Friday, November 4, 2011

Sticking it Out (The Difference 48 hours can make when the crazies strike!)

Tuesday afternoon I was moving from busy to frantic. Only a week earlier we had record snowfall in my area and it had broken tree limbs all over the city and put thousands out of power. We were slated for another big storm and I felt like I had a lot to do to get ready. The DH had been out of town before the big storm and had been pretty upset by the damage to our trees. He wasn't angry at me but I always take it personally--internalize it and make myself nuts trying to find ways to make it so he will never be angry again. Which is why I was going into frantic-crazy mode Tuesday afternoon.

I spent hours that day (probably 5 or 6) cleaning up the yard, mulching the garden, shaking remaining leaves off our trees, and taking the trampoline down. The first couple hours I was really proud of myself for all the hard work and the progress I was making. I was even humming, "Have I Done Any Good in the World Today?" as I cleaned some leaves out of my widowed neighbor's window wells. But the more tired I got and the more the kiddos got in my way, the more I started to second guess myself. My brain started up telling me that I wasn't doing a good enough job and that the DH was going to come home and be mad because I didn't do things his way--which is sort of a Pure O obsession for me, these hypothetical arguments in my head and the conviction that my DH is going to hate me forever (which is really all in my head; the DH and his attitude/actions have very little to do with it). The DH and I had a short phone conversation that afternoon which I misinterpreted and used as a fodder for the crazy. I began to be afraid of what was going to happen when he got home and started getting more and more frantic in my efforts to make it so he wouldn't--couldn't--be angry at me. (Hm? What's that you say? I should call my therapist and address this issue? Yeah. I know. I should.)

I had also babysat for a friend all day while she went to the temple. Not to mention it was the day after Halloween and we were all fried from the previous evening's festivities. I was tired.

The big kids came home from school and I had to get Princess N off to Activity Days. I got everyone in the car and made it down to the Church and then zoomed home to finish up the backyard work,do some cleaning inside, and make dinner. Then I remembered there was a writing deadline that I needed to submit something for. And then I realized it was raining, the temperature was dropping, and half the trampoline stuff was strewn all over the backyard.

We got home and I started working as fast as I could. But things just kept going wrong. The trampoline parts were stuck together and when I tried to stack them in the garage they crashed all over and made a huge mess where the DH usually parks his car. I had too many dirty dishes to do before I could cook dinner. The file I needed to submit wasn't on the computer I thought it was and my hands were shaking from anxiety. The kids spilled jelly all over the floor and stickiness on the floor is a pet peeve of the DH and I started to lose it. If I'd been frantic before by the time I had to go back to the Church to pick up Princess N I was in complete panic mode.

Driving home Mr. J started yelling at Supergirl E for "thinking a bad word but not actually saying it" and Supergirl E and Princess N started screaming back. I knew that the DH was home staring at the jelly on the floor and my heart was racing. Traffic was heavy and the kids kept getting louder and louder in the car. My hands were still shaking and my heart was racing. I was convinced we were going to end up in an accident. So I started yelling at the kids. A lot. And then felt very bad and started apologizing.

We got home and the DH was cleaning the jelly off the floor and I was a complete wreck. I demanded he come outside and started yelling at him for being so angry with me. He replied that he wasn't angry and I went into how angry he would have been if I hadn't accused him of being angry. Things spiraled from there as the kids watched from the window.

And then, I kid you not, the Relief Society president pulled up in my driveway. (Hi, Coffinberry!)

Low point, anyone??

She's actually a friend of mine and I appreciate her advice and perspective, but it was still pretty embarrassing. Nobody likes being caught at their worst, even when the people catching you love you.

She helped me calm down enough so that I could stop freaking out and make some dinner. But I spent the rest of the evening fight the crazy in my brain. After yelling at the DH the crazy talk in my brain changed from "the DH will be mad at you and your life will be ruined" to "You don't deserve to live. You are a failure and a waste of space. You need to be punished. A lot. You deserve to suffer and be in pain for the kind of person you are." It was terrible. I was trying not to cry too much, but the urge to punish and harm myself was very strong. I can only think of a handful of times it has been stronger. Of course, the worst part of it is that I could see all of it in my head. Technicolor visions of suicide and self-mutilation. Blech.

I knew I needed to get out of my head. Fast. I focused on dinner and turned on some music, repeating the lyrics in my head while singing them out loud. Anything to put the brakes on the hamster wheel of insanity in my brain. I ended up listening to a Mumford and Sons songs over and over. A couple lines from "The Cave" worked as a sort of mantra, "But I will hold on hope/And I won't let you choke/On the noose around your neck./And I'll find strength in pain./And I will change my ways./I'll know my name as it's called again." The lines were soothing and repeatable and, inexplicably, I associated it with baptism and taking on the name of Christ and I started to calm down.

I got through dinner and bedtime but the urge to punish myself was unrelenting. I had a huge headache but didn't want to take any medicine. I was exhausted but refused to go to bed. I didn't really want to hurt myself but I wanted to do something to make the punishing thoughts go away so I ate Halloween candy until I was sick to my stomach. And I drowned my sorrows in a couple episodes of Friday Night Lights. Another lovely low point to my day.

My sleep that night was troubled and the kids were up several times. Around 3:40 am, I gave up on sleep and decided I could take some medicine, even self-punishment was still heavy on my mind. So I went to the kitchen and took some ibuprofen. Then I stumbled across the Conference issue of the Ensign. I thumbed through it and finally came to Elder Utchdorf's talk, "Forget Me Not." (I keep trying to insert a link here to the actual talk but it's not working; sorry.) My head was still muddled enough that it was hard to feel the Spirit but I knew I needed to read the talk anyway. I think I read it in a frenzied manner several times but the only part that made sense to me was this:

Dear sisters, many of you are endlessly compassionate and patient with the weaknesses of others. Please remember also to be compassionate and patient with yourself. . . Sisters, wherever you are, whatever your circumstances may be, you are not forgotten. No matter how dark your days may seem, no matter how insignificant you may feel, no matter how overshadowed you think you may be, your Heavenly Father has not forgotten you. In fact, He loves you with an infinite love.

It had been a dark day. Overshadowed seemed a good descriptor for my mental state. Patience and compassion with myself sounded foreign but good. I told myself to wait this current bout of crazy out. Give it a day or two and see where things were.

So yesterday was a couple days later. A quick rundown: the wonderful neighbor who usually watches the baby when I have to go help out in kindergarten couldn't watch the baby, the DH forgot he was supposed to drive Mr. J to preschool, I lost my car keys, and a dog peed on my daughter's backpack at the bus stop. Later that day, I got to work on the allergen-free desserts I was supposed to be bringing to our school's Harvest Festival and burned two entire batches. After making an extra trip to the store, I got all the kids in bed and was then up until 11:00 at night finishing up the treats. It was a terrible day. I mean, since when do dogs randomly come up and pee on people's backpacks?? The fact is, though, it all worked out. I didn't lose my temper. I didn't want to hurt myself. I didn't hate myself. I didn't even panic. My family was okay. I was okay. The terrible day was okay. 48 hours after the crazy had reared it's ugly head, I was all right.

I'm still a little emotionally hung over from everything; I'm feeling a little tender and my fuse is short. But it passed. So, I guess I just wanted to pass that on to any of you who read this and might be struggling. No matter how many good days you have, your mood disorder will strike again. BUT, be patient with yourself and remember that God loves you. Wait it out, seek help, and be glad when the RS president shows up during your worst moment. Don't do anything you're going to regret because things will get better! I promise. I've been there and I promise.



p.s. A big thanks to those of you who stop by and tell me that my blog has been helpful to you. Those kinds of comments mean the world to me. I'm not alone--you aren't alone--we are in this together.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Mirthful (and hopefully Motivational!) Monday

Hi all :)

Remember when I used to do Mirthful Monday posts and how they were funny? I miss the funny so I'm bringing it back.

Today's Mirthful Monday is also a motivational Monday. I feel like I've been floundering the last couple weeks. My mood has been everywhere, personal pr have been on the fritz, and my house is trashed (okay, that last part is basically normal). I'm feeling kind of tender and discouraged but also restless. (See my post over at A Motley Vision to get another viewpoint on my desire to move foward.) I need to move my energy in a better direction. Hence, Mirthful and Motivational Monday.

In case that didn't work for you I'm including one of those ridiculous cat pictures:

Happy Monday!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tangible Intangibles: memorializing my nana's passing

My maternal grandmother died a couple weeks ago. It has affected me more deeply than I had thought it would. The grieving process has been surprising to me. I've experienced the death of a loved one before--most notably that of my little sister when I was seventeen and the death of my just a couple years ago --but I am only now realizing that each grieving period is as unique as the individual who died. Each death requires its own response and there is no road map.

Nana had been ill for a long time and we'd known since late July that her death was imminent. And just a few weeks ago I made a trip out to Seattle to visit her one last time before she passed on. It was a short trip,less than two days, but it was amazing and harrowing to be with someone who was so near the veil.

Still, her death surprised me and it took four or five days before I emotionally registered it. I am surprised to discover I actually miss her; as a family we weren't all always on good terms with each other and there were many years that went by without us speaking. Suffice it to say there's been a lot of emotional shrapnel from many sources since Nana's death and I've been seeking ways to accept the feelings, experience them, and move forward through them. This has taken on a number of forms (crying, being stressed out, being forgetful and generally muddled, an inability to complete housework, a desire for sloppiness) but what I want to blog about today is the search for a memorial, the search for a way of making tangible a process that is inherently intangible. When Nana died, I lost something--not only her person, but something impalpable that needed to be recognized and named.

I have a friend who owns an expressive arts studio so I decided to spend an evening there searching my mind and heart to find whatever it was I was looking.

My first effort was a song. I made a video of myself singing "Amazing Grace". I was going to upload if for you listening pleasure (or un-pleasure as the case may be)but it wouldn't upload. You all didn't miss much on this one. I find my voice on this song fairly anemic. Listening to my performance of that song now, it smacks of self-indulgence.

My next effort was a picture. I am probably the least skilled drawer/painter I know. But since working in the expressive arts I find a lot of fulfillment in creating visual "art".

I had an idea in my head but was not able to translate it to the paper and so what I ended up with initially disappointing to me. I had meant to memorialize Nana and the picture seemed to fail at that. I put it up in my room (my thanks to the DH for his patience with that!) and studied it here and there. Finally I realized why the picture didn't work for me. I had memorialized *myself.* I was the woman in the picture sitting underneath the obscured rose (Nana's favorite flower). Nana may have inspired the flower, but that picture was all about me--which is why it fell flat. Well, that and the fact that I don't draw well. . .

Anyway, I did some writing that night but it isn't finished yet--which is why I'm not posting it here. I read some of it at the funeral and that felt good. It seemed to resonate with other mourners.

My final effort, and the memorial that worked best was this:

It's an origami star box with curled edges filled with small purple flowers and a butterfly. Butterflies are sort of my personal totem, and a conversation I had with Nana about butterflies inspired this piece. It felt good to create a home and resting place for that formative conversation with Nana and even though it was hard to leave it behind it was okay because I knew could make another one if I needed to. (If that makes sense??)I think it was my way of putting Nana to rest but acknowledging the fact that even though she was gone she was still going to have an effect on me. It was my way of letting her go but keeping our relationship intact.

The truth for me is that Nana was always a fairly inaccessible--intangible, perhaps?--person for me. I loved her and I'm almost certain she loved me, but, it wasn't the kind of relationship you could use to validate yourself or lean on. It was different. . . what's left though, after all is said and done, is that I loved Nana. And love, the very essence of the intangibility, is probably what I was really looking for all along.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Help by Kathryn Stockett--a review!

Hi all! I recently read _The Help_ by Kathryn Stockett and since it is the book du jour right now (or at least a couple months ago it was. . .) I thought I'd post a brief review here.

I know a lot--A LOT--of people liked this book. I did too, mostly. BUT, overall, this book underwhelmed me. It wasn't that it was a bad book or poorly written. I thought it was well paced. I thought a lot of the characters were warmly drawn and likable--especially Miss Celia! Mae Mobley was so stinkin' cute she was unreal, but she was so cute I didn't care :) (I did find a lot of the characters' actions highly, and annoyingly, predictable. Stuart was predictable and so was Minny. The big secret about the "terrible awful" was pretty obvious. The fact that Miss Celia was not actually a drunk but suffering multiple miscarriages was also obvious.)

What bothered me most was that I felt like Stockett really wanted a book about the experience of black maids in the South but instead of actually writing *that* book, she wrote a book about writing a book about black maids in the South. Why did she need to have a Skeeter character? What did Skeeter add to the book? Nothing for me. I think Stockett used Skeeter as an escape and as an avenue for excuse. Reading the afterword Stockett's ambivalence about trying to write in a black voice was pretty clear. It was a very difficult task to do without falling on stereotypes--which is what I think Stockett ended up doing. I think Skeeter was her comfort zone, her fallback, her easy road out. That's the big question for me: Why didn't Stockett just write a book about the experience of black maids? I get that it would have been harder and a little more controversial, but the outcome could have been much more powerful. Going all meta on her subject matter didn't enrich it one iota.

My other beef with the book was that it pushed my willing suspension of disbelief a little too far. The poop in the pie was predictable (talk about heavy-handed over-theming!) but not believable. It never would have happened. The antagonist, Hilly, also crossed over into unbelievable land with her breakdown and the threat of telling Skeeter's mommy what she did. It was too scripted and unnatural, too much like what our adolescent selves all dream will happen to the mean girls in middle school. The book would have been much more powerful for me if had Hilly stayed in a more restrained and catty characterization. For me this book was a lot like _Fried Green Tomatoes_, sure "the secret's in the sauce" is funny, but just pushes things that are supposed to be grounded firmly in reality too far into unreality. I think it didn't do the racism/civil rights theme justice because it was over-the-top. It just made it all a little cheaper for me.

I think overall I wanted this book to read more like Literary Fiction, but what it really was was genre fiction--some sort of cross between Chick Lit and Historical Fiction. I'm not a hater, though. I did enjoy the book. I just felt like it fell far, far short of its potential.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Where were you?

On September 11, 2001 I was nineteen and had been married for three months. I was a student at Utah State University. My mother-in-law had recently been life-flighted to LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City because of liver failure. My sister, who was living in Seattle, had just called the day before to tell me her baby was dead. When my alarm went off that morning at 7:17 (back then I believed random times would be harder to sleep through than a regular set time) the voices of familiar NPR anchors filled the room. But what they were saying made no sense. We didn't have a television and I didn't think to check the Internet. It wasn't until I got up to campus 45-ish minutes later that I realized the enormity of the situation. I was almost giddy with confusion and a budding sense of history. All I could think was that now I wouldn't be able to get an airplane ticket to Seattle to be with my sister so I had a long drive ahead of me. Very long.

The world had stopped. Except for the parts that didn't.

Where were you?

Of course, perhaps the most important question isn't where were you then, but where are you now? Hopefully, it's in a more compassionate and loving place.

Friday, September 2, 2011

It's NOT Mormon Moms Who Are Depressed!

It's all moms!! Seriously. My sister blogged this over at Yahoo! Shine. I think this has huge ramifications, so of course I had to blog it too.

The original article, Trying to Be 'Supermom' Can Raise Risk for Depression, hits the nail on the head. Trying reading the article but swap out "working mom" and "stay-at-home mom" for "Mormon mom" and "Supermom" for "Mother in Zion Syndrome" and you could have any article from the past ten years that's been written about Mormons and depression.

The study does point out, though, that women who work at least part time are less likely to be depressed UNLESS they are women who don't cut themselves any slack. If they are the type of women who have high expectations for things to work out and be perfect, they are in trouble. If they aren't sure how working and having a family are going to shake out, they do better.

It's that last part that I think is important for a couple reasons: 1) the so-called "Mother in Zion Syndrome" isn't a Mormon thing; it's an American thing and 2)it's okay for women to be unsure of their choices and work things out as they go--especially when it comes to division of labor between the spouses.

Sometimes this whole motherhood thing gets so complicated and emotional that as women we fail to realize that each of us is born with different talents, abilities, and paths. We pick on each other and we judge each other and force each other to justify our choices over and over. Think about how many times you've had to justify your job (or lack thereof), your number of children, or the amount of housework your spouse does. If we were really being true to ourselves and, as Mormon women--Christian women, we wouldn't do this to each other.

The best part of the whole article was this quote, "Women who have a realistic expectation are more likely to choose men who are going to help out around the house," Correll [associate professor of psychology at Stanford] said. "If you choose someone who will be a helpmate to you, that may lead to lower levels of depression."

That's true no matter your job status, you marital status, or your gender. As Pres. Uchdorf said, lift where you stand.

Have a great Labor Day!
Oh, and if you want to read a quick tidbit about my sister and I and our angsty teenage mood issues, check out this one: .

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Paying my Children to go to Church !?!?!

You know it's going to be a good Sunday when all four kids have broken down in tears and stomped the feet repeatedly and wailing, "I won't go! You can't make me!!"

Ahh, you could just revel in those sweet Sabbath morning sounds.

Usually at least two of my children pitch fits about Church, but this morning was over the top with three of them desperately trying to get out of their weekly ecumenical obligations. See, the Little Cannoli has been sick for the past week and last night she cried and cried. I took her to Urgent Care this morning to get her ears checked, but they were all clear. The doctor looked at me, smiled and said, "It's just cold!" Little Cannoli needed a nap and since she was (is) feverish there was no way she was going to Church. That means one of us adults had to stay home.

After the DH and I negotiated for a good five or six minutes about who needed a nap more (it was super sophisticated of us, "Me!" "I'm SO tired, though!" "Me, too!" "Nu-uh. I'm more tired." "No, I am!" "You have more jobs at Church. You have to go." "Not this week, I don't." "But I don't WANT to!" Yeah, we weren't at our best either. . .) the DH finally bit the bullet and said he would take the kids. Heaven bless him!!

When the kids found out I wasn't going the weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth began. Supergirl E and Mr. J were easily bought off with snacks. But Princess N was holding firm. She had drawn her line in the sand and wasn't budging. There was no way she was going to Church without me unless the DH carried her kicking and screaming. After talking with her for awhile, she admitted she was worried he wouldn't make it to Primary to pick her up on time and she would left all alone in the Primary room. There was more back and forth and finally I said, "You can trust your dad. He will be there. I promise!"

Princess N rolled her eyes, "Pu-lease. Yeah right."

And then it came out of my mouth: "I'm so certain you can trust him that I will give you $3 if he doesn't show up on time."

"Seriously? $3? 300 pennies worth of money?" Her tears immediately dried up and her eyes gleamed like Donald Trump's do every time he fires someone.

"I trust him so much I'm willing to put a bet down," I said. "Not that YOU should ever bet. Especially on a Sunday. Because gambling is bad. . . but your DAD is not."

"$3, huh? All right." She then turned to her siblings, "Hey guys! Mom's gonna pay us money to go with Dad!"

See? Getting your kids to Church is easy as pie. You just have to pay them :P

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Gift and Path of Testimony (Part Three)

Here's the final part of my recent sacrament meeting talk. To read Part One go here. To read Part Two go here. BTW, all the present pictures on these posts are CAKES. Man, some people really know how to work their fondant! Blows my mind. . .

The gift of testimony isn’t just something that occurs inside us. Yes, we feel it through our emotions but testimony is more than that. True testimony is action. It is a conviction of truth that is so deeply rooted in us that we cannot help but act according to that truth. This is what Alma meant when he asked, “Have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change of heart?” (Alma 5:14). When our desires work in us to create spiritual experiences, experiences that we hold dear in our memories, then we are compelled to action.

While I was preparing this talk, one of my children asked me why “you always get up there every month and talk.” Now I’m not sure if this child was referring to people in general or me specifically, but seeing as I can really only speak for myself that is how I will answer the question. This is the answer: for me, testimony is action. Testimony is something I do. One way it is manifested is through standing up and sharing my feelings and experiences. Other actions I take for testimony are visiting teaching, family scripture study and family prayer, and fulfilling my Primary calling. I have had experiences where each of these things has blessed my life and the Spirit has borne witness to me that these things will lead me closer to Christ, so I take action.

Elder M. Russell Ballard said it this way, “Simply stated testimony—real testimony, born of the Spirit and confirmed by the Holy Ghost—changes lives. It changes how you think and what you do. It changes what you say. It affects every priority you set and every choice you make.”

This brings me to the final step on the path of testimony: choice. Because of the nature of faith, we cannot have a perfect knowledge of spiritual things. But a testimony is not a perfect knowledge of things. It is an act of faith. It is a choice to trust something outside ourselves, something bigger than ourselves, and hope that it is true.

Of course, testimony also isn’t thoughtless acceptance. President Howard W. Hunter, when he was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, said, “I have sympathy for young men and women when honest doubts enter their minds and they engage in the great conflict of resolving doubts. These doubts can be resolved, if they have an honest desire to know the truth, by exercising moral, spiritual, and mental effort. They will emerge from the conflict into a firmer, stronger, larger faith because of the struggle. They have gone from a simple, trusting faith, through doubt and conflict into a solid substantial faith which ripens into testimony.” Strong testimonies grow out of difficulty and questioning. As long as we stay on the path each choice we make can be a step toward strengthening our testimonies.

The Lord has promised, “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:63). When we choose the path of testimony, when we desire a testimony, seek and remember spiritual experiences and take action on the witnesses we receive, the Lord will reward us with a priceless gift. We can feel the excitement, gratitude, and joy that come from getting the gift we wanted, and needed, most: a testimony.

I want us to try the little exercise we did at the beginning of my talk, but this time with testimony. I want you to think of something you have a testimony of. Maybe it is God’s love. Maybe it is the Savior’s love and his sacrifice. Maybe it is your testimony of prayer or the truth of the Book of Mormon. Maybe it is Joseph Smith and the teachings of modern prophets. Whatever it is I want you to try and envision your testimony. What does it look like? What does it feel like? What desires brought you to that testimony? What experiences did you have with that precept? How well do you remember it? What actions and choices do you make as a result of it? The way we answer those questions will help each of us know where we are on the path of testimony and how we can continue to grow in and appreciate this marvelous gift.

I close with the eloquent words of Nephi’s testimony, “Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard. . . I know in whom I have trusted. My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions . . . he hath filled me with his love. . . Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh . . . therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God” (2 Nephi 4: 16, 19-21, 35).

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Gift and Path of Testimony (Part Two)

Here's the second part of my recent sacrament meeting talk on testimony. This is the part where I talk, over the pulpit, about what's it's like to be depressed. It was only a brief part of my talk, but I was really scared to say it out loud in front of people. But I saw several heads nod when I described my experience and then I was glad I had taken the risk. To read Part One go here.

Quite often the desire for the gift of testimony leads to an experience of testimony. These experiences are as numerous and varied as there are members of the Church because the Holy Spirit will work in each of us in an individual way. Nephi had a vision. Joseph Smith saw Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Of course for most of us the witness of the Spirit will not come in an epic manner. The experience might be a simple feeling of peace after family prayer. It might be the rush of coming out of the waters of baptism. It might be a depth of feeling that comes when pondering the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It might be the strength we feel after hearing someone else testify. Testimony, for most, is an accumulation of experience. The experiences come “line upon line and precept on precept, here a little and there a little” (Isaiah 28:10) but they come. This is how it has been for me. I cannot point to one big, dramatic experience. Rather, testimony has entered my heart bit by bit, surreptitiously. It is only when I think back to years past that I realize how my testimony has grown.

Elder Richard G. Scott put it this way, “Your testimony may begin from the acknowledgment that the teachings of the Lord seem reasonable. But it must grow from practicing those laws. Then your own experience will attest to their validity and yield the results promised. That confirmation will not come all at once. . . It requires faith, time, consistent obedience, and a willingness to sacrifice.”

It is precisely because the process requires faith, time, consistent obedience, and sacrifice that testimony is also very often a memory. We live in a fallen world and are beset by the turmoil of mortality. We get sick, people hurt us, natural disasters occur, we fail or fall short. Difficulties of every shape, size and flavor arise. But God expects us to keep our testimonies intact, even when we are faced with the most frustrating and daunting events. This is when memory becomes important. Perhaps in the midst of a trial you may not feel particularly comforted or blessed, but the memory of your testimony and experiences will be there to hold you up and until the trial has passed.

This too has been true in my life. I have depression. Usually this is a well-managed condition and doesn’t put too big a damper on my life. It’s something I’ve come to understand about myself and I’ve learned to live with it. Occasionally, though, the dark times come and I temporarily lose my perspective. It is very difficult for me to feel the Spirit then. I believe my mood disorder prevents it. It is easy for me to forget the blessings Heavenly Father sends. It is easy for me to overlook His guidance in my life. It is easy for me to get bogged down in my emotions and lose my way. During those dark and sometimes desperate moments I remind myself that I know Heavenly Father loves me, that I know I am His child, that I know Jesus Christ is my Savior and Redeemer, that I know He suffered for me and because of his sacrifice I will be okay. I remind myself that I know that Heavenly Father has a plan for my life and that His plan compensates for whatever struggle I am having. Even if I can’t feel the Spirit in that moment, I can remember occasions where I have felt it and it is enough.
President Henry B. Eyring told a story once about how he came home late from work one evening to see his father-in-law doing some home repair work for him. While thinking of what a nice thing this was a voice spoke to President Eyring and said, “I’m not giving you these experiences for yourself. Write them down.” So President Eyring did. In fact, he wrote each day about how he had seen the Lord’s hand in his life in a journal that he later shared with his children. Of this effort he said, “Testimony grew. I became ever more certain that our Heavenly Father hears and answers prayers. I felt more gratitude for the softening of heart and refining that come because of the Atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ. And I grew more confident that the Holy Ghost can bring all things to our remembrance—even things we did not notice or pay attention to when they happened.” Our memories play a key role in defining and sustaining our testimonies.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Gift and Path of Testimony ( Part One)

I am one of those strange people who LOVES giving talks in sacrament. Captive audience? Yes, please!! A Facebook friend of mine is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church and recently posted a video of one of their sermons. I really liked how joyful it was and how the pastor got the audience involved. I was trying do both those things in a Mormon way. I think it worked, although you'd have to ask a ward member to really know. I'm posting it in parts because it is really long and I would hate for anyone to resort to skimming :) Anyway, enjoy!

Think back to a time when you received a gift—one you really enjoyed. It could have been for a birthday or anniversary. Maybe it was Christmas. Or maybe it was just an ordinary day and the gift was a small but significant something. I want you to try and remember the weight of the gift in your hands. What was the shape of the box? How big was it? Was it wrapped? Next try to remember what you felt as you looked at the wrapping. Did you know what was inside it? Were your hands sweaty? Did your fingers tremble as you opened it? Maybe you were calm even as the anticipation was building inside you. Now try to remember what you felt as you held the gift in your hands. Gratitude? Excitement? Joy?

These were all things I felt when I was about ten years old and received a porcelain doll for Christmas. Back when I was growing up in Logan, Utah the biggest store in the mall was ZCMI; it was sort of like Dillard’s. It was the fanciest store I had ever been to and I loved going in there. Besides all the clothes they had a fabulous toy section and an old fashioned glass candy counter that housed some of the mo delicious confections. To this day I am still searching for a place that sells sugared pink grapefruit chews.

What was really magical about ZCMI, though, was Christmastime. At Christmas the whole store was filled with decorations. Bows, garlands, lights, trees. The place was decorated to the hilt. And, to top it all off, one entire wall was filled with porcelain dolls; row upon row of delicate, soft–haired, satin-and- silk- dressed, beautiful, blushing dolls. They had baby dolls, Laura Ashley dolls, dolls with dogs—pretty much everything a ten-year-old girl could want. But the most fabulous of all the dolls was the Gone with the Wind set. My sister had gotten the Scarlett O’Hara in the green picnic hoop skirt dress with the oversize sunbonnet the year before so I had my heart set on the Scarlett O’Hara doll in the sequined red velvet gown with the tulle shawl and ostrich feathers on the shoulders. This doll came with real ostrich feathers and the dress was made of real velvet. It was awesome.

Now, lest you think this was a passing fancy on my part, let me tell you it was not. My sister and I spent every Sunday afternoon going through magazines cutting out all the ads for porcelain dolls, figurines, and specialty plates and spoons. We mounted and numbered each picture on cardstock and then ranked them in order of beauty and coolness. I could go on but suffice it to say, my longing for that Scarlett doll was immense.

So when Christmas morning came and I saw that rectangular box my heart jumped in to my throat. When I unwrapped it and saw the label on the foot of the box I think I squealed. Then when I pulled her out of the box and felt the impossible softness of the feathers, the real ostrich feathers, I was completely filled with amazement and gratitude and joy.

This is a fun memory for me but it also has a point. The Lord gives us gifts in many ways. Usually we call them blessings, but there are some we actually refer to as gifts—spiritual gifts. A primary spiritual gift for any follower of Christ is that of testimony. Or as it states in Doctrine and Covenants 46: 13-14, “To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world. To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life it they continue faithful.” Elder Richard G. Scott described the gift of testimony this way, “A strong testimony is the unshakable foundation of a secure, meaningful life where peace, confidence, happiness, and love can flourish” (The Power of a Strong Testimony). How do we feel about this most fundamental gift of testimony? Do we feel as excited and joyful about it as we do our temporal gifts? I would like to suggest today a path to understanding and gaining the gift of testimony, a path that will hopefully make us feel as spiritually vigorous as youngsters on Christmas morning: desire, experience, memory, action, and choice.

In trying to define what a testimony is we usually think of things that we know, things that we would be willing to stand up and vouch for, things like the statement, “I know this Church is true.” But a testimony begins well before we stand at the pulpit and say those words. As Alma states in his famous sermon on the seed of faith, “Yea, even if ye can more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words” (Alma 32:27). The seed of testimony is the desire for a testimony. The gift of testimony comes to those who want it. Just like the odds of my getting the porcelain doll would have been very slim if I hadn’t fervently wanted the doll in the first place, the odds of each of us gaining and retaining a testimony if we don’t want one are very, very slim.

This may seem like a small thing to point out—the fact that we have to want a testimony in order to receive it—but it really isn’t. From the Lord’s perspective, our desires are among the most important things we have and we are, in fact, commanded to school our desires to the Lord’s path and let our “eye[s] be single to the glory of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 4:5). We are to focus our all on Him and His glory.

As Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, “We should remember that righteous desires cannot be superficial, impulsive, or temporary. They must be heartfelt, unwavering, and permanent.” He then went on to quote Elder Neal A. Maxwell, saying, “What we insistently desire, over time, is what we will eventually become and what we will receive in eternity.” This is what is meant in Moroni 10:4 when Moroni says that to gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon we must have, “a sincere heart” and “real intent.” A testimony is first and foremost a desire. It was so for Joseph Smith before he went into the grove to pray. It was so for Nephi when he prayed about the vision his father, Lehi, had. And so it is for each of us.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

"The Diet Coke" by . . . ME!

Hi friends!

A short story of mine was posted this morning over at Wilderness Interface Zone. It's all about Mormon teenage rebellion, which of course starts with everyone's favorite caffeinated beverage!

And, yes, I have a real post on it's way but we have eight days until school starts here so things are getting busy, busy, busy. Hopefully I'll get that other post up sometime this week.



Monday, July 25, 2011

Mormon Kitsch: What's your fave?

Hi friends!

I'm over on A Motley Vision today confessing to my sometimes love of Mormon kitsch and giving all the gorey details of my tortured relationship to Deseret Book. Well, okay that a little over-dramatic, but head on over to AMV and check out the conversation. I really want to know what Mormon kitsch do you own and love? What Mormon kitsch is cringeworthy?

And here's a funny picture that has nothing to do with anything. It's just funny. Have a good night :)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Feeling like #$%@

This is totally what I feel like today. Absolutely ludicrous. Although, the good news is looking at this pic really makes me want to laugh at myself.

So, this morning marks the end of eleven days of family and fun. Starting back on June 25th we had family in town for a reunion and my oldest daughter's baptism.

It was awesome. I enjoyed the time with all of the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I loved seeing my kids connect with the relatives. I loved seeing all the little quirks we have in common and all the ways we are different.

But. . .

(You knew there was one of those coming, right?)

The build-up to all the fun just about killed me. And then the fun itself exhausted me. (To see some pics of the fun, check out my sister's blog posts for this day and this day.)And today I feel like &$!#. (Feel free to fill in your favorite expletive or string of expletives. Whatever you're feeling this morning.) I just want to crawl into a corner and cry myself to sleep. Never mind the fact that my house is a complete disaster and my children would probably give way to their most base impulses and the law of the jungle would be king.

If I'm being honest with myself, signs of burnout kicked in right about the time family started to show up. I had a couple distressing episodes of hyper-emotionality during the reunion. I tried to handle it as best I could, but the fact is I'm embarrassed and mad at myself for letting other people see me at my worst.

This is not uncommon for me. Last year we avoided any family reunion type stuff because it is usually followed by a depressive episode and with the new baby it just seemed like a bad idea. Seriously, the day after all the people go home and the hubby goes back to work and I am alone with the kids trying to impose some sort of routine. . . well, it sucks. Big time. My brain falls into all of it's old destructive thought patterns. I'm snappy with the kids. I get stuck in my mind and can't just let things go and cycle and cycle around inside the crazy which only adds to the stress.

I think I'm not alone in this. My sister-in-law just ran the Ragnar relay in Utah (for which I have to say she is completely, completely awesome!!!) but she fessed up on Facebook to feeling completely depressed since then. My sister usually has a pretty crappy couple days post-reunion also, although I'm not sure if she would characterize it as a mental/emotional downturn. Come to think of it, I usually have this after the holidays too.

I'm going to just grit my teeth today and bear it. I'm going to let go of some of the chores and clean-up until tomorrow. I'm probably going to let the kids watch a movie this afternoon so I can nap. I'm going to remember that I am not Superwoman, that I don't have to be Superwoman, and that I am not a failure--not matter how much my brain is telling me that I suck and I'm fat and ugly and will never be successful at anything and I should just give up now and die. As crazy as this sounds, I'm going to let the depressed thoughts come, I'm going to acknowledge them for what they are ("Wow, that one was a big batch of crazy!") and I'm going to let them go. No obsessing allowed. No further guilting allowed.

Wish me luck.

Anyway, I'm wondering how many of you experience this post-big-awesome-fun-event fallout? What do you do about it?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Days Just Keep Getting Longer (the 7-year-old learns to play pranks)

Okay, so my kids are on summer vacation. This is great. I love my kids. We are having a lot of fun.

Except when we aren't.

Commiserate with me, please!

Princess N, who is almost 8, has decided that pranks are super fun and tries to pull them on as many people as possible as often as possible. For example, tonight the DH found the ice cream scooper frozen in the middle of the ice cream bucket.

It was the prank she pulled on me that was a doozy, though. I asked her gather up her laundry so we could put it in the wash (This summer, I'm working on training the kids to do simple chores around the house. This story is indicative of how well it is going.) Well she decided it would be super funny to play a prank on me by wrapping up non-clothing items in her clothing items. I found the headband and the Hot Wheels cars. I even found the feather. What I did not find? A diaper. Thankfully it was a clean one, but yes, my just-reaching-the-age-of-accountability oldest child put a diaper in the wash.

Yes, it exploded.
Yes, there are little absorbency crystals stuck to all the clothes and every little corner and crevice of my washer.
Yes, it's a huge mess.
Yes, she is currently picking every last crystal out of that load of laundry.

I used to look forward to the days getting longer and longer during the summer. But over the last week, can I just say, bedtime can't come soon enough.

I'm pretty sure this is one of those stories that I'll look back and laugh on. But not tonight.

Grrrrr. . . .

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Managing the OCD of it all

Confirmation bias. I swear that's what it is. But everywhere I look these days I feel like I see/meet/hear about folks with OCD.

Or maybe it's because it's a lot more common than most of us think. According to this website, 3.3 million Americans have OCD.

The part that is hardest for me is watching people get stuck mismanaging it or, really, sometimes, non-managing. Which is one reason I really, really, really liked this post from Katie L. (She's the gal I interviewed not too long ago. Part One here. Part Two here.)

My favorite line:

Here’s a confession: in my journey toward recovery, I have yet to make it through an entire day without giving in to a compulsion. Sometimes, that makes me feel guilty and ashamed. But the truth is, shame and healing cannot exist simultaneously. One of the most important things I have learned is to cut myself some slack, to accept that I can’t always control what I struggle with, and to let go of blame.

Amen, sister. Amen.

Also, if you're feeling it, her recent sacrament talk was a marvelous read.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Of Apple, Lemons, Dandelions, and Wishes

When my kids were really little I figured every single problem they had was the result of my depression. They were colicky? Blame my PPD-driven weepiness. Seemed overanxious? Blame my own anxiety. Didn't potty train early enough? Didn't sleep through the night? Didn't learn to read fast enough? Me! Me! Me! It was as if I was constantly shaking my head and muttering, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree." It seemed we were all stuck with seeds that had been sown ages ago and we had no choice about the fruit we got.

Now that my children are the ripe old ages of 7, 5, 3, and 1 all that has changed a little. They are still not perfect. I am still not perfect. But I don't play the blame game. I find myself thinking more along the lines of "When life gives you lemons, find some sugar, ice, and water and then make lemonade." Lemons, and depression, on their own are not inherently wonderful--but they certainly offer a lot of possibilities when you combine them with other good things. Being depressed has been horrible, BUT when combined with the things I've learned in therapy and the way it has deepened my relationship with my Savior, it seems to be turning into something pretty good. A little bittersweet, but good.

I'm optimistic it is going to be the same for my kiddos. Life threw them a big lemon every time my depression flared. When mismanaged, it had negative effects on them in so, so many ways. But *hopefully* it also is giving us opportunities to learn from each other and to love each other more fully and deeply. Now that I know how depression ruins my relationship with my children I'm a much more conscientious mother--not perfect, but aware and thoughtful.Who knows? Maybe they will turn out more aware and thoughtful, too.

Yesterday was the last day of school for our school district and as we were walking away from the elementary school my kids and I passed this field.

My first thought was, "That field is ruined. Look at all those weeds." My seven-year-old was mesmerized, though. She stared at the field thoughtfully while I loaded all the others into the minivan. Then as she climbed in the car she looked at me and said, "Wow, Mom! That's a LOT of wishes!"

When given a choice, my child saw possibilities, not problems or dead ends. Maybe, just maybe, they are going to turn out okay.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

An Open Letter to My Mother (Happy Mother's Day!)

Dear Mom--

You probably guessed by the fact that I posted something on your Facebook wall that I didn't get your gift in the mail. Yeah. It's sitting in a pile on my "projects-that-need-immediate-attention" counter, right on top of your birthday cards. Sorry. Again.

I know that nothing I could write in 420 characters or less is really a good substitute for a Mother's Day gift. After all, you were in labor with me for how many hours? 12? 20? 36? And we won't mention the countless hours in doctor/dentist/orthodontists offices. Or the countless meals and loads of laundry. When I think about it that way, even if I got my gift to you on time it wouldn't even up the score.

So, why the open letter on my blog? Two words: Mother Guilt.

Remember when I was young and wore flowy dresses all the time? You know, the ones that I was constantly staining with the dandelions that I never did figure out how to make into crowns? Those were the days when, if wasn't wearing a dress, I was wearing my swimsuit and standing on top of the jungle gym singing my guts out. Those were the days that I used to go to your community health education classes and "help" you teach by drawing on the whiteboard and playing with the example baby and CPR dummies. Those were the days that I was carefree and I was your daughter and, most importantly, you were mine.

My mother-- the lady who picked me up from kindergarten and took me to the KFC drive-through for those chicken nugget sandwiches that were the perfect size for little fingers. The one who actually watched me at my swim lessons and willingly retold the story of how I jumped in the pool when I was less than two years old because I was destined to be a good swimmer. The one who had the nerve to tell me that all the kids at the bus stop were making fun of me because I was acting like, well, like a geek.

I don't remember when exactly it was, but there came a point--probably during my tween years--when I realized that you weren't just mine. There were things you had to do for other people. And things you had to do for yourself. I know you knew I didn't get it. You'd get this far away look on your face and a sort of heaviness would settle on you.

There was the day you told me about a box. That there was this box inside you. And it kept getting smaller. And darker. And you felt like you couldn't breathe because, even though the box was inside you, you were inside the box. So you were going to go back to school. You were going to try working. You were going to get out of that box. You weren't going to suffocate.

The look you gave me then--that searching look in your eyes, that lift in your eyebrows, the dip of your shoulders--that was the look of Mother Guilt. I know it is because I have looked at my own children with searching eyes, lifting my eyebrows, and slouching my shoulders. And what I feel is a crushing, frustrating feeling of Less Than: Of being less than the other women around me; of being less than my children want and need me to be; of being less than I want myself to be; of Mother Guilt.

I bet that when I was young there were times I told you I hated you. I probably slammed my door and yelled. I probably called you names and tried to sneak around you. I don't remember any specific thing, but I bet you do. I know I remember all the times my kids have yelled at me and said they hate me. Those moments were so shocking that they are seared into my memory. The pain of those moments fades with time but the memory of them is uncanny. And that give me a new kind of mother guilt.

Did I mention I was sorry?

A lot of folks at Mother's Day talk about how perfect their moms were/are, how preternaturally perfect women in general are. But you and I both know that while women the world over may have natural inclinations toward goodness, beauty, and truth they are also human and frighteningly imperfect. I remember the pain I felt as a child when you let me down and I now know the flip side of that pain when I let my own children down. None of us are immune from the frailties of mortality, not even mothers.

But here's the important thing. Mom, please don't skip this part. I'm glad that you weren't perfect. It's okay. In fact, it's more than okay. It's exactly as it should be. Please know that I learned and grew from the moments that you were wonderful and the moments that you weren't. Honestly, I wouldn't have you any other way.

Now, since you are a mother I'm pretty sure that you will still feel sad and embarrassed that you ever had shortcomings. You will wish I didn't mention them here. I bring them up only to let you know that I love you--and not just in spite of, but rather because of.

Because you had shortcoming and struggles and difficulties, I knew it was okay when I started to flounder. I knew it was okay when I started to question and wonder. Those things made you a person and, over time, made me into a person. So while neither of us are cardboard cutouts of Donna Reed, pictures of perfection in shirtwaist dresses and pearls, we are real. When people look at us they know what they are getting. And that's a good thing.

I love you, Mom. I love your good intentions and sensitive heart, your tenacity, your sense of humor. I love you like a daughter loves her mother and like a woman loves her friend. I hope you hear that love in my voice when I call you just because I'm bored or when I solicit your advice because my kids are sick. I hope it shines between the lines of Facebook messages and emails. And I hope you feel it now radiating across the ether.

I love you.

Happy Mother's Day.

And, yes, I will put your present (and birthday cards!) in the mail tomorrow.



Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mental Malaise (I'm so Blue-ue-ue-ue-ue!)

These days, I have to admit, I am a very blue berry. I had several days in a row last week that were the epitome of ennui and a couple evenings that bordered on downright depressed. It was amazing to me how quickly my mind and emotions fell into old depressed habits. I fought with my husband. I cried for no reason. I yelled at my kids. And the thoughts were back. Over and over, "You're a failure. Nothing you do will ever matter or make difference. Everybody thinks you're stupid. They're laughing at you all the time. You can't fix any of it. It's pointless. You might as well give up. Suicide is always an option . . ."


I was fitful and restless and moody. I hated it.

Sunday morning I purposefully said to myself, "You can go either way here. You can choose to figure out what's bringing you down and change it. Or you can choose to deteriorate. What are you going to do?" It was a strange moment of clarity in which I was either channeling my therapist or the Spirit. Or both.

My sister and my husband had both asked me earlier in the week what my problem was. I always responded I didn't know. But as I thought about it there were quite a few things that were probably contributing to my mental malaise. I've been on my SSRI for almost a year and they tend to poop out on me around the prescription anniversary. The Little Cannoli was cutting back on her nursing which was precipitating a drop in my oxytocin levels--less contented hormone = a less contented mommy. The kids were sick and waking up more at night so I was getting less sleep. I'm stymied with my writing; nothing I have written to this point in my life has been what I wanted it to be and I don't know how to fix it. I hadn't been reading my scriptures or praying. I'd just finished a month of Primary Sharing Times and Cub Scout Pack meeting. Really, there were a lot of reasons and it was probably a combination of things that was pulling me down.

So Sunday, I decided to take it slow. Give it my best effort to tune in to the Spirit and let everything else go. I also decided to go back to napping in the afternoon for a week or so.

I feel better. I am not in that blissful state of mental health that I previously was, but, you know what, I'm not doing too bad either. This is my life and it's okay. My problems haven't changed--I certainly haven't solved them--but just being able to name them and observe them was helpful. My therapist used to tell me that I need to be the journalist of my own life. I needed to observe my life and emotions, figure out the story, and report it. I didn't need to solve. I just needed to note it. It's amazing how much that can help.

Well, that and napping.

What do you do when you feel yourself slipping? What helps you right yourself?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Utah is the Happiest State in America!!

Okay, I couldn't not blog about this one.

Did you come across this, "Want to be live among the happiest Americans? Move to Utah" in the New York Times yesterday? I didn't either but somebody posted it to Facebook so now I can sound all smart by talking about the New York Times.

This is seriously interesting news, though. Utah (and by association, the Mormon Church) has looooong been stereotyped as repressed, depressed, and having all sorts of mental health issues--mostly because of one limited study that shows Utah has a high rate of antidepressant prescriptions. Often the chatter around this issue involves things like the somewhat fabled "Mother in Zion Syndrome" that drives all Mormon women to insanity by telling them that they have to be perfect. Less often you hear people say Mormons need antidepressants because they aren't allowed to drink. Others will tell you it's a genetic curse and Mormons are being responsible by managing an illness that happens to, well, run in the family. Some people even go so far as to say it's all those non-Mormons in Utah who have to get the antidepressants. ***Please note I said "some people". I am not "some people". I am not backing any of these theories.*** I'd personally like to see research on if all these prescriptions are actually being filled and used, and how many of them are for off label purposes (like PMS, bladder control issues in children, etc.), and who is doing the prescribing.

What doesn't get talked about is the fact that mental/emotional health is an issue that requires nuanced thinking. (No surprise there. The media at large doesn't do nuance very well these days. *Sigh* ) People who enjoy good mental health for extended periods of time usually have a number of things going for them. They get regular exercise, they sleep well, they have strong family ties and support systems, they eat their veggies, they live above the poverty line--the list goes on and on. (Want more detailed info on folks who live the longest and report the greatest rates of well being worldwide? Check out The Okinawa Program. The reading is a little dense, but it is chock full of implementable info.) Also, people who enjoy the best mental/emotional health DO have hard times. Think of the Greatest Generation. Hard times? Yes. Optimism and courage? Definitely yes.

This is why the Gallup Poll reported in the New York Times is exciting to me. It looks at six different factors (instead of a single piece of info like antidepressant prescription rate). The NYT article also points out that just because one state scored high in one area doesn't mean they scored high in another. That kind of talk sounds a lot like nuance, and that is something to celebrate.

So, here's to Utah and the fact that they came out on top for once. In case you are wondering, in past years, Hawaii (and Boulder, CO but not the entire state of Colorado??)has come out on top. Now if only we could answer why states with the highest well being rates also have high suicide rates. . .

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Easter Tree!

Well, folks, here's another mommy blogging moment brought to you by me!

For Easter we celebrated with these:

And with these:

But we mostly celebrated with this:

"What is that monstrosity?!?!" Is that what I hear you asking? Well, that, my friends, is The Easter Tree.

For a long time I've been trying to figure out some way to make Easter and Christmas work together a little better. Maybe it's because I'm secretly jealous of Lent (I really do think it's a neat idea!) or maybe it's because I hate the commercialism of Easter and a bunny pooping chocolate eggs never really made sense to me anyway. Either way, I have always wanted to focus on Jesus at Easter but it was hard to do it in an age appropriate way for my children--especially when they are so excited about Easter egg hunts and candy and presents. Last year, in the midst of our move I came across something called a Jesse Tree and then I came across this Easter Egg Tree over at sugardoodle. It was kismet. An Easter Egg Tree that involved advent type scripture reading was exactly what I was looking for. It was the perfect way to connect all the ways we think about Jesus at Christmas with the Easter season.

So this year I took some old wrapping paper tubes, cut a cardboard box into strips, and taped it into some sort of tree shape with a bunch of masking tape. Then I took our old plastic Easter eggs and hung them from the branches with lots of color of ribbons. To make them hang I used my kitchen scissors to poke holes in the top of the egg and threaded some ribbon through, tying a knot on the inside of the egg to keep it from slipping out. I'm clumsy and cut myself a few times but I bet most of you folks are way more crafty than me and could do it without injuring yourself. My kiddos actually helped in the construction of the whole thing; it was pretty fun.

After we got the whole thing put together I started looking through The Friend Archives for some sort of scripture activity to put in the eggs. (BTW, if you aren't using to find church oriented activities for your kids then you are missing out. It is a great resource.) There were a lot of choices but I ended up settling on the Easter ABC Fill-In activity from the April 1996 Friend. I chose this one because the scripture references would be good practice for Princess N (my oldest) in looking up scriptures, and Supergirl E and Mr. J are both in various stages of linking letters with the sounds they make and this helped them listen to the scripture. I also put a jelly bean for each kid in each egg.

Every evening after dinner we'd gather round the Easter tree and open up an egg. We'd talk about what letter we were on and what sound it made, then we'd look up the scripture and remind the kids to listen for the sound of that day's letter. They'd munch their jellybeans while we read and then fill in the blanks. I think it was pretty successful as far as family scripture study goes.

We did have arguing some nights over who got what color jellybean and whose turn it was to open the egg. We also ran into a little trouble with kids knocking eggs open unintentionally. And of course, the Little Cannoli (who is now crawling) had to be constantly monitored to make sure she didn't ingest some of the dry beans from the tree's pot. Mr. J spent a lot of time tying the eggs together and then his sisters would walk by and untie the eggs. Also, Supergirl E decided one day that there was a tsunami in the house (she'd been watching the news with her dad) and put her Littlest Pets in all the eggs--using extra tape to keep them extra safe. That took a little time to clean up. Still, though, these problems felt minimal considering the time we spent in the scriptures and the good spirit that entered our home because of that. And, really, those problems were tiny compared to issues we've had in the past with Christmas trees!

So, the grand finale came Easter morning. When the kids went to bed they opened the last egg, ate the jellybeans, and said, "So this is it?" I smiled and hinted that maybe something special would happen to the tree while they were asleep. When the woke up this is what they found:

I wanted the tree to go from looking dead to coming alive--that way they would connect the season with the true meaning of Easter. I also opened all the eggs and sprinkled some candy underneath to represent the joy of the stone being rolled away and the tomb being empty. I put the picture of Christ with an image of this scripture poster under the tree. The kids and I talked about the scripture and what happened Easter morning. We talked about the range of emotions Mary went through and how we might feel some of the same things in our lives, but because of Jesus' atonement, crucifixion, and resurrection we can be healed and happy. It was a powerful moment for me and I think my kids could feel the Spirit too.

I'm excited for next Easter and all the possibilities of the Easter tree. The Easter bunny didn't even come up this year and I think I'll keep it that way in the future. I liked moving away from the commercialism and moving closer to Christ. Rather than trying to paint leaves I think next year I'm going to do Jell-O popcorn balls (you know, "I looked out the window and what did I see?") and flowers. And for the scriptures I think I'm going to use the topical guide entry about the names of Christ. I'm also going to try and find something more robust for the tree.

Anyway, I hope you all had a happy Easter and experienced some of the joy that can be found in and through Christ! Tell me, what do you do to celebrate Easter? How do you teach your kids about the true meaning?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Depression is like. . . asthma?

A roller coaster.
Being thirteen again, but in a bad way.

There are lots and lots of ways people describe depression. Usually we use these similes to explain what feels like a unique experience to people who have just never been there. Most often we use them to explain why the illness we have needs treatment or how the treatment we're using is working for us. Most often the comparison we use is, "Hey if I had diabetes or heart disease I would have to take a pill everyday and people would tell me it's a good thing. Why is it any different for depression?"

Now, this isn't a bad argument to make. But lately I've been mulling this one over and for me it doesn't really do the issue justice. Here's why:

1) There is an element of preventability (I think I just made that word up) with both diabetes and heart disease. Yes, there is Type I diabetes that just strikes, but I think for the average individual when they hear diabetes they equate it with Type II diabetes, which our most often spun as a lifestyle disease by our current media. The same thing goes for heart disease. If people would just eat better and exercise more they wouldn't have those problems. Unfortunately, the same kind of thinking bleeds over into how we think about depression. But depression isn't usually preventable. Life circumstances, some of which we have control over (how much we exercise, if we abuse drugs or alcohol) and some of which we don't (genetic predispositions and postpartum hormone swings). For me, comparing depression to preventable diseases makes accepting the things I can't control that much harder.

2) Depression isn't necessarily a life-threatening disease like diabetes and heart disease are. If you don't treat your diabetes you're going to go blind and lose your feet and die. If you don't treat your heart disease, odds are you are toast. Yes, people with depression are more likely to kill themselves and suicide is horrible, tragic, cruel and everything should be done to prevent it from happening. But I think there are a lot of folks out there with depression who would benefit from treatment that aren't necessarily in danger of killing themselves. Maybe eventually they would be, but ideally we would support these folks in getting treated well before they ever reach that point. I think a lot of the danger of depression is not just that folks might kill themselves, but rather the immediate collateral damage that's done. Damage to family relationships--especially to the children of the depressed, short term health consequences (insomnia, weight gain/loss), and long term health consequences (possible brain degeneration) are all reasons to treat depression now even though it may not threaten the individual's life. Linking depression to two clearly life-threatening illnesses implicitly implies that folks shouldn't get treated if their lives aren't in direct danger. That is wrong.

So what should we compare it to instead? Asthma.

See, recently Mr. J (my third child who is almost four years old!) has been put on a fairly aggressive asthma treatment plan. Those of you who have been reading my blog for years know that Mr. J has never slept through the night and that we've been chasing down a number of health problems with him. Since his doctors at National Jewish Health started treating him as an asthmatic his whole health has improved. His coloring is better, his energy level and appetite are more predictable, and (wonder of wonders!!) he is sleeping through the night. (Okay, to be honest, most nights he still wakes up once and comes and settles himself on my floor but he doesn't scream or have night terrors or multiple wakings anymore. At my house this is as good as sleeping through the night gets. And, in the name of full disclosure, I think it helps that we now have a good eczema plan and allergy plan in place along with the asthma.) In some ways it is like having a whole new child. Before we started treating his asthma things seemed off and he was always struggling. But we didn't know why. It wasn't something we could see (like his eczema) so we didn't think to worry about it until it landed him in urgent care multiple times.

I think this is how a lot of us look at depression. We know something is off. We know we aren't working at full capacity. But because it's something we can't see--or in the cultural at large it isn't a "sexy" illness and can't be dressed up with pink ribbons or little red dresses--we don't think to treat it. Sure Mr. J was surviving without his asthma medicine but he never could keep up with the other kids and never felt healthy. Without my depression meds, I can manage. I can white-knuckle through my days and tough it out. But something is off and I can't keep up with my life; everything is harder than it should have to be. Having emotional stability is like having enough oxygen. Sure you can get by with less, but you'll never be able to thrive.

Now, having written all this, there is still that little voice inside me that says, "If you can manage without your meds then maybe you don't really need them. Maybe you're just trying to do too much. Maybe you're just not meant to be doing all that other stuff. Maybe you just aren't supposed to be that good." This voice is hard for me to quiet. Those doubts are powerful. It takes a lot for me to remind myself that I'm not asking for too much out of life to want to do more than just survive. It's okay to want to feel pulled together. Just like it is all right to treat my son so he can breathe deeply and fully instead of just asking him to get by on limited oxygen, it's okay for me to want to experience life from a place of stability. Thriving is not just something other people should get to do.

Have I sold you yet on my new "Depression is like. . ."? If not, how come? How do you describe your mood disorder or emotional health issues?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Depression Introspection and the Dark Passenger

Hi all,

A depressed gal named Kass has a blog called Depression Introspection. It is a great resource from an experienced and articulate woman. Today's post, My Dark Passenger, is all about that crazy voice that interrupts your life in order to make you feel bad. We all know that voice. On our good days it's the annoying little mosquito buzz in the back of your head that spouts crazy-talk. On our bad days it's the overwhelming voice of conviction that stymies us and worries us and encourages us to do things we would never normally do. If you're already having a bad day, today might not be the day to read her post, but if you need to know you aren't alone go check it out!



Wednesday, April 6, 2011

C is for Cookie! (Teaching My Preschooler to Read)

Okay, so I warned you all that I was going to start posting a few things every now and again with content that falls under the Mommy Blog umbrella. This is one of those posts.

And honestly, this is one of the things I like most about having good mental health right now: I have energy for some of the extras--like teaching my five-year-old to read! Supergirl E (which is what I call her in my head) has a fall birthday so she isn't in kindergarten this year. I'm pretty sure that if I didn't work on it with her she would figure it out in kindergarten, but she really wants to read and it feels good to do this with her.

Now, I'm no curriculum designer or teacher or really anyone with any kind of knowledge on this subject--except that I like to read and I like to read with my kids. There are a lot of theories and methods about teaching kids to read but (from what I gather) most of them seem to include letter recognition, matching sounds and letters, the ability to recognize some words on sight, and the ability to sound out words.

Her preschool has been pretty rigorous about helping her match letters and sounds. We also have a Jumpstart game that does that. And we have letter puzzles and books that we practice letter recognition and the sound matching. Another thing I've noticed about this is that kids seem to do better if you focus on one letter each day-- kind of like Sesame Street :) (It's good enough for me!!)

The part where I've really been working with her is on sight words and sounding out words. My oldest learned to read by memorizing word after word until things just clicked. So with E, I've been using these lists of sight words for preschoolers. This page has a pretty good list and activities. (Or you can combine this pre-school level list with this kindergarten list.)

My absolute favorite site, though, is Hubbard's Cupboard. This site is chock-full of info, but the stuff we use the most are the printable Sight Word Booklets. Now, if you don't want to spend money on printer paper these books may not be for you, but we love them.

The first thing I do is make flash cards of the sight words in the book and we look them and sound them out and trace the letters. Then we get the printed booklet out and I have Supergirl E circle the sight word on each page. If there is more than one sight word that we are working on in the booklet then we go back through and circle that one in another color. Then I read her the book once through, tracing my finger under the words. Then I have her read it to me. Finally I have her pick a booklet she has already passed off to read to me. This seems to work best when we are snuggled up on the couch.

To be honest, I'm not very consistent with this. We'll do it everyday for a couple weeks and then life will get in the way for awhile. But whenever it is that we come back to it, we just pick up where we left off and keep plugging away. She's got more than 20 sight words and she's starting to sound things out so I think I'm going to try some of the Word Family Booklets on her soon. Every little bit helps! (At least that's what I tell myself. . .)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Katie L and Doubt: the story of a Mormon girl with Pure-O (part I)

Hi friends! This Depression Profile is actually in two parts and is not exactly about depression. A wonderful woman, Katie L, contacted me and told me about her years of struggle with Pure-O OCD and the effect it had on her spirituality as a Mormon. (While this lady was not clinically depressed her struggles did lead to some depressive episodes.) Pure-O OCD is a (somewhat disputed) anxiety condition where the sufferer obsesses about unwanted, intrusive thoughts without any recognizable or outward compulsions. For me this kind of obsessing was the defining factor of the postpartum period with my first child. It's also how I know when I am on the brink of a breakdown. Having experienced a version of this myself, I really appreciate how Katie L. describes this. Her writing is vivid and the information she gives important. For more info on Pure-O check out the website The Other OCD or the books The Imp of the Mind by Lee Baer, Brain Lock: Overcoming Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior by Dr. Jeffrey M. Schwartz, and When in Doubt, Make Belief by Jeff Bell.

Name: Katie L.
Location: Pacific Northwest
Age: 29
Religion: Mormon

I can't remember a time in my life when I didn't struggle with anxiety. It became more pronounced around the age of nine, though. Before then, I'd feel very guilty about things I did wrong and make conscientious attempts to avoid sin; by the age of nine, my flirtation with guilt and doubt had blossomed to a full-blown romance.
OCD is sometimes called "the doubting disease," and that description resonates deeply with me. From 9-years-old on, I not only experienced doubt about things that are "normal" to doubt -- such as the existence of God or the truthfulness of the Church (though perhaps the severity was abnormal for someone so young) -- but I also began to have very strange doubts. For example, I would feel guilty for doing something and then feel unsure about whether or not I actually did it.

I developed a fairly severe confession compulsion. Whenever I did something wrong, I confessed it to my mother. If I wasn't sure whether or not something I'd done was actually wrong, I confessed it anyway, just in case. Sometimes, questions arose about who had done one thing or another -- who broke the scooter in the basement, who took Dad's quarters off the dresser, who made a mess in the laundry room -- and I confessed, even though I had no recollection of doing it.

Eventually, my mother caught on that something wasn't quite right. We didn't have enough information to call it OCD, but it became okay for me to say, "I don't know if I did it or not!" Although I imagine that some parents would have assumed that their child was trying to get out of punishment, somehow my mom understood that I was being honest -- I really wasn't sure -- and she didn't press me on it. In fact, she often reassured me that I probably hadn't committed the crime in question.

I also found myself praying constantly. I prayed for forgiveness. Unwanted thoughts about the truthfulness of the church would trouble me, so I prayed for a stronger testimony. I prayed to "know" whether or not I had actually committed the sins I worried about. I prayed for help overcoming my weaknesses, both real and imagined.

As I grew older and learned about sex, I became troubled with disturbing sexual images that would flash through my mind frequently (well, disturbing for a scrupulous pre-teen; I realize now they were pretty tame).
[Laura's note: scrupulosity is a technical term for a moral or religiously fixated OCD. What Katie L describes above is a quintessential definition. For more on scrupulosity check out this scrupulosity blog and this article from Catholic Culture or the book Devil in the Details, about a girl growing up Jewish and with OCD.] For a period of about a month when I was 10 or 11, I refused to take the sacrament, because I believed I was unworthy due to "dirty thoughts." I feared that by partaking of the sacrament I would eat and drink damnation to my soul. (Finally my mom asked what was going on, and when I told her, she said it was okay to take the sacrament even if you couldn't completely eliminate bad thoughts from your mind, because that's what the atonement is all about.)

I began to fear the Second Coming because I believed that I would be cast into the fire due to the intrusive obsessions and my inability to be perfectly clean. I started begging God to wait to send Jesus until I was worthy, to give me enough time to properly repent of my sins.

As I've gotten older I've found that Doubt targets whatever is the most important to me. For example, in my late teens, I fell in love for the first time and began to think of myself as a sexual person who could be attractive to men. So OCD hit me there: I developed an obsession about my sexual orientation (this is different from real homosexual attractions or sexual curiosities; what I experienced were overpowering fears that one day I would wake up and suddenly "discover" I was gay).[Laura's note: H-OCD is a subset of OCD where the sufferer worries that they are actually gay but don't know it or that they have somehow done something that makes them gay but don't remember it. Often it takes the form of obsessing over the fact that the individual cannot ever remember being not-gay, not just straight but not-gay--a distinction that really only makes sense in the context of OCD. For more information on understanding the difference between sexual orientations and HOCD check out this website, Gay or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder:Homosexual fears and OCD. Please, please, please don't think this is a comment on sexual orientation; it's not.]

On my mission, my doubts about the truthfulness of the church intensified to near-deafening levels. I found myself agonizing over the use of "you"-pronouns in the Book of Mormon -- did it use "ye" vs. "thee" properly? I struggled with feelings of unworthiness, and questions as to whether or not I had done bad things arose again. I confessed several non-sins to priesthood leaders on at least five separate occasions.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I began obsessing that I might harm her after she was born. That's when I finally checked myself into therapy -- I simply could not bear those thoughts, nor their implications.
These days, although my symptoms are much milder thanks to effective treatment and a softer worldview that I've worked consciously to develop, I continue to struggle with obsessive thoughts. Lately, they tend to focus around whether the people I am close to "really" love me, the veracity of my religious beliefs (this one dies hard), and whether the food I'm about to eat is going to make me sick.

On my worst days, the obsessions are so overpowering that I think about little else. My stomach is in knots. I spend the day praying, checking things online, seeking reassurance -- and, of course, ruminating. Rumination involves trying to solve whatever unsolvable problem is in front of me, an attempt to "think" myself out of Doubt. Since I'm "Pure-O," this is by far my most consuming compulsion.

Because my compulsions are primarily mental, unless it's a really, really bad day, it's easy to hide my disorder. This is both a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing because there are often legitimate reasons why you might want to keep something like this private. But it's a curse because it isolates you. For example, for years my husband -- yes, the dude I live with every day! -- had no idea I struggled with anxiety because I was so skilled at hiding it, so adept at going through the motions of daily life, even while I was suffocating in Doubt's stranglehold.

I have had perfectly normal, funny, seemingly carefree interactions with people, while inside my mind and stomach are absolutely churning. I have often excused myself from a class, meeting, or conversation to retreat to the bathroom, drop to my knees in anguish, beg God to take it away -- and then stand up, look in the mirror, put my smile back on, and return to face the world.

That's a terrible way to live. I don't recommend it.

[Laura's note: Please come back and read part II. I promise this story has a better ending!!]