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I Could Have Had 15 Kids

September 25, 2016

wedding

When I first got married I wanted kids right away.  And I wanted 15 of them.  I love kids and I love big families. 15 seemed both outrageous and theoretically possible. Biologically, anyway.  Plus, that was more than I’d ever heard of and I wanted to beat everyone.  I don’t know why.  Probably because I was 18 when I got married and that’s just how 18-year-olds think.

I like to think that people have a “magic number” of kids they’re meant to have. That’s probably bogus, but maybe that’s just how 36-year-olds think. As it turns out, our magic number (if there is such a thing) is 5. There are a lot of factors contributing to that number, and I’m very happy with it, but I wonder if 150 years ago I could have had 15 kids. Assuming of course that my uterus could survive it (which, incidentally, it cannot), the babies didn’t need to be in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (which 3 of them did), and I didn’t need an emergency C-section (which I did twice) or a blood transfusion (yup, that too).

But other than THAT, I could have been just fine (boy, I’m grateful for modern medicine). But pretending for a moment that giving birth would NOT have killed me 150 years ago, I’m thinking that I could have had a lot more children than I have now simply because I’d be able to handle daily life with them better in a 19th century world. For one main reason: people left you and your kids the heck alone.

Back in the 1800’s young kids were getting up when the rooster crowed and milking cows.  They were helping with planting and harvesting and churning butter and baking bread.  They sewed clothes and chopped wood and when they had time off they ran barefoot in the mud and rolled wheels in the streets and and no one said a word about it.

Maybe I’m glorifying things a teeny bit. Every village has their gossipy busybody who’s all up in everybody’s bidness.  And I sure love having a dishwasher, flushing toilet, and the aforementioned modern medicine. But I definitely think that in general people hassled you less about your kids’ feet.

The other day I was at a convenience store (an exceptionally clean one, I might add) and I had Princess (9), Preemie (8), and BB (1)  with me. BB was driving us all nuts while Preemie was deciding what to buy. Princess held him but he wanted to run around. He was pulling baked goods off the shelves so I grabbed him and held him. I tried to distract him but he was flipping out because he wanted to get down and explore.  I brought him over to the candy where he wouldn’t do much damage if he grabbed things off the shelves and put him down. I told Preemie that she’d better hurry.  She told me she had to use the bathroom. while she was in there I just let jack run around in the aisle while I followed him closely. At this point an employee told me to hold BB because he was barefoot and could step on broken glass.  My first instinct was to say, “Oh, you leave broken glass lying all over your store?”  But I just picked him up and tried to hustle everyone out of there ASAP. It was a less than successful trip and I said out loud “This is why I wanted to leave you guys in the car with BB.”

That was frustrating and a little embarrassing, but it got me to thinking about how 150 years ago it was normal for kids to be independent and wander about. You might say that back then kids were treated like adults too much.  But I think they liked it. Kids love to do things “all by themselves” and I think we, as parents, could handle a lot more kids if we let them actually do things by themselves.

People ask me how I handle 5 kids and I’ll tell you my secret: I don’t get 5 kids ready for school and make 5 breakfasts and 5 lunches. I make like, 1 1/2 beakfasts. And My older kids babysit my younger kids.  A lot. I also don’t do most of the chores in the house. The kids do. That’s how I “handle” (if you can call it that) having 5 kids.  But I think I could’ve handled 10 more if society accepted even more autonomy from those kids.

Back then there was the idea that kids were OK to be left alone, and that they were their parent’s business. And parents gave kids a heck of a lot of autonomy because they had to.  They couldn’t run a farm without a gaggle of helpers. But guess what, everyone turned out just fine.  Great, even. But maybe that’s just how an exhausted and frazzled mom thinks.kids-camping

Cancer Survivor Awareness

September 23, 2016
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Photo credit: Susan Harbourt

We hear all the time about campaigns raising awareness for cancer. I always thought that promoting “awareness” was funny because we’re all aware, right? We already know about cancer. It’s tragic, heartbreaking, and an all-too-common occurrence. We all know people who have had it, and I’m sure we all know people who’ve died from it. We wear ribbons, run 5Ks, and donate money in honor of those who have lost the battle. We wear pink in October. We all hate cancer. We are all aware.

But I wasn’t that aware. Until I started writing this post I had no idea how prevalent cancer really was. According to The National Cancer Institute, 39% of Americans will get some form of cancer at some point in their lives. More than one THIRD of all people in the U.S. Let me repeat that: MORE than 1 out of every 3 people will get cancer. That figure seemed so outrageous to me that I hesitated posting it for fear of spreading sensational pseudo-statistics, but I found the same information from multiple credible sources.

Just thinking about all this is enough to send me spiraling into a depression. That’s probably one of the reasons I wasn’t very aware: I really didn’t want to be. It’s just too sad. There’s simply too much pain. But I believe in the power of empathy and in helping others through their struggles; which we can’t do if we avoid thinking about the hard stuff and pretend it doesn’t exist. I’m usually an open book (to a fault) and so I often overshare, but when it comes to tragedy I get very uncomfortable and tend to clam up. As someone who struggles with depression, it feels like I’ve had all the sad feelings I can handle already, so in an effort to avoid The Sad Feelings, I’ve been known to ham it up with inappropriately light-hearted jokes at inopportune times (like at my dad’s funeral). It may seem like I’m not taking it seriously or that I have a heart of stone, but in reality I’m attempting to stave off an episode of sobbing in the fetal position and rocking back and forth (I tell you, I feel things!). However, refusing to acknowledge a problem has never made one go away.

So today I want to share with you my newfound awareness; not of the devastating death toll that cancer leaves in its wake (that’s a whole separate subject), but of the hardships of those who actually survive it. If a third of all people in this country are getting cancer, there are going to be a lot of survivors struggling with the aftermath. I’ve known people who have either died from or survived cancer, but none that were very close to me so I was pretty ignorant about it. I used to simplistically think that you either beat cancer (yay!) or you didn’t (boo!). I never stopped to consider the complexities and difficulties involved in fighting off the disease, nor of the many battles one is left to fight every day afterward.

There’s a Daily Mail article called, “The Downside of Beating Cancer.” Oh geez, I thought, you don’t have to say it quite like THAT, do you? I mean, it even made me uncomfortable just typing that title because it seems like I am minimizing the tragedy of NOT beating cancer. But life is more complicated than that. Of course the desired outcome is to beat the cancer and live a long, happy, cancer-free life. The problem is that we may not be aware of the physical and emotional scars the survivors carry once they have already beaten it. Even wonderful blessings can be excruciatingly painful (think, for example, of having a baby), and cancer survival is certainly no exception.

I recently came into contact with Heather Von St. James who was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma just 3 months after the birth of her daughter. She was told that without treatment she would only live another 15 months, with chemotherapy and radiation treatments she could live 5 more years, or with an experimental surgery AND chemo and radiation she could possibly live another 10 years. She opted for the experimental route and is now 10 years cancer-free and counting!

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Photo Credit: Heather Von St. James

As I was reading her story I cried.  Multiple times.  I cried for her fear and suffering. I cried for her against-all-odds success. I cried for her hope and faith and wisdom. And I cried for her struggles with “survivorship.” From her story I learned that surviving is not always filled with “yays.” I learned about the depression, anxiety, survivors guilt, job loss, friend loss, health problems, and the relentlessness of life that survivors deal with on a daily basis. I learned that for a cancer survivor, life never goes “back to normal.” You can’t go back to your old life, you can only go forward, passing through the hardship, and moving on to a new and different life.

In her blog series about her story, Heather opens up about life after cancer:

I spent an entire year of my life fighting an unseen foe. I threw everything at it I could to make sure I would make it to the 10 year mark they told me I “might” live to: a radical surgery, chemo, and radiation. When I finished my final radiation treatment, I was given a certificate—sort of like a diploma—saying I had graduated. I just sort of laughed at the absurdity of it all. I was done with treatment and all I had to show for it was a piece of paper, a hell of a scar and radiation burns. Now what? I was done with treatments, but had no normal life to return to. Everyone around me went back to his or her sense of normalcy while I was left in tatters. I was done with treatments, but I was still struggling with the effects of radiation. I felt pressure from everyone around me to just “buck up” and be grateful for every minute in the day, and to “live life to its fullest.” But I was a mess. I couldn’t remember what “full” felt like. People called me a hero; they told me I was so brave. But I was angry, afraid, and anxious. I became the busy person. If I kept busy, and became the perfect mom, perfect wife, and pretended that everything was fine, it would be. Was this what surviving was supposed to feel like?

I had never thought about a survivor coming back from “beating cancer” with so many battle scars, both physical and emotional; so many mixed feelings, both positive and negative; and so many pieces to pick up, mostly alone, when the casseroles have stopped coming and everyone wants you to be all, “yay!” all the time. One reason I’d never thought about the challenges of being a survivor is that I’ve never once heard anyone talk about it. I wonder if these courageous survivors (who have been to hell and back already) are afraid that if they admit how horrible they still feel, they’ll be seen as ungrateful.  I imagine they’re afraid people will judge them with, “Well, you didn’t die though, did you? So you should never have a negative thought ever again.” But humans are still human, and life is still hard. After one battle is over, there will still be more battles to fight. Which is why we need to be patient with and sympathetic to our friends who have fought off this horrible disease: they may need it now more than ever.

If you have battled cancer and have come out the other side as a survivor, you may have  dealt with things like:

  • Depression: Honestly, Heather’s experience seemed a bit anticlimactic.  You fought cancer and you beat it.  Now what?  What’s your purpose in life after that?  I’d imagine you hit a pretty deep trench after climbing uphill for so long, getting to the top and looking around to feel like there’s suddenly nowhere else to climb to.
  • Anxiety: As far as I understand it, there’s always a possibility that the cancer can come back. I can’t imagine having that fear haunting me my whole life. Anyone can get cancer at any time,  but most of us live with a willful ignorance of exactly how horrible that possibility would be. But a survivor already knows full well the agony of fighting cancer. Having the possibility of  relapse hanging over your head would feel like a ticking time bomb.
  • PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: it’s not just for war veterans. It can result from any trauma, even (especially?) a battle with cancer.
  • Survivor’s guilt: It’s understandable to wonder why you survived when others weren’t so lucky, but it’s heartbreaking that someone who’s endured the pain and suffering of a disease that’s trying to kill them would then have guilt piled on top of that. We have enough to deal with in life without feeling guilty all the time, and that goes double for cancer survivors. It’s  just not fair to suffer guilt for something over which you have no control, and for which you’ve already suffered immensely.  Please, for the love of all that is holy, no more guilt! I give you my permission to live guilt-free! I know that in the same circumstance I’d be struggling with The Guilt Feelings too, but let’s try to think of it this way: If you had bravely fought cancer but lost that battle and were up in heaven looking down on all the amazing people you knew, wouldn’t you want them to be happy and peaceful, even though they miss you, and even though they survived and you didn’t? You know you would. And I think we know they would too.
  • Job loss: I guess most employers can’t hold your job for you while you get cancer treatment for a year or so. And if you’re self-employed and take a year off, there might not be much of your business left when you are finally able to get back to it. Oh yeah, and now you have medical bills.
  • Friend loss: Unfortunately, all your friends who don’t have cancer and can’t really understand what you’re going through may not stick around long enough to be there for you when you need them; and tragically, all your friends who do have cancer and can understand exactly what you’re going through may not live long enough to be around when you need them either.
  • Health problems: You most likely were both cut open and nuked into oblivion. The only things that can kill the cancer, also tried to kill the rest of you.  You probably are exhausted and feel like crap all the time.
  • The relentlessness of life: When you’re in the thick of the battle, when you are consumed with day-to-day survival and picking up the pieces of a life thrown into a whirlwind, other problems will still keep coming at you. In Heather’s case, several years after her battle started, her father became sick and eventually passed away.  I can only imagine the frustration at God I might be feeling when, after worrying about dying for so long, one of my family members dies instead. It’s hard enough when one tragedy strikes, but many at once is just too much.
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Photo credit: KOMUnews

I’m sure the above list is just the tip of the iceberg for a cancer survivor. Fortunately, there are resources for help and information like the cancer.net Survivorship page.  Although there is much to suffer through as a cancer survivor, there can be much hope and joy, and Heather’s story is no exception (and I cried about that too):

“Slowly, the faith I so strongly held before began to creep back. Faith that the sun will come up another day. Faith that if I just keep moving forward I’ll be okay. Faith that I’ll see my dad again one day, and in the meantime, I’m making him proud. That makes me smile, and know I’ll be alright. I have experienced loss, more loss than a person should by being involved with the mesothelioma community. I have been losing friends on nearly a monthly basis since I got involved with advocacy for this disease. Having faith is a constant exercise. You must trust, ask questions, and believe that all will be okay.”

I love her statement, “Having faith is a constant exercise.” In a life that is unrelenting for us all, there is pain, but also joy and hope that can be maximized by increasing our awareness of each other. We need that empathy and togetherness. We need it because we can’t survive this relentless life alone: of that I am definitely aware.

Why I Need You

September 21, 2016

I need you every day, and sometimes I love you. The way you make me feel.  The way you taste. But sometimes I hate you.  I hate that you’re bad for me. I hate that I want you so much all the time.  I guess that qualifies you as an addiction. I probably need an intervention. But not yet. I still need you.

I need you because you give me energy. Because I wake up even before the view from my kitchen window looks like this:

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And I go to bed well after it looks like this:

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I need you because of the baby handprint of heaven-only-knows-what on my shirt. For a moment the mystery substance disappears and I am happy because you are delicious.drpepper

Without you I’d be a lot more grumpy on a morning when the baby digs a can out of the garbage and cuts his finger on the rim and we have no more normal-sized band-aids and the girls are running late for school.

I need you because you taste way better than Diet Coke, and have less calories than regular Dr. Pepper.

I need you right now, Diet Dr. Pepper, but hopefully not forever.

Pseudonyms

September 20, 2016
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J-Dub

I recently read an article called, “Why I Decided to Stop Writing About My Children;” and while I had long ago realized that as my kids grow older, so does their need for privacy, it was a valuable reminder that I am not the main character in everyone’s lives; least of all my children’s.

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J-Dog

Which brings me to pseudonyms. The other day J-Dub asked me if I ever write about him on my blog. I told him that, besides excoriating him 5 years ago in the post about the The Yellow BB, I rarely mention him, and I assured him that when I do, I don’t use his real name.

I’ve realized lately, though that I keep changing my kids’ names on my blog.  For awhile they had names like Boy #1 and Girl #2, then Big Boy and Little Girl, then apparently I switched back again. I want to be consistent, but it’s a lot of work to try to go back and change their names in previous posts. I didn’t even think I had that many posts to go through until I discovered that; although I wrote only 4 posts in 2015, none at all in 2014 and 6 in 2013; I wrote 34 posts in 2012 and 99 posts in 2011.  99 posts! How is that even possible?  I had no clue I used to write that much. So yeah, checking names in all of them is a big job that (let’s be honest) may not will never get done.

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Princess

I think I’ve finally settled on appropriate nicknames for the oldest 4: J-Dub, J-Dog, Princess and Preemie. As I was telling this to the kids last night, I admitted that I wasn’t sure what to call the baby.  The only thing I could think of was Baby Boy but that might bug him when he grows up. All the nicknames we call him at home are derivatives of his actual name so that doesn’t work for the purpose of anonymity. And his personality is still in the beginning stages of development so it’s hard to use that as a guide.  Princess (so lovingly) suggested I call him Mr. Psychopath. If it wasn’t so insulting it might work. I mean he hits, bites, screams, bangs his head on things, and doesn’t care about anyone but himself. But that just makes him a typical toddler.

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Preemie

One day I tried giving them all cutesy names from their babyhood that all started with “P” like Pookie and Peanut. When I did that I tried calling him “Perk,” on account of him being our straggler bonus baby. Maybe, being the last of 5 kids, he could be called Caboose. Or Cinco. Or Ultimo.  Or El Fin. Don’t ask me why I’m having a sudden penchant for Spanish.  It’s probably because it sounds better than the English alternatives. (Just imagine calling your kid “Five” or “Last” or “The End.” Kind of weird and dark, amiright?) Then again, he’s everybody’s little buddy, so “Buddy” could work. I still can’t decide so I’m open to suggestions. For now I guess he’ll just be “That Other Kid.” It’s sad, but at least he’ll have some privacy. Kind of. All bets are off if he gets a yellow BB stuck in his ear.

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That Other Kid

 

“An Enigma of Contradictions”

September 19, 2016

I recently wrote a post about how life is messy, and one thing I’ve noticed lately is that it’s especially true of people.  All people.  You, me, your kids, my grandparents, famous people, poor people, pretty people, weird people, and the entire human race. We all have this in common: that we are all incredibly complicated, infuriatingly inconsistent, and often downright hypocritical.

annaglassesWhat really got me thinking about this was that a couple of years ago I was trying to explain Preemie’s personality to her first grade teacher but I couldn’t.  I started off with, “Well, she’s very obedient and eager to please, she’ll always try to do exactly what you say.” But then I thought of all the ways my compliant little angel had a stubborn streak and I started backpedaling, “well, usually…except for when she really does not want to at all…OK, that’s actually not necessarily true…but it’s not NOT true either…it just depends…nevermind.”  Luckily the teacher had gotten to know her well and knew exactly hat I was talking about.  She said, “Oh, I know how she is. So incredibly sweet, but if the work is difficult, she’ll stop and just peer at you over those glasses.”Exactly. I was so relieved  thinking, thank goodness she gets her!

The inability to easily pin-down my kids or myself (or any people for that matter) shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. I grew up taking those magazine quizzes that take 3 minutes to definitively tell you what kind of friend you are, what your perfect style is, and whether you are a loser or not. I am very tempted to try to stick my personality and everyone else around me in a clearly-defined box because it’s so much easier! (I’m a good person. She is nice. He’s a jerk. They are fun.) But again, it’s just not that simple. A friend of mine recently said, “I’m such an enigma of contradictions!” and I so relate to that statement. For example, I like knowing what I should do, but I hate being told what I have to do. I’m also naturally lazy. But I love to be busy. But not too busy. But not bored. But not stressed.

To make matters more complicated, sometimes my strengths and my weaknesses are the same thing. On the one hand, I care about people and what they think so I’m a friendly person. On the other hand, I care about people and what they think so I’m insecure. And actually there’s a third hand, that I care about people and what they think so I’m angry and offended when other people don’t care about me. And then on another appendage, a foot maybe, I’m trying not to care as much so I don’t get offended and angry because I can’t expect people to look out for me if I won’t look out for myself.

I’ve tried taking personality tests where you pinpoint whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert but I can’t seem to define myself either way. Sometimes I feel fulfilled by being social and sometimes I feel depleted.  Maybe it depends on who I’m with, or my mood or my needs at the time. It might be that I’m usually the one, but my mental illness makes me the other. Who knows?

I’m sure the take-away from all of this is that we need to have balance. The hard part is being aware enough to know what we need when we need it. It’s hard to be that self-aware, especially when we’re so close to the situation and so dang complicated.

Another thing I take from this is that I need to not judge other people for being as flawed and inconsistent as I am. I haaaaaaate it when people are super judgy.  It’s THE worst. We all make mistakes, we’re all flawed, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ can cleanse us of all our sins; so why, oh why pretend we’re perfect when we’re not? I get really angry when people act perfect and get all self-righteous. I start thinking (sometimes out loud), who gave THEM permission to judge?  Plus, you just know it’s the seemingly perfect ones who are hiding the darkest secrets. What hypocrites. And then I realize that I’m judging them too. Oh the hypocrisy! I mean, who has the greater sin?  The judgy one?  Or the one who judges the judgy ones for being too judgy?

I guess we all just need to embrace the contradictory nature of ourselves and others. So as a show of good faith, I will post a shameful photo of what I ate for lunch yesterday: brownie mix in a bowl that I totally ate all by myself. The hypocritical part is that even though I try really hard to be open and honest, I was still tempted to set up a nice-looking photo and clear away the dirty dishes and wipe up the strawberry oatmeal flakes so that if I was confessing gluttony, I’d at least look like my house was clean. But I refrained. Because being honest about my mediocrity is what I strive for.

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Dude, my grout is dirty. #ofcourse #gross #openandhonest #nofilter #keepingitreal #exceptyoucantseethedirtyflooranddishesinthesink #boundaries #iknowhashtagsarepointlessinablogpostbuttheyarehilarious

Together

September 17, 2016

Because I missed having a photo challenge this week:

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Antidepressantphobic

September 17, 2016

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Today I came across this Facebook post from last year:

“While I’m at it with all my irritable rants: if you work in the mental health field, UNDERSTAND MENTAL HEALTH!!! My psychiatrist is great but one of her nurses was all trying to guilt me for having 5 kids like it was the source of all my problems. it’s hard to explain, but life is a struggle but I love my life. The number of kids I have has very little to do with my anxiety and depression because I had it way before I had any kids! I’m fine and and dandy until BAM!!! Misery for NO REASON! Do you hear me people?!?!?! NO REASON!!!!! It’s normal to have misery when bad things happen. But no bad things are happening!!! That’s the problem!!!! That’s how I know it’s not just a “bad day” or “normal stress everyone has”. Baby’s asleep, I’m chilling watching a tv show, contemplating a nap and BAM! I’m shaking and sweating and heart pounding and panicky. Why? No reason! That’s why it’s called a panic DISORDER it doesn’t make sense. It makes sense to panic when the house is on fire. Not when you are happy and relaxed.”

I clearly remember that day.  I was standing in the laundry room trying to convince the nurse over the phone that I needed to see the doctor to discuss increasing my medication.  I had gone off 4 out of 5 of my medications when I was trying to get pregnant with Baby Boy. To decrease the risks to the baby, I had been on the lowest dose that I could tolerate of that one remaining medication. Baby Boy was now 3 months old and things were going pretty well, but I was feeling myself starting to slip into unexplained hopelessness. Terrified of where a rapid downward spiral could lead (I’d been there before), I decided to nip it in the bud and talk to my doctor before I could no longer get out of bed.

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Photo credit: mattwalker69

It’s almost impossible to explain the effects of real, true clinical depression, anxiety or OCD, to someone who’s never experienced it. how can you explain how everything in your life is great and you wouldn’t change a thing, except for the fact that you think everything will be horrible forever and you feel like dying? The way my life is objectively, and looks from the outside is different than the way it often feels and seems in my head. I suspect that my head is incorrect, but how can you be sure? It’s extremely difficult to see things accruately when your own brain is lying to you.

I’ve thought about mental illness a lot because I’ve struggled with it a lot. I’ve written a couple of posts about it, one being, “Give Me My Meds and No One Gets Hurt!”  I also started another blog post 2 years ago that I never finished.  It said:

“The other day in the shower I knew I could feel a blog post coming on. It was like my head was filling with too many thoughts and I just couldn’t keep them all inside any longer or my head would explode.

So here goes:

Throughout my adult life, and particularly over the past couple of weeks, I have been bombarded with misconceptions about mental illness. In every instance, these well-meaning people are trying to be helpful and uplifting, but unfortunately, they are also uncomprehending. I know it’s not possible to truly understand debilitating anxiety or depression without experiencing it yourself. How COULD it be possible? I mean, I could list all day the things that we can’t really understand without having gone through them ourselves. No one could describe to me the feelings I would have giving birth. The pain, the elation, the pain, the fear, the pain, the miracle, the pain. Did I mention the pain? People explain it to you, but you don’t get it. Until you’re there.

Mental illness is like that, but worse. Nobody tells a laboring mother, “It’s all in your head,” “Pray it away,” “don’t think about yourself,” or “snap out of it.” Or as Bob Newhart would say, “STOP IT!”

This video cracks me up. It’s hilarious! But it’s also insightful. On the one hand, it’s relatable. Like, “yeah, it’s so simple, why doesn’t she just stop it?” But on the other hand, it’s absurd in it’s overly simplistic approach to a complex issue. Have you ever been severely claustrophobic? I hope not. I haven’t, and I don’t want to. The IDEA of being claustrophobic scares me. (Does that make me claustrophobiaphobic?)

But back to giving birth: it’s a time when people try to understand what you are going through and try to help you through it. And usually they know how to do that (watch your other kids, bring your family meals, visit you in the hospital, bring you flowers, hold the baby, throw you a party and give you presents and even cake). But when you are depressed, often the best case scenario is that people will ignore you. And the worst, is when people give you unempathetic, uninformed, unhelpful advice. And I think their well-meaning advice comes out of ignorance.

I spent much of my adult life afraid of anti-depressants. Looking back, I had no actual reasons in my mind as to why I should be afraid. I’d just heard they were bad. Overused. Unnecessary. A cop out. But come to think of it, do you know anyone on anti-depressants who doesn’t need them? Anyone for whom they seem superfluous? Have you ever said to yourself, “That person is way too happy, They really should lay off the Prozac”? I highly doubt it. Because as far as I know (I’m not a doctor, but I’ve tried 10 different medications), they DO NOT make you happy. They are not “happy pills.” There is no feeling of elation or excitement or a “high” that comes from taking them. Nor does one have a “Prozac kind of day.” Psychiatric drugs take weeks or months to start working in your system  You can’t take them on a bad day and expect it to work.  You take them for months or years to hope they fix the gap in your brain chemistry. They clear the mind, make chemical connections that weren’t there before, and make it so that you are (finally!) able to reason through your problems and emotions so you can WORK on being happy. It’s the little ray of light that tells you life isn’t as bleak as you thought, that life just might be worth living, and that you just might make it through. And many people who need them, don’t take them because they are afraid of the stigma attached. People will try to talk you out of it. You don’t NEED them. All you need is to have faith, pray, read the scriptures, exercise and serve others. All those things can help you when you’re down, and can be great ways to stave off a bad mood. But they have little to no effect on the truly depressed.”

I don’t know why people try to talk other people out of taking medication.  Maybe they are all scared like I was. And maybe the fact that I’ve tried so many medications makes it seem  like they haven’t helped or they will be scary to try.  But it’s actually a good thing. A psychiatrist is not going to hand you a prescription and just say, “Good luck with that!” They are going to give you a low dose, increase it slowly, and monitor you frequently, making tweaks and changes to your medication until you get the right medication at the right dose for your specific body and brain. They will also most likely suggest counseling which can be very beneficial and can even help to change your actual brain chemistry. But it takes time.

I’ve heard some lame arguments against medication. Things like:

“You’ll have to take a pill every day!” Um, I take vitamins every day anyway. Also, so what?

“It’s not natural!” Neither is wearing clothes, pooping in a toilet or using mouthwash, but I do all those things. Gratefully!

“You wouldn’t have to if you tried ________!” Firstly, those things actually haven’t helped me. Secondly,  why is it so bad if I “have to?” Maybe I WANT to.

It’s kind of like trying to explain that your leg is broken to someone who doesn’t believe in wearing a cast. Pretty much every conversation I’ve ever had about depression with someone who’s never had it goes like this:

“I can’t get to the store, my leg is broken.”

“Why not?  Just walk there.”

“I can’t, my leg is broken.”

“You have no leg?”

“No, it’s just broken.”

“Forever?”

“I hope not: I’d rather be dead.”

“Then just try walking to the store.”

“No, I need to get a cast to fix it.”

“A cast can’t magically make it better. You just need to have more faith.  God will help you.  Think positive! Just get up and try it!”

“A cast won’t make it perfect right away, but it will help in the long run. God expects me to use modern medicine. I tried thinking positive and walking but I can’t!”

“Everyone gets leg pain, just get over it.”

“Yeah they do, but not like this. This is different.”

“How?  I don’t see any broken bones.”

“I don’t know how to explain it when you can’t see it, but it hurts more than normal hurting.”

“Casts don’t help leg pain. Have you tried oils or vitamins? Besides, the only way to fix a broken bone is to walk it off.  And help others.  And pray and read your scriptures. and exercise”

“No, it’s BROKEN. I can’t move.”

“You’re exaggerating.  I saw you hobble to the bathroom. I think it’s just all in your head.”

“Well yeah, I can do THAT.  Barely.  But I can’t walk 2 miles to the store.”

“That’s pretty selfish. Some people have no store to go to but their cheerful and grateful for what they have.  Don’t be a complainer.”

I used to think that I was a pessimistic complainer type.  Turns out I’m not.  I was just depressed. It’s hard to understand when you haven’t felt it, and it’s hard to see it when you are in the thick of it.  But now that I have a lot of my health problems being taken care of (including taking antidepressants), I can see how much better life is when you aren’t trapped in a box you can see out of, but can’t seem to figure out how to GET out of.

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Photo credit: Helen Harrop

If you are a person who has a hard time understanding people who struggle with mental illness, it’s OK that you don’t get it.  It’s hard to truly empathize with another’s particular issues.  So instead of giving advice, try simply listening. Suggest that they talk to a qualified professional. There are resources available for people who don’t have insurance.  And a medical professional can determine what what, if any resources are needed.

Thanks to priesthood blessings, and some good friends who suggested I find help like they did (even though I didn’t listen at first), I’ve learned the following:

  • If you think you might be having more that just the occasional “few bad days,” make an appointment with your primary doctor.
  • Tell them what’s going on and how you are feeling and don’t sugar-coat it or leave out any details.  Be perfectly frank and honest and don’t make it seem like it’s not that big of a deal.
  • Try what they suggest, be it a different doctor, counseling, medication, or both.
  • If it’s not working, tell them.  Different medications affect people differently.  Some are less effective and some have side effects.  One made me crazy.  Just pay attention to how you are feeling and be open and honest with your doctor.
  • If you don’t feel like your doctor is a good fit, then switch.  In my experience, your gut reaction can be surprisingly accurate in these cases.

I don’t wish any form of mental illness on anyone. Like I said in my blog post, Depression is a Cancer, it’s a constant battle, but one worth fighting. And you don’t have to do it alone or without help.  You can make it so you can finally see the silver lining behind that dark cloud.  I promise it’s there.

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Photo credit: Alden Chadwick

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