Tuesday, March 31, 2015

When these orchids started blooming at the beginning of the month, they were promoted from the kitchen window to this seat of honor.  TJ got them for me last year on my birthday, so that means I've kept them alive for a whole year.  Yay, me! Waking up to these beauties every morning makes me feel like a duchess. Now if I could just get my breakfast in bed, everything would be perfect.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

What I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Facing Depression

Tonight I talked with a dear friend who has been suffering from depression, and my heart broke all over again for what she's going through.  It took me back to the first days and weeks of wrapping my head around the word, "depression."  It made me feel old and wise.  I've always been too big for my britches that way, and I know got long-winded when I was talking to her, but I still don't feel finished.

 I will never forget what I went through to figure out that I needed help with my depression.  The memory of those months and years of suffering still fills me with sadness.  I had three kids under the age of four.  We had moved from our beloved college town to far-flung Wyoming, where we didn't know a single soul. My husband was deeply involved in building his career, and was often gone from dark to dark on weekdays, or even a whole week at a time. My beloved daughter had suffered a long illness which took her closer to death than I ever want to see my children again, and which culminated in a ten-day stay at Primary Children's Hospital.  I was trying to learn how to feed my newly-diagnosed celiac kids food that would not kill them.  I was potty-training my oldest so that I would have only two in diapers.  I was far from my family in sunny St. George, I was freezing, and I was very alone.

When we talk about clinical depression it's helpful to look for triggers, and boy, did I have triggers at that point in my life.  Does that mean that my life was meaningless or that I had nothing to be grateful for?  Absolutely not.  I was building something that I was sure would bring me joy.  But the problem was that I felt nothing but anguish.  All the time.  I felt extreme anxiety and constant guilt for my failings as a mother and wife.  Even when my darling babies kissed and hugged me, no ray of happiness could penetrate.  I was dead to everything but pain.

At church I felt I was just going through the motions.  I fulfilled callings, served ward members, visited with those who needed help, all because I knew I should--but without the attendant feelings of closeness with God I had always enjoyed.  I prayed to a God who was no longer speaking to me and read His words even though they didn't seem to mean anything anymore.  I wondered, after all the witnesses I had experienced in my life, was it possible for me to lose my faith just because being a mom was stressful?

I remember checking out a stack of books about depression in our small-town library, blushing at the thought of what the librarian was thinking of me.  I did not know that she would later become one of my  mentors through the illness, having experienced it herself.  I remember a conversation with TJ in which I confessed my devastating discovery: that I was broken, without hope of repair.  He told me we would get help for me, no matter what.  He said I would feel better.  I remember calling my sister and admitting the shameful truth.  She was not surprised, but supportive.  And then I called the doctor.  And then I filled my first prescription for medication.  And then I called the therapist.  And then I started feeling that there was hope.

If I could have a conversation with the 25-year-old version of myself tonight, I would start with a big hug.  Young Self was such a brave person in the face of such a bewildering host of troubles. And she felt so alone, unworthy, and guilty.  She felt hopeless.  I would love to tell her how many thousands of healthy days she has ahead of her: how many breathtakingly beautiful baby kisses will sink straight into her happy, healthy heart.  I would love to tell her that God is counting her tears and will repay them a hundred-fold.

And I would give Young Self some great advice.  Because I always give advice.  And sermons. Those who love me just listen patiently, and since this is my daydream, Young Self will have to do the same.  Here is the advice I would give her, not necessarily in order of importance:

1.  Learn all you can about clinical depression.  The internet's a great place to start, but even if you're not a huge reader, invest the time necessary to get an idea of what you're dealing with.  Knowledge is power!  Especially pay attention to the neurological explanations of what depression is.  It is so important for you to understand the physiological underpinnings of this illness to give you the strength you'll need to reach for healing.  Here is what I consider to be absolute required reading for those who are suffering from depression or who are long-suffering with a loved one who does:

"Like a Broken Vessel" by Jeffry R. Holland

Reaching For Hope: An LDS Perspective on Recovering from Depression

The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Treat Depression Without Drugs

2.  Talk to loved ones, and listen to the ones who are committed to help you find healing, no matter what that entails.  I hope, so much, that one of these people is your spouse.  If not, keep talking.  But find those who will back you up when even you think it's not worth trying.  Because you will need their help to get better.  Talking is part of the therapy.  Talking is part of what will heal you. So talk.

3. Get ready to reach for help.  Fight hard against the destroyer!  Exclamation point! Right now, he will pull out the shame and work you over with it.  Don't be ashamed of your condition.  It's called mortality, and everyone has it.

Do you need a therapist to help identify unhealthy patterns in your life and replace them with good ones?  Of course, you do.  In my opinion, everyone does.  Why is it that most Americans would not undertake to fix the brakes on their car because they feel under-educated or unqualified--and yet they feel the intricacies of the human mind are easy enough to tackle alone?  I would much rather risk a car accident than risk a lifetime of unhealthy relationships and generations of suffering.  Wouldn't you?  Find someone who has studied these things.  Find someone you can trust to help you.

Do you need medication to start your healing process?  I will never forget the day my Zoloft kicked in.  I was on the phone describing my day to TJ, who was on a trip.  I wasn't expecting the medication to work for another week or so, but as we talked, I realized that it already was.  I had told TJ how much fun it had been to make sock puppets with the kids--the type of project I never initiated because it was too overwhelming.  And as we chatted, I described the beautiful new flower screensaver on the computer, and I felt real happiness.  I had not felt that way for so long, it was stunning even in its simplicity.  I had enjoyed a healthy day for the first time in a very long time.  I felt like I was the person I had been pretending to be.  I felt like a good person.  I felt like a normal person.  I felt like myself again.

How could that be a bad thing?

Don't let the destroyer keep you from healing, no matter what.

4.  Keep a sense of perspective.  Remember my dear librarian-friend?  In one long, long, conversation she told me that if she got to choose a trial--if all the trials in our town were put in a basket and she could choose one--she would choose depression.  Only after a few years of dealing with this disease did her comment make sense to me.  As real as the suffering is, in my case it is limited to what goes on inside my brain.  My husband is faithful and kind.  The kids are healthy and happy.  We always have food on our table.  When someone is sick, the doctor fixes it.    Depression is curable.  Depression is manageable.  I would much rather my trials all happen inside my head, thanks very much.  Remember that most of the craziness happens between your own ears, and that your loved ones usually are too wrapped up in their own lives to read your troubled thoughts.  Isn't that a good thing?  You are not tainting the world by your suffering.

5.   Hang on, with both hands and all ten fingernails, to your faith.  Keep praying.  You can't hear Him.  It is part of your condition.  It is not because you are unworthy, and it's definitely not because He has stopped listening.  He is closer than ever, but you won't be able to see that until you start getting better.  In the meantime, hold on.  And nurture your hope.  God did not put you on this earth to fail.  It is impossible to fail as long as you keep getting up and trying again.  He does sometimes let us battle it out alone.  But even then, we are never alone, and someday, He will recompense every loss.  He will even make up for your weaknesses in the lives of your loved ones.  My kids are amazingly healthy despite being raised by a crazy woman.  Because of the Atonement, I know that each one of my precious babies will have exactly the experiences they need to lead them back to Him--because of my weakness and His strength.  Hold on.  Trust on.  I promise it will all make sense someday.

For so long I felt that I was on autopilot in my faith.  I kept going because of the memory of faith.  I kept going because I believed I wasn't seeing the whole picture.  Sometimes when people would talk about trials as these great spiritual experiences, I would wonder what was wrong with me.  I couldn't feel the Spirit in my life--did that mean I was handling my trials all wrong?  I have come to see that it's just part of the depression package.  And I'm so glad I held on even when all the warm fuzzy spiritual feelings were not there.  To me, that is what faith really means.  It means pushing the boundaries of our vision by walking past it.  Now I can see back and I'm so grateful I kept going. There have been innumerable blessings along this road.  And I believe there are still so many to come--for me and for you.

Monday, March 23, 2015

I've been a lazy mom lately.  I get the kids through their chores and school stuff, I drive them where they need to be and I put band-aids on--all as quickly as I can so I can get to the "fun" stuff.  Concerts and dates and books and long baths.  When did my life become something to get over with or something to escape?

Tonight I felt the familiar Monday-night urge to get through family night as efficiently as possible so I could read the Georgette Heyer book I have downloaded on the Kindle.  But as I got dinner on the table, I said a quick, silent prayer for help in being a good mom.  And that help came from Eliza and TJ, who were raring to get the family out to the park on this beautiful spring night.  We left the kitchen dirty and took a couple of soccer balls out there.  We played random games, mostly in an effort to teach these poor athletically-challenged kids how to catch and throw a ball.  We laughed ourselves silly at their ridiculous efforts.  Most of the games, no-contact sports though the were, ended in wrestling matches on the soft, cool grass.  We spent longer than we usually do, and had way more fun than we usually do.  There is something so blessedly beguiling about being outdoors with the kids.  Time just seems to melt away when the dirty dishes are nowhere in sight.

The kids are getting to bed an hour late, and so I won't be reading tonight.  But I don't really care because I had more fun at the park than I could have had reading a book.  Imagine that!

Well, maybe I'll just read a little.  

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Miles to Go Before I Sleep

Sometimes you wake up at 4:30 in the morning and can't sleep anymore.  And all day your body and brain are screaming for sleep, but it happens to be the busiest day of the week, and you even have evening commitments which will keep you from getting to bed early as you'd like.  Sometimes the thought of making dinner, cleaning it up, talking to people, keeping your body upright, and staying in real clothes for another six hours just too much to bear.

At this point, a little Robert Frost goes a long way to console you.  And since it's your blog, you can be forgiven for being a little pretentious.

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Feel free to memorize only the last four lines, like I did back in college, and periodically recite them to yourself when the five o'clock blues strike.  You'll feel noble and whiny at the same time.  It's wonderful.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Other Fertility Challenge

Last week, Isaiah asked me if I could pray to have a baby.  If he knew how far I am from needing divine intervention in such matters, he'd be even more confused than he already is.  The question isn't really, can I have a baby, but, should I?

At church, he's a brand-new Sunbeam, and sometimes I end up in Junior Primary for long enough to observe him bobbing up and down on the front row.  Hearing his, and his colleagues' irrelevant remarks throughout the lesson is my favorite thing ever--"I like dinosaurs!"--but once in awhile it seems that something sinks in.  Isaiah somehow absorbed the story of Abraham and Sarah's miraculous triumph over infertility in their old age...because they prayed.

Isaiah is done with diapers, done with nursery, and absolutely done with one hundred hugs and kisses per day.  He is the youngest of five, and the oldest child I've ever had without a younger sibling in tow.  Every baby I see makes me pine for one of my own.  So Isaiah's question came at an interesting moment for me.  How could I explain to a three-year-old why I'm not going to have a baby, when I really do want one?  After the question was posed three or four times, I came up with, "Because babies cry all night and that makes me grumpy all day."

Of course, there's more to it than that.  "Grumpy" is a euphemism for "chemically imbalanced" or maybe even "unfit to care for children."  But let us proceed.

The older kids on hearing this were surprised that such a small thing could stand between me and the incomparable blessing of another child.  "Mom, you don't have to worry about that!  We'll take care of the baby at night so you can sleep!"

"I don't think that would work," I smiled, and the conversation moved on.  But part of my brain kept going on that derailed train.  They're home schooled.  They get their work done in under four hours each day.  And two of them would be teenagers by then.  They could totally take nights.  And maybe, with a decent nights' sleep, I could be functional!

At which point the logical part of my brain started shouting appalled exclamations about fulfilling everyone's worst stereotypes of home school families.  And I came away surprised at what stretches of the imagination I am willing to indulge--in order to picture myself with another baby.

Fertility is a double-edged sword.  My own sister struggled with infertility for years before giving birth to her son.  Countless couples pour out their hearts to God for year after year as they await the blessing of children.  I honor them.  Their struggles are real.  Their heartache is impossible to comprehend for those of us who have never experienced it.  And their faith is marvelous to witness.

Comparatively speaking, the other end of the fertility spectrum is a good place to be.  But I'm here to say that it can be difficult, too.  Those of us who conceive easily have the dreadful responsibility of deciding when the godly powers of procreation should, and shouldn't be employed. And it's a decision we face over and over again.  Whether, and when to bear children is a question TJ and I have prayed and pondered over extensively: with each one of our five children, we've felt sure that the Lord blessed our decision to give birth.   It still took a lot of faith to grow our family when we were still getting school and employment figured out.  It has stretched me personally more than I can say, to bring children into the world when my own mental health was in the balance.

There are two lists always running in my mind.  The things that contribute to depression, and the things that alleviate depression.  Having babies goes on both lists.

But the Lord never lets us put him in our debt, and for every leap of faith, we have had blessings showered on our family.  We are so happy together.  There are times I watch the kids playing together on a sunny day in the back yard, and I ask myself, "Who am I to deny these blessings to another child who may wish to join this family?"

But there are other times.  Times when, as happy and healthy as my kids are, I can see them only through the veil that chronic depression puts over the mind. My condition colors everything.  It impairs my abilities to sense the true nature of our family, convinces me that I am failing in my mission as a mother, and introduces friction into relationships with those I love most.  Sometimes, I count the hours until bedtime so I can cry myself to sleep.  These are the times when I hope with all my heart that the Lord will not ask any more from me.

Does clinical depression make me an unfit mother?  No.  God's grace has provided my children with everything they need, in spite of my deficiencies.  And if it were truly His will for us to welcome another child into our family, he would enable me to do it well.  It's knowing whether He wants this for our family that is the tough part.  So I am trying very hard to hear the Lord's voice on this one.  TJ and I have been counseling and praying.  I've been talking to friends and family.  And of course, I've spent a lot of time studying God's word.  One dear friend shared this quote with me from an amazing talk given by Richard G. Scott:

Our Heavenly Father did not put us on earth to fail but to succeed gloriously...He is our perfect Father. He loves us beyond our capacity to understand. He knows what is best for us. He sees the end from the beginning. He wants us to act to gain needed experience:
When He answers yes, it is to give us confidence.
When He answers no, it is to prevent error.
When He withholds an answer, it is to have us grow through faith in Him, obedience to His commandments, and a willingness to act on truth. We are expected to assume accountability by acting on a decision that is consistent with His teachings without prior confirmation. We are not to sit passively waiting or to murmur because the Lord has not spoken. We are to act.
Most often what we have chosen to do is right. He will confirm the correctness of our choices His way. That confirmation generally comes through packets of help found along the way. We discover them by being spiritually sensitive. They are like notes from a loving Father as evidence of His approval. If, in trust, we begin something which is not right, He will let us know before we have gone too far. We sense that help by recognizing troubled or uneasy feelings.
I love to get answers and directions from Heavenly Father because it gives so much peace--especially in major life decisions.  But there have been times when I've had to act on a best guess and rely on His promise that He will let me know before I go too far in any one direction.  And for now, that direction can be traveled in our seven-passenger mini-van.

That is, unless Isaiah prays for a miracle of his own.  

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Every Marriage Needs Some of This

For Valentine's Day I gave TJ this framed print that we can write on each day.  Our little daily notes don't usually center on the Boy Scouts of America--I wrote this one right after TJ did the Klondike, because I happen to think any guy willing to camp in the snow with a bunch of deacons deserves to be sainted.  But I digress.

My friend swears this little wall hanging saved her parents' marriage, but I wasn't looking for any miracles.  We have been doing fine, really. But a few weeks ago I found myself pining after our newlywed days when each of us thought the other was perfect in every way.  Sadly, TJ and I slip too often into the trap of fault-finding, and whether or not we voice our criticism, that spirit can very quickly poison a relationship.  I began to pray, as Elder Eyring counsels, for the love to see past TJ's weaknesses and rejoice in his strengths:

Pray for the love which allows you to see the good in your companion. Pray for the love that makes weaknesses and mistakes seem small. Pray for the love to make your companion’s joy your own. Pray for the love to want to lessen the load and soften the sorrows of your companion.

I heard a story of a guy who told his wife on their wedding day, "There is 20% of my character that is bad, and 80% that is good.  If you focus on the 20%, we'll be unhappy.  But if you focus on the 80%, we'll have a great marriage."  And how true is that!  When I married TJ almost fourteen years ago, he was everything my heart desired.  Was I a little blinded by infatuation and hormones and the like when I rated him 100%?  Well, yes, probably.  But this I know: regardless of perception, TJ is a better man today than he was then.  So how can it be that I am less pleased with him than I was then?

Surprisingly, the praise TJ writes to me is not nearly as important as the things I write to him.  This simple exercise of looking for something to write each day has shifted my paradigm.  I don't keep mental lists of things I'd like TJ to do better anymore.  If something bugs me, I make a simple, loving request, and trust him to take care of it when he can.  I forgive him as he forgives me.  And most of all, I rejoice that I am married to a man of God.  I never run out of things to write, because he never stops supplying them.

Such a simple thing.  A few little prayers of righteous desire, a suggestion from a friend to do this picture thingie, and enter the miracle.  The Lord does work in mysterious ways.  TJ and I have not been this happy in years and years.   We are happy, happy, HAPPY.

Which brings me back to my title: originally, I wanted to call it "Every Marriage Needs One of These," but really the wall hanging is just a device to bring about a pattern.  Maybe you already have this pattern going on in your marriage.  If you do, how do you?  And if you could use a little help, I hope you'll try this sweet baby for a week.  I guarantee you'll see a huge difference.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

He Gives Me Hope

It has been an interesting couple of weeks.  I have been in pain, but there has been a swelling of hope to carry me through.  And I've been enlightened on things I thought I already had a firm grasp of.

Right after I posted my magical formula for mental wellness on Facebook, I started drowning again. I cried in the morning.  I cried at night.  And in my prayers, I cried out in frustration and pleading. Why, after all these years, am I still wrestling with depression?  I thought I had already slain this beast!  How many times must I experience the disappointment of failure after the elation of success?

Maybe, I asked myself, in the remotest corner of my mind, maybe I'm just lazy?  Maybe, with all my openness about my condition, and all the many people who love and support me through it, I have allowed depression to be what we all fear it will become: a crutch.

For days this question hovered over me, until one dark night, I had to voice it and see what would happen.  And as always, TJ was there to hear my darkest fear and to defend me against it.

He was the first of many voices raised in my defense during this time.  One particularly tough morning I spent about an hour in my room trying to put myself together in time for home school. As I prayed, an inarticulate wish issued from my heart that a friend would reach out to me.  TJ was morally obligated to love and support me, and so were my parents and siblings.  But my sick mind reasoned that if someone outside that circle could show concern, I might feel that I was worth something to the world at large.

Within two hours the Lord sent two loving friends to me with messages of love, validation, and encouragement.  One showed up with a sugar cookie and a long note of thanks for my friendship, emphasizing how she felt the Lord must be pleased with me.  When I asked later how she had known I needed help that day, she said she had received a distinct impression that I needed to hear from her. Then TJ's cousin called out of the blue.  We are about as close as two distantly related women can be, who see each other only every one or two years--and I mean that without sarcasm.  So to have a long phone conversation with her about my struggles was uplifting as it was unique.

Their message?  That I am not failing.  That I am doing good, in spite of, and maybe even because of this weakness.  That the Lord is pleased with how hard I try.  And that it's making me into a better person.

Two other friends I've heard from in the past two weeks have been Chad Webb and Elder Jeffery R. Holland, speaking in separate meetings with seminary teachers and spouses.  So, full disclosure, they weren't speaking to me personally.  But it felt that way.  Elder Holland's strength and conviction and tenderness sank deep into my soul and gave me strength, as it always does.  Brother Webb's teachings on the Atonement surprised me by offering a completely new perspective.  He quoted a conference talk by Merrill J. Bateman called "A Pattern for All"

For many years I thought of the Savior’s experience in the garden and on the cross as places where a large mass of sin was heaped upon Him. Through the words of Alma, Abinadi, Isaiah, and other prophets, however, my view has changed. Instead of an impersonal mass of sin, there was a long line of people, as Jesus felt “our infirmities” (Heb. 4:15), “[bore] our griefs, … carried our sorrows … [and] was bruised for our iniquities” (Isa. 53:4–5).

Mind.  Blown.  I have been taught all my life that Jesus Christ bore my sins, infirmities, griefs and even sicknesses, and yet when I heard this quote, my vision expanded.  Christ really does completely remember what it's like to be in my shoes.  And that means that I am not alone.

Not being alone means that Jesus Christ is sending help every day.  It means He inspires loved ones to help in ways that are meaningful to me.  It means that He teaches TJ the perfect words to say that will help me to heal, time after time after time--and it means that He will strengthen TJ to bear the weight of my sickness so he can always be there for me.  It means that He is pleading for my redemption before the Father.  It means that he is suffering beside me, and when the Father sees fit to give me a respite from the pain, Christ is bearing the whole of it.

Jesus Christ gives me hope.  I may never be completely whole in my lifetime.  I will most certainly experience the joys and sorrows of mortality in one form or another, until my earthly mission is fulfilled.  But in the meantime, these struggles are not in vain.  If they do nothing else, they humble me and show me His hand in my life.  And that truly makes it all worthwhile.