Friday, February 28, 2014

Here comes the sun...maybe?

I've been feeling better lately.  More consistently, more fully...Better.

I'm hesitant to say it out loud for fear that I'll burst this little balloon of potential happiness and health.  But I think, maybe, possibly, things are getting better.


Of course the million dollar question I ask myself is, "What have I been doing differently?"  Unfortunately I can't point to any one thing - but more a combination of things.  I've been trying to take a more holistic approach to my mental health, trying to work on things that might be contributing to my depression.  Yes, my biochemistry will still drive depression in my brain.  I firmly believe that, and I will likely be on meds for a very long time.  I don't think I can change my fundamental biochemistry.  But even with meds for the past three years, I have yet to experience a full 3 month stretch when I felt okay.  Not on top of the world, not great...just okay.  Even that has been out of my reach.

That's why I'm so hesitant to say that maybe I'm feeling better...that feeling of "better" is so very fragile. 

So what have I been doing?  In a nutshell, I've been taking much better care of myself.  I've been watching my eating - we generally eat pretty well, but I've been much more aware of my blood sugar and trying to do things to reduce some of the high/low cycles.  I've pretty much stopped drinking wine (sigh - more on that another time).  I've been exercising more consistently.  I've been continuing the hard work in therapy.  I've been sleeping better (exercise plus no wine = surprisingly solid sleep.  Who knew?) 

For the first time in years, I can actually envision what it might be like not to carry around the weight of depression, and the weight of that struggle, every single day.  I feel lighter.  It's as if there's this tiny happy, healthy me and I'm holding her, and nurturing her, and trying to give her a chance to grow and bloom.  I'm feeling very protective of her at the moment.  So don't mess with me.  :)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Dirt between our toes

My preschool son (hereafter referred to as "Smalls") is typical of preschool boys - running a million miles an hour, always getting into something, talking a blue streak.  It's simultaneously hilarious and utterly exhausting.  Smalls operates at warp speed pretty much all of his waking hours, except...

when he cleans out the dirt between his toes each night.

It's not a long process - maybe 20 or 30 seconds at most - but it's a ritual for him, and one he takes the time to do slowly, carefully, with real presence.

I envy him those 20 or 30 seconds.

I wish that I could be fully present.  I wish that I could silence the ten thousand conversations bouncing around in my head.  I know that I'm getting better at silencing the chatter, especially the negative chatter, but I have serious doubts that I'll ever get rid of it entirely.  But I'd like to try.

I think one place to start is to think of things that seem to fill me up when I do them.  I really struggle to think of these things - how do I possibly have time to note things that fill me up, when I'm busy just trying to stay one step ahead of my depression?  How do I have time to even do things that fill me up, when I'm working through my issues in therapy, or assessing my mental health on a thrice-daily basis to figure out whether I'm finally on the right track? Oh, yeah, and parenting three kids, and working on a healthy marriage, and trying to develop emotionally healthy habits for the first time in my life?  

I'm beginning to learn about self-care - such a novel concept after 40-some years of slogging through the world!  And self-care is about, well, taking care of yourself.  Doing things that make you feel good - not the addictive, self-destructive kinds of things, but the things that feed your soul or your inner self or whatever term you like best.  So I'm trying to pay attention.

It turns out that I like cleaning my oversized stainless steel saute pan.  I like running the warm water over the pan and watching the crud float away.  I like taking the stainless cleaning powder and gently rubbing away the more aggressive crud.  I like rinsing the pan and looking at it just so under the light to see if I need to clean it more.  I like to watch how the water sheets off the pan when it's fully clean.  And I like the memories of the meal I cooked and the people for whom I cooked.

I know this hardly seems like the basis for a Zen practice, and I'm not saying that it is...but it's a start.  When I'm cleaning the pan, that's really the only thing I want to be doing in that instant.  Does it seem trivial?  Yeah, without a doubt.  But I feel content when I'm doing it.  Technically, it probably doesn't count as self-care, but it does count as me really being in tune with something.

And that's what I see in Smalls when he cleans between his toes each night.

I'm still convinced that Smalls achieves more Zen with his ten little toes than I ever will.  But I'm learning to find my own things that help me to slow down, calm some of the inner chaos, and really BE. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Moms and labels

Yesterday I sent 2 out of 3 of my kids off to school crying.  That's nearly 67% for you mathematical types - hardly great odds if you're my kid.  They weren't sobbing, per se, but definitely upset and still trying to recover from earlier tears.  There weren't any real dramatic events that led to the tears - just run of the mill kid stuff combined with reactions of mine that were probably less than ideal.  When my 10 year old is already upset about something as we scurry up to the bus stop, do I really need to quibble with her over whether she brushed her hair?  Probably not.

I know - rationally - that I'm not the only mom yesterday who said goodbye to upset kids.  But psychologically, after dropping off the second upset kid of the day, in my mind I became The Kind of Mom Whose Kids Are Upset When They Leave in the Morning.  And there is rarely any good that comes out of "I'm the Kind of Mom Who..."

As I continued with the rest of my day, I became The Kind of Mom Who Tries to Explain Too Much to the Teacher.  And The Kind of Mom Who Takes Too Long at the Gas Station Because She Can't Find Her Credit Card.  And The Kind of Mom Who Forgot to Reply About That Lunch Invite. 

You get the idea.

It's no wonder that by the time I finished up my morning trip to Costco, I was literally in tears.  All of this negative chatter in my head, and I was labeling myself in all of these horrible ways.  I'm also The Kind of Mom Who Makes Banana Bread with Her Son.  And The Kind of Mom Who Talks to Her Daughter about Body Image.  And The Kind of Mom Who Says Something Kind to a Stranger.  But those things don't get recorded; they simply don't register.

Later when things calmed down in my head, I started to think about labels and how damaging they have been for me.  On some level, I've always labeled moms in my head as a way of trying to figure out where I fit in.  There is an abundance of different mom types - I'll list just a few...

The Pinterest Mom
The PTA Mom
The Super Healthy Eater Mom
The Skinny Mom
The Marathoner Mom
The Zen Mom
The Volunteer at School Mom
The Professional Working Mom
The Hippie Cloth Diaper Mom
The Happy All the Time Mom
The Gazillion Activities Mom

The problem for me is that I don't fit into any of these categories.  But when I see these moms, I compare myself to them (unfavorably, of course).  I feel like I've always been on this search to find someone else in my Mom category - someone else I could look to and say, "Hey, they're being a Mom the same way I am, and they seem healthy and their kids are fine."  But I could never find that person - because those labels don't reflect real, three dimensional people.  So I end up feeling more and more deficient.  And more and more isolated.

The good news is that I'm beginning to be able to recognize these kinds of dynamics in my head - rationally, at least.  That's significant progress, and I realize that awareness is a huge part of the battle.  I'm ready to be done with these labels, for my own sake. And I hope that I'm ready to start being The Me Mom.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Messages to myself

Today I was exchanging facebook messages with a friend who is in a difficult situation and really struggling with her less-than-ideal mom moments.  I found myself telling her to be kind to herself, and be accepting of her best efforts now, and have faith that she will get through it all with grace. 

Kindness, acceptance, faith, grace.

I need someone else to write the same messages to me - if I only felt comfortable enough to share with others the depths of my struggle.  But I suppose I should up the ante a bit - I need to write the same messages to myself.  Not just in theory, but actually do it. Can I imagine how I would feel if I received messages from a friend with those powerful words?  Can I imagine how I would feel if I actually applied those ideas to my everyday life?

And yet, all of those things are within my power to do.  I need to learn to love myself as I am - instead of thinking that I'll love myself when I'm no longer depressed.  I need to learn to love the depression, too, as a part of who I am.  But how can you love something that is so dark, and shadowy, and downright sinister?  I'm not sure - but I'm certain that it involves those four words I shared with my friend.

Kindness, acceptance, faith, grace. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Shout it from the rooftops! #DayOfLight

Recently Honest Mom wrote a powerful post here - one of her main points being that depressed people look "normal" because they're just regular everyday people who happen to struggle with depression.  And yeah, I'd say I look "normal" for the most part.  I manage to get dressed, and take care of my kids, and function out in the world as if I'm totally fine. 

But the thing that strikes me is that sometimes I wish I didn't look so "normal".  I know that sounds like a complete contradiction and I don't fully understand it myself.  The stigma associated with depression is so damning that I generally wouldn't want to bring attention to myself as a depressed person.  But, I've had those moments in the middle of Target, or while managing kids in church, or at preschool dropoff...when I wish I could scream, "I'M DEPRESSED HERE, PEOPLE!!  PLEASE HELP!!"  Times when a kind word or friendly gesture would reach me in a more profound way than the giver could possibly understand.  Depression can be so incredibly isolating that sometimes what is needed most is a simple message from someone - anyone - that they care.

Maybe someday the statement "I have depression" won't automatically trigger judgments of failure, or laziness, or weakness of character...and then we could all get better at asking for the help we need.  Wouldn't that be amazing?

Saturday, February 1, 2014

7 Tons of Bricks

Yesterday was a rough day.  I carried around my 7 tons of bricks - what I imagine to be the weight of my depression on a difficult day.  It weighs on me as heavily as if I were literally holding up all those bricks.  It takes so much effort to do anything, and I want nothing more than for someone to take the weight and carry it for a while.  It wears me down.  It makes me irritated - at everyone and everything.  Especially happy people.  How can they frolic about in their lives while I'm standing here holding these 7 tons of bricks?  Why aren't they offering to hold some of this damn weight?  Sometimes people don't realize that I'm so weighed down.  Sometimes they do realize, but there's not much they can do to alleviate the strain for me.

Some mornings I wake up and can feel the 7 tons upon me already.  They literally press me into the bed so that I can only roll over and pull the covers tighter.  Yesterday wasn't like that; it kind of crept up on me until suddenly I felt that familiar weight.  I wanted to be able to politely decline - "No, thanks, I'd rather not carry that today."  Kind of like how you might turn down an extra shift during a summer job in high school.  "I already have plans for that day, Bob, but keep me in mind next time something opens up."  But my Bob is more like a Hugo, and I can't turn him down.  "Sorry, Hugo, today's not a good day - it's my daughter's birthday."  Or "Please, please, please give me a break today - we have such great plans and I don't want anything to ruin it."  Hugo doesn't give a shit about my plans and just tells me to pick up the damn bricks. 

So I waded through my day, with help from my husband, and held up my weight without having it ruin everyone else's day.  I wish that over time I would build muscles like you do when you work out.  You take the boot camp class and notice after a few weeks that the 30 lb weights don't feel as heavy as they used to feel - you can hold them for longer without having your muscles quiver.  But it doesn't really seem like I'm getting any better at holding my bricks.  I've learned to cope with them better, so that life isn't miserable for those around me.  But does the weight feel any lighter over time?  It doesn't seem to.  Meds have helped, but when those 7 tons still feels like 7 tons.

One of the worst parts of all of this is that I never know when Hugo is going to show up with my weight to carry.  I feel like I'm constantly looking over my shoulder, wondering whether Hugo is lurking there.  I wish that I didn't have to be afraid every day.  I wish, I wish.