Life Lessons I Learned from my Dad June 11, 2014
The older I get the more I realize how much I’m like my dad. From overly critiquing the logistics of car commercials or only wanting to eat popcorn for dinner, I’m more like my dad than I ever thought. I was a mama’s girl growing up and thought every attribute of my personhood was a direct result of her influence. Now that she has been gone for a little over six years, I’m starting to recognize how very much like my father I am as well. My dad has dissimilar life philosophies than my mom did. They say opposites attract, and in their case, this is very true. I believe I benefited from having two very different people with different beliefs about life raise me and influence who I would become one day. These are the life lessons I learned from my dad:
1. Cross that bridge when you come to it
My mother was a world-class champion in worrying. She could come up with any disastrous scenario of any situation and worry about every minute detail until she was sick to her stomach. My dad has always been decidedly more laid-back. I remember many times worrying about something completely out of my control and him reminding me not to worry about it until it actually happened. When I was little I had no idea what the idiom “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” actually meant, but as I grew I began to appreciate my dad’s way of handling the unknown. As an adult I have really benefited from not being riddled with the anxiety constant worrying brings and appreciate my dad’s approach to life. Why worry about something that may never happen?
2. No good deed goes unpunished
I’ve heard my dad say on more than one occasion that no good deed goes unpunished. I’ve come to realize over the years that this means that even when I have good intentions and do something good for someone else, that doesn’t mean that my actions will always be appreciated. Sometimes they are even unwelcome. I used to say this mantra a lot when I worked in my first job as a social worker. I would work my tail off for the benefit of a client and not only have it not appreciated, but criticized. I had to realize that I’m not always going to get the praise and adulation I expect when performing “good deeds,” and yet I still need to do and be good.
3. Don’t always work up to your full potential
My mom had a very strong work ethic. She believed if someone is paying you, you work as hard and adeptly as you can to accomplish the task. While I admire this, I noticed that when she came home from work she was so exhausted she had nothing left to give to her family. When I was older and able to articulate my feelings into words, I told her she gave so much of herself at the office that she had nothing left for her children at the end of the day. I know she listened and heard me, but the work ethic that she had learned from her parents won out every day. When I got my first job my parents gave me very different sets of advice. My mom told me to work as hard as I could and to do my very best every day. My dad told me not to work up to my full potential because then my employers would always expect me to work that hard and that was a quick way to work myself to death. I could still adequately perform my job duties without giving myself ulcers and a heart attack by the age of 30. More often than not I have stuck to my dad’s philosophy of not working up to my full potential. That is, until I had my first social work job and I loved it and was so dedicated to my clients. I noticed after a few years I had missed out on things like trick-or-treating with my children, my daughter’s first piano recital, and my son’s birthday party because I was working. I would come home so exhausted I was literally too tired to make a sandwich for dinner, let alone be a good parent. I know the job I was doing was important, but my family is more important to me.
4. There are jerks every where you go.
I remember complaining to my dad once about a jerk I worked with and how I couldn’t wait to get a new job and be away from this jerk. My dad just chuckled and said that he has encountered a jerk, or several jerks, at every job he’s ever been at. There were jerks in the Army with him, there are jerks at church, there are jerks at every job, and there are jerks in your neighborhood. The only person I can control is myself and how I react to the jerks. I’ve had to learn to deal with the jerks and get on with my life, my job, my church work, and my job assignment. There are always going to be jerks. What’s important is that I’m not one of them.
5. Appreciate Nature
My dad loves nature. If you are Facebook friends with him you know that he likes to re-post pictures taken at various National Parks. Growing up in Utah, I had an abundance of nature to appreciate just off my front steps. My parents were always taking us for drives in the mountains and pointing out the beautiful views and the gorgeous changing of the leaves in Autumn. Whenever family from Back East came to visit he would take them to Antelope Island, in the middle of the Great Salt Lake, and show off the spectacular scenery. My dad loves to go camping and would accompany me and my friends on a church youth group trip up to Jackson Hole every summer for some river rafting. My mom stayed home and read her book. I’ve hiked with him in Zions and Arches National Park. We’ve enjoyed the sunrise over the ocean in Florida together. And whenever I leave the state of Utah and return, I see the beautiful Rockies rising in the distance and my heart thrills. I believe this is because my dad taught me to appreciate the beauty of the nature around me.
6. Stay true to your own conscience
One of the greatest things I admire about my dad is that when he was drafted into Vietnam he went as a conscientious objector. Because of his religion he is a pacifist and does not believe in taking a life for any reason. In the Army he was trained as a Medic and took care of POWs instead of taking more lives. I am proud that he was able to stay true to his religion and fulfill his duty as a citizen at the same time. My dad once told me that I always had a deep sense of what was right and wrong and was fair and what was unjust. I believe I got this from him. As an adult I refuse to be a party to things that offend my conscience, even if my culture, my religion, or my community tell me that what I believe is wrong.
7. When it’s important to your kids, you show up
I can’t say that my dad loves choir concerts, or piano recitals, or school plays, but he showed up to every one his kids were in. Even when “the game” was on. I can’t even imagine how many excruciatingly boring performances my dad sat through over the years but I never heard him complain (not to me at least). My dad and I are different religions and he often attends religious rituals that he doesn’t necessarily understand and can’t participate in. That hasn’t stopped him from supporting me, my siblings, or his grandchildren in these rituals. He once told me that he may not understand something, but if it’s important to one of his kids, it’s important to him.
8. Unconditional Love
The greatest life lesson my dad taught me is the hardest one to write about. When I was in 3rd grade my mom was diagnosed with a pre-cancerous condition in her breasts. This was the late 1980s and there weren’t a lot of good options. My parents decided together that my mother would have a bilateral mastectomy. It was very scary to me as an 8 year old to have words like “cancer” and “surgery” bandied about. It was also scary to see my mom’s body forever altered. Her breasts were never rebuilt and she lived the rest of her life with scars across her chest. I saw the unconditional love my dad had for my mother during this time. She couldn’t lift her arms up very far and couldn’t do a lot of things for herself. He bathed her, helped her on the toilet, gave her enemas when the pain pills caused her constipation, affirmed to her that he still loved her and was attracted to her even though her body had changed, and cheered on her recovery in his own quiet and supportive way. This had a lasting impact on me as I grew. I knew that marriage wasn’t a relationship to take lightly and sometimes when it comes to “for better or for worse” the worse is really much worse than you ever anticipated. Twenty years after my mom’s mastectomy, my parents were dealt an even more devastating blow. My mom was diagnosed with stage IV inoperable pancreatic cancer. Yet again, I watched my dad take care of my mom in a way that left her with the dignity to make her own choices. He protected her wishes. He supported her when she decided to do chemo, even though it caused more pain and didn’t prolong her life. He helped her make the decision to end treatment and opt for hospice care. And he was the person in the room with her when she died. Through their 36 year long marriage, through the fights and disagreements, through the births of three children, through illnesses, and mortgage payments, and choir performances, and summer camps, and finally an empty nest, my dad remained loyal to my mother. He taught me more about unconditional love through his example as a husband to my mother than he ever could with any words he’d ever speak. My dad taught me how to be a committed spouse and I only hope that I can show my husband the kind of unconditional love my dad taught me through the way he lives his life.
Happy Father’s Day, Dadoo! I love you.
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post
Do you know what I’m really tired of people telling me? That little girls are more dramatic than little boys. That they’re so happy they have all male children or having a male child because “girls are drama.” Bullshit.
As a mother of two boys and two girls I can say unequivocally that the drama comes in equal parts from the different sexes in my home. And any drama or non-drama that comes from my children is solely based on their individual personalities and not their genitals.
Maybe it’s because I allow my sons the freedom to express the full capacity of their emotions without shaming them that they actually feel comfortable crying and saying their feelings are hurt or that they are willing to admit that they are sensitive. My two sons are very different from each other. One has more tender feelings than the other and that is okay. That’s a condition of being a human being, not a condition of being a certain sex.
There is a lot of crying and fighting and sibling rivalry in my house. It’s hard growing up and it’s hard living with other people. Especially your siblings some times. But I refuse to allow my daughters the space to express their emotions while simultaneously denying that from my sons because of the harmful and cultural lie that “boys don’t cry.” Yes, they do and it’s damn healthy.
I want all my children, my two sons and my two daughters, to grow up into people who can be empathetic and compassionate to others. I don’t want any of them to steel and shield themselves from the emotions of life because of damaging cultural expectations. How can I do this if I shunt and make them repress their emotions now while they’re growing up based on their sex?
In short, next time someone laughingly tells me that girls are so much drama, expect me to call you out. One individual girl might be more dramatic than one individual boy, but it’s a sweeping generalization that is hurting girls as much as hurts boys. Just stop it.
What I Learned From My Mom About Parenting May 5, 2014
The other day I was looking at a photo of myself at my toddler daughter’s age. I marveled at how much she looked like me and I relished the family resemblance. We don’t have the same eye color, but the same eye shape, and the same long eyelashes. I realized that, although I was hoping she would have the same blue eyes as mine, she has hazel eyes like my mother. Then I pulled out a photo of my mother crying on her first birthday. I could see my daughter’s face in hers since my baby has that exact same expression when she cries. I realized the family resemblance ran through at least three generations. These moments are especially bittersweet since I can’t share them with my mother because she died six years ago from pancreatic cancer. The family resemblances don’t end at our face shapes and our shared hair color. My mom taught me a lot of lessons about parenting and oftentimes I’m a reflection of her.
1. The love of reading
Every Saturday of my childhood my mother would take me to the library. She was an avid reader and always had her name on a list to reserve the latest must-read book. I spent countless hours at our city library stacking up the piles of books she let me check-out. I remember when she got me my first library card and how proud I was to be responsible for my own books. I remember my mother said once she could survive anything in life as long as she had her books to take her away on a new adventure. She instilled her love of books in me. I don’t take my children to the library as often as she did, but I take them frequently. In the summer times I read a large chapter book to my children for a few minutes every night. They’re always begging me to read more chapters. Whenever I see one of my kids reading a book independent of a school assignment I get a little thrill.
2. Parenting doesn’t stop when your child turns 18
After my mother died I was going through her things and picking out the books I wanted to keep while the rest would be donated. Among the thousands of books I found in her collection was a book about parenting from an empty nest. To think that my mother was worried about parenting her children right even after we were adults let me know how much she truly did love us and wanted us to succeed. I was married young and after I had only completed two and a half years of college. My mother constantly encouraged me to go back to college. She wanted each of her children to have a college education and it was an important goal for her since she never got the opportunity. After the birth of my second child, every so often my mom would ask me when I was planning on going back. Once I made the decision to quit my job and go back to school full-time my mother supported me completely. She and my dad even paid for the semesters not covered by financial aid. It took me two years to graduate and my mother couldn’t have been prouder. I’ll always be thankful she was there to see me graduate since she died six months after I donned my cap and gown.
My mom always taught me that “blood is thicker than water” or that you should always stand up for your family no matter what. She taught me that you should always have your family’s back over other people. I think I learned this lesson especially too well because one of the earliest memories my younger brother has is me taking off my shoe in the foyer at our church and hitting a kid with it who was teasing him. My mother especially wanted her children to have a close relationship as siblings. I think because she instilled that loyalty to my family in me is why my sister and brother are two of the most important people in the world to me. I try to instill this in my own children, which is why it’s especially painful for me when they fight with each other. I want them to know that most friends come and go, but family is forever.
4. Your life doesn’t stop because you have children
When I became a mother for the first time my mother told me that children are supposed to fit into our lives, not the other way around. Because of this I have not lost my whole self in motherhood to the point where that is my whole identity. While I love being a mother and parenting my children, I have retained my hobbies and my friendships and I encourage this with my husband as well. I completed my Bachelors degree when I had two children and plan to complete a Masters degree when my youngest gets out of the toddler years. Active parenting is such a short period of time, and while most of my time if devoted to parenting I hold a small space that is just my own and only belongs to me.
My mother was somebody I always could talk to. I would lay in her bed with her for hours talking about my life and my problems. Even during my cranky teenage years my mother was someone I could always talk to and she would always listen. She would even put down her book long enough to pay attention to me. Years later as an adult, even though she only lived five miles away, I would call my mom and we would spend hours on the phone. I’ve had friends tell me that they could never talk to their mothers the way I talked to mine, like a friend. I remember the first time I reached for the phone to call my mother after she died and realizing, with a slap to the face, she wouldn’t be on the other end if I called her number. I still have the very last voice mail she ever left me singing me a birthday song and wishing my a happy birthday. As my oldest is about the enter the teenage years I have tried to develop this relationship with her. She comes and talks to me about school, her friends, and the boy she likes and I try to listen without judgment. The other day she told me liked hanging out with me, so maybe I’m doing a good job at this.
6. Accepting me for who I am
I was flipping through a book about mothers that my in-laws gave me one Mother’s day when I came across this quote by Fredelle Maynard and it struck me:
“Beyond all lessons, beyond the model she provided, my mother gave me a parent’s ultimate gift; she made me feel lovable and good. She paid attention; she listened; she remembered what I said. She did not think me perfect, but she accepted me, without qualification.”
My mother always accepted me for who I was. She didn’t try to change me or push me into doing things I didn’t want to do. I mean, within reason. She did expect me to finish my vegetables at dinner. She didn’t try to change me into the Homecoming Queen when I was a book nerd. She let me make my owns mistakes and learn from them. A lot of parents try to make their children into their own image and that is not what my mother did. She lets us find out who we were without expectations, or qualifications, like Maynard said. As a mother, I have loved watching my children’s personalities unfold, and like my mother, I try to not push my own view of who they should be on them. I want them to grow up to be exactly who they are.
7. Time is a gift
The most important thing my mom taught me about parenting is that time is a gift. The reason why time is so precious is because you never know when your time is going to end. My mother died when I was 29 years old. I believed that we had at least 20 more years together. I thought she would be around to watch my children grow up and to be an active grandparent in their lives, but she’s not. That has made every moment that I ever spent with her special. I don’t know how much time I have with my children on this earth. That means the time I do spend with them is precious to me and I want them to know it’s special too. I can’t think of a greater gift to my children then to give them my time.
Cross posted at the Huffington Post
You think you know better but you don’t April 28, 2014
Brace yourselves for a rant.
I’m really tired of being accused of being a lazy mother because I medicate my children who have ADHD. I’m really tired of being told I just don’t want to deal with them, so I choose to drug them.
I’m sorry, but no. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a real thing and it’s not always solved with some extra playtime. It is a real psychiatric disorder of the neutrodevelopmental type and is recognized by the DSM-IV. Two of my children have been tested and observed extensively and they are in the clinical range. Their behavior and symptoms are not typical for their age group. Their parents, teachers, and doctor didn’t make up this disorder just because we like drugging children into mindless drooling drones.
Trust me, I wasn’t real thrilled with the thought of my daughter going on medication when she was first diagnosed with ADHD 7 years ago. I was in deep denial. I did not see the behaviors her teacher saw because, her being my first child, her behaviors were normal to me. I thought this was how all six year olds acted. I thought all six year olds could only do their homework for a few minutes at a time before they needed to go run around. I thought all six year olds stole items with little or no value because of impulse control problems. I thought all six year olds lost interest in an activity within minutes. I thought all six year olds had trouble concentrating, daydreamed, were excessively concerned with what others were doing, and had trouble listening and remembering what they were told. I excused her behavior with saying her beloved grandmother just died and so this is why she was distracted in school. I excused it by saying I was pregnant and there many changes in the household with a new baby coming and this is why she acted antsy. It wasn’t until her teacher told me that she missed 80% of what went on in class each day before I got out of my denial and allowed her to be tested for ADHD. And it was even harder to accept that my child was two standard deviations from the typical behavior of six year olds.
Being committed and concerned parents, her father and I immediately scheduled an appointment with her pediatrician. She had us do additional testing just to make sure. That test also came back with her showing signs in the clinical range. She prescribed her a very low dose of an ADHD medicine and waited to see results. We barely saw any and I doubted that my child had what everyone said she had. Luckily for me at the time I worked with a lot of therapists and child psychologists and I sought their opinions. They pointed me toward a different medication, that is not a stimulant and not addictive, to see if that worked better. She was seven years old and deep into 2nd grade before she finally got on the right medication and her entire world (and our entire world) changed. I’m sure her 2nd grade teacher can tell you the exact day she started medication because she went from a child who literally could not sit down in her chair, so her teacher put her in a spot in the classroom where she could stand beside her desk, to a child her could sit for longer periods of time and concentrate.
Do you know what ADHD did to my child in the meantime before we got the right medication figured out? It destroyed her self-esteem. Because she could not focus and concentrate she was way behind her peers in their knowledge. She could barely read a few sight words at the end of 1st grade. She thought she was dumb. Do you know what it’s like to have your 7 year old daughter feel so dumb and worthless she threatens to kill herself? I was lucky I knew therapists and I was able to get her treatment with therapists who taught her behavioral techniques that would help her concentrate and who also helped build her self-esteem. We were lucky to move to a school that had a phenomenal special education teacher who fought for her, with us, to get her into some resource classes so she could catch up with the kids in her grade.
And finally in 7th grade my precious daughter is finally on grade level for reading and I consider it a miracle. I thank my God above that there is a medication out there that helps her focus and concentrate. She is old enough to know the difference between the days she doesn’t take the medication and she prefers to take it because she knows school is easier to deal with when she does. And she is thriving in Junior High in a way I never dreamed possible. She has wonderful grades and has even been on the Honor Roll. She has taken great strides to become more independent and responsible and she is doing so well. Me withholding medication from my daughter for a real psychiatric disorder would be as dumb as my parents withholding asthma medication from me as a child just because they didn’t want to “over medicate their child.” I don’t think the strides she has made would have been possible without the help of her medication.
I don’t know why we as a society treat illnesses of the brain as imaginary and it’s shameful to treat them when we don’t do that for any other part of the body. If my child had diabetes there is no question that she would be given insulin. If she had asthma like me, there is no way I would deprive her of a rescue inhaler. All my wishing away her ADHD didn’t work and the strides she has made in the last 7 years are because her medication suppresses her ADHD symptoms and allows her to learn.
I’m not saying every child with ADHD needs to be medicated. I’m just say my kids do and I refuse to be ashamed because of it. So, those of you who think you know better than me, the woman who gave birth to my daughter and my son with ADHD; who think they know more than their father who has devoted his life to raising these children; who think you know better than the doctor who has treated them since the first days of their lives; who think you know better than the child psychologists I took my daughter to to learn behavioral techniques to help her cope, I’m here to say, you think you know better BUT YOU DON’T. When it comes to my children and their medication this is a MYOB issue. I have dealt with this for almost a decade. I have spent countless hours reading research and books. I have talked to many therapists. And you? You read ONE article and you think you know more than me about ADHD? Laughable. Keep your uniformed opinions to yourself.
To learn what it’s like to be in the mind of a person with ADHD, read this.
The check’s been taken care of April 21, 2014
On Good Friday my kids had the day off school. Wanting to do something special with them, I planned a day of going out to lunch at one of our favorite restaurants and then off to the library for books, books, books! Taking 4 kids between the ages of almost 13 and a toddler out anywhere is always a big fiasco. There’s always fighting over who gets to sit where in the car, who looked at whom, who breathed too hard in another’s direction, and so forth. By the time we got to this little local Italian restaurant my mom-nerves were shot.
Luckily this restaurant is very low-key and family friendly. And they have the best pizza lunch special ever. Everything was going along like normal. We ordered our drinks first, then food once everyone had decided what they wanted, and there was the requisite “I have to potty” requests. The good thing about food is it keeps everyone’s mouths occupied so the bickering is kept to a minimum. As we finished our meal I was expecting to receive the check, pay it, go to the bathroom and wash marina sauce off of several small hands, and then move on to the library. Instead the waitress said that a gentlemen had already taken care of our check. She said that he said he knew us and wanted to do something nice. I was so flabbergasted my first response was to say, “why?” She even brought out mini-ice cream sandwiches this man had bought all of my kids. I had been so distracted with my 4 quibbling offspring I had not noticed if someone I knew was in the restaurant. It’s a popular local place so it’s not unusual for me to run into someone I know. I even set a tip down on the table and the owner came out to tell me that it wasn’t necessary because this man took care of all of it. He had a huge smile on his usual kinda grouchy face and thanked us for coming in. My kids were so pleased to have this kind act done for them they immediately made requests to do something nice for someone else.
Did I happen to mention that this is the restaurant where my husband asked me to marry him? Yeah, it’s a special place where good things tend to happen.
This good deed done for my family reminded me of another time 15 years ago where something similar happened. I had almost forgotten about it until Good Friday.
My husband and I went on our honeymoon to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, one of my most favorite places on earth. It’s beautiful, breath-taking country. On our last night there the hubs and I decided we wanted to go big and eat dinner at a fancy restaurant. When we got to the restaurant we had in mind we found out that the prices were too expensive for our poor college student budget. So we settled on going to the local steakhouse that was a lot like Sizzler. We had just enough cash on us to buy gas to make it home and we didn’t want to use that money on anything else. Luckily for me there was plenty of money in my bank account. But as we went to the register to pay for what we had just ordered (like Sizzler, you have to pay before you can be seated) my debit card would not work. They tried it several times and it just wouldn’t work. It was humiliating to say the least and I sat down and cried thinking the last night of our honeymoon was ruined. I even think I articulated that sentiment out loud since the manager came out and had us sit down and he said he would work it out since we were there for a special occasion. Pretty soon our food was brought out to us and I figured the manager finally got my debit card to work since it was brought back to me. It turned out to be a lovely meal we quite enjoyed. Near the end of it a cowboy walked up to us and said that he heard we were on our honeymoon. He asked us where we were all from and made some small talk. The hubs and I are really out-going people and we’re used to strangers talking to us out of the blue. As the cowboy was about to leave he handed us a small bundle of cash and told us it was enough to pay for our meals and tip our waitress. He congratulated us on our marriage and left the restaurant. I think our jaws dropped to the floor. We were so humbled and so grateful. Our debit card never had been charged for that meal. The funny thing was, on our way home the next day we used my debit card in plenty of places and it worked perfectly.
It’s good to know that there are kind people in the world who like doing things to help others. I’ve been the recipient of these kind acts on many occasions and it has always driven me to be more generous and more kind. I hope 20-30 years from now when I’m a grandma enjoying a lunch in solitude, if I happen to see a young mother struggling with her pack of children in a restaurant, that I will look at my Good Friday experience, pay for her meal, and pay it forward.
I can’t get out of my sweat pants – an essay on depression April 16, 2014
I have clinical depression.
Despite all social stigmas to the contrary or people accusing me of being “crazy”, I’m not ashamed to admit that I have depression. Just like I’m not ashamed to admit that I have asthma.
The first time I experienced depression I was in 7th grade. I think it had something to do with the onset of puberty coupled with my entire life changing. After 7 years as a stay-at-home-parent, my mom went back to work full-time and I was suddenly responsible for caring for my 6 year old brother after school until my parents got home from work. I started junior high this year and didn’t cope well with changes in friendship and harder classes.
The way I dealt with it, because I had no idea why I felt so sad all the time, was to stop eating. It wasn’t a conscious decision on my part. The stress and anxiety of my life made me lose my appetite. I remember going through the lunch line at school and getting my tray and turning right around and throwing everything on it away. After a while, one of the lunch ladies caught on and scolded me. So I learned it was best to take my tray, sit down, mess with the food but not eat anything, and then discard it. After 7th grade I asked my mom not to buy school lunch anymore. I don’t want to make it sound like I had an eating disorder because I didn’t. Not eating was a coping mechanism I unconsciously used when the stress and anxiety was overwhelming, and it wasn’t overwhelming all the time.
Sometimes when the depression got really bad in junior high, I would come straight home from school and change into my pajamas. My dad caught on and he said something to me at dinner time about being in my pajamas several days in a row way before bedtime. I learned it was better not to change into my pajamas until bed time. People who are depressed like to hide their problematic behaviors because they are so ashamed of the way they feel. I was very ashamed and yet I didn’t have the words or life experience to voice what I was going through.
For most of junior high and high school I didn’t know that what I had was called depression. And that’s not to say I was depressed all the time. I was able to function and get good grades. I just had a few overwhelming bouts off and on and when it got bad I would stop eating and wear my pajamas every chance I could get. I also couch-potatoed with reruns of The Real World (this was back in the ’90s when the show was good).
That hardest part about dealing with depression as an adolescent, for me, was that no one seemed to notice. Research has shown that depression is genetic, and I watched both of my parents struggle with depression. I think both of them were too depressed to notice that I was also depressed. There were many nights I had to make dinner for the family, make sure my brother did his homework and practice the piano, and put myself to bed. I don’t blame my parents…I think they did the best they could with what skills and knowledge they had at the time. And I know what it’s like to barely have the energy to get through the day that any additional problem seems insurmountable.
I struggled with bouts of depression until I was 20 years old. That is when my fiance (now husband) and caring roommates interceded and got me help. I learned that a lot of my depression stemmed from a hormonal imbalance because it often got worse when my hormones were at their lowest levels during my menses. Since that time I’ve either been on birth control or pregnant and my depression abated for a very long time.
For 15 years I was depression free. Even when I lost my mom to cancer I can’t say I was depressed because I didn’t experience the same symptoms. Yes, I was unbelievably sad and grieving. But grief is not depression and I sought ways to cope with my grief so that I didn’t become depressed. I attended a grief support group, went to a few counseling sessions, and let myself feel every sad emotion I had when I had it. It’s actually very emotionally healthy to let yourself feel sadness instead of repressing it.
What I didn’t know was my depression was lying in wait ready to take over my brain chemistry at any time I was not vigilant. Last September my husband, a long with 30% of his company, was laid off. He was out of work for four months, which in retrospect doesn’t seem like very long, but at the time it was the longest four months of my life. I was in a constant state of panic wondering if we were going to lose our house and end up living in a van down by the river. Not that we could have even afforded a van. We depleted our savings and racked up some credit card debt, but with the unfailing support of family members and friends we pulled through. And we were treated to some of the most humbling displays of generosity and love our family has ever seen. We survived it and now he has a great job and we’re in a much better place.
It was after my husband went back to work that the depression hit. I was in full-on survival mode for four months and I didn’t allow myself to process what I was going through, which I think is fairly typical. I couldn’t understand why getting out of bed and taking care of my children was harder than ever when I no longer had the threat of a van and a river hanging over my head. It wasn’t until a good friend interceded, who could tell what I was going through, that I finally admitted that after 15 years of keeping my depression at bay, it was back. Thanks to her I started taking a supplement that improves the serotonin levels in your brain and now I finally feel like I’m back to my regular self.
What is absolutely infuriating about depression is other people’s perception of it. I hate it when people tell me when I’m depressed to just think happy, positive thoughts. Having depression is not the same as having a bad day and a picture of a fluffy kitten will NOT lift my spirits. Depression is more than being sad. Or when people tell me I need to forget about myself and serve others and that will cure my depression. I hate to break it to people, but most people with depression are able to function in life and they are serving others and the joy from serving others doesn’t fix chemical imbalances in your brain.
So let me tell you what depression is like for me. It is debilitating. It makes mundane, ordinary tasks like taking a shower or making the bed seem impossible. It is soul-sucking. It breaks you down into a person who no longer feels anything but apathy. It also makes you feel completely worthless and unlovable. When I’m in the throes of depression my brain lies to me and tells me that I am worth nothing. No one cares about me. The world would be a better place if I died. And when you have all this negative self-talk running through your head all day long, no amount of fluffy kitten pictures is going to take that away. No amount of weeding your neighbor’s garden is going to take all that negative self-talk away. If anything, you just tell yourself how worthless you are because you could have weeded that garden better and/or faster. Another thing that happens to me when I’m depressed is I isolate myself from others. The internet and Facebook has made it super easy for me to be social without ever having to leave the house, and well, never leaving the house when you are physically capable of it is not healthy. Every human being needs real-life human contact and SUNLIGHT!
So what do you do when you suspect a friend is depressed? I would say the best thing you can do is reach out. One of the first lies our brains tell us is that no one, absolutely no one, cares about us. You reaching out and expressing concern proves our depressed brains wrong. Once you’ve expressed your concern, don’t offer them dumb platitudes (“the sun will come out tomorrow”), don’t try to minimize what they’re going through (“some people have it way worse than you”), just listen, listen, LISTEN! If they express their negative self-talk to you (I’m worthless and no one loves me) validate that what they are is experiencing is real but what they’re telling themselves is not true (“If you were worthless and no one loves you, why would I be here reaching out worried about you?).
I think I’m pretty lucky that my friend reached out when she did. I was in a swirling vortex of despair and didn’t even realize it. Most of the time I can recognize when my depression is coming on and combat it with exercise, going outside for a walk, talking to a friend, reaching out to my husband and letting him know what’s going on, or watching a really funny movie and laughing my guts out. Once I’m in a full-on depression those things don’t work anymore, so it’s best to head depression off at the pass. Like when I start to feel like my asthma is acting up, I start using my rescue inhaler more and resting.
To those who are currently clinically depressed I would ask that you reach out. To a friend, neighbor, family member, spouse…anyone you trust. Sometimes medication helps, sometimes it doesn’t. I just want you to know that you’re not alone. You’re not worthless. And there are people who love you deeply.