Monday, December 13, 2010

What is Good Mental Health?

A satisfactory definition of good mental health has been hard for me to find. There's an intangible quality to feeling good that is just elusive. Good mental health, to me, is a sort of integration of emotional well-being, spiritual contentedness, psychological awareness, and intellectual clarity. You know, it's like when you wake up in the morning and you heard your kids arguing but it doesn't bring you down because you know that God is watching out for you and you know that you have the capacity to think through things and manage whatever comes your way. It's like being water. (Yes, I did just quote Bruce Lee. BTW, his delivery is PRICELESS!)

I think I've finally been able to start to define good mental health because I have (finally) experienced it for an extended period of time. Since about half way through my pregnancy, when the psychological tweezing eased up, and especially since the Little Cannoli has been born I have been good. For about the last ten months (the Cannoli is only 7 months old but I felt so good pregnant I'm counting some of that too) I've had a few down days here and there but overall the crazies have not been a defining factor for me.

It has been so freeing.

And restful. Like even when life is busy--and momming four kids creates a lot of busy!--there is a part inside me that is at rest. I might be physically exhausted and mentally spent but I don't want to hide from everything. I want sleep but not escape. The inner turmoil has turn into placidity.

I kind of never believed this was possible. I never believed that I could be one of those people who could be at peace and not kick against the pricks. I pictured my life and future as a constant struggle against the deterioration happening in my mind. I figured I would always be the kind of mommy that my kids would be a little wary of. I figured I would always struggle with Church assignments because there would always be some sort of inner drama draining my energy.

But I'm not. To love and to serve and to just be fully present in my own life is such a gift right now.

I'm sure there are hard times ahead. I'm sure there will be things that set my crazy off again. But I'm really savoring this experience now--I want the memory of this time of my life to be solid--because this is what happy feels like.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

15 Authors in 15 Minutes--Mormon Style!

A challenge over at A Motley Vision! I sure hope you all weigh in :)

P.S. Hopefully I will be able to put together an on-topic post for you all soon. I've been ruminating on depression and personal revelation. . .

Friday, October 29, 2010

On Happiness and Other Fleeting Feelings

My sister posted a moving blog post today, Being Good Enough: How to Separate Who You Are From What You Do, and it's similar to what I've been thinking lately so I wanted to link to her. It gave me courage to post what I've been thinking lately.

Hey Char, "I'll show you mine if you'll show me yours first/ Let's compare scars, I'll tell you whose is worse/Let's unwrite these pages and replace them with our own words." (source)LOVE you!!

The last five months, since my baby was born, have been months of unparalleled happiness, peace, contentment, and even joy. It's like my life of drab neutrals and spotty dark canvases had turned into Technicolor crosses between Vincent Van Gogh and Mary Cassatt. Being a mom to my four kids was like being Dorothy walking out of that trashed Kansas farmhouse and into Munchkinlad. I didn't know things could be so bright and bouncy and full of life. Sure, the squeaky little voices might get annoying and it's hard not tripping over so many people who are only as tall as your knees, but their vibrancy is astounding.

It took four kids to teach me, but I have finally embraced motherhood. As I hold it close I've discovered how glorious it is. I get what the apostles and prophets talk about it in seeming hyperbolic terms. I get how and why this is God's work and I am crazy-grateful for the opportunity to be part of it. I love it in a fierce and primal way. These children are such gifts and sometimes it almost hurts to be able to bask in their glory. Being a mother is awesome.

As I've come to know these new feelings the closeness I have felt with the Lord has been astonishing. His love for me, His Spirit, has been a bubble around me. It's protected me from sadness and hurt and anger. It's buoyed me up during tempestuous mothering moments that usually sink me. It felt like the Lord was working miracles in my life like He never has before and it made it so I could finally feel comfortable and loved.

And now I feel like that bubble is popping. In small ways (long nights and lack of sleep, forgetting to refill my antidepressant) and in a few spectacular ways (one of my children getting suddenly ill and being hospitalized for two weeks and drama in my extended family) has prodded my happy bubble and it's swelling and turning and I know it's gonna burst.

I'm trying to hold it together but, really, what makes a bubble beautiful is its fragility and fleeting nature. Holding a bubble too tightly, squeezing it, is the thing that is most likely to pop it.

Back when I was in therapy my therapist, Ann, would encourage me to stay in the moment,let the past rest, avoid projecting into the future. I've tried to do that with my happiness--savor it, roll around in it, enjoy it. And I'm trying to be open to what ever is coming next because whatever it is will come and will go and I can't control it. All I can do is experience it. But anything other than the joy I've had feels like failure. Depression feels like failure. I find myself wondering what I've done wrong. Is there some sin that's popping my bubble? Is it my inherently weak and fallen nature that so offends God He can't be with me anymore? Or is it just that cursed opposition in all things coming back to roost? Likely it's some swirling, inconstant, even fleeting, combination of all those things.

But we know that God's love is constant. His desire to bless us is constant. His position as our parent is constant. So maybe even when I am less aware of Him, when my ability to feel Him is diminished, I can remember what His love felt like and it will be okay. I don't have to be anything other than I am for Him to love me.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Ammonihah Revisited--the reader's theater!

Hi folks. A while ago our ward seminary teacher asked me to write a reader's theater about Ammonihah for one of her lessons. I was honored that she asked me and delighted with the opportunity. There wasn't a lot online when I researched and wrote this so I decided to post mine here. I've been meaning to go back and cite all the scriptures that I used, but I haven't had the time. Look around in Alma; you'll find 'em. It's a little serious and a little campy, and our seminary students really enjoyed it. If you'd like to use it for Church or seminary feel free, just email me at lolapalooza AT hotmail DOT com with Ammonihah in the subject line so I know (I'd love to see if/where this things travels) and be sure to run it past your bishop. I mean, I don't think it's controversial but you never know how people will take these things! Enjoy!

Also, check out my post at A Motley Vision about writing for Church assignments. And please leave a comment if you feel inspired--I promise the AMVers won't be mean!

ANCHOR (in best, most serious, news broadcaster voice): Good Evening and welcome to a special broadcast, Ammonihah Revisited: Destruction from God or Impending Lamanite Scourge? Tonight we will be exploring the history of that great city Ammonihah—examining its culture, its peoples, and its torrid religious history—all in the effort to answer the question on everyone’s minds. Was it, as the so-called prophet Alma declared, “the anger of God”? Or was it simply an ironically timed attack by vicious Lamanite war mongrels? However, before we get into our story this evening we here at the Nephite News Network wish to offer our condolences to those whose lives have been scarred by this horrible tragedy. Now, we turn to our first correspondent, Sariah, to take us into the lives of the Ammonihah-ites. Who were they? What did they do? And could it be possible that its destruction was an act of God? Sariah, we turn to you for answers.

SARIAH: Ammonihah was like most other Nephite cities: lively and bustling with commerce and culture. People here enjoyed prosperity, ruled by judges and receiving the fair sum of a senine of gold or silver for a day’s work. However, the lives of the people of Ammonihah were shaped most recently by the debate between three men: the Nephite “prophet” Alma and his partner-in-proselyting Amulek and, on the other side, Zeezrom a skilled and high-profile lawyer who was known for his ability to make people eat their words. Most of our viewers probably remember these debates well and remember the main points they were centered on: the existence of God and His intentions for the Nephite people--especially the Ammonihah-ites, a majority of whom did not believe in God at all. Zeezrom even went so far as to offer Amulek money to consider his way of thinking, but Amulek was firm and repeatedly stated his beliefs regarding the existence of a supreme being and the importance of keeping that Being’s commandments, saying, “An angel hath made [these things] known unto me.” Alma probably did more to incite the people and Zeezrom than Amulek, contending that the people of Ammonihah were wicked and making, what seemed at the time, ridiculous threats of destruction. Alma claimed, “O ye wicked and perverse generation . . . repent, or [God] will utterly destroy you from off the face of the earth; yea, he will visit you in his anger, and in his fierce anger he will not turn away.” Their teaching turned especially powerful as they spoke of a Christ, an atonement, and a resurrection. Zeezrom claimed that both were liars but as Alma continued to preach Zeezrom’s resolve faltered and he threw himself in front of the judges of the land, begging for Alma and Amulek’s release. We turn now to file footage of an eye witness to Zeezrom’s retraction.

EYEWITNESS: I was there when Alma and Amulek were speaking and even I was a little convinced. Well, not convinced so much as swayed. But as soon as they stopped speaking I came back to my senses. Zeezrom wasn’t so lucky, just like a bunch of my neighbors. They seemed to actually believe what Alma had said about repentance and God and eternal life. I saw Zeezrom just a while after his confrontation with Alma and Amulek and the guy was still shaking. It was crazy! I mean, he ran right in to the judges and said, “Behold, I am guilty, and these men are spotless before God.” He looked all of us in the eyes as he said it and, I have to admit, he was convincing, but then I remembered that Zeezrom was a lawyer and couldn’t be trusted. I spit on him and told him to get out. We all did. That’s when everyone started throwing rocks and all the believers took off.

SARIAH: Zeezrom recuperated with Alma and Amulek’s other escapsed followers in Sidom. People were slow to believe that claims that Zeezrom was baptized by Alma, but we have confirmation of that fact tonight. Zeezrom himself said, “Yea, I believe according to [their] words.”

ANCHOR: Thank you Sariah. Even after Zeezrom left Ammonihah continued to make headlines when the judges imprisoned—some would say unlawfully—Alma and Amulek. Then in a savage and ill-advised stroke the Ammonihah-ites proved their reputation as especially hard and wicked people to be true. They gathered together the remaining believers and burned their women and children, along with their scriptures. As Alma and Amulek were forced to look on Alma reportedly told Amulek, “The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just.” It was then that people remembered what Alma had said about God destroying Ammonihah. We turn now to another correspondent, Jerusha, to fill us in on the beginning of that destruction.

JERUSHA: With the smoke still rising from the burned scrolls and bodies, Alma and Amulek were again imprisoned—but this time they were mocked and abused. In the face of so many gruesome deaths other people might have backed away from more violence. But not those in Ammonihah. According to sources, they were just getting started. I have with me one guard who was willing to tell what he observed. Although we are keeping his face shadowed to protect his identity, this man did work for the judges in the now obliterated Ammonihah prison.

GUARD: Well, um, it was hard, you know. I think it would take a real mean person to not feel bad after what happened to all those women and children.

JERUSHA: Wait one moment. Are you saying you are a follower of Alma and Amulek?

GUARD: I wasn’t then. But I am now. And, you know, even if you don’t believe the same as someone, well, there are still laws and morals. The people who threw others into the fire were evil and they kept being evil once they got their hands on Alma and Amulek. They starved them and beat them and kept making fun of them. Shouting things like, “If you’re so powerful then free yourselves.” Or, “If your God is so great then how come he didn’t save his followers?” It was obvious from the looks on their faces that Alma and Amulek were disheartened and hurting, but once they got a moment alone they mustered their strength and they did the most surprising thing. . .

JERUSHA: They attacked the guards?

GUARD: No. The entire time they were imprisoned they were honorable. No, what they did was pray. I’ve never heard a prayer like that one. Alma stood up and in a voice that pierced all of us within earshot called out, “How long shall we suffer these great afflictions, O Lord? O Lord, give us strength according to our faith which is in Christ, even unto deliverance.” By the time Alma got to “deliverance” it seemed like the air was vibrating around them. There was just this power, you know, and, wham!, their ropes broke. Now I know the man who tied those ropes and they weren’t meant to come off.

JERUSHA: What are saying? What kind of power are you implying?

GUARD: Well, at the time I didn’t know exactly what kind. But it was an undeniable power—the air itself seemed to crack and shimmer—and the moment those ropes hit the ground they sent out shockwaves and the walls crumbled. Alma and Amulek were fine and I made it out with only a few injuries, but a lot of men were lost in the rubble. Maybe it was the shock or maybe people were starting to think Alma could wipe Ammonihah off the map or maybe they were thinking about what kind of power Alma’s God really has, but nobody protested when those two guys walked out of the city. To be honest, I wasn’t the only one who followed those two right out the gates. I’d seen enough and I was sick of wickedness parading as justice. I knew what they said was coming was true. I threw in my lot with them and never looked back.

JERUSHA: Thank you for your story. The result of the quake at the prison was complete destruction. As our witness said very few survived and nobody but Alma and Amulek walked away unscathed. People in Ammonihah were subdued for the time, perhaps even scared. But nobody imagined the terror that awaited them.

ANCHOR: Now we turn to our final correspondent to detail the end of Ammonihah. Gid, for many of the Ammonihah-ites that morning started out like any other. Correct?

GID: That’s exactly right. In fact, the period directly before the siege of Ammonihah was one marked by peace. It had been about a year since the destruction of the prison and the people in Ammonihah had put their own spin on those events, discounting Alma’s words saying it was the power of the devil. However, one clear morning, a group of Lamanites who had been attacking the Anti-Nephi-Lehies changed their minds and decided to attack the Nephites who they felt had caused all the trouble with the Anti-Nephi-Lehies in the first place. They snuck into the land of Ammonihah’s through the wilderness borders and the carnage was immediate. Before the Ammonihah-ites could even begin to raise an army the Lamanites were laying waste to them and their powerful city. The attack was swift and bloody. Spending less than a day in Ammonihah the Lamanite scourge moved on to other cities. A few days later when a scouting group from the city of Noah returned from Ammonihah their report was startling. Heaps of bodies mangled by wild animals were all that was found. It was clear that no one was left in Ammonihah. The scouting group covered the bodies in a layer of dirt but the destruction was so complete and the smell so bad our crew couldn’t even make it into the city itself to investigate. Interestingly, people in these parts no longer refer to Ammonihah by its name or even as a great city. Now they simply call it “Desolation.”

ANCHOR: An apt name for a city that suffered such an ignominious doom—one that will forever haunt Nephi civilization. But what of Alma and Amulek, these prophets who not only foretold the destruction but claimed that the very people destroyed brought it on themselves through their evil? Tonight we conclude our broadcast with a statement from them. We invited them for interview but they declined saying that “the work of establishing the Lord’s church” was keeping them too busy—which is understandable considering the number of converts they’ve found in cities all over the land of Nephi. People, both Nephite and Lamanite, are returning to the ways of their forefathers. Now, the letter:

ALMA: “[We would remind you of ] faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.”

AMULEK: “[Our] brethren, [we] think that it is impossible that ye should be ignorant of the things which have been spoken concerning the coming of Christ, who is taught by us to be the Son of God; yea, [we] know that these things were taught unto you bountifully before your dissension from among us. [We exhort] you to prepare your minds; yea, and [we exhort] you unto faith and to patience . . . that ye may try the experiment of its goodness.”

ALMA: “[We] testify unto you of [ourselves] that these things are true. Behold, [we] say unto you, that [we] do know that Christ shall come among the children of men, to take upon him the transgressions of his people, and that he shall atone for the sins of the world; for the Lord God hath spoken it. Yea, [we] would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation.”

ANCHOR: There you have the words of Alma and Amulek. And indeed, many who have heard their teachings say that a new spirit of peace is filling the land. So, was the destruction of Ammonihah the fulfillment of prophecy? Or was it just another example of savage Lamanite hostilities? Like so many other things in our history, the answer to that question seems to come down to individual belief. Alma and Amulek themselves proposed an experiment, a testing of belief. We encourage you, our viewers, to try this experiment and share your thoughts by logging on to our website at Thank you for sharing this journey with us. From all of us at the Nephite News Network in Zarahemla, good night.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Depression Profile: Sandra S.

Hi readers! Remember when I used to do depression profiles? Well, right after I had my baby an amazing lady emailed me hers and I was all psyched--er, um, I should probably clarify: excited--to post it and then completely spaced it for three months! Sandra, I am truly, genuinely sorry. If you are still reading, THANK YOU for sending me this. You are an amazing woman. Sandra's honesty about her struggles was touching and eye-opening for me. I hope it is for you all too.

Name: Sandra S.
Age: 33
Location: Kansas
Other facts: Active Mormon, mother of five, born in Mexico but adopted by Americans in the 1980s, married at 19 (just like me!), Rick's College graduate.

I was never depressed growing up. I developed post-partum depression after the birth of my first baby. I didn't know what it was. I didn't know what was going on with me. All I knew was that I wasn't happy. I didn't know if my marriage would last. I didn't know if I had married the right person or married for the right reasons. Our marriage really struggled during this difficult time which lasted about 2 years. Regardless of my feelings and struggles, we decided to have another baby. A miracle! No depression. No crying for no reason, I was generally happy. I had my 2nd baby and you guessed it, depression hit. This time, we were a little better prepared. I went to to the doctor who diagnosed me and put me on Zoloft.

Even though I had been diagnosed and put on medication, I didn't want people to know about it. I was ashamed. I don't know why. Maybe because I didn't want others to know how weak I was, how I couldn't control my feelings. I don't know. I didn't take my medication very regularly, so I still had some good days and bad days.

A bad day. A bad day is not wanting to get out of bed at all. It's wanting so bad to tell C. (Sandra's DH) that I want him to stay home and take care of the kids. Take care of me. It's also not wanting to verbally ask C. to stay home. I want him to read my mind. My physical language is screaming for him to stay home. But he doesn't stay home. He doesn't read my mind. Doesn't see the physical signs. Doesn't see them or doesn't want to. Sometimes I don't know. A bad day is also wanting to wish the kids away. Sometimes just for a few hours, sometimes forever. A bad day is looking for ways to end my life. A bad day is looking at my life and wondering if this is really what I wanted. Is this all I have? If it's not a particularly bad day, I can take a good, hard look and say, "Yes." Yes, this is what I wanted. Before depression took over and C. and I were dating, this is what we talked about. I wanted kids, wanted to stay home. Wanted to run them to school activities, sports, etc. I have that. So why can't I be happy?

A good day. A good day is being my old self again. Being who I was when we were dating. Being generally happy. Being carefree and glad I am a mom. Being glad I have 5 amazing kids. A good day is getting through it without being cross or short with my family. It's being able to feed them, instead of staying in bed all day. A good day is having me take care of the younger kids instead of asking the older ones to help more than they should. A good day is knowing that I will get through this. Somehow.

I have tried to get therapy for my depression. In the end, I just can't stick with it. I go and feel fine when I'm there, so I feel lame because if I feel ok, why should I be there? I feel ok when I go because you can't go out in public in tears. I can't cry in public. I can't show up being sad. I should show up happy and put together. So why would somebody that's happy and put together need therapy? I haven't tried an LDS therapist though. Maybe that would be worth looking into.

Currently I am taking 120mg of Cymbalta. I am told that's the highest dosage. I am not sure how that's working out. I don't know if it's the medicine or the depression that causes me to be tired all the time. After I get the older kids to school, I come home, turn on the tv for the little ones and they watch it all morning long while I try to sleep on the couch. No breakfast for them most mornings. Sometimes there's lunch. I think they have learned to fend for themselves a little and will sneak food from the kitchen to the basement. I just want to sleep all the time. What kind of mother am I being when I can't even feed my kids? I am crying as I'm typing this because it is so sad. So sad.

I believe depression runs in my family. I have 2 sisters that have struggled with this. I don't talk to them about it. I don't know why. I would really like my biological mom be here and help me through this. I miss her terribly. Sometimes thinking about her will set me off on a crying fit.

The depression has affected my spirituality a lot. I find myself really doubting the church. I haven't been to the temple in years and I really have no desire to go any time soon. I am in the YW organization which requires a lot of time. I love the girls and I do like my calling. Sometimes it's just too much though. I often wonder if the church will ever cut back on activities or meetings. I have asked C. for blessings but find myself wondering if it will really do any good. I have no faith sometimes. I wonder if I am being punished just because I am a woman. Because I am a woman, I have to have periods. Have babies. Be more emotional. Be more susceptible to depression. Be less likely to have orgasms. Men don't have periods, babies or anything emotional that comes with all that. But they do have orgasms. I know, orgasms are kind of random in here, but it's something that really bothers me.

So that's my profile. Sounds really lame and pathetic when it's written down. Oh, yeah. After our 4th baby we were done having kids. I wanted to be a good mom to the 4 we already had and didn't want to go through depression again. Surprise! A big, unexpected, unwanted surprise. I spiraled into a deep depression when I found out I was expecting. I did not want this again. When I went to the hospital to have the baby I really think I had an anxiety attack. I was crying for no reason all the time. I had to stay a little longer because I had high blood pressure and I couldn't handle the thought of bringing the baby home. None of the nurses recognized what was happening even though I'd be in tears whenever they came into the room. I had never gotten depressed at the hospital, it always hit me a few weeks after the baby was born. This was new and it scared me a lot. During that pregnancy, Craig had a vasectomy. That baby is 2 now and is such a fun little guy. It's still hard dealing with depression. Sometime even taking it 1 day at a time seems too much. One moment at a time seems more doable right now.

Sandra, I'm still praying for you and I hope you will keep me posted! You may not feel it but you are an inspiration for enduring the hard times.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Check it out!

I'm trying something a little different over at AMV. Glowworms for Jesus. Check it out :)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

How do you (gently) turn down the missionaries?

You know all those old jokes about how Mormons are always getting mistaken for Jehovah's Witnesses (and vice versa)? Well, I'm living that joke and it feels more like the Twilight Zone than anything else.

Here's the situation: for the last few Saturday mornings two sweet Jehovah's Witness sister missionaries have been stopping by to share a scripture with me and bear their testimony of God's love. They usually stay for about five minutes and chat with the kids and ask about my life and then open up their Bibles. (Side question: Do they use the NIV? Because theirs is slightly modernized and sounds a little different, and my inner literati wants to know.) They smile so big and they are so genuine, I think they think I'm their golden investigator!

The first time they stopped by I made sure to mention that I was Mormon twice during our discussion and I even mentioned the Book of Mormon and that we read it every single day as a family. I think what the JW missionaries heard was "Yes, we're religious and we'd love to hear what you have to say!" But the truth is, I don't want to hear what they have to say--at least not in the way they want me to. I DO want to be respectful. I DO want them to know that I am happy that they have a testimony of Jesus and His love for them. I DO want them to know that I appreciate their good intentions. But I also want them to know that I am deeply committed to the religion I have and that they are not going to change my mind. I don't want to be a Jehovah's Witness. I'm a Mormon, a Latter-day Saint, and I firmly believe that the priesthood we have and the covenants I have made make the LDS church the right one for me. However,I don't want to be rude or insensitive to their beliefs. I also don't want to waste their time.

I have to admit that the part of me that was a ward missionary back in college keeps thinking that there must be a way to turn this around and share my beliefs with them. Who knows, maybe THEY are the golden investigators and they just don't know it! Doesn't that sound like the kind of story that would make the Ensign or a General Conference talk?

But that's just the thing. That's a story. Not real life with real people. Real people and real testimonies are a lot more complicated. I want to do right by these women because I know that they are doing the thing that they believe in and I respect that. And I think about our missionaries and how I want them treated even when people are not interested and I hope that they are being nice to them too. There's some sort of missionary karma out there, I'm sure. Politely letting them down seems like the right thing to do. I just don't know how!

The whole thing is so ironic because we used to live about a block from a Kingdom Hall and we saw the JW missionaries ALL the TIME. They knew that our neighborhood had been completely tracted out and the most they were going to get from us was an offer to give them a cool beverage. But now that we're in a different spot they just keep coming back.

What would you guys do? I seriously need some tips. If you served a mission what was the best/most polite way you were turned down? If you run into missionaries from other churches what do you say? If you aren't Mormon (and don't want to be!)and you run into our missionaries how do you turn them down without being rude?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What's the Word for. . .

being happy for someone that their life is going well but wishing, just a bit, that they were falling apart because then you'd have some company?

See, I'm still doing well. Really well! And I'm so relieved. I was talking with my psychiatrist and we both agreed that at this point I seem to be out of the woods mental health wise. And while she cautioned me against overdoing it and stressing myself out we both breathed a sigh of relief. Postpartum depression can strike any time during the first year so I'll be seeing my psychiatrist every so often to keep an eye on things, but I'm, well, happy.

It probably helps that the Little Cannoli is a much more even-tempered baby than my other ones. She already sleeps better than her older brother. She smiles and coos when she sees me. She's only two months old and already I feel like she's been part of the family forever. These swelling, happy feelings inside me must be what other new moms feel all the time!

But, to be honest, this happiness makes me a little jealous and a little sad about what I've missed with my other babies. How wonderful it could have been.

That little bit of jealousy and that little bit of sadness are familiar. See, after my second baby when I really started talking about my PPD experiences a few of my other mommy friends would say, "Yeah, it was like that for me too. I was so depressed." Relief would flood through my mind and I would feel like I wasn't alone. Like maybe I wasn't as screwed up as I thought I was. Like all of this struggle had a purpose. Like maybe there was hope for me.

But then none of them ever had more than one PPD episode. I was (am) the only one to have gone through it over and over again. I was (am) the only one whose life is constantly affected by a mood disorder. They all got over it and moved on. I never did.

Hope evaporated. Purpose was lost. And with those two things went perspective. I gave up on thinking I was ever going to be in a place where I could roll with the punches. I accepted that I was a little tweaky and tried to find ways to make the tweaky-ness work for me.

But now I feel like I'm approaching the elusive non-tweaky state of normal. So naturally (hah!) I'm relieved and a little suspicious. There's a part of me that is always looking for warning signs that I'm on another downturn. There's part of me that thinks I must be in some sort of magic state of denial. And there's a huge part of me that feels like I've betrayed my former self. I see women around me all the time who I think might be suffering from this and I want them to know they aren't alone. I want them to know that PPD is hard but it doesn't have to destroy you. I want to be there with them and support them on their journey.

But I know that when you are really down having someone tell you that you'll get over it someday isn't all that helpful. I know that hearing another woman crow about how good it feels to not be hurting doesn't do much good. What does help is having someone sit with you and accept you even when all the protective layers are ripped away. Having someone inhabit that emotionally elemental existence with you--even just for a little while--does more to clear the head and heal the heart than any amount of platitudes and well wishes ever will.

And I'm worried that my current happiness makes it so I can't sit with another woman and share her experience. That was a kind of loss I never expected. Normal is nice--convenient, really--but I never want to forget that don't have to be normal to be a good mom. Just being where you are and take care of yourself and your babies is good enough. Just because some of people are finding normal doesn't mean you've been left behind. Depressed and okay can coexist. Depressed and happy do work together.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Post Partum Depression: 1 Month Out

Baby Number 4, who we lovingly refer to as our Little Cannoli, is now more than 1 month old. I am surprised and a little bit glad that the time has gone by so quickly. Usually my first month with a baby is a descent into chaos and I feel like I spend the next year or eighteen months trying to put my universe back together. To have it go by quickly means that I haven't been lost in the time suck that is depression. (Whee!)I think this is due to several exceptional things.

* I'm still taking my Paxil. It was hard to remember to at first. I've been out of the habit and so I was taking it at weird times and missing days--which is a set up for disaster. But then I got an awesome tip: Put your meds by your toothbrush! You almost always remember to brush your teeth and if your meds are in the same cabinet you'll always see them and be reminded to take them.

* I've got a whole lot more knowledge. During the first few weeks, before the meds had kicked in, I had a few suicidal thoughts (no plans, just lots of negative thinking like I didn't deserve to live and my family would be better off without me because there is no way I would ever be able to be a good mom to this baby) but they were fleeting and usually disappeared if I took a nap. I know about the link between sleep deprivation and PPD so I could take action rather than get stuck in an unproductive mental/emotional thought cycle. I also had a fair amount of intrusive thoughts. Mostly violent ones, like every time I walked up or down the stairs I would see my baby flying down them and splitting her head open or breaking her neck. They were scary but I knew what they were (hormonal misfires in my brain) and could move on instead being consumed by them. I still have some of the intrusive thoughts--I've acquired a whole new repertoire surrounding actual glass glasses--so I'm not sure if I should up my meds or not. I'll ask my psych when I see her.

* I've had a whole lot of support.
I've had offers from both sides of the family to help out with the kids (even though they all live hundreds of miles away!). We got lots of meal from the ladies at Church. And close friends were sensitively checking in on my mental state--friends who had been there--which meant a lot to me. I'm actually still with my mom and dad and it is great. Being with them for the last couple weeks has alleviated so much stress from my mind. I've gotten more sleep and I've been able to conquer caring for all four kids in small bites. I just feel like I've had adequate time to acclimate to the whole situation and actually bond with my baby instead of feeling overwhelmed and destroyed. I keep telling my mom that this time has been such an indescribable gift.

Actually, this whole experience feels like a gift. I'm surprised how sad I am that this is my last little baby. I'll never have another four week old to nuzzle and smell and cuddle. And I always thought that when that time came I'd be glad because it would mean freedom was on the horizon. But I don't feel free. It feels like a loss.

I think some of my feelings of loss are me mourning my previous post partum experiences. Sometimes as I'm nursing or rocking the Little Cannoli part of my mind will go back to when Number 1 or Number 2 were babies and I'll relive those experiences. Part of me will be feeling the frustration of trying to get Number 1 to latch on, or more like the echoes of that frustration, and the other part of me will be so grateful that the Little Cannoli nurses so nicely and then I'll remember (or possibly rewrite) a moment when Number 1 was nursing well. And then the frustration melts a little and the memory loses some of its sting. I'm sure there's some sort of name for that process, but for me letting go of some of that is, well, a gift.

It's also a gift to see my older three, who I struggled with so intensely, being kind and soft and patient with the newest sibling. It reminds me that even if things were rocky when they were born their lives have been filled with love and that things are going to work out.

I'm not projecting into the future. After we get home from my mom's things could fall apart or they could be fabulous. Odds are life will be a mix of stress and fun and disasters and peace. But I'm not trying to figure those out. I'm just here, loving my baby and enjoying my kids. Because they are all gifts--gifts that I am just now starting to see clearly.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Postpartum Depression: 1 week out (I Want My Mommy !!)

Baby is one week old now and I'm not depressed. I haven't even had the baby blues. What I am is anxious. Well, that and charmed by sweet new little one. And feeling quite blessed to have three other beautiful children. And excited for what the future holds.

But, really, I'm feeling pretty anxious.

See with each baby my mom comes out to visit and takes over the cooking and the laundry and the cleaning. She coos over the funny faces that my baby makes. She plays with the older kids. She chats with me through the somewhat endless hours of nursing.

And then she leaves. As in gets driven to the airport and flies across the five states that separate us and goes home to my dad and little sister.

That's usually when I start to lose it. Turns out I'm a pretty good mom when I not the only mommy in the house. But when it's just me I get easily overwhelmed.

Knowing this, we've planned. I started taking Paxil just after Baby was delivered. My husband is taking some time off work next week. And, since school is almost out, I'm going to my mom's so that she can keep mom-ming me and my brood a little more. We're calling it a family reunion (except my brother can't come, which makes it not much of a reunion at all!), but I think we all know that it's actual just a bunch of people willing to sacrifice so that I don't go crazy.

And that makes me feel overwhelmed in a whole new way. A good way. There are people who love me and when I ask them for help they are willing. Even when it means getting overrun by hordes of preschoolers!

Everybody needs a mommy. Especially when you are a mommy. I wonder how many cases of PPD could be ameliorated if we were all able to mom each other a little more.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

She's Here!

I know you all wanted me to leave up my awesome painted belly pics a little longer, but I had to let you know: Baby #4 is here!

I'm sure I'll blither-blather more about the birth in the future but for now I'll just say we are both doing well--my mood didn't crash like it has in the past, but I am still being cautious and keeping an eye out for the crazies--and leave you with a pic.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Art/Body Connection

Well, my due date is tomorrow and . . . no baby! I have never been THIS pregnant. All my other kids were born early.

With my previous pregnancies the last month was the hardest. The depression usually set in around 35 weeks and it was a slow slide into Unhappy Land. Not so this time. This last month has actually been fun. A little crazy, but fun. Maybe it's because I was so busy during the rest of the pregnancy that these last few weeks have been my only chance to really think about this new little person that's been gestating inside me.

To be honest, though, last Monday was a terrible day. I didn't sleep well. I woke up exhausted. I had no patience with my children and no motivation to do anything but lay on the couch. My children watched movies for the bulk of the day and I stared at the wall. I was beginning to wonder if it wasn't time to break out my antidepressants.

But things turned around for me Tuesday. I think that's because, well, Monday was a bad day and people have those occasionally without actually being depressed. I forget that sometimes. Also, I think Tuesday was a better day because I had something to look forward to--and it's something I would heartily recommend to other mommies nearing the end of pregnancy--Belly Painting!

A friend of mine, Julia Cameron Damon, is multi-faceted, multi-talented woman who specializes in the art of body painting and photography. I've seen a lot of her portfolio and have found her work at turns whimsical, confrontational, enchanting, and instructive. So when she approached me about painting my extremely pregnant belly I wasn't sure what to say, but I decided this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I might as well experience it.

It was so fun! I was surprised by how relaxing it was and how much I enjoyed the process. I'm the kind of gal who likes to invest meaning in things so Cam and I approached things from an Earth Mother/all creations point to the Great Creator vibe. Because one thing I love about pregnancy is the connection it creates between me as a creative being and Heavenly Father as a creative being. As Elder Uchtdorf said, "But to what end were we created? We were created with the express purpose and potential of experiencing a fulness of joy. Our birthright—and the purpose of our great voyage on this earth—is to seek and experience eternal happiness. One of the ways we find this is by creating things. If you are a mother, you participate with God in His work of creation—not only by providing physical bodies for your children but also by teaching and nurturing them."

Cam did a beautiful job by starting with earth tones and layering in some beautiful jeweled branches to reflect the eternal growth that my new baby's mortality is a part of.

The truly surprising thing, though, about all this was how after awhile the meaning became secondary to the product. The meaning behind it all was beautiful for me, but after staring at my resplendent belly in the mirror and seeing the photos I couldn't get over how pretty it all was. That I was pretty. That even in my incredibly bulbous and swollen state, I was doing something beautiful. Those feelings pointed me back to the mystery that is pregnancy and birth and filled me with positive emotions. The paint served to accent the beauty of human life and our connections to the eternities. It's like, God made magnolia trees and kingfishers and mountains and clouds because they are beautiful. And for a little while, I felt like I had tapped that feeling of beauty and made it part of my own body. It was a mystical experience that still has me smiling.

All images in this post are copyrighted and are not to be used without the express permission of Julia Cameron Damon

Monday, May 10, 2010

Thoughts on Motherhood (No Baby Yet)


I'll be 40 weeks on Saturday and no baby yet. I guess that's a good thing, but I am starting to get tired of this. I've never gone overdue, but there's a first time for everything!

Anyway, being astronomically pregnant on Mother's Day was an interesting experience. People around me kept hoping I'd go into labor because it would be so poetic to be in labor on such an auspicious day. I kept thinking I didn't want to share a day that is supposed to be about me with someone else! Then I realized, as I got kids ready for Church and walked with them through the hallways and tried to fulfill my Primary calling, the only reason Mother's Day meant anything was because it WASN'T about me. It's really about my kids and the fact that I am willing to try and corral them into some semblance of civility in the hopes that someday they will quit being just kids and turn into people.

Anyway, kudos to the rest of the women out there who bravely put up with the children (and sometimes man-children) around them in the name of the greater good. Being a mom is an awesome, awe-inspiring job. But it's also the hardest thing a gal can do. So, if you're like me (and every other woman in existence) and you're one of those women who wonders if you're really doing a good job and if it really matters and if it's really worth it I'll tell you, "Yes!" Even when the sentiment and the nostalgia have been wiped from your heart and the only thing facing you is the muck and hard work of mom-ing, I'll still say this is the most important thing you can do.

So much of the value in mothering is the fact that the women of the world keep showing up--even when it's hard and they're making mistakes. Mothers don't let your imperfections of their own imperfections or the any other imperfections stop them from loving you.

We attended my husband's grandma's funeral last Friday and I was amazed at what one woman could accomplish in a lifetime. She did a lot of the homey, stereotypical woman things like make afghans and cookies--which she enjoyed and were worthwhile and blessed people. But the thing most people remembered? Her hearty laugh, strong handshake, and the fact that she always looked you in the eye when she spoke to you. They were simple things that have reached across generations. That is what's at the heart of being a mother.

So, I'm going to go mom my kids now and wonder what on earth is actually going to expel this new being from my body. And remind myself, that even when it's not pleasant, even when it's dirty and hard, it's worth it.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Final Countdown!

Hi folks!

Sorry I've been negligent blogger. But, well, a lot has been going on.

The big news: 2 weeks ago we moved. Hooray! Even though our new house is only a few miles away from our old house, it was still a crazy amount of work. Even with the 15 people who helped out from our ward, it was still a huge job. Two weeks into the new place we are figuring out where to put things, but the kids seem to have acclimated now so that's good.

(Tangentially related anecdote: Yesterday my four-year-old and my two-year-old got into a fight about whether or not we could still rightfully call our new house "new". The two-year-old is stubborn and illogical and would probably call it our "new" house forever. The four-year-old is also stubborn but is beginning to grasp a few logical concepts. She figured that since we've been in the house for "like a hundred days" no one was allowed to call it the "new" house any more. Cause "one hundred days is a super long time." The argument was never settled but it seems to indicate that they are all figuring things out in their own way.)

I think I'm feeling more settled too. For the most part, my stress level has gone way down since moving day and the contractions have slowed. The doctor wanted me on bed rest until 37 weeks and I've done my best to only tackle small projects around the house.

The other big news: I'm 37 weeks pregnant! Full term!! Hooray!

Technically I can be done with the bed rest now, but I don't actually want this baby to come quite yet. Taking care of a newborn is waaaay harder than being pregnant and I would like to get a bit more unpacking taken care of before Number Four makes her debut. Besides, we don't even know what we want to name her yet. Doesn't that mean she should wait just a little longer? However, we did find the baby clothes and blankets the other day so that's good.

One more item to catch up on:

*The psychological tweezing. Ever since I posted about this back in January I've been meaning to follow up but at a loss as to how. The most I can say about it now is that it was a harrowing process and left me exhausted. Once we put our house back on the market and things started picking up with the sale of our home and finding a new house the psychological tweezing eased. I had more than enough other stuff to occupy my brain and emotions. (Just as a side note, everyone should have to go house hunting with a pregnant woman. You've never seen emotional ups and downs like the ones I pulled. It made me a very discriminating buyer. *Wink, wink*) Since things have started to settled some of the memories/flashbacks and emotions have started to crop up again, but I've mostly been ignoring it. I don't feel ready to go back to that yet. And, as several of you readers suggested, I would probably benefit from some therapeutic help with the next round. EFT, you know the crazy tapping and muttering that isn't actually crazy, would probably be beneficial and I think that might be a good route to take next. I just don't know when I'll be ready to pursue it.

One more thing to catch up on: Being pregnant with a history of depression.

I really thought that I would spend a lot of time during this pregnancy blogging about being pregnant and depressed. Perinatal depression is real and frustrating and it's a subject that could certainly use more writing and thinking done about it. I had planned on contributing my own two cents to the whole thing, but it just didn't work out that way.

The weird part is that I haven't been as depressed this time. It's been an emotional time for me (duh!) but the emotions haven't been paralyzing like they have in the past. They've been intense and painful but they haven't gotten stuck. I've met with my psychiatrist and my therapist periodically and they both agree that I'm NOT depressed. I'm just dealing with some very, very real emotional stuff.

This really is a blessing, this whole not depressed thing. I kind of don't know what to make of it. When I was pregnant with Baby Number Three, Mr. J, I had such a hard time with anger and with feelings of defeat. But not this time.

I think things might be different this time in part because of the psychological tweezing and in part because of the increased support from family and friends. I've finally let my family in on a little of what's been going on and they have been so supportive. I can feel the powers of their prayers and how hard they are pulling for me. The same goes for friends. I've always struggled to maintain friendships but at this point in my life I have a few people I honestly believe like me and will predictably be there for me--even when I have nothing to offer them--and they will be caring and discreet and respectful about it. That is such a gift. Of course, my therapist and my psychiatrist are part of that support system too. It's always nice to have an objective, experienced individual to offer perspective when you need it.

I think another part of it is that I've quit trying to forecast the future. I used to spend a lot of time worrying about what all of this would mean down the road and trying to control long term outcomes. My therapist likes to remind me that no matter how much I think/worry/obsess about the future I actually have little control over it. I don't think I've mastered that ultimate zen ability of "living in the moment" but I do think my present has finally begun to outweigh my past and my future in importance and that has brought a great amount of relief. It's so much simpler to focus on today and the upcoming week and month rather than years ahead or behind me. I hope it's a way of thinking that I can hold on to.

Thanks for sticking this out with me and for being a part of my journey. I appreciate your comments and insights. This blog is definitely part of the support system that's been buoying me up.

Have a happy week!

I'll definitely post when I go into labor. Okay, well, I'll definitely TRY to post when I go into labor :)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Easter Blessings!

Hi friends!

With all the craziness in my life lately, both psychological and physical, I've had a lot of opportunities to think about Christ. I don't know how to sum it all up, but I'm really feeling His love this Easter season and my gratitude and testimony are deepening. I hope you all are finding ways to the peace that Christ has to offer, too.

A couple videos (just in case you haven't gotten enough internet video time while watching Conference *wink*):

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hurry Up and Slow Down: Validating My Irritable Uterus

Already the newest But Not Unhappy Baby is getting demanding. Well, it's more like my uterus is getting demanding.(I guess it's not really a good thing that I can ignore hours of contractions. Except when I'm in labor. Then it rocks.) It's been so darn irritable the doctor put me on "moderate" bed rest--which is apparently defined as "only doing the things you HAVE to do."

My first question: What have I been doing that I didn't have to be doing? I mean I'd already pretty much limited my to do list to things that are either smelly (dishes and laundry), whiny (children and husband), or embarrassing (I'm pretty sure you can fill in that blank!). Now which of those am I supposed to let go of? It's been a real conundrum.

I actually got put on bed rest last Thursday but it's taken me this long to get my head wrapped around it. At first I was just stunned. Then I was frustrated. Now I think I'm glad.

Over the last 24ish hours, when I've actually been sitting down and resting, I've noticed something: I'm tired! As in exhausted. My body, my mind, my spirit, all of me is tired. Now, I know I've been blogging about being tired for quite awhile now so this isn't a surprise to you all, but the extent of my lethargy surprised me. With all of our selling-and-buying-a-house-busy-ness I've been running on adrenaline for months now. Being forced to sit down and take it easy has made me face what kind of toll that has taken.

After Baby J was born, almost 3 years ago!, a therapist told me I needed to rest. She wanted me to find someone to take my kids (including the 2 month old baby) for 36 hours and then go find a quiet place and sleep. The therapist actually said to me, "You're not getting more depressed. You're tired. Fatigue and depression look a lot alike. Get some rest." Since I was breastfeeding I wrote her off. Who can sleep for that long when they have a nursing infant? It makes my boobs hurt just thinking about it.

Then, after months of Baby J's sleep problems, our family doctor said, "Can't you find someone to watch your kids so you can rest? Do you have any family in town? Can your husband take a day off work? Get a hotel room and sleep. For as long as you can. You need to sleep." Again, I wrote her off because I honestly believed there was no one who would take my kids for that period of time. Or that my kids would go for it.

Our family doc brings it up every time she sees me and it gotten to be joke between us. But then, the second time I saw my psychiatrist, she said the same thing. She too wanted me to find a quiet place to sleep for at least 24 hours. It was starting to sound familiar. . .

I had an "emergency" session with my therapist last month and she pushed me to set up a few days at a hotel so I could sleep and rest. Just have the opportunity to do nothing. And I almost did it. My kiddos are all old enough that I wouldn't need to nurse anyone and they could all deal with me being gone for awhile. I spent a whole evening looking online for a nice, affordable, quiet place but then things got crazy with our house being on the market and I never actually made the reservation.

I think there's this anti-rest attitude that has been hammered into my brain that just won't let me slow down. I think it partly has to do with the whole "be not weary with well doing" idea. You know, we're supposed to wear ourselves out doing good works and serving God. Who are the biggest Mormon female role models? Pioneer women who practically died on the trail helping others and modern "pioneer-type" women who work themselves to exhaustion serving at the temple/church/cubscouts/whatever. Rarely do you hear a conference talk or read an Ensign article about a chick who said, "Well, I've done a couple things today but I'm beginning to feel a little oyshed so I'm gonna just put my feet up and relax. Let someone else get it done."

I don't think the Church is entirely to blame, though. After all, let's not forget "Good, Better, Best" and "There is a time and a season." No, I blame society at large too. America has long been a country that values hard work--you know, Puritans and boot straps and all that business--and that's not bad. I think those ideas have taken a strange turn over the last 20 or 30 years, though,
when it comes to women. Especially women who have children and stay home with them.

Since the feminist movement (which, for the most part, I am a fan of) women who choose to have children and then choose to stay home with them have to validate their choices. Very few people second guess a woman who goes into engineering or becomes a lawyer. Even women who choose more traditionally female roles like nursing and teaching are understood and looked at as contributing members of society. Women who stay home with their kids have to prove their choices and we usually do it in not so subtle competitions: who has the most children, whose house is the cleanest, whose kids are the best behaved, whose children score highest on different tests or exhibit the most talent, who is the most frugal, who is the most fit, who spends the most time volunteering, or which mommy can do all those things and still hold down side jobs that bring in bonus cash so that her family can have that nice car or fancy vacation. I can think of only one or two women who are secure enough in their choice to stay home that they don't buy into at least one or two of these catty comparisons.

(Now a woman who does one or more of the above may not necessarily be doing it strictly for competitive reasons, but I'm betting self-validation and approval of others factors in more than she'd like to admit. When I look back on the most meaningful conversations I've had with other women telling them that their choices are okay--that they have nothing to prove--is almost always an easily identifiable theme. For evidence just go look at other mommies' Facebook statuses. They really want you to click the like button.)

(Other parenthetical thought: Do men struggle with this kind of competition too? The busier you are the better you are? Seriously folks. I want answers.)

Some of us chicks maybe try to prove we are more savvy and that we don't buy into these ideas by avoiding housework or not taking on extra jobs. But even then we talk too loudly and too often about why we're doing what we're doing because we're still trying to get people to tell us that they approve of our choices, because we ourselves are not sure how we feel about them.

So now it's the end of March and I've apparently been hard enough on my body that my uterus is yelling at me. It's tired and wants to rest. Even if I don't. So I'm doing my best to embrace it. My oldest is at school. My preschooler and my 2-year-old are watching a lot of "educational" (you can see me rolling my eyes, right?) tv. And I'm writing a really, really long blog post.

Because, in all honesty, I'm trying validate my restful choice. You better leave me a comment telling me that you validate it too! (wink, wink)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Depression and Spirituality (more from BCC)

So I am horrendously late (in internet terms) when it comes to blogging about
this. But we've been busy (Sell house? Check! Find other house to buy? Check! Do all the mortgage junk? Check! Oh, and since Baby #4 is due in 9 weeks, see the doctor all the time? Check! Do all the normal life stuff? Check!)and now is the first chance I've had to get back to it.

They covered a lot of ground, starting with how some versions of Mormon thought promote black and white thinking patterns that exacerbate depression and then moved on to how depression has actually changed their religious lives. I hope you'll go over and read the whole post, but I wanted to touch on a few things here that I identified with.

"Depression can be a completely different animal than any other type of adversity, because it screws with your ability to access God. And you know God could break through that wall if he really wanted to, so you’re left with the conclusion that he didn’t care to."

The biggest way depression seemed to interact with the BCC-ers depression was in their connection with God. Most of them couldn't confidently assert any thing more than a tenuous connection with their Heavenly Father--and that made them feel like they were bad Mormons. This has been absolutely true in my life. When I am at worst is when God is hardest to access. Praying, fervent focused pleading, does little to no good. I don't know if it's because my brain blocks out the spirit (I firmly believe there is a link between our physical conditions and our abilities to discern spiritual matters) or because it is somehow God's will that I not feel Him, but when I am down I cannot feel His love or access Him. That's one of the most obvious signs of my own depression: sitting in testimony meeting and seeing that everyone else is feeling it and not feeling it myself. I've come to expect this spiritual loneliness now and don't take it personally, but in the beginning it was vastly disorienting for my Mormon perspective. I mean, God loves us and is supposed to be there for us when we need Him, right? But sometimes it doesn't feel like He is. Or maybe I just haven't learned to see His hand. Either way, it's lonely. And scary.

"It seems to me that we have become more comfortable in Mormon culture about talking about depression, precisely because it has been medicalized, and we can explain it in comfortingly technical terms like 'serotonin re-uptake' and 'dopamine receptors.' What we still can’t do is talk about the spiritual aspects of it–it’s ok to stand up in testimony meeting and say 'the Lord has helped me recover from postpartum depression through priesthood blessings and medical care,' but it simply isn’t ok to say 'I feel abandoned by God. When you talk about your close relationship with Him, I wonder why I can’t feel what you do, and it makes me feel terrible.'

We countenance talking about grief, depression, and anger only when they’re safely in the past tense, or when we can explain them away as a physical, brain-based phenomenon. It’s understandable, of course, because it is painful and unsettling to see someone suffering and have prayer or priesthood blessings seem not to work–'mourning with those that mourn' can be (perhaps must be) a genuine challenge to the faith and testimony of the comforter, as well as the comforted. What does it mean to bear one another’s burdens, when one of our brother’s or sister’s burdens is despair, or the absence of hope and faith?"

This is something I have struggle to articulate and one of the reasons I started this blog. Since I've been depressed, I've come to believe that as Mormons we sometimes spend too much time thinking about the end of the road and not enough about the path we take to get there. We're all about the tree of life(which isn't necessarily bad) and sometimes forget about the mists of darkness and the clinging to the iron rod part of it all. Being righteous doesn't always mean that our lives will be without trouble. We wish it did. But it doesn't. Life is going to be hard and when we forget that I think we neuter our spiritual growth because, really, you can't get to the tree of life without the long walk through the mists of darkness. I'm glad the folks over at BCC owned this and said it out loud.

A lot of the discussion also centered around how being depressed has caused people to rethink their testimonies. Several contributors said that their testimonies were smaller now--stronger but smaller. For almost all of them there came a point where they felt they might need to leave the Church, but they decided to keep working at it. This is true for me, too. I'm not comfortable saying that I know all the things everyone else in the congregation knows. I feel like my spirit has been shaken to pieces and my testimony has been rebuilt from the ground up. But the things I believe are truly mine now because I have gained them through experience.

"I’m starting to realize that one of the greatest gifts we can give another human being is to be willing to reconsider our version of reality for their sake, to make uncomfortable shifts inside ourselves in order to make room for them."

This was beautiful to me. This is the thing I think I need the most sometimes. I just need to know that other people aren't dismissing me simply because my reality makes them uncomfortable. That attitude is the heart of successful, Christlike parenting and marriages. I think it's that idea that shaped the Home Teaching and Visiting Teaching programs. The ability to "reconsider our version of reality" for someone else strikes me as one of the most loving things we can do and is what it means to be true disciples of Christ.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

BCC's next question: Impact on family members

BCC's latest depression post was about depression's impact on relationships. Here's what I said over in the comments:

I feel like I'm a little late to the comments here, but as a depressed gal who worries and worries over the effect it will have on my kids and husband, I've found that being honest with them about what's going on helps.

I tell my kids that there are days that my feelings get out of control or that my mind is hurting and I need a break. They know mommy has a "feelings doctor" who helps out when "the feelings get stuck." They also know I have another doctor who is in charge of the special feelings medicine that I have to take sometimes. I hope that I am being honest with them and that my willingness to answer their questions in an age appropriate way will help them deal with my bad days a little better.

I also make a huge effort to make clear to them that it is my problem and I am responsible for it. Not them. I apologize for things that have hurt them and make honest efforts to listen when they want to complain about it. Then, if I need to, I go vent to my therapist about it.

I'm hoping that being open with them about it will not only increase their understanding but help guard them against similar troubles in their lives. I also hope I'm paving the way for them to ask for help if/when they need it.

I don't talk about what my depression does to my spouse because, well, he's a private person and might not appreciate it. And because I'm not really sure. I know the ups and downs scare him. I know they frustrate him. But, over time and through a great deal of trial and error, we are teaching each other what is and isn't helpful. There's never a clear path . . .

Depression is hard on the depressed person and on the people who surround them. But (and this a point I really had to work hard to understand) just because it's hard doesn't mean it's wrong. It just means that it's hard. And sometimes that's okay.

All right, y'all, you know this is a huge issue and you have thoughts so spill! I'm not always good at responding to comments, but I do read them and so do others. It feels good to share!

Monday, February 22, 2010

By Common Consent is taking on depression!

Hi friends!

I can't imagine that many of you out there don't already know about By Common Consent but I wanted to let you know they are doing a mini series on being LDS and depressed!

Here's the overview post by Kathryn Lynard Soper, the founder of Segullah and author of The Year My Son and I Were Born: A Story of Down Syndrome, Motherhood, and Self-Discovery.

And here's the first part Living with Depression, Part I: Recognizing Clinical Depression.

I'm glad BCC is taking this on. It's a huge topic and an important one that I really feel I haven't been doing justice to. I'm also excited because they have both women and men posting about their experiences. I hope you all will take the time to click over there and get in on the conversation!

Their first topic of discussion is how does a person realize they are depressed? I've actually answered this question in a variety of ways. One was when I filled out my own "depression profile." (Remember when I used to run those? I should get back to that sometime.) I also covered it in good detail in my Segullah essay, "That Girl".

Readers, I want to encourage you all to answer this question on your blogs. If you do leave me a link the comments. Seriously, go for it! Or if you want to be anonymous, go over to BCC and leave your story in the comments there. The more we share the stronger we are. (It's cheesy, but I believe it!)

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Private Loss

Hi folks. This is a post I'd written for A Motley Vision, but I chickened out and couldn't post it. It's too girly. Too personal. I also couldn't let it go. So I'm posting it here. Sorry it's off topic.

In 2007 I gave birth to my third child and simultaneously vowed to myself that I would become a "real" writer by 2010. I'd be published. I'd have a solid resume. And I'd be proud of the direction my art was taking.

I have not reached my goal.

As many of you probably already know, the third child is quite often when the proverbial diaper contents hits the fan and it was no different for me. My third child had severe eczema, acid reflux disease, and obstructive sleep apnea. He screamed so loudly and so often my oldest child, who was then four years old, suffered panic attacks. Baby Number Three is two and half now and still doesn't sleep through the night.

When he was in utero I was flush with possibilities--for my unborn child, myself, and my writing. I truly believed I was coming into my own. Now, in 2010, I am flush with sleepless nights, piles of laundry, and disillusionment. Conspicuously absent is my writing success.

And I am having another baby. A hoped-for and wanted baby. But a baby that means my literary aspirations will continue to suffer.

Pretty much every female writer since Anne Bradstreet will tell you writing is a lot like having children. But I'm beginning to think it's a sign that God never sent me twins: he knew I couldn't raise two babies at once--just like I can't raise babies and write fabulous literature at the same time--I'm not meant to multi-task.

Those same female writers, including greats like Maya Angelou and Madeleine L'Engle, will tell you writing and mommying is a balancing act. But I'm beginning to wonder if that isn't a bit misleading. Nothing about having children is about balance and nothing about creating art is balanced. Both require complete surrender. You can't get out a scale and put a pile of children on one side and a pile of literary accomplishments on the other and have them ever be equal. They honestly don't compare. Writing opportunities missed--workshops, conferences, contests, little inspirations that don't make sense when I can finally devote time to the random notes I've made--always occupy an ungainly portion of my thinking. But what about the sting of guilt I have over snapping at my kids because I stayed up too late the previous night writing as if I was going to win the next Marilyn Brown Award. It isn't just apples and oranges. It's apples and Winnebagoes.

My children's cravings for parental affection and attention cannot be approached in a balanced, methodical manner. Our best moments are when I am wholly theirs, forgetting my notions of who I should/would be and immersing myself in their world--their problems (oh, the woes of sharing! the frustrations of shoe-tying!), their dreams (to fly, for real, and not in an airplane; can't I feel the wings growing in under her shoulder blades?), their realities (which, since they are not yet burdened by constraints of calendars and clocks, are basically extended dream sequences).

Those moments are the only times I come close to fulfilling the Savior's injunction to lose myself in order to find myself. In their minds I am stronger, wiser, and much more lovable than I perceive myself to be. And the more I am with them the more I become that superhero they think I am. Seeing the growing (and inevitable) realization in their eyes that I am less than perfectly wonderful is a loss--my oldest is only six and is already questioning my abilities--I need their dreams just as much as they do. After all, it is in their dreams I find reflections and reminders of my own pushed aside aspirations, my own stories. It is intimidating and inspiring and it makes me want to sit down and write but I'm afraid to because me being a writer only makes sense in the dream-world my children inhabit, not in the crowded, sensible, grown-up one I live in.

One particularly worthy project has been languishing for over four years now. It limps along with me researching and writing when I can, but my sporadic efforts are not enough to please publishers and I wouldn't feel right about asking readers to spend money on it when I know the book hasn't had the attention it deserves. For the vision of the book to be fully realized would take a full time effort. Because, just like my children, this book needs me to have more wisdom and experience, to be less limited. Just like my children, this book overwhelms me. But unlike my children, if I don't rise to the challenge nobody suffers, except maybe me. The unwritten words are a kind of miscarriage. A private loss.

In 2009 I had a couple writing opportunities that seemed huge to me: I got to write two reviews for Mormon publications, Dialogue and Irreantum. Finally, I was getting my name out there and building up a cache of "real" publishing credits. It felt like everything--my self-respect being the biggest--was riding on these two reviews. But neither worked out how I thought they would. Both ended up clashing with minor family crises. The first suffered neglect due to a bout of anxiety/depression in my oldest child and the second was only half-baked because of a chemical pregnancy/miscarriage. The sudden neediness of my family sucked all the energy out of my writing and I learned that any creative energy I have--whether it be for producing babies or producing rough drafts--came from the same source and it was tapped. When all was said and published, I felt depleted and frustrated and embarrassed. There was no balancing act, only unsatisfactory compromises on every front.

So in 2010, now that there's another baby kicking it's way toward earth life and a book waiting to be resurrected what am I going to do? I don't know. All I've got right now is what I'm not going to do: I'm not going to saddle either with expectations. And I'm not going to try to balance them. I may even manage to avoid conflating and comparing them. (Because, really, no matter how good the metaphor there are limits. My children are not blank pages waiting to be filled and a novel isn't going to be expelled out of my uterus.)

I'm writing this in the past tense, as if these things are over and done with in my life and I am now truly ready to fight the good fight, finish the writing, and keep the faith of my children in tact. But all these attempts at children--both biological and literary--have taught me that failure and success are two sides of the same coin. Both are temporary states of being and one will always imply the other because that's the way agency and opposition and life work: there's always a cost. The price we pay for the things we love is always the private losses registered only in sighs and faraway looks, is always the things we must give up.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Psychological Tweezing (and other thoughts on emotional honesty)

I've meaning to blog lately. Catch up on life and explain a little. Because I'm trying something new and it feels significant. But it also feels painful. Very painful. And personal. So it's hard to put it down here.

How's this for a really vague start? Some stuff happened a while ago that shouldn't have and the consequences just keep raining down.

An odd thing: every time I go off my antidepressants I have these same impressions about the "stuff that happened a while ago"--not like testimony meeting impressions--but like strong, emotional messages that require some sort of action. In the past the only action that has made sense is self-harming options. Like I used to get frenetically and abstractly suicidal. Or I would have visions of carving my arms and stomach up, like I was a surgeon cutting out some sort of contagion. Or like I was too full inside and if I could just bleed a little there would be some relief to the emotional congestion. At the other end of the violence was always the possibility for someone else to take over, for escape, for rest.

I never acted on that stuff, it was just always presenting itself as the answer. But, probably thanks to all my friends who tried to kill themselves in high school and my sister who got her undergraduate work in psychology and because my grandma tried to kill herself but went to a sanitarium instead and was open about it, I knew there was another option--a good option: medication and therapy.

And it was good. It was helpful. But it didn't make the impressions go away (which always disturbed me a little). The medication made the impressions quieter so that I could start to examine the pieces that didn't overwhelm me. Therapy gave me the tools I needed to figure out how to examine them. (The tools I use most often are self-observation techniques and self-questioning processes, in case you were wondering.)

So now I'm here and something clicked and I'm taking on those impressions. I'm looking those emotional messages square in the face and unraveling the facts from the fiction. Well, that's the ultimate goal. Right now I would say I'm just allowing the impressions their space. I'm hearing them. I'm accepting them. I'm letting them say all the things they've been trying to tell me for years--all the hurt, anger, frustration, desperation, and confusion. And, the hardest part, I'm relaying the messages to the other people who need to hear it.

That last paragraph makes me sound nuttier than a fruit cake, but I don't know how else to describe it. For the first time in a long time I know I'm not crazy. I saw my psychiatrist, just to be sure. And she agreed. She said, "You're not depressed. You're not overly anxious. You just have some huge things facing you. But you are handling them as well as any person could." I don't feel cosmically out of control or overwhelmed. I'm surprised by the intensity of the emotional torrents playing out but they feel honest and, surprisingly, empowering. Not in the moment of it all. But later.

This whole process reminds me of that aphorism, "Depression is just anger turned inward." That reductionist aphorism gets a lot play and I wasn't entirely sure how I felt about it until recently. I think I was afraid of certain situations in my life and of their consequences--emotional and spiritual and physical--and so I had to protect myself and my family. The only way I could protect us all was to hide the reactions and feelings and the only place to hide them was inside myself. I would never say depression is just any one thing, but we do put ourselves at risk when we inappropriately limit how we are allowed to express ourselves.

But you know, I was scared and alone and I think I did what I had to do at the time. And I'm doing what I have to do now.

What comes later, after the emotional swells and storms, is a cleaner feeling. A lighter feeling. The only way I can pin it down is to say it feels like honesty. I never thought such a simple idea would be so powerful in my life but I've come to realize that honesty is a big deal because it--our willingness to be honest with ourselves and the people around us, our integrity--is a large part of what keeps our agency in tact. Now that I'm being honest with myself and the people closest to me (which at this point is, like, two people) about what is really going on, I have so much more freedom. My choices are no longer limited to repression or desperation. Things like hope, forgiveness, change, and soul-restoring rest are finally, truly on the table.

When I was kid we had those Standing Tall tapes and there was this story that is pretty cliche but has stuck with me. I'm sure you've all heard it before, but I'm reiterating it because it has taken on new meaning for me.

This girl fell and got a splinter but instead of pulling the splinter out, she just put a band-aid on it and tried to tell herself she was better. But the splinter was still in there and her body was trying to push it out so the wound kept swelling up and filling with pus and aching. No matter how many times she replaced the band-aid the wound couldn't heal because of the splinter. She had to pull the splinter out--even if it was going to hurt a lot--because it was going to save her pain in the long run. It was the only way her wound would ever go away.

(This is similar to President Monson's talk about Hidden Wedges. Tangential, perhaps, but worth thinking about.)

I think this is how a lot of us function emotionally. We have emotional splinters that we keep trying to cover up, but the wounds will keep producing pus and swelling until we yank those nasty, infection-riddled suckers out. To be clear, medication and therapy are not the band-aids. The band-aids are our unhealthy coping mechanisms like anger, addictions, avoidance, overeating, overexercising, or dishonesty. Medication and therapy are the tweezers, the tools, that we use to extract the offending shard. They pave the way for healing.

There's still a long way for me to go and I'm still struggling with some very fundamental questions and I do still doubt my emotional stamina to see this process through, BUT there's a little hope out there now for me. I don't feel like I'll be stuck in the never ending spiral of depression. My wounds can maybe, hopefully, finally close. Counseling and medication may still be necessary for the long haul (my psychiatrist wants me back in a month), but they are no longer stop gaps for the suicidal eventualities.

And that feels good.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I.O.U.S.A. : Best Movie I've Seen in a Loooong Time

Dear Readers,

Please don't get all riled up because I'm NOT going all political on y'all even though I'm making a statement: the national debt is a problem. A big problem and a problem we can do something about. Watch this movie. It's only a half an hour. It's interesting. It's funny. And you'll be smarter when you're done. And maybe, just maybe, things will change.



Saturday, January 9, 2010

Boyd K Packer, Porcupine Love, and Self-Generated Warmth

So, I've had a lot of thoughts swirling around the ol' noggin about relationships--especially close family ones--and the emotional impact we all have on each other and I wanted to get all deep and philosophy-ish on ya . . . BUT turns out I'm too tired. So I'll just point you to the people who have been stirring me up and maybe they'll stir you too. In a good way.

The First Thing: I read this article, Solving Emotional Problem in the Lord's Own Way, by Boyd K. Packer in the January 2010 Ensign and was pretty offended. I was thinking, "What?!? You're going to tell already isolated and vulnerable people that they can't talk to their bishop as an avenue of support? How dare you!! Depressed and other mood disordered people need more support not less!!" But then I read the full text of the talk and backed off a little. The truth is this: your bishop, no matter how inspired he is, is not trained to deal long term with a real emotional/psychological issue. If you need real help--whether it's because you've got the crazies like I do or because your marriage is falling apart or because you just can't tell up from down anymore--your bishop is a starting point, but not the long term answer.

I think the thing that really bothered me was that the title of article made me think it was not just advice for bishops. I thought there was going to be some specific guidance for someone like me who has trouble telling the difference between her anxiety drive and/or intrusive thought patterns and the Spirit. But there wasn't and I felt let down.

The Next Thing: But then there was this video with Elizabeth Gilbert (who apparently I am the LAST person in the world to have heard of!) on the PBS special This Emotional Life , called Porcupine Love.

And that felt so true. And it was sort of the same thing Pres. Packer was saying. We've got to figure out how to make ourselves warm enough so that we can avoid getting pricked and pricking others. We can't ask our bishop to make the warmth for us, or our visting teachers, or our spouses, or whoever. Because if we do they are just going to end up pricking us. That's the nature of our fallen world. We've got to warm ourselves.(Why I took this message better from Schopenhauer/Elizabeth Gilbert is good food for thought. I guess I'm just a sucker for a great metaphor.)

The Final Thing: I found myself leafing through our copy of the last General Conference Ensign and decided to read Being Temperate in All Things. This talk blew my mind when I first heard it and it offered some good insights again. Turns out this talk was the one with the specific guidance about solving emotional problems! The thing I'm meditating on now:

"Being temperate means to carefully examine our expectations and desires, to be diligent and patient in seeking righteous goals. . . Security for [ourselves and] our families comes from learning self-control, avoiding the excesses of this world, and being temperate in all things. Peace of mind comes from strengthened faith in Jesus Christ. Happiness comes from being diligent in keeping covenants made at baptism and in the holy temples of the Lord."

Doesn't quite cover intrusive thought and over-active anxiety, but it does give some specifics (especially if you read through the 18th-21st paragraphs). And I feel comforted. After all, when it comes to being depressed I'm not necessarily searching for soaring, gleeful moments of JOY. I just want to be steadier, stronger. I want to be the kind of gal who doesn't break into jagged, harmful shards when under stress. I want to be, well, temperate.

(Of course, the bad news about that is that tempered glass undergoes a pretty stressful heating process to make it strong. But that's another post for another day!)