Posted in sqt

{sqt} – what I learned from Lent

I’m linking up with Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum today for Seven Quick Takes! I couldn’t come up with an SQT topic at all this week so I’m thankful to her for suggesting this one… it turned out to be a good way for me to wrap up the season for myself and prepare for the upcoming long stretch of ordinary time.

  1. Lent is for us – it is something we need, as sinful people, not something God needs for some obscure reason. In Lent we willingly give up something good as a sacrifice to God, a way to tell Him, remind ourselves, and train our bodies to remember that He is more important than even the good things He has made and given us. So there is beauty in the intentional, thought-out abstinence from something meaningful during Lent. However, I did not do that this year, being caught in the throes of PPD for the months between Christmas and Ash Wednesday. So, all of that being said…
  2. God can still use Lent for your spiritual growth even if you don’t plan anything, or just attempt the bare minimum. The point of Lent is to grow closer to God by separating ourselves a bit from the pleasures and conveniences of the world. So if life is beating you over the head to the point where it takes all your energy just to get out of bed and pray, you don’t need to pile on more self-inflicted hardships. Just seek God in your suffering.
  3. As a corollary, God knows the Lent we need, and He’ll make it happen if we are seeking Him. An unplanned Lent, catching me in the midst of an illness that made it hard to do more than the Friday abstinence, was probably far better for the condition of my soul than one where I chose all these difficult fasts and followed my self-imposed sacrifice to the letter: because my deepest temptation is to pride, and the success of a “good” Lent (at least in outward appearance) would have fed that pride and self-righteousness. This Lent didn’t really look very devoted or disciplined at all, and that was hard for me to accept for a while.
  4. Speaking of pride, Lent is (ideally) a humbling time. We impose our fasts and determine our sacrifices, and usually fall short of our goals, and in so doing realize once again how very much we need God’s grace to actually follow Him in any real way! Our inability to hold fast to even a small sacrifice for the sake of drawing closer to Christ gives us the opportunity to confess our weaknesses and stretch our roots deeply into His strength as we try again to live for Him in holiness. When I realized early in the season that my Lenten sacrifice was going to be admitting my inadequacies and seeking help for my mental health, that was a seriously humbling challenge. That’s not the kind of Lent I had wanted; it seemed so small and pathetic, and it forced me to face my weakness head-on and leap blindly into the unknown, trusting that God’s hands would catch me.
  5. Another thing I learned this Lent was the intensity of the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. To be honest, I had never before prayed through the Sorrowful Mysteries, and never even attempted a serious meditation on the Passion of our Lord. To think about His suffering, for our sake, for the joy of our redemption, was so uncomfortable for me that I avoided it as much as possible. But for Lent this year, I decided to pray only those mysteries in an attempt to prepare my heart for the seriousness of Good Friday and the joy of Easter Sunday. And it was unbelievably hard. To look long and hard at the suffering of another, when that person has entered into that suffering willingly and on your behalf, for your healing or life or freedom, is not easy. But it honors them and their sacrifice to take the time to remember it in its fullness, with reverence and gratitude.
  6. In the combination of these two main aspects of Lent (suffering in some way ourselves and meditating on the suffering of Christ) I found myself falling deeper in love with God and drawing closer to Him in dependence and prayer than I have been for a while. In the depths of my depression I remembered how Jesus faced the agony of fear and emotional pain in the garden, and was comforted to know that He could understand my emotional distress and stand by my side through it. When I wished that I could fight the depression on my own and overcome it without help, I remembered how Jesus Himself was unable to carry His cross, but needed the help of another man’s strength, and realized that needing the help and support of others is part of being human, not a sin or a cause for shame.
  7. Finally, I learned that the spirit of Lent – the desire to draw closer to God, and the willingness to sacrifice certain good things towards that end – shouldn’t end when the season of Lent and its specific sacrifices end. It just takes on other forms. If in Lent I learned how to draw near to God in my suffering, through Christ’s suffering for me, in Easter and beyond I can learn how to draw near to God in my joys and in my boring, everyday routines. He is there also, inviting us to walk with Him through suffering into endless joy and eternal glory.
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Posted in family life, sqt

{SQT} – seven stories about my mom, for her birthday

Today is my mom’s birthday and I didn’t get to see her. We’ll be celebrating tomorrow though! My mom has always been one of those people who makes special days (like birthdays and holidays) really feel special and significant, so for her birthday I wanted to write a little bit about her, and some of the memories I have of her through the past twenty-odd years. Because it’s also a Friday I’ll give you seven snippets and link up with {SQT} at This Ain’t the Lyceum.

  1. I don’t have an earliest memory of my mom. She just always was, and always was making life good, in unseen, taken-for-granted sorts of ways, all through my early childhood. So nothing specific stands out in my memory, unfortunately.
  2. I do, however, remember how much she loved to garden in our home in Pennsylvania – how she had strawberries and peas along the fence, and tiger lilies all along the back so she could see them from the back porch or the kitchen window, with soft mossy patches around them. I remember how excited she was the year she planted blueberry bushes, and how we hoed the ground together to make it ready for their tender new roots. My love for gardening largely comes from those early memories of her making our small yard beautiful and fruitful with life.
  3. Hmm, there was also the time when I stepped on a bee as a toddler and couldn’t explain what had happened, my mom thought I had broken my toe and took me to the ER, and was rather frustrated with me after the X-rays when the whole situation was finally explained. I remember feeling rather confused and small, just caught up in the whole event without really understanding what was going on. She was just being a caring and slightly over-anxious mom 🙂 Have I struggled with her worry? Of course. Has it helped me in countless unexpected ways? Also of course.
  4. Many of my best memories of my mom take place in the kitchen, either cooking or cleaning together. She taught me how to bake bread, crack eggs, and prep a raw chicken; she taught me fractions with measuring cups; she showed me how fulfilling and meaningful it can be to do everyday things well for the benefit of the people we love. We also had a lot of fun – for instance, one day for lunch we made pancakes and stacked them up with brown sugar and butter like they did in the Laura Ingalls books, assembly-line style, and then devoured them joyously. I still remember our excitement, as kids, about getting to do that!
  5. My mom is not a sensitive person, and that served me well growing up. I could argue, complain, protest, debate, attack, be moody, speak sharply, and know that she would be able to let it go, not take it personally, and keep loving me. It wasn’t that she made me think my bad attitudes and unkind words were ok – but she always made sure I knew that I was ok and loved, even when my actions weren’t acceptable. She often said that she wasn’t empathetic or compassionate, as if those were her weaknesses, but I think that her thick skin and realistic attitude were great strengths in her parenting and allowed her to love her thin-skinned, sensitive children well. She neither gave in to our emotions nor allowed them to hurt her. Or rather, as I see now that I am older, she didn’t allow that hurt to change how she loved and cared for us, and she didn’t let us see the hurt because that is usually too great of a burden for a young child to carry.
  6. My mom filled our lives with books. She would read to us, she would read the same books as us and talk about them with us, she would leave books scattered around the house for us to find and read, she would give us books for every holiday, she would take us to the library every week – books of information, books of stories, books of poetry, picture books and chapter books and classics, all had a place in our home because of her efforts. I wouldn’t be who I am today without those books, and I will always be grateful for that.
  7. Now that I’m a mom as well, I see my mom with new eyes. I see the love and pride and fear in her eyes when she talks about my brother’s illness and future. I see the boldness it takes to be proud of her children even when their accomplishments are invisible to a world that sees only their struggles. I see glimpses of the vulnerability that she has always hidden so well, the tears that come equally from seeing her children create something beautiful or from watching them suffer in the fight with their internal demons. If having a child means having part of your heart live forever outside of yourself, as the quote has it, then part of my mom’s heart is with me, and my sister, and my brother, and I suddenly feel as if I ought to treat it gently, and with great reverence. It was this heart that showed me how to love, and taught me how to live, and which still treasures me in its embrace.

I love you mom, on your birthday and every other day. You were and are an amazing mother to me, and now you’re an amazing grandmother to my kids as well. I could never thank you enough for everything you have done and are doing for me.

Posted in sqt

{SQT} – my first week back at work!

Linking up with This Ain’t the Lyceum again this week!

Well, maternity leave is finally up and I’m back at work. Which honestly I’m very happy about, as much as I love motherhood… I just do a lot better when I have some time away from the kids to be task-oriented and rational 🙂 So in that vein, here are seven things I’m grateful for in this first week back!

  1. I’m thankful that my job has such great benefits. Our insurance has covered us through the pregnancy, birth, and Aubade’s two hospitalizations, and getting to take 12 full weeks of paid maternity leave is a huge privilege (at least here in the US). The time to heal, both physically and emotionally, without financial stress, is such a gift.
  2. I’m thankful for the flexibility of my schedule! My supervisor and team have been incredibly accommodating of my attempts to work around my husband’s and my mom’s classes (so that one of us can always be with the kids), which can result is some pretty strange hours, and I’m very appreciative of their understanding. For the rest of this semester I’ll be working four afternoons and one full day (I only work 30 hours a week), which leads me to the next item on the list:
  3. I’m thankful that I still have mornings with the kids. Two days a week I don’t have to leave until after lunch; the other two days I leave mid-morning. So that means I have two days to go out to a park or splash pad without having to rush home or be out in the heat of the day, and two days to play at home and do crafts/cleaning/baking/other activities. It’s a good balance, and a great way to start the day. In addition, it means I can still make it to the church moms’ group on Wednesday mornings! I get a chance to talk with other moms, and the kids get a chance to play in an unforced, unstructured way at a park with other kids.
  4. I’m also thankful for the opportunity to bike to work again. I biked back in 2013-2014, after Rondel was born until I was about 13 weeks into my pregnancy with Limerick, when the onset of summer and a miscarriage scare persuaded me to stop. For some reason, I never started back up, and I’d been missing it. So I bought a new bike (my old one had been stolen) and didn’t give myself the option to chicken out! It’s six miles one way, so it’s a bit tiring given that I haven’t been doing any exercise at all for a long time now, but there’s something unbeatable about the wind in my face, the sun on my arms, the smooth whir of the tires on the asphalt, and the feeling of strength in my legs as the miles go by. It leaves me feeling joyful, energized, and empowered, and I can’t complain about that even on days when I’ve got a headwind both ways 😉
  5. As a corollary to biking again, I’m thankful for a relatively distraction-free time to pray – namely, the hour every day that I’m on the bike. No one is talking to me, I can’t read a book or use my phone, and no one is around me to notice what I’m doing and make me self-conscious. It would be so hard for me to carve out that much time in any other way, and it is so good to have a chance to just be with and talk to God. And if I don’t have anything on my mind or don’t know what to say, a round trip is just about the amount of time it takes me to pray through the Rosary, and it’s hard to go wrong spending an hour meditating on the events of Jesus’s life.
  6. I’m thankful also for my coworkers. My supervisor is absolutely wonderful – intelligent, visionary, adaptable, and pragmatic; he never micromanages, never gets angry about a failure or mistake, always provides opportunities to learn new skills and stretch our abilities, and always listens to and considers our input. My teammate is also great; after a rough period when we were figuring out how to work together, we’re settling into a good rhythm. He is one of the most dependable and hard-working people I know, and he has good lab hands in the bargain so his work is typically impeccable.
  7. Finally, I’m insanely grateful for my husband. My return to work puts more pressure on him, as a lot of his time is now filled up with the kids and his studying has to be squeezed into odd hours or pushed back late into the night. But he still manages to be kind, compassionate, and servant-hearted, even when he’s exhausted and stressed and the boys are waking him up again at 2am. He’ll hold that wakeful little boy in his arms and get him a drink of water and speak words of peace and love to him so that he can go back to sleep, and never complain about how tired he is or speak sharply out of exasperation. He keeps up with the laundry, washes dishes, and feeds the kids nourishing food, and never criticizes me or complains to me if I don’t do as much as I probably should, or if I do something that annoys him (like forgetting to put a new toilet paper roll on the holder… haha). And I know he will be there for me if I need a listening ear or practical advice.

All in all, I’d say it’s been a good first week back, at least for me… it probably was a bit more rough for my husband and the kids, but someone has to pay the bills and I have the blessing of loving the work that I do.

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{SQT} – seven things I’ve learned about depression and antidepressants

Now that I’ve been on antidepressants for seven whole days, I can consider myself quite the expert, right? (please note the sarcasm)

Please take this list with a grain of salt, and remember that I speak from my own very limited experience. I’m just trying to share from that experience, not replace the very thorough informational guides that come with the medicine, or the more personally-tailored knowledge you can get from your doctor.

  1. I was a proud and arrogant fool not to have sought help and started taking an antidepressant earlier in my life. Well, that’s probably too harsh, since depression does its best to talk you out of asking for help. But a lot of things in high school, marriage, and parenting would have been significantly easier if I wasn’t simultaneously trying to manage dysfunctional emotions and deal with faulty cognitive processes along the way – and it was my fear of appearing weak or insufficient or incapable that kept me from opening up or seeking medical guidance.
  2. The mental health system is incredibly challenging to navigate. It seems like every doctor who is liked and respected doesn’t take insurance… and every doctor who does take insurance either works for an inpatient clinic or has horrible reviews. And because of the personal nature of therapy and psychiatry, the doctor or therapist you try first may clash with you pretty badly – and when you’re feeling overwhelmed by everyday life, the thought of having to try multiple doctors and therapists is enough to shut the process down. If I didn’t have access to my Employee Assistance Office I probably would still be avoiding calling people.
  3. Antidepressants come with a pretty intense and rather scary list of side effects. I think what’s worth remembering is that they are potential side effects, not guaranteed side effects, and that the more serious ones are very rare – they just have to be mentioned because they are so potentially dangerous. I’ve had several different side effects that have come and gone already but mostly just headaches, and I would take a bad headache over depression any day. But I didn’t realize that before I started the medicine. I was so scared of the side effects that I held onto the prescription for a whole week before getting it filled (classic case of taking the evil you know over the evil you fear) – and I had been depressed for so long that I didn’t realize the extent to which it was draining my life of energy and joy.
  4. The Internet is full of all the worst-case scenario stories. I know those stories are true (they are more likely if psychiatric medication is prescribed by a general practitioner as opposed to an actual psychiatrist, by the way), but they are not the only part of the picture. If you have depression, an anti-depressant can help restore your energy, your hope, your light, and your life. In general I think it is better to find a good psychiatrist and take his or her advice instead of amping up your feelings of anxiety and hopelessness by endlessly scouring the Internet.
  5. Antidepressants DO NOT turn you into someone you are not. They will allow you to be  more yourself by removing some of the darkness and despair that have infiltrated your soul. I read, back in high school, an article in a Christian magazine arguing against the use of antidepressants, claiming that they dulled one’s sensitivity, empathy, and personality. From what I have experienced, I would agree that antidepressants may make you less sensitive and empathetic. But if you are sensitive to the point that a casual conversation brings you to tears, or empathetic to the point that you cannot help your crying child because his tears fill you with so much guilt and anxiety, you would be well served by having those qualities reduced to a functional level. Sensitivity and empathy are not virtues: it is the actions to which they typically lead, when they are healthy, which are virtuous.
  6. Depression makes virtue more of a challenge. I was amazed at how easy it was to be patient and gentle with the boys when I felt peaceful and happy inside! I suppose the silver lining of the depression is that I’ve gotten to practice pursuing virtue in the midst of challenge and even suffering (although that word always seems so extreme).
  7. I’ll reference that article from high school again to remark that, although antidepressants may be overprescribed (I would have no way of knowing), they are most definitely stigmatized. I have only told one person (besides my husband) in real life that I am now taking an antidepressant, and she is a friend who has been by my side through every episode of depression and every dark moment I’ve had. Frankly, I’m afraid of the reaction I might get, the responses I’ve read in comment sections as educated as that of the New York Times, that tell me what the depression said through all these years: if you only had more faith, if you prayed more, if you served/volunteered more to get your mind off of yourself, if you exercised more, if you ate this food or avoided this other food, if you stopped whining and moping about life, if you focused on the positive, if you practiced gratitude, and so on, you wouldn’t need that medication. It’s just a scam by Big Pharma anyway. It won’t help you much and you’ll do long-term damage to your mind and body. Just pull yourself out of that pit on your own – why are you acting like it’s so hard? And I can’t explain to everyone that I have tried all those things, that sometimes faith and prayer have been about the only things keeping me from suicide, that biking 60 miles a week and cutting out refined sugar didn’t cure my PPD the first time through it, that parenting three children 3 and under doesn’t exactly give a person much time to navel-gaze. Most people wouldn’t care to hear it anyway, because their opinion is already formed. In a way, I’m still the proud and arrogant fool I was for all those years, because I want this to be my dark secret, my shameful crutch; I don’t want anybody to know my weakness, as if it were something sinful. Revealing my hypothyroidism doesn’t change the way anybody thinks of me; revealing my depression (and the way I’ve chosen to treat it) might, and I’m too proud to want to risk lowering myself in their judgment.

Head over to This Ain’t the Lyceum for the rest of the link-up!

Posted in family life, sqt

{SQT} – up in the mountains

Taking advantage of the overlap between my husband’s last spring break and my maternity leave, we went on our first vacation ever as just our own little family this week, renting a cabin up in the mountains. It’s been a bit cold for us desert rats, but overall really great. So my seven quick takes this week are from our trip!

  1. I’m lucky my husband is a logistics master 🙂 He found the cabin online, he contacted the owner and scheduled the rental, he bought and packed all the food for the trip, and he calmed me down and gave me specific tasks to complete when I melted down in the overwhelming mess of packing everything for the kids and worrying that I’d forget something essential.
  2. The drive from Phoenix to Payson is gorgeous. I had forgotten just how beautiful the Sonoran desert can be, especially in the spring time when wildflowers are popping their vibrant heads up in every corner and the mountains are shaded green among the saguaros. And Payson itself, perched just below the Mogollan Rim with the high pine-covered, snow-topped ridges behind it, is breath-taking even when the deciduous trees are bare. It has been reminding me that, despite all the brokenness in the world, there is still quite a bit of beauty in it as well.

    IMG_6549
    Our cabin backs up to a creek!
  3. The simplest things are full of wonder and joy to a child. The boys have spent hours throwing rocks and pinecones into the water, digging in the dirt, and lugging sticks and logs across the yard. It is that pleasure in the everyday and elemental that I strive to hold on to as an adult, now that the cares of life are capable of dulling my senses entirely to the beauty of the small and mundane.

    (Limerick is wondering, in this picture, why he can no longer see the other pinecone he threw into the water. It took him a few trials to understand how the moving water carries the floating pinecones away – what a good way to begin understanding the physics of the natural world!)

  4. A two-year-old in a hoodie is one of the most adorable things in the world, especially when he sticks both hands in his pockets and wanders aimlessly around giving things sideways glances…
  5. A baby who happily lies there watching her brothers play, gazing at the interplay of sun and shade, observing the trees stark against the blue sky, is also high on the adorableness scale. As long as it isn’t too cold and windy, she’s quite content to just take it all in.
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    Lying on the wrap by the river

     

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    (Aubade is rediscovering her favorite sucking hand after having lost it to the IV bandages during her second hospital stay, and can get very focused on it!)
  6. Time away from normal routines and away from all the other people we normally see during the week seems to have brought Rondel and Limerick even closer together as brothers. They’ve begun to play much more interactively, instead of just in parallel: they deliberately make sounds or movements that they know will make the other one laugh; they make plans for digging or building and help each other with them; they prefer playing with each other to playing alone; they fight, but are figuring out how to make up and keep going together. They follow each other around, entertain each other, and generally fall apart laughing at each other most of the day. And one of the nights here we found them both snuggled up in the same bed ❤
  7. I realized how beautiful it is to watch a child explore the natural world, in his own way, at his own pace: running, jumping, climbing, digging, building with sticks, baking mud cookies, collecting pinecones, or throwing rocks into the river. IMG_6682

Visit the link up at This Ain’t the Lyceum!