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. . .)