Monday, 13 May 2013

Dear Kyler,

Today you didn't want to go to drama because Jonah wasn't going and you would be the only boy.  When it was time to go you refused. Louise came twice to pick you up and she and Hebe were waiting for you but you still refused.  I told you that you had to go. I told you that I didn't want to but I would drag you to their car if I had to. You said to go ahead and try.  I pushed you out the door and locked it.  You stood outside the door, banging on it and ringing the doorbell.  I opened the door, stepped out, and pulled you into the elevator.  You said I didn't have to hold on to you, that you'd walk on your own.   But as soon as the elevator door opened, you ran downstairs to the basement.  The whole time I was trying to get you to go by saying they're waiting and you are making them late.  But you refused.  I grabbed your shirt and your arm and pulled you into the elevator.  As it opened, we saw Louise waiting at the door.  The struggle stopped, but you were upset and embarrassed.

I walked you to their car, holding your hand the whole way and watched as you miserably hunched into the car.  I wanted to pull you out and hug you and tell you that it would be ok, but I just thanked Louise, apologized for making them late, and walked home. I wondered if I had handled it the right way, or if I should have just let you stay home.  I pictured you thinking back on this experience as an adult and it being one of the few childhood memories that stick out and it made me sad.  I wanted to apologize as soon as you got home and tell you that next time you wouldn't have to go if Jonah wasn't there. 

I love you, Ky, and as your mom I wish I could make every experience enjoyable for you.  I wish I could provide you with a world where you would never have to do anything you didn't want to.  I wish I could see the joy on your face that would come if I surprised you with brand new toys, or that Xbox you've wanted.  I wish I could give you everything that made you happy and take away anything that caused you pain.  I wish I could.  All parents do.

I am sorry, but not for making you go to drama.  I'm sorry that we live in a world where sometimes you have to do things that you don't want to, it makes me sad too.  I'm sorry that sometimes you have to do things that are really hard and that make you uncomfortable, I wish I could protect you from that.  But it is important for you to know that you can!  You can do hard things. 

You will have to learn this lesson many times in many different ways as you grow up: that you can do hard things, you can.  When you are little my job is to teach you that, it is one of the hard things that I have to do.  When you get older hard things will just come and I always hope that you remember that you are strong enough to face challenges, work hard, be embarrassed, and do things that are really hard.

You are a good boy.  You are sweet, caring, and funny. You make good choices and stay out of trouble for the most part.  You are a good, normal, strong little boy and every day I am proud to be your mom.

I love you forever,

Mom

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

be gentle with yourself

I spoke with Geri for the first time in November. She has been a practicing psychiatrist for almost 20 years and is calm, friendly, empathetic, and very smart. We speak over the phone for an hour once a week and talk about life. In our first chat she gave me advice that I could feel the effects of almost immediately. She said three things:

1. Your brain needs water.  Everyone, but especially people with depression/anxiety need to drink more water. My mind was constantly running at high speed. Everyone worries, but a person with anxiety worries obsessively about the same thing over and over and over. Because your brain can't distinguish between a new stressor and the same stressor being worried about multiple times, the affects within the body are the same as if you are worrying about multiple things, when it was really just the same thing multiple times. She described it as this "heating up" the brain.  I'm not sure if that is technically what happens, but the idea nonetheless is that the brain needs water to function and the higher speed you are requiring your brain to run, the more water you need to take in. She suggested I get a water bottle and keep it with me all day and take a sip from it every time I think of it.

2. Your brain needs oxygen. The breathing of people with depression is actually more shallow than the breathing of people without! Think of how your breathing speeds up and shallows when you begin to feel panicked about something.  People with anxiety are always in a slight state of panic, therefore they are always breathing less deeply and are starving their brains of oxygen, which can cause disorganized, blurry thoughts.  Geri suggested that I conciously take deeper breaths whenever I thought of it and gave me a breathing exercise to do every morning and whenever I needed to clear my mind or needed a boost of energy. Taking some really deep breaths before a test or before a task in which you will need a clear mind can really help too!

3. Your feelings need kindness. A few years ago I read a book that talked about breaking repeating thought patterns that are damaging. The idea was simple, when you begin to have a thought that is damaging you simply conciously tell it to stop. As a person with depression I have alot of reoccuring thoughts that can be damaging.  But I noticed over the years, as I tried to change them with this technique I wasn't just telling those thought patterns to stop, I had added a scolding to the command. For example, if I started to worry about something I had said to a friend the night before and think about it obsessively until it made me sick I would say in my mind, "Stop it, idiot, don't think like that! Think about something else!"

The first time I spoke with Geri she could tell I did this just by the way I spoke with her.  I apologized for my feelings and degraded my own thoughts. She explained to me that the part of my mind that is supplying feelings and beliefs is my subconcious.  Everyones subconcious begins recording events as a small child and shapes our deepest beliefs about life.  Between the ages of 0 and 6 our minds worked mostly at a subcious level, and the subcious doesn't age much beyond that.  Later our concious mind begins to develop and, together with our subconcious beliefs, navigates how we interact with the world.

Geri explained that when I shame my feelings I am shaming my subconcious mind, and while shaming hurts anyone's feelings, my subconcious mind is like a child, it reacts like a child and can become deeply wounded and begin to feel unsafe when shamed. She explained that my subconcious mind would not allow anything to be changed while it felt threatened and that I needed to treat myself kindly. She used the analogy of a little girl knocking on my door that needed help.  Even though it wouldn't be an enjoyable situation, I wouldn't shut her out and slam the door.  I would welcome her in and ask her what was wrong.  It is the same way for our feelings. Once we understand them it is much easier to find a solution. The subconcious, afterall, is a set of beliefs you have set up about life, and its' job is to protect you.

The day after speaking with Geri I was driving to my German class.  I started feeling nervous and embarrassed about going into the class and speaking German.  Normally, I would have tried to shake it by shaming it away with a, "Stop it! It's fine, dummy, get over it!"  But this time I remembered Geri's advice. I let the feeling in, and inside my mind, I greeted it with the name my mom called me as a little girl, "Hey Meggy, it's ok.  You can feel that way."

I sat in my car and cried.  After so many years of fighting and shaming myself, that little girl in me finally felt heard and comforted. It didn't take away all of my nerves as I walked into my German class, but I walked in feeling more confident, like I had someone on my side to tell me it's ok when I'm scared: me.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Recognition

Off and on since my early teen years I've suffered with consuming feelings of sadness. It is painful, of course, but it can also be exhaustingly confusing. My husband usually sees it coming before I do.

One evening last fall, he brought it up as we laid in bed. "Winter is coming," he said,"It's going to start getting darker earlier, do you want to try and get something to help you before it gets too dark?"

"What do you mean?" I asked, defensive.

"Nothing, it's just, you seem to get sad in the Winter, I'm just saying if you want to try and get some help, I support you. I can call the doctor if you want."

The thing about sinking into depression is that I don't recognize it right away.  It's tricky.  The sadness feels completely justified and something inside me fights to keep it around. It feels like I need it and its strength cannot be weakened by logic. If I'm trudging through dark days and cannot pinpoint a real reason for the darkness, I know I have sunk. A typical thought process goes like this:

I feel sad.I just can't, it's just not going to get better. It's just so hopeless. What's wrong?  What happened? What was that that was making me sad? I was worried about something, what was that? The kids are at school... should they be away from me?  It's ok, no, it's ok, they have to go.  I don't want to go shopping, is that why I have this feeling? Well, I don't want to go...  What was that thing I was worried about? I'm worried, I feel scared. I can't do all this stuff I have to do. It's too much.

Before I recognize my sadness as depression, it is a very confusing to be consumed by this deep, dark sadness, and have no justification for it. In the first few years of our marriage I would attach my misery to the first thing that popped into my head after trying to locate a reason for my feeling, something my husband said, the way my son looked at me, or a converstaion. It worked the same way for guilt.  My whole self would be consumed with hopeless feelings of guilt, I felt as if nothing I did was right and that I was deeply hurting everyone around me that I cared about.  When I couldn't remember an actual experience that took place to cause these feelings, I would pick anything I did that day and make mentals lists about why I should feel bad about it.  With depression, the feeling always comes first and then I search for evidence to justify the feeling, making it up and often stretching logic.

"Do I seem sad?" I asked my husband after a long pause.

"You just look tired and I can see when you're stuck in your head," he explained,"I just thought, maybe you'd want to get something this time, before it got too bad."

Two weeks later we were sitting in two cold chairs in the large exam room of my doctor's office. I began to sob before anyone even started speaking.

"What can I help you with?" my doctor asked, calmly.

"I just feel sad," I cried, "I just feel nervous, and embarrassed, and sad, and I don't know why."

My doctor sat patiently mumbling ,"mm hm, mm hm," and typing notes into his computer as I answered his questions. At the end of our consultation he spoke, "I don't think this is going to go away on it's own," he said,"it sounds like it is something you might be dealing with for your whole life. I can give you  medication, but I think you should talk to someone too. If this is going to be a long term difficulty, you should have some other ways to battle it."

I took my prescription and walked home with my husband by my side, still sobbing from embarassment, "It's going to be ok," he assured me,"You're going to feel better, you're just sick, sometimes people get sick. I think it will be good for you to take the medicine and talk to someone if you want to. If you want I will call for you."

Monday, 4 February 2013

Suffering


I remember "suffering" being the only word that could adequately capture how I felt. Often and at any moment the pain would slam into me and I'd drown into the deepness of it. My breathing would come out in short gasps. I'd crumble under the heaviness of it, burying my face in the palms of my hands. I'd clench my eyes shut and without my approval, my frantic thoughts would try to make sense of the aching and begin a morbid checklist. Has someone died? Was I in an accident? Is something coming? What is wrong!?
 
Years ago, I would pick the first thing that "made sense" and attach my feeling to it. Brady was gone too much, my house was too dirty, or the kids were too loud. They were the reason for this suffering and I'd set about trying to eliminate the source of my pain. But now I could recognize the hot sickness running through my veins and knew there was no trigger for my suffering. The parts of my mind not ruled by emotion laid out the facts: You have depression. Your body is chemically out of balance. Some hormone or chemical or neurotransmitter has been released when it shouldn't have and it is creating an unjustified, horrible emotion in you. I could house these thoughts and really believe them, but the part of me that was suffering could not be appeased by the arguments of logic, no matter how sound.
 
I would let the panic crash into me in unmerciful waves, pounding off the last layer of well-being and ripping away my last bit of worth. I had no strength to fight back or even to beg it away, I couldn’t even cry except for a pain-filled squeak that would press from my lungs as my short breaths escaped. I absorbed every last blow, allowing it to toss me until I was synchronized with its rhythm. I was suffering. And I couldn’t make it stop.

 Eventually everything of me would be absorbed and the pain would slowly recede, leaving nothing of me but a strengthless puddle. Soon my logical mind would return to front ground, brush me off, and insist that I slowly take my feet. You're ok, it said, nothing happened. It was just your depression. It can't really take anything from you. That mind couldn't understand my emptiness and asked me to get going. But I had nothing left to give despite having given nothing.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Transparency II: hum your favorite hymn



It is interesting how we try to explain the unexplainable in terms that are easier to understand. Christ did it with his parables. We often do it with young children to try and make complex ideas simpler. In the church we use stories and symbols and object lessons to try to understand ideas that our spirits testify to be true, but our finite minds and bodies cannot connect with any knowledge, experience, or remembrance. 

 
 As a teen I was taught that after death all of our actions and the desires of our hearts will be available for all to see and used for our judgment (Alma 5:18, Alma 29: 4-5, D&C 137:9).  All of our lives, our thoughts, and our misdeeds will be worn on us like a sign around our necks. One leader provided a very vivid visual of what she thought it would be like.  She said I would die and be welcomed home. I would hug my family and friends and start to remember things I had forgotten.  Then, as part of the welcome home party everyone I ever knew and cared for, everyone I ever disliked, acquaintances, my parents spiritual and earthly, and even those that I  didn’t know would gather together to watch the “video” of my life. They would see everything and hear everything, including my thoughts, which would come up as subtitles at the bottom of the screen, or maybe echo throughout the soundtrack.  My eyes would be the video camera, and everything that they had captured during my time on earth would play back. I imagined sitting in a dark room full of everyone I had ever known and watching this movie.  I would slump, embarrassed and ashamed at some parts.  I, along with others at my showing, would weep during the painful scenes. But the idea of my thoughts being open for viewing, that every dark horrible vision my mind had conjured up, every harsh unkind thought I had housed, even when my lips spoke sweetly, that idea was almost too much for me as a self-conscious teenager.

 
From a young age we are taught about the importance of training our minds, and harboring only good thoughts, intentions, and emotions there. I’m thinking of the primary song that goes
 
If on occasion you have found,
Your language is in question
Or ugly thoughts come to your mind,
Well here’s a good suggestion:
Just hum your favorite hymn
Sing out with vigor and vim.
And you will find
It clears your mind,
Hum your favorite hymn.

 
I think that this song was probably written with different intentions in mind. But as a primary child what I learned from it is that anything in my mind that is not beautiful shouldn’t be there. Because of this lesson, intentional or not, I often say yes when I want to say no. I often get up and work when my body is telling me to rest. I often act happy when I am feeling sad. And then I feel guilty for having had those "ugly" thoughts in the first place. I don’t like the idea that I learned from that song, and it has taken me 27 years to realize that it isn’t true. Sometimes I have an unfriendly thought, that is ok. I am allowed to find some people offensive. I am allowed to not want to be around my kids sometimes. I am allowed to feel angry and hurt and sad. Humming my favorite hymn until these thoughts go away only serves to make me feel guilty, my true self to feel unheard, and my actions to feel unauthentic. Certainly I ought not to act on every impulse that I have, but I don’t have to pretend that they aren’t there either.
 
It is really easy to hide ourselves from other people. For the most part we can choose what we share of our thoughts and what we keep inside of our minds. But what if one day my heart and mind are transparent and the option to hide within the privacy of my mind is gone? I can’t run away from ugly thoughts and push them aside. I have to discover why they are there and figure out what to do with them. Often when I am angry I think there are only two choices: pretend I am not angry and let it burn inside of me, or fling out fiery, slightly out of control words and then feel bad about it afterwards. But I’m learning that being honest gives me a third option, it means acknowledging my anger without judgment of it being bad or good and expressing it in a way that most clearly explains my feelings without muddling the meaning by trying to punish the person I am angry at. When I truly accept my feelings and ask them what it is they are trying to tell me and then try to find a way to represent them with grace I have no reason for guilt.

 
  I like the idea of there being another form of communication, one which isn’t contained with a few thousand words and needs to be decoded to understand. It would be the transfer of thoughts and feelings and experiences in a more genuine way, without needing words to represent us. Maybe I even use it here, sometimes. I think of holding my new born babies and staring into their eyes. I know that truths which words can't describe have been passed to me in this way. I think of times when I could really feel what a friend or loved one was feeling. Or quiet times when I opened my heart to receive truth that rested on me with a peace and happiness that I could never begin to share. Isn’t this the form of communication I use when I pray? When I pray I don’t feel misunderstood. Thoughts that I can't express with words aren't left unexpressed, because my true feelings can be communicated through prayer without words, and answers can be returned in the same way.

 
The little boy in Primary asked, “If we didn’t have bodies in heaven, how could we speak to each other?” What a smart question. I imagined us in the spirit world after hearing the plan explained, another curious soul asking, “If we are going to have bodies and can only communicate with sounds, how will we speak to each other?” At the end of my attempt to answer that little primary boy's question, I have no more answers than I did when I started. But I have found a desire for transparency and expressing myself in a way that the desires of my heart, my actions, and my words are not three dichotomous pieces to the person that I am, but they are one and the same.
 

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Transparency I: a naive question

Last week in primary we talked about the plan of salvation. We talked about how we wanted to come to earth to receive a body, because in heaven we didn’t have one. One of the children raised his hand and asked, “If we didn’t have bodies in heaven, how could we speak to each other?”

I thought this was one of those cute, na├»ve questions that only children seem to ask. I quickly tried to answer the question within my own mind. Of course we could talk, I reasoned, we believe that the plan was explained to us and we chose to follow it. He is thinking that just because we didn’t have a voice box, a throat, and mouths we couldn’t speak. But of course we could speak, just as we do now…couldn’t we?

I began to think of the way we typically communicate here in mortality. At the most basic level our lungs push air through our vocal chords, which vibrate and create sound. We then manipulate that sound with movements of our lips, tongues, and cheeks and create words. This type of communication, of course, doesn’t only require that the speaker has a body but also that the listener has one. The listener absorbs the sound and with the help of the ears’ shape, the sound is funneled into the ear canal, where the eardrum vibrates at certain speeds and strengths. Another part of the ear translates these vibrations into nerve impulses and sends these signals to the brain. The brain then interprets the sounds as words, words which it has heard before and therefore can decode into a meaning.
Communication = Speaker's sound + Listener's ears/brain decoding the sound

But there is more to communication than just the transfer of sounds, right? What we are trying to do with communication is represent something intangible, an idea, with a code of sounds whose meaning a language has agreed upon. Before the speaker even tries to communicate she must have a thought or idea. She must then transfer this thought into a code known as language, which includes picking appropriate words to represent her desired meaning. Once the words have left her mouth and are in the possession of the listener it is his turn to decode the words with his perception of what they mean. Multiple variables influence his decoding of the message including her actions before and now, his past experiences, his understanding of the words and their meanings, his moood, etc.
 
It is hard to imagine our most reliable form of communicating with others being taken away. But how reliable is it really? Study after study has shown how quickly a person’s intended meaning can be misinterpreted by a listener.Everything we hear, we hear tinted with the overtones of our experiences, our beliefs, our emotions. Speaking is not transparent. It isn’t a fool proof method of transferring my experience, thoughts, and ideas onto someone else. How often are good intentions misinterpreted? How often do I find myself arguing with someone, only to realize in the end that we both have the same view, we were just saying it differently? How often is there something I feel that simply cannot be expressed with words?