their apartment and holds Krista while she bleeds to death. You see Krista was born to two people who met in a mental hospital--her father was manic depressive and her mother was schizophrenic--and was given a genetic legacy of mental illness which manifested itself as severe depression. Keogh sits numbly through the police investigation and then struggles through the nine days of his little baby girl's life. Because Krista killed herself the baby had to be delivered nearly four months early after being deprived of oxygen for an extended period of time. It is a sad, sad, complicated story.

But that only occupies the first fifty pages--less than a quarter of the book. The other one hundred and sixty-six pages chronicle Keogh's search for a new wife and drives home the point that a person can get over these things. You can love again. You can be happy again. You can move on.

I should probably stop at this point in the review and say this: I respect Keogh's experience and his right to move on. I am glad for him and his current wife and children. I'm sure he has helped a number of people through his openness and honesty about the pain he suffered as a widower. I applaud his courage to tell a story a lot of people in LDS culture wouldn't. I am glad he is happy.

But. . .

As a depressed LDS woman, I'm a little hurt. As a woman who struggled with perinatal depression three times and with PPD three times and is now fighting run-of-the-mill depression every day, I feel a little betrayed--not by his remarriage or his eagerness to move on, but by the fact that he abridged his wife's incredibly complicated and IMPORTANT story into fifty pages and managed to spend one hundred and sixty-six on what it was like to hold hands for the first time again. I mean, love IS magical, but depression is a transforming experience too. If his book is a true reflection of his experience, he didn't seem to spend more than few days wondering what his wife must have been suffering. And, what is perhaps the worst part to me, he didn't seem to even try. It was as if he thought that since he wasn't mentally ill there was no way to comprehend the strangeness of her experience so he closed himself off completely from any type of sympathy for her. He missed her after she was dead, but, from the way the book reads, he seems to have misunderstood her while she was alive. And that makes me sad.

Granted, I might have taken Keogh's book a little too personally and my reading may not be an accurate reflection of his experience; he might be horrified to find that I feel this way. But I wish that he had chosen to spend a little more time in the rush and tumble of the storm cloud and a little less on the silver lining.

It also angered me that this book perpetuates a lot of stereotypes about depression:

*His wife had been on Prozac for a long time previous to her pregnancy and chose to go off it because of the baby. Now, he may or may not know this, but SOME antidepressants are safe to take during pregnancy and most OBs and psychiatrists agree that if the mother's health--mental or physical--is at risk. I wish he had taken the time to correct this misconception while he had an audience.

*As luck would have Keogh's second wife also has depression--although obviously not as severe as his first wife's. She herself says she's never been suicidal. When his soon-to-be second wife tells him this he praises her for not taking medicine and handling it through excessive running (I say excessive because she ran at least three marathons in a single year, one of which was run on a broken femur). He says, "Her [solution] intrigued me. Maybe it was because I had spent so much time with Krista's family, where prescriptions were preached as the cure-all for every ailment; this was the first time I'd heard someone say they'd rather not be on anti-depressants [sic] . . . Some people would say there's nothing you can do about the way you feel. Take a pill and enjoy the ride." His soon-to-be second wife replies, "I'm not saying the medication isn't helpful. I just think people have more control over the way they behave and act than they think" (165-166). Now there are a lot of things that bother me about this conversation but the glaring misconception is that medicine is an exclusive option, an all-or-nothing deal, a zero-sum game. I've blogged about the stereotypes surrounding antidepressants before and I've blogged about the wonders of CBT and therapy too, and I hope that people are beginning to understand that antidepressants and therapy (and exercise) work best in combination! It's not an either/or scenario. Taking medicine is not a cop-out. What it is, is a responsible choice. Oh, and it doesn't take away your agency. If anything it restores it after illness has taken it away.

*Another problem in the book's treatment of depression was its complete silence on the fact that depression has spiritual ramifications. The above conversation illustrates this and the implication--and all too Mormon idea--that we are better off doing things ourselves and not asking for help. This is echoed by the author's insistence that he doesn't need to see a therapist and that others around him aren't "progressing" as much as he is because their grief lingers longer than his. The way he present himself in the memoir, he comes off as proud that he was the one who actually suffered the most and needed the least help. This idea of needing to do things alone and for ourselves is not only untrue, it is absurd. Yes we have our agency and we are accountable for our actions, but the point of this life is to learn to partner with Christ. There is no way to yoke ourselves with Him without asking for help--both temporally and spiritually. The idea that we need to pull ourselves up by our spiritual/emotional boot straps keeps too many depressed people from seeking the help they need and from building the support structure they cannot live without.

I could probably go on but it would cease to be helpful. There's just one more thing that I feel like I need to mention: depression is a deadly illness. For all the pain Keogh's first wife's death caused, he only barely links her death with her depression. If the memoir is an accurate depiction of his mind's workings it takes him months to realize/accept that Krista was not in her right mind when it happened--that she could not have done something different. So I'll say it again: depression IS a deadly illness. It needs to be taken seriously.

Anyway, I'm not trying to slander Keogh or disrespect his experiences. They are his and I'm grateful to him for being willing to start a scary conversation. I just disagree with the way the story was framed. Like I said before: I would have appreciated a little more time of the storm cloud and a little less on the silver lining. It might not only have been more interesting, but have done a lot more good.

P.S. It is interesting to me that Keogh blogged through much of the aftermath of his wife's suicide and almost none of it is included in his book. The blog posts are raw and, a few of them, powerful and interesting. It seems natural to me that, as a writer, you would want to use some of what you had already written about the experience. After looking at his blog his memoir feels sanitized.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Voting Quandaries

(This is an off topic, but hopefully interesting, post!)

The first time I voted was in the 2000 election. I am quite ashamed to admit I didn't even know it was election day. I had graduated high school the previous June and met my soon-to-be husband that summer. I was pretty young and, well, pretty stupid. I mean, I hadn't even discovered NPR yet. I guess the worst part of it all was that I didn't even know who the candidates were.

It was a warm fall day, the prettiest kind of fall day with brightly colored leaves filtering the sunshine. My older brother, who had just returned from his mission and was in a couple classes with me at USU, let me know it was election day and threw me on the back of his motorcycle (he always let me wear the helmet; so chivalrous!) and drove me to our polling place--which turned out to be my old elementary school. The old ladies working the joint were overjoyed to see a first time voter and pointed me toward the booths with huge grins. I hurriedly asked my brother what to do. "Just mark the Republican box," he called out, "it's just one vote." And then he laughed. I think he voted for Ralph Nader.

When I exited the booth the old ladies proudly stuck an "I voted" sticker to me and showed me out the door. I took the sticker off and wondered if its declaration was true. Had I really voted? Did I make my voice heard? Or did I just waste a very large piece of paper?

Those questions brought me back to one of my earliest memories. I think it was the night George H. W. Bush was inaugurated. All I really remember was that it was extremely boring political thing and I thought it was SO strange that my parents were SO interested. At some point in the ceremony an American flag was raised and my parents stood and, with the hands over their hearts, recited the Pledge of Allegiance with everyone on TV. Now, to my six-year-old mind, this was patently uncool and I laughed as derisively as I could. My father turned a stern eye on me and told me to stand up. When I protested that I didn't know the Pledge both he and my mother stared at me. It took me a moment to register what their expression meant. The Pledge was practically over when I realized they were staring because they were appalled. They were disappointed. I stood up at the end but didn't know the words. I felt irredeemably empty.

That's how I felt that first Tuesday in November of 2000.

Of course, that election was a ridiculous one to learn on and what with getting married in the following year and then finishing my bachelor's the year after, somehow, becoming educated about politics fell lower and lower on my list. Don't get me wrong--I had tried. After September 11, 2001 you couldn't be American and not have some political leanings. We were in Iraq chasing down Saddam Hussein--who, I'm pretty sure, one of my seminary teachers listed as an Anti-Christ. So I listened to NPR and the BBC for hours everyday. I read the newspaper and The Atlantic. I even watched a couple State of the Union addresses. I found myself really liking Colin Powell and even liking the dude I'd voted for: George W. Bush.

Four years flew by and it was time to vote again. This time I at least knew the candidates names. But I didn't feel like I knew much more than that. Despite all the things I'd heard and read I still didn't understand the issues. I'd had my first baby and was wrapped up in the PPD and trying to make a new home in a new state. As I waited in line to vote in the 2004 election I realized I still had no clue what I was doing. I ended up voting for W because I liked how he quoted scripture and that he prayed every day and went running. They were weak but at least the second time I had reasons.

Since then I've added US News and World Report and Newsweek to my magazine subscriptions. I check the BBC online and talk politics with pretty much everyone and try to listen to their points of view. The West Wing and The McLaughlin Group are my favorite TV shows. I even watched ALL the debates, including the VP one (and the Saturday Night Live versions! What? A girl's gotta get some fun in somewhere). Here's the thing, though: I still don't know! I don't know who I'm going to vote for. I don't know what half the stuff on the ballot is about. I still don't know enough and I'm beginning to think I may never. It makes me want to give up.

The last two times I voted left me with regret and I don't want to feel that way again. So, there are eighteen days until I vote for the third time. What do I do in the mean time to figure this out? How do you all figure it out? Do you just go with your gut or is there a more cerebral process? Let me know! I could use some guidance!