Category: LIFE

An open letter to depression

Dear Depression,

You SUCK!

I hate you so much and I hate the power you can have over me. I hate that you can make me feel so unlovable and question my worth. I hate that you make me lazy and want to curl up in a ball and cry. I hate that you steal hours and days of my life from me and my family. I hate that I can’t always be the mom and wife I want to be because of you. I hate that you take my positive outlook on life from me.

I HATE you and your power! I will not let you win and I will do everything in my power to fight you. I will go to my toolbox and use all of the tools I have and then if that doesn’t work I will go and get more tools. If I have to I will call in the experts and get more help, but you will not win. It may take me days, weeks or even months to get rid of you, but I will. Sometimes I think I have conquered you but then you fight back and I have to work even harder, but I always win!

You may return, let’s be honest you will, you always do, but I’ll be ready for you. I never know when you’ll return, why you return, or how I’ll beat you, but I know I will. I have the toolbox and it’s always growing. I have people supporting me and I have a team of experts and we are stronger than you.

There is no one way to fight you and win, there are many. I will fight with all I have because I know the sun will shine again. I will smile a real smile, and laugh a belly laugh again. I know this is not my fault and I did nothing to cause it.

You pick on people indiscriminately and you fight a mean fight, but I will not let you win. Depression you need to know that I will NEVER let you win.

Love,

One of many of your fighters

P.S. One of my favorite tools to use on the gloomy days that seem to be unrelenting.

Let’s Talk about Mental Health: My Story

Tears streaming down my face, my head in my hands, thoughts rushing through my head.

Anger boiled over, screaming at people about unimportant things, moving feverishly cleaning, tidying, trying to perfect things that can’t be perfected.

Tears, oh the tears.

Nothing, sitting in a catatonic state. No movement, no thoughts, just blank.

Fear, overwhelm, worry, sadness, negativity.

Pretending to be okay, when inside it was anything but okay.

Anxiety and depression.

They are real. They are personal. They do not discriminate. They can be hidden. They should be talked about.

snow and sleet street

They are all too familiar to me, and those statements above are just a few of my personal experiences.

Recognizing, naming and accepting my anxiety and depression were not easy. It was a long and sometimes lonely road. In retrospect, I can look back at my childhood (honestly a happy trauma-free childhood) and recognize these feelings manifesting even then.

How was I to know that it wasn’t normal to spend New Year’s Eve in tears as a child mourning the loss of the year gone by and the start of a new one?

Most kids didn’t worry every time their parents were a few minutes late getting home that there must have been a car accident and the police were on their way to inform us?

The pressure I used to put on myself to be the best, to get everything perfect, only led to feelings of inadequacy and being overwhelmed.

The first time I saw a counselor was when I was newly married. The catalyst was my winter sweaters.

Yes, you read that correctly.

My winter sweaters led me to seek counseling for the first time in my life!

I was standing in our bedroom and trying to put my winter sweaters up on the top shelf in the closet. Once I got them put away they were never perfect. I kept trying to fix them until I couldn’t take it anymore. I ripped all the sweaters down out of the closet and started yelling about how I couldn’t do it. My extreme anger and frustration led to crying.I knew this reaction wasn’t normal.

Why were these sweaters making me cry?

sweaters

I knew I didn’t want to live the way I was living anymore. I had such a short fuse, and I strove for the unattainable – perfection. Making that first call was hard. I started with my work EAP (Employee Assistance Program).

It took me days and days to get the courage to call. When I did, I was fighting back the tears trying to schedule the appointment. It was hard to admit there was something I couldn’t fix and something might be wrong. I went to counseling for a little while, got a little better – I’ll call it a band-aid fix. The counselor and I determined that I was having a bit of a career crisis and it was time for me to find a new career. A plan was made, and off I went.

I still didn’t know I had anxiety and depression. Things got better — for a while.

Several years later it wasn’t okay, and it got much worse. I was unhappy, stressed, not handling change well, and so overwhelmed with life. At the time we had one child, and Brian had recently started his new career as a police officer. I knew I wasn’t okay and I needed to see a counselor. This call to counseling was much harder.

In fact, I believe it was the most difficult call I’ve ever made. I cried and choked over my words the entire time I was on the phone. The receptionist, trained in crisis management, asked me if I was okay.

She said, “are you going to hurt yourself?”

Wow, sobering. Through tears, I said, “no.”

I met with that counselor for several months. It did help to talk to him, but I didn’t necessarily feel as comfortable with him. In retrospect, I think I wasn’t quite ready to face the fact that I suffer from anxiety and depression. I was agitated when he would say those words out loud. I refused to talk to a psychiatrist about medicine, as he suggested. I like to be in control and be strong.

Anxiety and depression seemed like a weakness to me, and I would not give up control by taking medicine.

Eventually, I stopped counseling and again felt somewhat better. I now know that accepting and dealing with your anxiety and depression is actually strong. The strongest people I know are those who battle mental illness.

Counseling is a tricky thing. Sometimes you need to go for a short period of time and then pop back in as is necessary as stressors build up. Some people need to go forever. I went several years without counseling and did pretty well, or so I thought.

I had no idea how much better I could be doing.

In the summer of 2016, I sought out counseling again. For me it’s not usually the cold, dreary days of winter that push me to seek help, it’s the approach of my birthday and this time was no different. The difference this time was that I recognized the feelings sooner and knew I didn’t want to wait until I couldn’t make the call without crying. In the search for a counselor that my insurance would cover I discovered a great center that also offered neurofeedback. I had no idea what that was, but I did some research and felt like that was the right direction for me. I didn’t want to just talk about my problems; I wanted to solve them. It seemed like neurofeedback could do that. I didn’t realize then that mental health doesn’t work quite that way.

Two years later, I can say that was one of the best decisions of my life and certainly the best decision for my mental health. I am finally able to accept that I suffer from anxiety and depression. I have learned ways to handle both of these things in my life. I have patience like I have never had before in my life. Neurofeedback has done tremendous things for my anxiety.

Do I still overreact, worry, and lost my temper?

Absolutely, but it is so much different now. I don’t spiral out of control. I am not a puddle of tears at the thought of having to take care of and keep my children quiet all day while my husband sleeps.

After doing neurofeedback for awhile, I wasn’t making the progress that I felt like I should have been. Several times Brian suggested I talk to my doctor about also taking medication. I shut him down very quickly and said I was fine – I wasn’t, but I was stubborn.

November 24, 2016, that changed.

I know the date because it was Thanksgiving. The girls and I stayed home to have Thanksgiving with Brian because he had to work. I was busy making my first turkey (all on my own) Thanksgiving fixings, entertaining children and trying to keep the house quiet so he could sleep 12 feet away from the kitchen.

It didn’t go well, and there were a LOT of tears.

Thanksgiving turkey cooking
Everything is not always as good as it appears on social media.

I was finally ready to admit that maybe, just maybe, medication would help. I was scared to try the medicine, especially because the doctor warns you about the side effects of depression getting worse and suicidal thoughts. Brian was on high alert to pay attention. Within a few weeks, I knew it was working. I felt different.

Brian, the smart husband that he is, will never admit to me how noticeable the changes were, but I know. I can feel it in myself. I am such a better person, mom, wife, etc. since deciding to take medication.

I now live a more centered, focused life and I feel more in control of my emotions and anxiety.

I did try to go off medicine for a while with my counselor and doctor’s help. What I found was my anxiety was under control, but my depression was not. My anxiety had been masking the depression symptoms, and since the anxiety was better due to neurofeedback, the depression was more apparent. Queue the breakdown, the tears, and the lack of desire to do anything.

I vividly remember trying to decorate the Christmas tree with my family, but not caring one bit about it. I tried so hard to be happy for my kids and my in-laws who were visiting, but I couldn’t. I barely made it through the day. All I wanted to do was curl up in my bed. I escaped the house alone to return library books (my only solo time without kids for days upon days). It was during those few moments alone that I realized how bad it was. Realizing it and admitting it were two different things.

I remember sitting in the rocking chair in my daughter’s room sobbing as I told my husband I needed to take medicine again.

depressed woman

I was depressed.

Why is it so hard to say those words?

I choked them out, but only after days of thinking about it. How do you admit you are depressed, especially when you have an amazing life? It felt like being a failure. When you are in the midst of depression, it is hard to admit those words to yourself, let alone say them to someone else. I don’t know that it will ever get easier, and I imagine most people who struggle with depression have the same problem admitting it.

I don’t know how to make it easier for anyone else, but I hope by sharing my story it helps you to share yours or to be open to hearing someone else’s.

A person’s mental health is crucial to their being able to live and live well.

Yet it is something that is easily ignored, pushed aside, and considered taboo. For me, counseling will be a part of my life periodically forever, and I am okay with that. I just hope that I will know myself well enough and admit soon enough that I can make that call before the tears and desperation have set in.

Let’s start talking about mental health, normalizing getting help, and actually connecting with friends and family.

woman enjoying freedome

For great resources be sure to check out www.nami.org. They even have a great blog and place to share your story. You are not alone!

A Few of My Favorite Things – April 2018

I was looking forward to the warmer days in April, but instead here in Illinois we’ve had cold, dreary days to start off April. I am sick of winter hats, gloves and coats laying around my house. I’m ready for spring jackets, playing outside and opening windows.

At this rate, I’m a little worried that we might skip over spring weather and go right to summer. With April comes another installment of my favorite things.  All items I have used, continue to use and have gifted to others.

Munchkin Miracle 360 degree sippy cup


We are past the stage of needing sippy cups ourselves, but we had a lot of years to use them. We tried so many different sippy cups, and I was disappointed in all of them. It seemed that my girls could get any sippy cup to leak. A leaky sippy cup can be so frustrating and annoying.

It wasn’t until our second daughter that we discovered the Munchkin Miracle 360. I only wish we had known about them sooner. These cups were easy to clean (a rarity with sippy cups) and leak proof. They now come with a handle for the littlest of sippy cup users, but when we got them, they didn’t have that (or we didn’t know it was an option). The handle is removable so the cup can transition with your child as their hands grow and fine motor skills improve.

(more…)

Progress not Perfection: A Mantra for the Overwhelmed

Do you find yourself feeling anxious, heart racing, with an inability to focus on one thing?

You may be experiencing feelings of overwhelm. I know, because I have this feeling A LOT.

I look at my kitchen and see the pile of dishes that need to be washed. A quick glance to the left, and there is the disgustingly dirty stovetop. Oh and what about the refrigerator with drips, sticky spots and old leftovers. Queue the feelings of overwhelm.

The way my mind works, I know all of those things need to be done, and I won’t be happy and relaxed until the entire list is completed. But then as I start to put the clean dishes away I notice crumbs in the drawers. All of the sudden my list of kitchen clean-up to-dos has become several pages long.

No person could accomplish it all in a day or even a week while also tending to their other responsibilities.

This is just one brief example of how I become overwhelmed quickly, and it happens in every area of my life. Instead of feeling accomplished with what I get done I often focus on what I didn’t get done.

(more…)

A Few of My Favorite Things – March 2018

 

 

 

 

 

It’s finally March, which means spring is coming. What better way to celebrate spring than with a few of my favorite things. I never seem to have a shortage of items for this monthly article. In fact, in my office, I have a post-it, one of my former favorite things, (link) where I jot down ideas for future months. I’m not sure I’ll ever run out of ideas to share because I am constantly finding or remembering cool things that I love and haven’t shared with you yet.

So without further ado let’s get started:

Contigo Cortland Water Bottle

Contigo cortland water bottle

As a water connoisseur, in fact, it’s all I really drink, I have tried many different types of water bottles over the years. I finally found one I really like. It is my second Contigo water bottle, but this one wins because it easily fits into the cup holder in my car. This water bottle goes everywhere with me. I love that it has the ounces on the side of the bottle so I can monitor how much I am drinking. While I drink primarily water every day, I don’t get enough of it, so monitoring my intake is important.

I love the flip cap so I can keep germs and food out of my water bottle, especially since I take it with me into elementary schools on a daily basis for work. There is a clip so you can attach it to a bag so you don’t even have to carry it. But the single best feature is that there is a simple button to push in order to release the water. This is important to me because it means that Amelia, who is 3, can’t drink out of it.

Yes, I love my kids, but I am not the kind of mother who loves to share her drinks with children who backwash. I am not interested in having any sort of floaties or food remnants sitting on the lip of my water bottle. She has not yet figured out how to push the button in. It is very easy for me to use, but not for her. But even when she can figure that out, there is a locking mechanism on the bottle that can prevent the button from being pushed in. Even more safety from my child and her germs! I’m certain that probably isn’t the reason for these features, but I think they are great for this reason. The water bottle is around $10 so the price point is perfect for this frugal mom.

(more…)

Avoid extra trips around the store: make your grocery list work

Have you ever gotten all done shopping just to discover that you forgot something on your grocery list? Perhaps it was written in small print at the bottom of the list. Or maybe in your excitement to cross items off you accidentally crossed the wrong thing off your list.

Then you are left with a decision. Is the item that important that you have to go back through the store to find it or can you just wait until the next time you go shopping.

I cannot count the number of times I have to go back and forth in the grocery store because I forget something. It is so frustrating and time-consuming. The only thing that makes this worse is when you have small children along with you. If they aren’t losing their mind from the boredom of grocery shopping, then they are trying to convince you of all the food items you “need.” I bet more than once you’ve spent extra money at the store just because you had to walk by items more than once. The second or third time by you were convinced to buy something you didn’t need up.

There is a solution to this problem.

Well, there are several solutions, but one that I think is the most practical and economical.

The solution is all about how you make your list. This is assuming that you use a list at all. If you don’t yet use a list, well that’s a great place to start. For those already using lists (paper or electronic) and still struggling with this problem then you’ve come to the right place.

I’m sure you’re going to be shocked to hear me say you need an organized list! (queue the sarcasm)

Yes, it may take an extra 2 minutes when preparing your list.However, it will likely save you time, headache, and expense when you are in the store.

Quickly jot down what you need to get at the store on a scratch piece of paper. Then transfer it to the organized shopping list.

GROCERY SHOPPING LIST

I have several blank copies of my organized shopping list in my Sunday basket. They are easy to access, and it takes me 1-2 minutes to transfer my jotted down list onto.

You could also have the organized list on the refrigerator where everyone can write down the items they need as they think of them. If you are an electronic list maker, just make these same categories on your electronic list.

My list is organized by categories of items we frequently shop for at the store. Yours may be different.

The key is to keep like items that are found at the store together. Then you won’t forget to pick one up.

Another variation on this list is to put more specific categories. Put these in the order in which you find them in the store. I prefer just general categories because I tend to shop at two different stores and the stores are organized differently.

If you shop at multiple stores, you can also indicate which store to buy at or the price at one store to compare which store is better to buy at.

This is your list you can make it as detailed or simple as you want.

Try organizing your list and see if it helps you avoid extra trips around the store and extra money spent on items you weren’t planning to buy.

If you have little ones and grocery shopping is your one break from the chaos at home, try saving time with this list. Then use that extra time for yourself. There is no harm in pretending it took you the normal 1-2 hours to grocery shop and sitting in your car to read. It’s one more way to find time to read.

Good luck on your next shopping trip. May you not have to walk through the store multiple times to find what you need.

How I Find Time to Read

It’s no secret I love to read. I have loved to read since I learned 30+ years ago. For me it is not a question of if I will read, it is how I will find time to read?

I firmly believe that if you want to do something badly enough you will find a way to do it, within reason. No matter how badly I may want to play professional basketball (I don’t) I will never find a way to do it.

I have a lot of things I want to do in my free time, but when push comes to shove there are some things that I MAKE time for. This is how I know what my favorite past-times are – reading always, exercise sometimes.

Look no further than my Goodreads account to see how much I love to read. Last year I read 64 books, and this year my goal is 75.

Yes, I read 64 books, and I work full-time, have this blog, raise two children and find time to exercise. How do I do it all? Well, first of all, there are a lot of things I don’t do, and second I can’t stop myself from reading.

As my seven year old niece says, “I have the reading disease.”

It’s a disease I can’t get rid of, which is fine by me because I sort of love it. The only way to treat it is to read A LOT.

So if you too have the reading disease, but you are struggling to find time to “treat” the disease, I have some ideas you will want to try.

(more…)

A Few of My Favorite Things – February 2018

February is here, which means we are one month closer to spring. Overall, it hasn’t been a bad winter, but it has been a bit unpredictable. One day we wear all of our winter gear and have inches of snow, and then a few days later it’s muddy and feels like the first days of spring. It’s hard to adjust to the back and forth precipitation and temperatures.

We are ready for spring around our house, in fact, I’m so ready I skipped over decorating the house with snowmen this year.

To brighten things up around here in this dreary February (well at least for those of us living in the Midwest) I’m bringing a few of my favorite things.

Alright, so my first two are going demonstrate what a huge nerd I am.

Post-its

It’s true, I love Post-its. I’m not sure I could live without post-its in my life. I use them for everything including notes, to-do-lists, to mark pages I want to hold in books, and even as entertainment for the kids.

In my book, all post-its are great (small, big, with lines, without lines, fun shapes, tab post-its, etc.). When it comes to post-its, I am completely brand loyal. Post-it brand is by far superior, and I don’t even waste money on the other brands.

 

The post-it tabs are great for marking chapters in textbooks, or where you are in a bible study or journal.

One particularly long car ride with the girls Amelia was melting down. I don’t blame her, six hours in a carseat for a two year old can be pretty tough. There isn’t much to entertain them, and we don’t do movies in the car. One day at home, we had discovered her love of post-its. I had some post-its in my bag (doesn’t everyone have a variety of post-its on hand for an emergency?). I pulled out the little tab ones and handed them over. The cost for those was approximately $3, which was well worth the whole hour of quiet we got out of Amelia when she started playing with them. They were stuck all over the car and herself, but the best part – they are easy to take off and throw away.

Did you know that post-its were created in 1968 when a scientist failed at making a super strong adhesive? They were marketed as post-its in 1979. Proof that great things can come from failures.

(more…)

To The Person Struggling with Depression

struggling with depression

To the person struggling with depression,

Let me first say it loud and proud, “YOU ARE NOT ALONE.” No matter what you think, you are not alone. There are other people who struggle just like you and there are people to support you. Please, if you take nothing else away from my letter take this: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

I know it feels lonely. Trust me, I know. The hardest thing you may have to do is to admit that you are struggling and ask for help. Depending on the depths of your depression, you may just need to communicate to a close friend or significant other that you need help and extra understanding. If it is just a minor holiday/winter blah funk, that is sufficient. If your depression is more than that, you should seek the additional support of a professional counselor.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Strong people ask for help. You may feel weak right now, but you are not. The strongest people I know are the ones who admit they need help and ask for it. It took me a long time to realize this and accept it as fact in my own life.

Don’t try to make sense out of your feelings, there may be none. Perhaps you have a great life with a wonderful family and no major worries to speak of. It doesn’t matter – you can still be depressed. It’s a funny thing depression. It’s not just an ailment for people who are struggling with finances, health crises or death of loved ones, though that is what many non-sufferers think. I don’t care how amazing your life is, you can still be depressed. Stop trying to convince yourself you shouldn’t be depressed because of how blessed and fortunate you are.  It will just make you beat yourself up more.

I have learned a few things about depression from my own experiences. Maybe they will help you, maybe they won’t. It never hurts to get ideas though. Please note that if you are suffering from depression beyond the normal “funk” you MUST see a professional. I won’t lie, that first phone call will not be easy, but you are STRONG. Asking for help is being strong, not weak! You are important and people need you to feel better.

One observation I have made is that there is a very important role in our lives that a “funk” fills. You cannot live life without some ups and downs. While I don’t love the feeling of being down and depressed, I do love the perspective it provides me afterwards.

I have found that after having a down, I appreciate the ups even more. It is typically after a bought of depression that I appreciate the happy feelings, the everyday joys of life and the simple things even more. I’m not sure that I would appreciate the beauty around me and the simple laugh of my daughters as much if I hadn’t struggled to find joy. Yes, I would appreciate them, but there is something to be said for the richness of those things after depression.

Also depression has allowed me to open up more to those around me about my truest feelings and insecurities. I don’t often admit openly that I don’t have it all together, but when depression hits I must. I have to ask for help, which is not (understatement of the year) easy for me. You must ask for help too. Trust me it does get easier.  I’m starting to get better at asking for help even in times when I’m not depressed.

I know there are people and circumstances where you still pretend to have it all together even when you don’t. I get it, we all do that and it’s okay. Not everyone needs to know that you’re having a rough time, but those closest to you do.

If you have kids or a pet, someone that relies on you, they can be the best helper for fighting depression.  Guess what, they don’t care if you are depressed. In my case I still have to be a mom. I still have to get up and get them ready for school. I still have to make food and buy groceries and read them stories at night. These might be the absolute last things I want to do, but I don’t have a choice. I really want to curl up in my pajamas and sit in a chair and wallow, but I can’t.

A great suggestion from my counselor was to do the opposite of what I want to do. She said if your body is telling you to sit and do nothing, you need to get up and go on a walk. It will make you feel better. If your body is telling you not to eat, you need to make yourself eat a nutritious meal. If your body is telling you to binge on cookies, you should eat a healthy snack instead. Continuing to do this will help to fight the depressing thoughts and feelings.

The things you want to do least during depression are the things you need to do most. Eat nutritious meals, exercise, and get enough, but not too much, sleep. You also need to make sure you are getting enough Vitamin D- this probably means a supplement during the winter months. If you can get out for a walk during the sunniest part of the day, that will help.

I know right now in the midst of this depression it feels like it will never get better, but it will. I promise there will be a day that you smile again without pretending. You will laugh again and appreciate the simple beauty all around you. In the meantime take care of yourself and be forgiving. Remember it’s okay to say “NO” and take things off your to-do list.

Remember you are NOT alone and you are strong.

 

Sincerely,

Someone who has been there and cares about you

 

How to Set SMART Goals

For the New Year I have a BIG goal:

I want to be more productive with my blog. 

Now that I do the majority of my work from home, my home office has become an integral part to my day. As a person who thrives on order and organization it is no surprise that a cluttered work space leads to a cluttered mind and decreased productivity.

I know exactly what I NEED to do to increase productivity. It’s just a matter of finding the time to do it. That is where this big goal comes into play. If I set my goal and make sure it is SMART, then I am far more likely to accomplish this goal.

SMART goals title

So my SMART goal is:

Specific: To organize my office and eliminate clutter.

Measurable: Surfaces (tabletops, desktop, floor) will be free of random papers, supplies and stuff. Systems will be set up to simplify where things go and where to find things. The desks, book shelves and file cabinets will be decluttered by January 19. I will have Brian’s game area and closet decluttered by January 28. I will decide on organizational flow by February 9. Finally, everything put away and systems in place by February 16. I will spend 15-30 minutes 5x a week working on the office decluttering and organization.

(more…)