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

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?