Sunday, September 29, 2013

Makeover Monday: Mental Health

I've never thought of myself as a depressed person.

Oh, sure, there was that time in middle school when John Carpenter broke my heart and I made a mix tape of just one song that I played over and over again while I sobbed in despair. And there were a few moments in college where I sat in the bathtub all day or hid in my room to avoid final papers. But I would consider those isolated incidents...or, at least, momentary hormonal overreactions (sometimes I can be a bit...dramatic).

Two years ago, I finally realized that I have seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D. - what a terrible acronym) but I managed that with Vitamin D supplements. The same year, we were called to start a church in New York City and conceived Esme. Enter whirlwind of pregnancy, birth, and preparations to move our family to the craziest city on earth.

Then earlier this year, I noticed that I was irritated all the time. Little things that really shouldn't bother me started getting under my skin alot. It took all my energy to drag myself out of bed each morning and I felt like I was in total survival mode every day. I felt exhausted and overwhelmed about everything.  There was absolutely no joy.

At first, I attributed this to the insanely long Minnesota winter (summer may have come - and gone - in July). A few friends were going through some very difficult personal situations, and I found myself thinking about and praying for them in the middle of the night, not being able to sleep as I wondered what could be done for them. Then, it occurred to me that I might be experiencing postpartum depression.  

I met with a therapist friend, who gave me a simple emotional health assessment. My results came out mildly depressed, and, as we talked, I felt she summed up my state accurately by noting that I was functioning fine but not thriving. In other words, I wasn't over/undereating, avoiding responsibilities, or withdrawing from my life, but I was simply managing my sadness without restoring joy. She suggested that I meet with my family doctor to discuss trying an anti-depressant.

Here, I should note two very important points. First, I tend to be extremely anti-drug in my lifestyle. I don't take Ibuprofin when I have a headache. I gave birth at home. Twice. So, my hesitation in considering anti-depressants is NOT because I think they're wrong or wacko or anything. It's my own personal wariness about drugs in general and how they affect my body. Which is where point #2 comes in - THANK GOD for the best doctor ever. I LOVE our doctor and trust her implicitly.

I made an appointment for my annual check-up, and, as usual, we spent quite alot of time talking about life. I shared with her my concerns about depression and asked her opinion. She pointed out the extreme life stresses that have been taking shape over the last couple of years - not to mention what lies ahead - and recommended that I start a low dose of a daily anti-depressant.

Now, because she knows me well and my feelings about drugs, she instantly pulled out this massive book that explained every possible side effect, how this specific drug worked, and any potential concerns about breastfeeding. We also discussed how long I should try it and how I would know if it was "working". Needless to say, this conversation was exceedingly helpful in assuaging my concerns and I decided to give it a try.

As of May 1, I have been taking 10mg a day of Citalopram. Not a "happy pill", this drug simply slows down the breakdown of my body's natural release of serotonin. It took about 4 weeks (as my doc had explained) for me to notice that I was no longer irrationally irritated or unusually overwhelmed. I experience all my normal moods, feel annoyed when my 4 year old whines or my baby wants to be held while I'm making dinner, but I no longer feel consumed by these emotions. I feel like myself.

I also feel like I have a better understanding of depression, thanks to my friend and my doctor. The word depression can conjure some negative or dramatic images when, in reality, the range of symptoms varies from the (relatively minor) irritation I was experiencing to a deeper sense of despair or anxiety. Family history, spiritual health, and sense of community also contribute to our mental and emotional states. Depression looks different in everyone, but it is real and it can be treated. 

Depression can also point us to God. It is an illness, a product of our weak bodies trying to live in a broken world. It shows me how much I need the real God, the one who heals me where I need it most, in my soul. He is the one who sustains me, brings me joy, and gives me a purpose far greater than my mind can imagine.  And depression gives me hope for the day when Jesus will make all things new, when no mourning, crying, nor pain will have any hold over me.

Even if you don't live with depression, you probably know someone who does. What have you learned about depression that has helped you better understand its effects or has pointed you more towards Jesus? What other resources can you recommend to encourage those with depression?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Shoe Shopping Is NOT A Sin (I Hope)

The night before, I had a dream about it.

I showed up at Nordstrom's but I had forgotten to call ahead of time, so Dia (the sales associate) was not there and couldn't help me.

Then, in my dream, I 'woke up' and realized it was a dream. So I called Nordstrom's (still in my dream; confusing, I know). I spoke with Dia, gave her specific instructions about the boot I was looking to buy, and told her I'd see her in a couple hours.

At the arranged time, my friend Emily met me and Dia at the store. Dia had pulled 46 different pairs of shoes for me, none of them the type of boots I wanted (although they were all very fun, stylish footwear). I started trying all the shoes on and getting feedback from Emily. But about halfway through, Emily had to leave (she was obviously frustrated with all the time we had wasted on these shoes). As soon as she left, Dia also disappeared. So I was sitting alone in Nordstrom's, surrounded by all these shoes I didn't want.

I found a very nice-looking, smartly dressed young man and told him my dilemma. He promised to bring me to Julie, the best women's shoe sales associate in the store. Along the way to Julie, I started sobbing to him. I explained that I had never bought a nice pair of shoes in my whole life, and that it had taken me a month to feel ok about spending so much money on a pair of boots, and that I had really hoped Dia would help me. But she kept trying to get me to buy all these shoes that were beautiful but I couldn't afford them and there just wasn't any room in my NYC apartment and all I wanted was a pair of Frye boots and I hate shopping and this was the worst shopping experience of my life!!! I had a complete meltdown in Nordstrom's, and then I woke up (for real).

That's how the morning of my shopping trip started. Reality was only slightly less painful.  

I have been journeying through a wardrobe makeover since June, and one of the "must-have" items that my friends convinced me to purchase was a good, full-priced pair of boots that I could walk all over New York City in, every day, for many years. I started hyperventilating at the thought of spending more than $20 on a pair of shoes, but I faithfully began visiting shoe stores, searching online, and sharing my wish lists.

Friends, it took me a month to finally walk into a store and hand over $297 for a (beautiful, well-made, guaranteed-to-last) pair of boots. In that month, many people had to repeatedly assure me that this was not a sin. My friend Emily did actually join me and Dia at Nordstrom's. She patiently sat through over an hour of me deciding between two (just two) options, calling my husband in a last-minute crazy fit, and talking me off the ledge of walking out without a pair of boots. She is a saint. (so, by the way, is Dia. I highly recommend her to any of you who plan to purchase women's shoes at Nordstrom's at the MOA. She far surpassed the Dia of my nightmare)

I wish I had a wonderful, spiritual lesson I could share as a result of this. I wish I could say that I am totally comfortable with spending so much money on footwear. Maybe when I am actually in NYC, wearing my unbelievably wonderful Frye boots every day all over the city, I will do a little skip of joy and thank God for the generosity of my husband, who sold many of his personal belongings to give me the cash for these shoes.

But don't expect to see me at the mall anytime soon.
Anyone brave enough to share about a recent splurge of your own? What items are worth the extra money to you?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Makeover Mondays: A New Series

Remember back in May when I wished for a wardrobe makeover? Thanks to some fashionable, generous friends, my dream has come true! And I'm going to share all the heart-wrenching and gory details with all of you. Soon.

Because, as with other fun, seemingly mundane, experiences I've had, God has used this physical makeover as a metaphor for other areas that he wants to change in my life.

It has taken longer than expected to get to NYC, and I've been talking to God alot about that. He reminded me of a word he gave me in July 2012, when I was still pregnant 13 days past my due date. On that day, I wrote in my journal

The Lord planted this baby in my womb and gave us a day to look forward to - her arrival. I faithfully nurture her in this weak body of flesh and eagerly prepare for her coming. But the day and hour of her birth is outside of my care - the time belongs to God alone. And her birth will be laborious, not without pain, as will the time of recovery, healing, and adjustment to our new family...
So, too, we are now pregnant with plans for NYC. We look forward to arriving there, but this will be accompanied with trials, pain, and transition. God will be faithful to sustain us. 

I prayed that the Lord would help us prepare well and not send us before we were ready for the task ahead. And we have been seeing SO many answers to this prayer these last few months!

I am super excited to share with you the many ways that God has been making me over, tilling the ground in my heart and preparing its soil for the new seeds that he is planting and will grow in me while we are in NYC. I am incredibly thankful for this work he is accomplishing in me now, surrounded by a community that loves me and desires only good for my future. Over the next 4 (or more) Mondays, I'll open up the closet of my life and let the new wardrobe spill out. Expect to hear some makeover stories about my -
  • mental health
  • emotional and spiritual refinement
  • marriage
  • and, of course, my fresh new look!
Will you join me?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Parenting In Community

Parenting is exhausting.

Even on happy, perfectly easy days (do those actually exist?), parenting requires a constant balance of patience, emotional investment, personal attention, and skilled multi-tasking. One family member's imbalance can throw off the rhythm of the entire group, and even expert calm-in-spite-of-chaos parents have to think quickly in order to recover. Parents need to be the most creative, resourceful problem-solvers on the block.

Last week, I wanted to take some pictures with my daughters and friends at the iconic Sculpture Garden. I don't think it's entirely unusual that my girls, who are usually quite lovely little people, suddenly turn into crabby monsters at the idea of a posed snapshot. That camera comes out and my almost-5-year-old only has 2 faces: wild tongue or pronounced pout. This is, of course, dependent on whether she is actually standing in the frame with the rest of us.

Kids are professionals at knowing the best place and time to push their parents' buttons, and being in public during a planned event is a premium choice. With other people around, the parent is hard-pressed to lose her cool and draw the critical stares of onlookers, but she is also unable to exercise any real consequences for misbehavior. Instead, the parent internally boils until safely in the privacy of the family car, when hell is unleashed and the rest of the day is successfully ruined.

But this day, I was able to be a smart  - dare I even say humorous - parent.

My teaching moment with the pout-face
I quietly took my older daughter aside and said, "Honey, I am very sad that you are choosing to misbehave and not cooperate for these pictures. I can't really think of a consequence for you right now, but you are really draining my energy. When we get home, you can work hard to help get my energy back, but don't worry about what that will be right now. You can do whatever you want the rest of our time here and when we get home, we'll figure out how you can get my energy back."

Then I moved on with my afternoon and the rest of our picture-taking. My friends and I laughed and sat amazed at a couple who refused to move off of a sculpture while we stared at them for a good 15 minutes (wasn't it obvious that we were trying to take pictures?!? what happened to social etiquette?). My daughter, on the other hand, could not move on. From that moment, through the entire car ride home, and our first minutes back in the house, she was worrying. Instead of misbehaving, she was fretting about how she was going to restore my energy.

One of my friends drove with us, and she participated in the fun.

5 year old: mom, I am really sorry that I was misbehaving. I just don't know how I'm going to get your energy back!

Me: would you like some ideas? you could clean your room -

daughter: oh nooooooooo!

Me: you could vacuum -

daughter: can I clean the bathroom?

Me: no, you did that yesterday.

My Friend: maybe you could scrub the floors.

daughter: oh, yes! I think I could scrub...maybe just the kitchen floor?

Me: well, my energy is really drained. I think if you want to make sure to get all my energy back, you might need to scrub all the floors. {my friend and I silently giggle}

and so it went...

The point of this story is not to show what a brilliant mom I was in that parenting moment. In fact, just the opposite. As I am learning to lean more into community, I am realizing that inviting others into my mess can be a blessing. Because my friends were with me that day, I was able to get outside of myself and realize that my day didn't have to be ruined just because my kid was being a brat. Rather than blow up at my daughter (the temptation was certainly there), I could take a breath, come up with a temporary solution, and continue to enjoy my visit with my friends. The car ride was just icing on the cake, as my friend got involved in the problem-solving of restoring my energy.

I could have chosen to have been embarrassed that my child was misbehaving during an outing with others. I could have spent my time apologizing to my friends and trying to cajole my daughter into smiling for pictures. I could have wasted my energy worrying about what my friends thought or feeling disappointed that the pictures weren't "perfect."

But the blessing of community, in that moment, allowed me to allow my daughter to just be a normal rebellious kid. And I got to be the calm, cool, and collected mom who had fun anyway (and got my kitchen floor scrubbed out of the deal). I'd like to hope that my friends got something out of that time, too.  
One of our (many) not-so-perfect pictures

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Love My Girls

I am under no illusion that my children are perfect. FAR from it! They whine when they want something, use fake tears to get my attention, and spill liquids on my technology. They are selfish and sometimes rude. They have bad moods and meltdowns and just plain rotten days.

But I am still astonished at so many of their wonderful qualities, for which I can claim (almost) no credit. And I especially love some of their similarities. So permit me a moment to brag about my daughters...

My girls have gorgeous smiles and infectious laughs. I'm pretty sure every kid, when she gives that smile of pure delight, is just perfectly beautiful. So this is not original, but it still melts my heart when I see those little girls flash their joy around. And since I have a terrible sense of humor, I am surprised every time they burst into laughter (which is alot when they are together). The happiness of a child is one of life's best gifts.

My girls love social gatherings. Although both are slightly shy in new situations, they truly adore meeting new people and engaging with them - especially in public places like grocery stores and parks. This is particularly helpful for us as a family, given that we are in the 'business' of constantly developing new relationships. And it has definitely encouraged my efforts at being more hospitable.

They pay attention. Kids learn by observation and they are always soaking in the world around them! My little one is in the "great explorer" stage and nothing gets past her, but my older daughter is still incredibly observant. Both of them help me slow down and pay attention to life. They're also very intent on understanding the long answers we give to their thoughtful questions and to receiving any instruction we give when they are misbehaving!

They adore each other. I know sisters go through stages of love and hate, and I cannot predict the future. But right now, I am simply smitten with the ways my girls interact. Of course the younger follows the older around and tries to imitate everything, and they consistently share toys well, fall into giggling fits, and find creative ways to play together. I pray that their current joy runs deep, wide, and long through life. 

Have you spent time with my girls? What do you love about them?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

I'm Still Learning: Hospitality

I grew up in a large Greek-Italian family. Among many other distinguishing factors, such as being loud and passionate, this involved a lot of eating. Our table was always full of food, and it seemed that our door was always open to whoever happened to stop by. Amidst the plethora of extracurricular activities for us 5 kids, our family ate dinner together most nights every week.

I treasure the family meal and am so grateful that, for the better part of the last 13 years, my in-laws have hosted dinner every Sunday evening. Our ministry schedule has often made our own family dinners a little difficult to navigate, but I am constantly searching for ways to make our mealtimes meaningful and fun.

Somehow, though, this joy of eating together as a family has not translated well into my church community. When we lived in an apartment, I said, "when we have a house, we'll have people over more." And then we bought a house. And I said, "when we're done with house projects (HA HA), we'll have people over more." And then we had kids, and I said, "when our kids are older, we'll have people over more."

You noticed the trend?

Thankfully, the Holy Spirit has convicted me in this area (more than once). Over the last five years, I've taken mental notes when I visit with people who are gifted with hospitality. I asked a few of them to give me their notes on how to do this well. And then, I just started doing it more. Most of my life learning has been trial-by-fire, so why approach hospitality any differently, right?

Here are a few lessons I've gratefully learned:   
Offer What I Have. Skilled hostesses seem to have many food options on hand at all times, but novices like me are learning to become comfortable just offering whatever is in my house. This relates to considering everything I have as belonging to everyone else, so if leftover mac'n'cheese is what's in the fridge, then our guests will be invited to it.

An unexpected blessing to this, though, has been that I think more about our communal family when I go grocery shopping. I check our pantry for snack supplies and buy a little extra of sale items so that the kitchen isn't completely empty if we spontaneously enjoy company. If I want to develop daily community, then I would like to be prepared to serve them well!

Involve My Kids. Hosting is a family affair! Young children can learn to greet guests warmly and thank them for coming to our home. My older daughter finds joy in setting the table for friends and offering available drinks. I often meet with women throughout the week for discipleship or prayer, and my girls are usually part of that time in some way.

I love seeing how my children are affected by regular community. Their definition of family expands beyond those in our immediate household. They experience the Holy Spirit's presence in people other than their parents. And they learn generosity, as they, too, share their space and possessions.

Love Covers a Multitude of Messes.
I used to believe that my home needed to look like a Martha Stewart magazine before I could successfully have people over. Obviously, a clean house provides a good welcome, but if I want my church to be my family, then I have to be comfortable hosting in my flawed everyday mess.

I've realized that the state of my heart sets the tone of our home far more than the condition of our floors or the mismatched placemats on the table. I am working to have a sense of orderliness from day to day, but, more importantly, I try to say a prayer before anyone comes to our door, so that they are welcomed in the Spirit, rather than my flesh. 

My small faith has been stretched as I step out in these little ways to cultivate community and learn hospitality. But I'm still learning! What tips or encouragement can you share with me?