Thursday, January 27, 2011

A theme for the new year

A year ago, not far from this time, I heard on K-Love about choosing one word for the new year.  They were all doing it, and I thought it was weird and cheesy.  I most particularly didn't want to choose a word theme for the new year.  And yet, I was strangely attracted to the idea of having a theme for the year, and kept pondering that if I WERE to name the year, what would a good name be?

Then I came across Ann Voskamp's blog.  She names the years.  At the time, she had just named the new year the year of "Yes".  And that was her theme for the year.  (She had names past years "Eucharisto" and "Communion" if I remember right.  I might be wrong....)  Anyway, she must be much more stylish than K-Love in my mind, because I instantly wanted to name the year.

And it's name became "Rejoice".  I knew that God had been telling me to learn to rejoice in now, not just grit my teeth and try to get through now in anticipation of "someday" being better.  And so I learned.  Or at least tried.  I learned to savor moments with my kids now.  I learned to put the effort into making my house a pleasant place here.  And I learned to enjoy my tasks, especially the parenting related ones, in a whole new level.  This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!

A few weeks ago, it became time to think about naming the new year.  It was mid-December, and I was feeling distracted with so much do to -- gifts to make, projects to finish, cookies to bake, so that we can all enjoy this special time.  I felt like I was on a rat race going nowhere.  And what was really important was becoming second to finishing projects.

As I thought, the only word that really presented itself to me was "relationship".  Relationships are to be my priority, not getting things done.  Since when is it okay to ignore my kids in order to catch up on my friends' Facebook statuses?  When did all my marriage conversations become the type that just communicate information: "I have meat in the fridge thawing for dinner".  When was the last time I really felt like God was my friend?

I didn't want to name the year "relationship".  It felt too convicting.  But the word kept getting reiterated to me.  Sunday sermons would focus on showing grace to each other as we relate in this messy world.  My kids would demonstrate that they really wanted my full attention, not mutters in the middle of something else.  I missed my husband.

So, after a while of resisting, Relationship is has become.  I want to treat my relationship with God like a real relationship -- making sure to spend time with him (either in prayer or reading or writing or memorizing or all of these).  I want to think about Him and have conversations with Him.  I want to play with my husband, not just work all the time.  I want to really be here with my kids, not distracted by the internet.  And I want to spend the time and effort to develop friendships, honest friendships that help me grow, rather than always being too busy.

It's a tall order, I know.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Snow Sunday

It's a snow day today. Church is closed, leaving us with an open, unplanned day ahead of us. Outside is below zero, covered in pristine snow. And while the sky was the most opaque white-gray yesterday, today it's an icy clear blue.

The kids, after being brokenhearted last night over canceled church,  are excited for our "Sunday school at home", reminding me of the different things we've done in the past for such days. "Remember when we made fish from paper and paper clips and then went fishing?" "Can we sing lots of songs?" "What are we going to do for the craft?".

Chester decides to try a breakfast experiment, and makes a batch of ginger-bread flavored bagels. Of course they turn out delicious, and breakfast is made more special with cinnamon hot cocoa and marshmallows.

I'm trying to think of a Bible lesson to go with ice and snow. And a craft too. And coming up empty. Then I overhear the kids' conversation about how God knows the number of hairs on our heads, and decide to go with Luke 12:6-7 instead. Chester teaches the story, and we start a bird craft. We talk about how we know and love each of our chickens, but God knows and loves us even more than that. 

While the paint dries on our bird puppets, it's decided that now is the best time to "break our backs". That is, go sledding. I stay home with Tommy.  We snuggle, and he plays the guitar and sings along.  Then he gets out a board book, and reads the story to me, in his baby babble.  I notice that he's covered with paint, and now it's dry.  I guess this nice shirt is now a paint shirt.  I should probably mind, because it's one of two nice shirts that he had that fit him.  But I don't.  It's a lazy day, and I feel content.

We make lunch together, creamy tomato soup, and wait for the family to return from their sledding adventures.

holy experience

111. Long underwear
112. Ice-frosted weeds (wish I had a picture!)
113. Kids who love church so much that they cried their eyes out when it was cancelled tomorrow.
114.  Saturday night music practice, held as usual in the basement, at request of the kids (even though I wasn't scheduled to do music tomorrow anyway).

115. The Mondrian dress is finished and shipped.  Whew!  (There's 30 individual pieces in this dress). 

116. Instant gratification sewing projects!

117. Snuggling with my boys on lazy mornings.
118. A found jar of molasses, when cleaning out the cupboards!
119. Ginger snap cookies.
120. Ginger bread bagels.
121. All the kids favorite worship songs.
122. Singing at the tops of our lungs in the basement (so I can play piano to the singing.... not that you could hear the piano...)
123. Musical instruments, (that is, shakers, tambourines, drums and guitars), played as loudly as possible for the above songs.
124.  Baby songs.
125.  Furniture that isn't so nice that I'm bothered when I notice the kids painted it in addition to their craft.
126.  "Helpful" toddlers. 
127.  Wisdom that comes from experience telling me that someday the kids "helpfulness" really will be helpful.  Bennet loves to help by shoveling snow, for example.
128.  Crock pot suppers, making the day even more lazy.
129.  Sledding adventures, that didn't include a broken back.
130. Peek a boo between Dad and Tommy.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Thousand gifts, part 8

A start of a new year brings the freshness of snow, and the relived memories of building snow forts, making snow ice cream, and shoveling.  This time, I'm the Mom, introducing my kids to the delicacy.  Sure, some of them remember it from this time last year.  But it's still a super special treat.

Bennet has grown up enough since last year that he doesn't even ask if I want him to shovel.  I go outside to scoop the walk, and he won't let me.  He doesn't want me to get worn out.  So he shovels it, after having shoveled the entire driveway.  The driveway was scooped with a goal:  make a pile of snow big enough and packed down enough for a fort.

It was a successful engineering venture.

holy experience

91. Husband willing helping friends put up their new swing set - an all day project
92. Husband willing helping me with homeschooling two children
93. The freedom to homeschool two children.
94. Local AWANA program, that the kids eagerly await each week
95. Kids able to read and memorize their own verses in the Sparks book.
96. No women's Bible study during AWANA this semester means a date with Jesus for me.  Bliss.
97. Winter snow days (not that we skipped school...).
98. Little engineers and mechanics - experimenting and building.
99. A day or so of warm enough weather to enjoy it before it really got cold.  Brr!
100.  Bennet loving to shovel! 
101.  My husband patient enough to push me out not once, but twice, after I got our little car stuck.

102. A healed perspective on life.  I'm liking it again, seems the blues are lifting.
103. A finished Mondrian dress (version 2)  Pics to come!
104. Sewing for pleasure again.
105. Instant sewing project means a new nice warm wool skirt for me.  Properly nerdy too!  (And yes, more pics to come)

106. Winter evening games of Apples to Apples with the kids.
107. And two kids reading well enough to be their own teams -- now we have four.
108. Opportunities to train kids to be good sports about winning and losing.
109. Big brothers deliberately helping the underdog.
110.  Snow ice cream.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

My experience with herbal remedies for depression

If you've known me very long, or read this blog much, you know that I tend to prefer the home remedy (that is ideally also natural) to visiting the doctor.  We have a standing joke at our home that I don't take a sick kid to the doctor unless I honestly believe that they might not fully recover.

So it follows that I would do research on depression.  In reality, I think most of my research on herbal ways to treat depression was in an effort not to admit that I was struggling with depression.

I haven't, ever, taken much in any attempt to treat depression.  This is mostly due to two reasons. 1) Any depression I've fought has always been somewhat mild.  2) I've been breastfeeding or pregnant for over eight consecutive years now.

That said, my research into treating depression herbally yielded one fact that surprised me.  Not that it'll surprise you -- I'm just a dunce.

Depression is treated as "fatigue".

Now, when I think about it, especially recently, I've felt like life really sucks.  And I've realized that it feels this way because I'm tired.  Really really tired.  And when you're tired, you lack motivation to keep doing anything.  It all gets blah.

It makes me wonder if having hope requires a certain amount of energy.

Anyway, enough blabbering, on to the herbs.  Here's what's recommended by the green book:

Gotu Kola
Peppermint leave
Ginger root

When I'm pregnant or nursing, I feel comfortable taking a ginger root and kelp blend with a tiny amount of cayenne in it.  I don't feel comfortable taking a very big amount of cayenne when I'm pregnant.   This blend helps me when I'm feeling low on energy and cold.  I'm hoping to increase the amount of cayenne in it now that I'm not pregnant and very nearly done nursing.

Ginger root is also great for pregnancy nausea -- by far the best thing I've found for it yet.  I buy it as a candy and suck it.  Yum!

And peppermint tea is wonderful all by itself.

I have never tried ginseng or gotu kola.  But I think I'll plan to pick up some ginseng next time I visit the bulk herbs store.  From my meager amount of research, it's kind of a "good for whatever ails ye" herb.

I've had wonderful results from taking bee pollen for mild depression.  You can get it in capsules or in bulk powder.  I get it in capsules.  I would describe it's effect as just taking the edge off.  It gives a small boost in energy -- just enough so that I can function again.  It's very much safe during breastfeeding.  But not so much during pregnancy.  It's been associated with preterm labor, and I also had preterm labor when I took it while pregnant (though I suspect that it was because I overdid it with the energy boost).

Web searches will point you to the popular St. John's Wart for depression.  And while I know very little about it, it's supposed to work well.  I also noted that folic acid (Vitamin B9) is reported to be low in depressed individuals -- so eat your dark leafy greens!   Finally, fish oil was suggested as aiding in recovery from depression.  I found this humorous, since I've been taking fish oil regularly for the first time this winter, and have struggled more this winter with depression (or at least negative thoughts) than for a long time.  But fish oil is good for you, whether or not it actually helps in this way.

Honestly, though, this is only a small portion of the ammunition to fight the battle for your mind.  Learn to take your thoughts captive, and try some of my other suggestions.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Staying crazy in a depressing world

I wanted to call this post "Staying sane in a crazy world"  But then I realized that not many who know me would actually consider me not crazy.

As one who has struggled with post-partum depression, I thought I'd share a few of the things that I've used over the past four (nearly five now) years to avoid re-entering depression.  They're things you'd probably find on any site talking about depression, especially post-partum depression and Christian sites.  But I think that perhaps it'll be slightly valuable to share my experience anyway - even if only to give glory to God for what He's done and is doing in my life.

I've heard it said that 100 percent of depression is anger turned inward.  I think it was this that kept me from admitting that I was depressed, even to myself, when I was.  I didn't want to admit that I was angry.  I'm not sure I had any idea that I was angry.  I'm not convinced that's true by the way.  Some depression, especially post-partum - really can be horomonal.  But mine was related to anger.

At the time, I'd been married a couple of years, had two babies, a very busy husband and high expectations of what both he and I and my life should be like.  He, in particular, didn't live up to my fairy tale ideas (neither did I, but my thoughts were more accusing toward him).  I was just finding out that the man I was married to wasn't the same as the man I thought I had married.  (Never mind that I wasn't the same either.  Marriage changes you).

That began about two years in the dimness of a mild depression.  It wasn't major, and I don't think it's really necessary to go into what the depression looked like for me.  I'm guessing that everyone's depression is a bit different.  Mine was mostly negative thoughts and lack of energy/ambition.

When it lifted, though, my life changed, and I recognized that I needed to take steps to reduce the likelihood of ever going back there.  Here's some of the steps I've taken (or things I've learned), in no particular order.
  • I started doing something outside of what had been my world (that is, the house).  I had to find something that I didn't have to do as a wife and mother, but that made me feel like I was doing good.  For me, this was taking a part time job - it used my mind, took advantage of my education, and gave me something that I could be good at.  It's pretty easy in a home to see a lot of failure in yourself and others. Now when I think about this for others, I think that volunteering somewhere is almost the perfect solution.  I needed to get out of myself and do some good for someone else.
  • Recognize when I'm vulnerable.  For me it's not so much a certain time of the month as when I'm tired.  It goes without saying that the most tiring times are just after having a baby, so I'm susceptible to post-partum depression.
  • Get some exercise.  When my fifth baby was born, I felt especially on the brink of going down again.  He had a lot of preemie problems, and it would have been easy to blame myself for them.  I had troubles maintaining a house and work, and had financial worries too.  So I started walking every day, just a short distance.  The fresh air and circulating blood and mini-escape really do wonders.
  • Eat right.  Pay attention to what you've been eating when you start to get depressed.  Sugar sends me down.  Usually in the form of chocolate.  Not that I'll give up chocolate, but at least I recognize it, right?
  • Own the anger.  Learn to forgive.  You cant forgive if you won't admit there's a problem.  In my case, there really wasn't -- he wasn't sinning against me.  But I still had to forgive him.  Most people have real wrongs to forgive, and people that don't deserve forgiving.  Jesus asks us to forgive them because He forgave us.  We can do this for Him.  And He helps us.
  • Focus on others.  Intentionally bless someone else.  I remember it taking all my energy to go visit a neighbor during this time.  It still amazes me how much that visit meant both to her and to me.  Yes, this is really the first one again.  I really think God created us to live not a self-centered life, and that we stay sane when we do so.
  • Be thankful.  Romans 1:18-21 is, I think, a root of many bad things, especially divorce.  Here's the progression.  1) forget to honor God as God (ie, He's the center of the universe, not me), 2) stop giving thanks 3) become futile in your thinking - "it's no use", "he'll always be like this" - this is actually losing hope 4) darkening of your foolish mind.  Yep.  The great thing about this progression is that it's reversible.  Starting to notice all the little gifts God gives is a way to honor God as God.  Suddenly things aren't so hopeless.
  • Remember that God sees.  Matthew 6 talks about God seeing when we fast, or give, or pray.  It encourages us to do good in secret.  My problem was that my doing good was too secret.  No one in their right mind really cared how many diapers I changed in a day, and I wanted some affirmation.  I had to learn the truth that God does see.  And more than that, He notices.  He notices that I changed that diaper with patience and love, not a spiteful attitude.  He notices that I was up three times last night and am really trying not to be snippy this morning.  And he rewards those deeds done in secret.  It's worth doing things just because God will see them.  This has saved me from becoming bitter dozens of times.  It's far better to let the anger go (especially the petty anger, which is usually my problem), knowing that God sees how hard it is to let it go and will reward it.
  • Memorize scripture.  It gives your mind something to do when you're too upset (or too wired from the chocolate) to sleep, or when you'd rather stew on your anger that you won't admit you have.... not that I know anything about this of course!
  • Do something to improve your situation.  I read this quote on, and now I can't find it.  It was something to the affect that someone who lived for a long time surviving in the wilderness said that the key to staying sane in long term intense situations is to always be doing something to better your situation.  I wish I could find that quote.  Last weekend I was having a huge pity party -- life just doesn't work out like I wish it would sometimes, you know?  I was in the bathroom pitying myself to tears, and remembered this admonition.  I ended up re-arranging furniture, and the new arrangement really is helping life be more smooth.  Not only did it give me some needed physical exertion, but it improved my situation. 
  • Set aside a regular time and place to pray.  Beth Moore suggested this as a key to staying sane as a Christian businesswoman.  I think  it's key to a lot of things, businesswomen are just so busy that it's more obvious.  For me, I didn't have a place, and it kept me from really taking the time.  So I instituted the morning walk.  That's my place and time to pray.  Nothing else.  Well, except walk.  I don't use it to review my memory work, or to stew about problem or to plan my day.  Instead I notice the trees and thank God for their unique shapes, and pour out my heart (that is, my whining) to Him and such.  It's a good way to start the day.  I wish I did it more regularly, but now that it's cold, I usually stay in bed.
  • Write.  Blogging has become a good emotional balancer for me.  I have a private blog for things to public to write here, but most things that I take the time to write out are actually here.  It forces me to thing through things in something that seems to me like a logical manner.  And it gets things out of my system. 
  • Vent. I used to think that if I said something (or otherwise got some frustration or worry out of my system), it would make my fake problem more real, give me more credence to be mad and just make everything worse.  I'm learning that's not the case.  If I can vent while remaining respectful (this is a delicate skill), then it can be very good and helpful.  My husband is a good listener, and will let me work through something verbally to him.  I don't use this often, but the few times I have, it has been helpful.  The key for me is to do it in a way that is still respectful and kind and even honoring.  Which is probably why I rarely use it.  
  • control your mental input. I had to learn that I don't stay sane if I watch the news. It's too scary for me, it makes me paranoid. Do what's necessary to "take every thought captive", and prevent the bad ones from dominating.  
  • Keep a sense of humor. Enjoying a good laugh lifts a lot of stress.
Okay, that's it for tonight.  I need to go to bed.