Posted in family life

Michaelmas 2017

This year, for the first time, our family celebrated Michaelmas – a traditional holiday in both the Catholic church and the Waldorf educational philosophy, honoring the angels (the name comes from the angel Michael) and emboldening us to fight against evil in our world and our own hearts.

Michael4

Michael is often portrayed in religious art as slaying a dragon (representative of Satan), as he is considered to have led the armies of angels against the devil, casting them out of heaven. Going strictly from Biblical texts, there is also Gabriel’s message to Daniel, in which he says that he has been delayed because he was fighting against the demonic powers in Persia and had to have help from Michael to get past that barricade to Daniel. In either case, from the little that is said about the angel Michael it appears that he is a mighty spiritual warrior, and one whose strength comes from God and is without arrogance or pride (the very name Michael means “who is like God?” – signifying rhetorically that no matter how great of a warrior and leader he is, even then he is not like God, not on the same level as God. Michael stands for exactly the opposite of the devil’s error of pride in believing he could actually be like God, an equal in power and worth.)

So for Michaelmas, the celebratory ideas tend to center around this theme of fighting dragons: in a more literal sense for the younger set, and in a more metaphorical sense as well for more application ūüėČ We didn’t do much; I was going to plan a whole party and invite other families, but I couldn’t get past my social anxiety in time, so it was just us. Fortunately, however, I was able to make a dragon costume for my brother and some quick “swords” for the boys, so they could fight away a dragon in honor of the day (just like Michael! With the power of God! I’m not sure that those connections were made though…)

IMG_7706I made the mask using a template I bought from Wintercroft on Etsy, from card stock, and threw together the cape at the last minute from a curtain left behind by the previous owners of our previous house (I’m a bit of a hoarder when it comes to fabric… but see, you never know when it might be useful!)

The swords were made from pool noodles, cut in thirds; the hilts were felt circles with an X cut in the center for the noodle to slide through.

Rondel jumped into the fray instantly, laughing from the excitement of battle, ferociously attacking the dragon as it roared and advanced and battered him with its scaly wings and fiery breath:

Limerick stood back and observed for a while, but when the dragon disarmed Rondel he began to fight wholeheartedly, keeping the dragon at bay until Rondel came back with a new sword and they could “kill” the dragon together.

(Aubade stayed out of the fray with Grandma… the poor baby was terrified of the dragon mask and screamed out the alarm even when Rondel was bouncing around with it on later.)

As I’ve personally been thinking about the holiday, I’ve been trying to identify the dragons I end up fighting most often. They might not breathe fire and hoard treasure, but they do wreak havoc and destruction on the things that matter most: home, family, and community. The dragons of anxiety and depression try to isolate me from other people and from God with insidious lies; the dragons of impatience and ill-temper try to destroy the relational bridges between me and the people around me. But if I see these things as dragons, it clarifies them in my mind; it gives me something defined to fight against, and a powerful mythic story to illustrate the fight. Like Michael I can throw down my enemy, not because I am so great and mighty, but because there is no one like my God.

Posted in musings

thoughts and worries of a distracted mind

I’ve been thinking a lot about a few topics lately, none of which have made for suitable blog posts.

First, I’ve been very actively consumed by an off-the-record project I’m attempting for my job (basically, I’m trying to develop a database and website for our team, for essentially no cost, using only my own skills and whatever products are accessible for free or close to it. It’s difficult, time-consuming, and addictively enjoyable).

Second, I’ve been noticing how my hormonal cycle still affects my depression even with the Zoloft. And when I’m exhausted and down for a week or so out of every month, I feel like I spend the rest of the month digging myself back out of a hole. Still, it’s much better than being continually tired and depressed!

Finally, I’ve been concerned – or maybe nervous is a better word – about Rondel. His quality of speech hasn’t improved over the past year or so (although his language development has, which would be a greater problem), and may have even declined over the past six months. For people who don’t know him, he is a challenge to understand at all, and even I have to ask him to repeat himself if I can’t see his face or the context of his speech. He’s also had some anxiety or behavioral issues – it’s difficult to tell which may be causing the other, or if they’re both just feeding each other – that have made it increasingly difficult to take the kids out. On a good day he’s sweet, loving, funny, imaginative, energetic, and helpful; on a bad day he’s impulsive, defiant, silly in a “let’s make breaking the rules into a game” sort of way, aggressive, and clingy. And the bad days seem to be getting more frequent, and I never know what sort of day it’s going to be. But in my mind I’m just endlessly walking the treadmill of worry, and that doesn’t make for great reading ūüôā So we’re waiting to have him evaluated, and hopefully that will be profitable. Actually, I wouldn’t mind prayers to that effect!

But it has been a while, and we’re finally starting to settle into the semester and the new house, so hopefully you will see a lot more posts on here soon! I keep reminding myself that I need to write things down or else I’m going to forget them all when the kids have their own families and are wondering how far the apple fell from the tree…

Posted in art, family life, links, quotes

lunarbaboon

I have discovered a new favorite webcomic, Lunarbaboon. They seem to exist on the intersection of parenting, mental illness, and nerdiness, so I identify with and heartily enjoy almost all of them. One from January, titled “Enemy”, caught my attention as a particularly apt description of what it is like to be functional despite¬†depression:

comiceveryday

The techniques taught in therapy are designed to help us ignore that inner enemy with more and more success – to make it harder for him to tear us apart each day. That’s why I’m so thankful for them, for the pills that give me the energy and positivity to keep fighting, and for the family and faith that give me a reason to fight and a hope for the future.

Posted in sqt

{sqt} – what I learned from Lent

I’m linking up with Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum today for Seven Quick Takes! I¬†couldn’t come up with an SQT topic at all this week so I’m thankful to her for suggesting this one… it turned out to be a good way for me to wrap up the¬†season for myself and prepare for the upcoming long stretch of ordinary time.

  1. Lent is for us – it is something we need, as sinful people, not something God needs for some obscure reason. In Lent we willingly give up something good as a sacrifice to God, a way to tell Him, remind ourselves, and train our bodies to remember that He is more important than even the good things He has made and given us. So there is beauty in the intentional, thought-out abstinence from something meaningful during Lent. However, I did not do that this year, being caught in the throes of PPD for the months between Christmas and Ash Wednesday. So, all of that being said…
  2. God can still use Lent for your spiritual growth even if you don’t plan anything, or just attempt the bare minimum. The point of Lent is to grow closer to God by separating ourselves a bit from the pleasures and conveniences of the world. So if life is beating you over the head to the point where it takes all your energy just to get out of bed¬†and pray, you don’t need to pile on more self-inflicted hardships. Just seek God in your suffering.
  3. As a corollary, God knows the Lent we need, and He’ll make it happen if we are seeking Him. An unplanned Lent, catching me in the midst of an illness that made it hard to do more than the Friday abstinence, was probably far better for the condition of my soul than one where I chose all these difficult fasts and followed my self-imposed sacrifice to the letter: because my deepest temptation is to pride, and the success of a “good” Lent (at least in outward appearance) would have fed that pride and self-righteousness. This Lent didn’t really look very devoted or disciplined at all, and that was hard for me to accept for a while.
  4. Speaking of pride, Lent is (ideally) a humbling time. We impose our fasts and determine our sacrifices, and usually fall short of our goals, and in so doing realize once again how very much we need God’s grace to actually follow Him in any real way! Our inability to hold fast to even a small sacrifice for the sake of drawing closer to Christ gives us the opportunity to confess our weaknesses and stretch our roots deeply into His strength as we try again to live for Him in holiness. When I realized early in the season that my Lenten sacrifice was going to be admitting my inadequacies and seeking help for my mental health, that was a seriously humbling challenge. That’s not the kind of Lent I had wanted; it seemed so small and pathetic, and it forced me to face my weakness head-on and leap blindly into the unknown, trusting that God’s hands would catch me.
  5. Another thing I learned this Lent was the intensity of the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. To be honest, I had never before prayed through the Sorrowful Mysteries, and never even attempted a serious meditation on the Passion of our Lord. To think about His suffering, for our sake, for the joy of our redemption, was so uncomfortable for me that I avoided it as much as possible. But for Lent this year, I decided to pray only those mysteries in an attempt to prepare my heart for the seriousness of Good Friday and the joy of Easter Sunday. And it was unbelievably hard. To look long and hard at the suffering of another, when that person has entered into that suffering willingly and on your behalf, for your healing or life or freedom, is not easy. But it honors them and their sacrifice to take the time to remember it in its fullness, with reverence and gratitude.
  6. In the combination of these two main aspects of Lent (suffering in some way ourselves and meditating on the suffering of Christ)¬†I found myself falling deeper in love with God and drawing closer to Him in dependence and prayer than I have been for a while. In the depths of my depression I remembered how Jesus faced the agony of fear and¬†emotional pain in the garden, and was comforted to know that He could understand my emotional distress and stand by my side through it. When I wished that I could fight the depression on my own and overcome it without help, I remembered how Jesus Himself was unable to carry His cross, but needed the help of another man’s strength, and realized that needing the help and support of others is part of being human, not a sin or a cause for shame.
  7. Finally, I learned that the spirit of Lent – the desire to draw closer to God, and the willingness to sacrifice certain good things towards that end – shouldn’t end when the season of Lent and its specific sacrifices end. It just takes on other forms. If in Lent I learned how to draw near to God in my suffering, through Christ’s suffering for me, in Easter and beyond I can learn how to draw near to God in my joys and in my boring, everyday routines. He is there also, inviting us to walk with Him through suffering into endless joy and eternal glory.
Posted in musings

coping with chronic depression

I’ve been listening to some podcast archives from the Royal College of Psychiatrists and in one heard a man tell the interviewing doctor, about depression, “I don’t think you’re ever cured – it’s like alcoholism, it will always be there.” (I paraphrased).

That’s a reality I’m coming to terms with, as I have a new and more normal mood thanks to the medicine and therapy, but still feel the old out-of-sync emotions and unhelpful habits of thought there in my mind, popping up at tiny triggers or for no apparent reason at all. When the Zoloft started working – when I felt that first incredible lightening of the burden of depression on my mind and body – I suddenly had these amazing hopes and even expectations for my continuing treatment: that I would be completely cured, completely rid of the shaming voices, the heavy dragging slowness of thought, the spirals into despair, the frantic panic of seeing and fearing the darkness and irrationality closing in. I knew I would be sad, frustrated, and angry, of course, but those are normal emotions, a healthy part of life; I felt sad a few weeks back when the bikes were stolen and was surprised that I was able to feel simply sad without all the depressive corollaries. It was a clean and cleansing feeling. So sadness is beautiful, and even frustration and anger can be helpful and are certainly normal! But I thought the depression would be completely, utterly, totally, eradicated.

But there I was at work, feeling down. There were some triggers (a failed experiment, though no one was at fault), but nothing major, and still I felt the old familiar emotions, the whispers that I wasn’t good enough, would never be good enough; still I was weighed down with the weariness of continuing on when everything is pointless; still the voices tempted me with suggestions of sleep or drink or death to blot out the world and the pain of inadequacy and shame, to finally find peace from the tormenting emotions. Depression and anxiety have this irritating tendency to build on themselves; one begins to feel down about feeling down, or anxious about feeling anxious; and that’s what happened here as well. And then on the podcast came the line from a fellow sufferer: “I don’t think you’re ever cured.”

Suddenly it all made sense. It wasn’t a happy revelation, but it was a fortifying one. Just as it might never be safe for a recovered alcoholic to have a drink, so it might never be safe for this recovered depressive to let down her mental guard, to relax her mental vigilance. Into the breach, when the sentry is sleeping, the depression can attack or silently infiltrate. Oddly enough the thought¬†tasted hopeful on my tongue: if the unhelpful thoughts and destructive emotions return, it doesn’t mean I’ve relapsed and can never hope to be cured – it just means I need to repair the walls and increase the guard. But what is the most hopeful thought of all is that now I have experienced genuine happiness, abundance of joy, and everyday normal emotions. I know what they feel like, and I know I am capable of them: so when I do feel depressed, I can remind myself that the depression need not last forever. I have overcome before, and I can overcome again.

Posted in sqt

{SQT} – seven things I’ve learned about depression and antidepressants

Now that I’ve been on antidepressants for seven whole days, I can consider myself quite the expert, right? (please note the sarcasm)

Please take this list with a grain of salt, and remember that I speak from my own very limited experience. I’m just trying to share from that experience, not replace the very thorough informational guides that come with the medicine, or the more personally-tailored knowledge you can get from your doctor.

  1. I was a proud and arrogant fool not to have sought help and started taking an antidepressant earlier in my life. Well, that’s probably too harsh, since depression does its best to talk you out of asking for help. But a lot of things in¬†high school, marriage, and parenting would have been significantly easier if I wasn’t simultaneously trying to manage dysfunctional emotions and deal with faulty cognitive processes along the way – and it was my fear of appearing weak or insufficient or incapable that kept me from opening up or seeking medical guidance.
  2. The mental health system is incredibly challenging to navigate. It seems like every doctor who is liked and respected doesn’t take insurance… and every doctor who does take insurance either works for an inpatient clinic or has horrible reviews. And because of the personal nature of therapy and psychiatry, the doctor or therapist you try first may clash with you pretty badly – and when you’re feeling overwhelmed by everyday life, the thought of having to try multiple doctors and therapists is enough to shut the process down. If I didn’t have access to my Employee Assistance Office I probably would still be avoiding calling people.
  3. Antidepressants come with a pretty intense and rather scary list of side effects. I think what’s worth remembering is that they are¬†potential side effects, not guaranteed side effects, and that the more serious ones are very rare – they just have to be mentioned because they are so potentially dangerous. I’ve had several different side effects that have come and gone already but mostly just headaches, and I would take a bad headache over depression any day. But¬†I didn’t realize that before I started the medicine. I was so scared of the side effects that I held onto the prescription for a whole week before getting it filled (classic case of taking the evil you know over the evil you fear) – and I had been depressed for so long that I didn’t realize the extent to which it was draining my life of energy and joy.
  4. The Internet is full of all the worst-case scenario stories. I know those stories are true (they are more likely if psychiatric medication is prescribed by a general practitioner as opposed to an actual psychiatrist, by the way), but they are not the only part of the picture. If you have depression, an anti-depressant can help restore your energy, your hope, your light, and your life. In general I think it is better to find a good psychiatrist and take his or her advice instead of amping up your feelings of anxiety and hopelessness by endlessly scouring the Internet.
  5. Antidepressants DO NOT turn you into someone you are not. They will allow you to be ¬†more yourself by removing some of the darkness and despair that have infiltrated your soul.¬†I read, back¬†in high school, an article in a Christian magazine arguing against the use of antidepressants, claiming that they dulled one’s sensitivity, empathy, and personality. From what I have experienced, I would agree that antidepressants may make you less sensitive and empathetic. But if you are sensitive to the point that a casual¬†conversation brings you to tears, or empathetic to the point that you cannot help your crying child because his tears fill you with so much guilt and anxiety, you would be well served by having those qualities reduced to a functional level. Sensitivity and empathy are not virtues: it is the actions to which they typically lead, when they are healthy, which are virtuous.
  6. Depression makes virtue more of a challenge. I was amazed at how easy it was to be patient and gentle with the boys when I felt peaceful and happy inside! I suppose the silver lining of the depression is that I’ve gotten to practice pursuing virtue in the midst of challenge and even suffering (although that word always seems so extreme).
  7. I’ll reference that article from high school again to remark that, although antidepressants may be overprescribed (I would have no way of knowing), they are most definitely stigmatized. I have only told one person (besides my husband) in real life that I am now taking an antidepressant, and she is a friend who has been by my side through every episode of depression and every dark moment I’ve had. Frankly, I’m afraid of the reaction I might get, the responses I’ve read in comment sections as educated as that of the New York Times, that tell me what the depression said through all these years: if you only had more faith, if you prayed more, if you served/volunteered more to get your mind off of yourself, if you exercised more, if you ate this food or avoided this other food, if you stopped whining and moping about life, if you focused on the positive, if you practiced gratitude, and so on, you wouldn’t need that medication. It’s just a scam by Big Pharma anyway. It won’t help you much and you’ll do long-term damage to your mind and body. Just pull yourself out of that pit on your own – why are you acting like it’s so hard? And I can’t explain to everyone that I have tried all those things, that sometimes faith and prayer have been¬†about the only things keeping me from suicide, that biking 60 miles a week and cutting out refined sugar didn’t cure my PPD the first time through it, that parenting three children 3 and under doesn’t exactly give a person much time to navel-gaze. Most people wouldn’t care to hear it anyway, because their opinion is already formed. In a way, I’m still the proud and arrogant fool I was for all those years, because I want this to be my dark secret, my shameful crutch; I don’t want anybody to know my weakness, as if it were something sinful. Revealing my hypothyroidism doesn’t change the way anybody thinks of me; revealing my depression (and the way I’ve chosen to treat it) might, and I’m too proud to want to risk lowering myself in their judgment.

Head over to This Ain’t the Lyceum for the rest of the link-up!

Posted in musings

presence and PPD

Back in January I decided that my word for 2017 would be “presence”, with the goal of being more present with my family, community, church, and job, instead of being disconnected or lost in daydreams. It’s not that I think daydreams or introversion are a bad thing – I just don’t want to regret the time I wasted or the things I did half-heartedly because I was distracted with meaningless things. And so I did my best, through the worst of my PPD, to be present with my family. When I could barely make myself get out of bed, I would try to play games and read books in the bedroom.¬†I would try to fill the days with fun activities to keep us going so that the depression and anxiety wouldn’t drag me down and away from them. But I still felt so disconnected, so far away from them and from our life together. I spent hours reading just to escape my emotions, and in the process isolated myself from the people around me. I would watch my children laughing without feeling any corresponding happiness; I would sit with Aubade smiling at me and ache with heart-wrenching sadness. Look at these children, so happy and beautiful, the depression whispered, and look at you, so miserable, so unable to laugh and play with them and appreciate their silliness.

Getting an official diagnosis and some outside, objective perspective helped me see that this inability to feel present was¬†not a moral failing or a character flaw, but a symptom of a disease, and that in itself was encouraging and reassuring; it didn’t solve the problem, but it gave me more strength to fight it. It was a shield against the barbed lies that are, for me, a hallmark¬†of the experience of depression. And at each step, as I sought help and as the depression tried to convince me not to ask for help – that the risks of vulnerability or the potential of getting a bad therapist or the side effects of medication were too great – it was my goal of presence that kept pushing me forward. Because I could tell that I was not capable of being fully present in that state, and because I wanted to be fully present, I knew that I needed something to change.

I never thought that I would take an antidepressant. Those are for weak people, the depression had always told me, and I don’t really like the idea of taking a daily pill (I’m still slightly resentful of my daily thyroid hormone replacement, to be honest, to the point where I once tried going off it cold turkey to see if I’d be ok without it… let’s just say that wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had). And yet, for this past week when I’ve been taking it, I’ve had more internal peace and happiness than I’ve had for a long time. I’ve watched my baby sleeping or cooing up at me and been filled with deep, deep love instead of the ache of inconsolable sadness; I’ve sat with my boys at the table and laughed at their silly antics instead of ignoring or snapping at them. I’ve planned and cooked¬†healthy meals and cleaned up the kitchen every night, and helped my husband with the laundry, and packed diaper bags and taken the kids out without feeling scared or overwhelmed. I feel like I’m living my life again, instead of just observing it through a dim and melancholy glass: I am present. I hope it lasts but I’m not going to waste time worrying about that; I’m going to enjoy this while I can.