Thursday, June 29, 2017

Bible Belt Medicine

           Living in the Land of a Thousand Churches has its advantages and disadvantages.  For example, when disaster strikes, they put all their manpower and resources to helping those affected.  But they can also breed a culture of religious fervor, and even fanaticism.

          I used to buy into the zeal, believed unconditionally in prophecy, faith healing, the Rapture, and many other Christian ideas which I find myself now re-thinking in my more experienced adulthood.  But for those Christians reading this who are sputtering in shock, rest assured, I have neither abandoned God, nor have I lost faith.  It's a healthy part of one's natural and spiritual life to look at things differently, to ask questions, to go looking for something deeper than what you've always taken for granted.

        On a recent road trip with my husband, I saw a billboard advertising a Christian faith conference that had to do with mental health.  For one hopeful moment, I thought how wonderful it was that churches were finally opening hearts and minds to those with mental illness.  And then I saw the byline: How to find Peace Without Pills.

        So close, and yet so far.

       You see, the problem with this angle is a fundamental lack of understanding about mental illness, its causes, symptoms, and treatments.  All of which are widely varied depending on the individual and the diagnosis.  I myself was diagnosed with depression as a kid, and confirmed to be struggling with post-partum depression after both my daughters were born.

        I'm well aware of the stigma that comes from having a mental illness.  It's the reason I went to great lengths to hide it when I was young, and why I make a point to be open and honest about it now.  I stay as well-informed as I can about the science of mental illness, looking at brain scans of depressed individuals next to healthy ones and feeling reassured that this isn't all "in my imagination".  I've learned about chemical imbalances and what factors decide my dopamine levels.

       The worst part of the billboard was that while it had a faint air of compassion, it seemed to imply that those like me just don't have enough faith.  We haven't completed the right Bible study or attended the right church service, or been whacked on the forehead by Benny Hinn.  So as we drove past that well-meaning but very condescending billboard, I muttered the only thing I could think of:

       "Fuck you."  (Don't worry, the girls weren't in the car).

       Yes, that's right, fuck you.

       I have spent years, YEARS first trying to figure out what I was doing wrong to bring this dark cloud over my mind and emotions, and then more time getting treatment until I could claw my way to some semblance of a balanced life.  I have been to doctors who have studied and worked for years to help people like me, while you were praying for magical healing or casting out imaginary demons.

       I'm sorry, but it's just not enough.  Not when you're barely eating and tossing around all night trying to sleep.  Certainly not while you're pregnant and all this is going on.  I prayed my ass off, took herbal supplements, did almost every fool thing I could think of to turn it around.  I thought I was a horrible mother for even thinking about going to a doctor and asking for medication, but being a pregnant, starving insomniac was tearing me apart from the inside.

       Think about it like this:  You wouldn't tell someone with cancer or lymphoma or fibromialgia that their illness was "all in their mind".  You wouldn't look down your nose at them for taking medicine or receiving therapy to help them function normally.

       So why the hell would you smugly suggest all I need is a little faith?

       One of my favorite comedians, Chonda Pierce, told a story once about a sweet old lady with Coke-bottle glasses who came up to her after a show one time.  Chonda also suffers from depression, and also takes medication to help her cope.  So when this well-meaning Christian lady told her she didn't need the pills and just to have faith, Chonda responded by quipping, "Okay, take off your glasses and drive home...Have faith!"

        Having a mental illness is a constant wrestling match with one's own thoughts, making each day a full-on battle to get anything done.  I've avoided returning phone calls for days because I've been afraid of failing projects with those I'm working with.  My mind tries to defeat me before I even begin.

        And because I have a family now, I will pop whatever damn pills I need to help me be the best mom and wife and woman I can be.  I know they don't magically  make my life easier, but they do give me something to fight the darkness with.  A mental battleaxe, if you will.

        I still believe deeply that God can do all things, but He will not do all things for us.  He is not some mystical genie in the sky that grants wishes, but a guiding light and voice in our lives.

        So the next time your church has the idea to help people with mental illness, try and connect them with treatments and services they need as well as pray for them.  Better yet, smile at them, talk with them, get to know them and love them for who they are.

       Treat them like human beings, instead of potential converts to your church.

        And of course, if you ever have questions about what it's like living with depression, or want to know how to get help for yourself or someone else, I'm happy to help.  And if you've read this far, thanks for listening. 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Notes From the Bunker

Lace cookies= Epic Fail
           My mother's day present from my own wonderful mother was four hours of babysitting while I was given free time to do what I wanted.  The condition being that I had to spend at least half of that four hours out of the house.  While it does sound appealing, what I've been secretly craving all week is some hard alone time in my "bunker", aka bedroom. 

           Yes folks, it's an introvert's paradise in here; Netflix, comfy bed, second cup of coffee to be sipped leisurely, my trusty laptop, and blessed solitude.  Outside this room the world may be bustling and hustling, but here everything is damn peaceful and cozy.  This is where I get my spirit back, where I let all the crying, clinging, whining, and yelling slide off into oblivion as the coffee slides down my throat. 

           People always jump to "just get out of the house!" as the perfect solution for exhausted moms, when the truth is, sometimes we just want a little peace and relaxation in our own house.  No kids.  With snacks that we don't have to share.  I love my time away dearly, just spent yesterday afternoon meeting with my fiber arts group and having a ball.  But today, I want to be home, in my socks and yoga pants, no bra, teeth not brushed. 

           Tonight I'm taking my four-year-old to her first play, a local theater production of "Mary Poppins".  There will be lots of primping and fussing later, excited giggles and oohs and aaahs. But for the next couple of hours, it's 100% Mama time.  Now if you'll excuse me, the kiddos have found my hiding spot and I must give them kisses before Grandma whisks them away. 


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Pinkeye Proposal

          Hello, there it's been awhile. How've you been?

    Me? Oh, just peachy.  Perpetual exhaustion of both body and mind is grueling, but not impossible to live with.  If you know how and when to cut yourself a break, that is.  And I have had to cut myself a lot of those little breaks lately. 

    Self-care seems to be gaining in popularity as a concept that is crucial to a healthy lifestyle.  We moms have known this for ages, as is evident in the old saying "If Momma ain't happy, nobody's happy".  While the 21st-century ideal of Supermom persists, such a ridiculous standard is both unrealistic and potentially harmful.  One can't do it all, take care of home and family, and career, and keep up one's appearance without something slipping through the cracks.  And that "something" is usually Mommy's sanity. 

    So, what's a mom to do in this conundrum?  I've found the answer usually has something to do with a private shower, chocolate consumption, an adult movie or tv show, or some combination of the above.  In the ongoing battle with depression, fighting my own brain daily is already exhausting without adding the cute but wild antics of two small children.  Something's gotta give, and that's okay.

     Today, that something giving is my four-year-old daughter's dance class, which she loves tremendously.  She was just diagnosed with pinkeye this morning, and although the doctor said it was clearing up enough for her to attend dance class, I am going to keep her home.  I am too damn exhausted and stressed to even dream of loading both girls plus baggage again today, and really it's the polite thing to do.  Nobody wants their kid near the one whose eye is oozing boogers.

   So I made myself a proposal, that if I muscled out a little more productivity by getting the kid's eye drops and making sure she takes them (stay tuned for highlights from THAT wrestling match), I can cut myself some slack the rest of the day.  And really, this is a very reasonable offer I made myself.  After all, I work full days plus erratic nights getting up with a toddler who is very attached to my breasts. 

    I'm not here to moan about how hard I've got it, because really I'm doing pretty well.  I don't have to obsess over our bank account balance before every shopping trip, all our bills are paid in a timely manner, and our health insurance is royally awesome.  So what's the harm in a pajama day at home, drinking cold coffee and knitting?

     The Supermom cape can go hang itself.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

What's Scarier Than Halloween?

            It's the time of year when leaves fall, temperatures drop, and pumpkin everything shows up.  It's also the time when lots of ghosts, goblins, and ghoulies show up in stores, on lawns, and especially on TV.  I don't pay much attention to it anymore, with the exception of planning costumes for myself and my girls, and the occasional trip to the pumpkin patch.

            But lately something strange has been happening, and I feel I have to weigh in.  So far as I can tell, Halloween is the only holiday when some Christians are bent on separating themselves from its traditions and customs.  Most cite the day's pagan origins and say that the celebration of such is akin to devil worship, making every trick 'or treater in a Paw Patrol costume a practitioner of evil.  While I understand the reasons and in no way scoff at anyone's decision to celebrate Halloween or not, the logic is a little hard to follow. 

            Especially when you remember that Easter and Christmas used to be pagan holidays, too. 

           The historical context is simple: Early clergy wanted to draw converts to Christ, so they merged existing pagan celebrations of the spring equinox and winter solstice (Beltane and Yule), with celebrations of Christ's resurrection and birth, respectively.  Which is why we still have Easter bunnies, egg hunts, Christmas trees, and Yule logs.  By the same logic of avoidance, you would have to eschew all these activities as well, because celebrating anything pagan is evil, right?

          "Halloween is evil, but leave the Christ in Christmas!" Right.

           The problem here is not in black and white, but a very fuzzy grey that makes it clear there are far more pressing matters Christians should be addressing.  If God sees into our hearts, then I can't imagine He would get hung up on taking the kids trick 'or treating when one out of three kids in America goes to bed hungry at night.  In fact, I think the Lord cares much more about how we treat each other every day, not on petty details of who dresses up as what. 

          Especially this year, there are far more frightening dangers lurking in our world.  Hunger, war, pain, suffering, and all the darkest and most vile crimes humanity is capable of, all have me much more scared than fake vampire teeth and carved pumpkins.  Only light can penetrate darkness, and the best way to do it is to let our words and actions be filled with love and kindness.  We can't do it by nitpicking at each other over which holidays to celebrate or which day of the week is the real Sabbath. 

           Don't we have better things to tackle? Like the people suffering in silence in our communities, the broken, the hurting, the lost?  Our first mission, our only mission, should be to show such mighty love to these, that no darkness can survive. 

            If you think a bunch of plastic spiders or fake blood is strong enough to defeat the light of love, then you seriously need to re-examine your faith.  And read up on the true history of your favorite holidays before you turn your nose up at others.  Because while you were "educating" everyone on the evils of Halloween, you probably missed an opportunity to really help someone.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Tip # 3- Let Your Kids See You Cry (Really, it's Okay)

                I wish to all that is holy, that people would stop expecting mothers to be perfect all the time.  I wish there were never any condescending smiles and fake sympathy from childless people watching you herd small children through the grocery store, sweaty and bedraggled as they whine and stomp like candy-craving dinosaurs.

                How many of us would come through endless round-the-clock parenting of unreasonable little people unscathed? Not very many, and those who do usually hire help.  I haven't curled my hair or bothered with everyday makeup in years, and I am well aware that my new mom curves fill out these yoga pants more than they used to.  In fact, I am painfully aware of it. Believe me, I would love nothing more than to put myself together and clean house, finding time to cook something homemade and domestically spectacular as a Norman Rockwell painting.  .

               Trying to please everyone is exhausting and heart-breaking.  So in order to survive, we have to let some things go.  Designer fashions, leisurely morning coffee, hair and makeup primping, all have been dropped in favor of making sure my children are fed, clean, and happy.  It's a massive task we've undertaken, preparing the next generation for a world that is horrifyingly broken and scary. 

So why is everyone surprised when we break down and cry once in awhile?

              If you're a mom, you've probably heard such well-meaning but condescending phrases such as "You'll miss all this someday," or "What do you have to be stressed about?", or my personal favorite "Oh, but the time goes by fast!".  Um, no, no it doesn't.  Not when you're in the trenches every single day, no breaks, no days off.  The sleep deprivation alone is enough to break one's spirit, thank you very much.

              And while most of the time we soldier on, putting on our tired smiles when asked if the kids are "keeping us busy", inside we are breaking down.  We want to scream, cry, laugh insanely, and long for a deep, reassuring hug from someone, anyone who sees our struggle.

              When I first became a mom, I was very careful not to cry in front of my daughter.  I would put her down in her crib to scream for a few minutes so I could hide in the laundry room and cry hysterically for 5 minutes.  But then, it became too much to try and keep up a front for my child and husband as well as everyone else.

               So I cried.

               I cried in the car, in the bathroom, while cleaning, fixing dinner, or most often curled up in the fetal position on the couch.  And when my sweet toddler would ask Mommy what was wrong, I would look right at her, smile, and tell her the truth- that Mommy needs to cry once in awhile to feel better, even if she doesn't have an owie.  Nowadays, Evie doesn't get worried and just brings Mommy tissues.

               You see, the act of crying is a release of tension, not a sign of weakness.  It's letting off the extra stress and toxic crud that makes us break down from the inside out.  Don't we always feel better after, more in control?  Of course! Then why should any mom feel ashamed for crying?

               And when our children see that we are not ashamed to cry, that it's a normal, healthy action, they won't be ashamed to do it, either.  Instead, they will learn that it's a perfectly acceptable display of one's feelings, and might even reach out to comfort those they see doing it.  It's at the heart of the most important lesson I could ever teach them:

              Kindness matters.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Deep Fried Therapy (Zucchini and Potato Pancakes)

             The past few days I've bounced back and forth from a state of Zen-like calm and contentment, to a deranged ranting shrew who forgets to brush her teeth or put on deodorant.  Now that I'm finally seeing a therapist to try and resolve some personal issues that manifest in weird physical compulsions, I've become much more mindful of my moods.

              It definitely goes beyond post-baby hormones when the bottoms of your feet look like raw meat all the time due to incessant skin picking.  I know, a lot of people do these nervous little habits, but not many of them make their feet bleed at least every other day.  So, therapy it is.  And while it does feel good to be actively working on said issues, with it comes the ever-annoying challenge of realizing that my life (and in particular the two small insane people running it), are almost completely out of my control.

             That having been established, we move onto the things I can control, one of them being
dinner.  I try to cook often enough so that we're not subsisting on PBJs and Cheerios all the time, yet not so much that the resulting kitchen mess gets overwhelming.  I also like to save money, so in comes two of my favorite filler veggies- potatoes and zucchini.

             We had a ginormous zucchini given to us by my mother, who'd gotten it from a friend at church.  And I had a hankering for something savory and fried, so....Latkes!  And in my cherished cast-iron skillet, because it had been awhile and I didn't want to neglect the poor dear too long.

The most time-consuming part of this was shredding the zucchini and spuds on a mandoline, but putting on Zootopia for the girls helped keep them happy in the meantime.  Some minced fresh onion and garlic, eggs, flour, salt, pepper, baking powder, and that was that.

By now I was half expecting the girls to take turns doing their usual clingy/whiny routine and drive me up the wall, but they were actually...good!  Angels, even! So, feeling like a happy little Southern mama, I fried up batches of the latkes until they were nice and golden brown, and made enough to eat and save for later.

Comfort food can do wonders, and this borrowed Jewish classic is no exception.  A little sour cream and sprinkled paprika, and I was in Heaven.  Even the three-year-old gobbled hers up with ketchup while the baby careened around in her walker and terrorized our bare feet.

For this exact time, on this exact day, I'm doing alright.  Some days will be better, some worse, but there will always be good food and good company to see me through.  I hope these little golden-fried darlings will make you smile the way they did for me!

Zucchini and Potato Pancakes (Original recipe by Joy Wilson)


4 TB olive oil (I use vegetable because it has a higher smoking point)
1/4 cup finely diced onion
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups grated zucchini
2 cups peeled and grated potato
1 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1/3 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
sour cream or creme fraiche for serving
paprika and ground cumin for dusting

1)  Place a medium-sized skillet over medium heat.  Heat 2 TB of oil and add onions.  Cook until translucent, then add garlic and cook for 1 more minute.  Set onions and garlic aside in a small bowl.

2)  Place zucchini and potato with 1/2 tsp of salt in a colander over a medium bowl.  Let it sit for 10 minutes, then press down with a clean towel, squeezing out excess water.

3)  In a medium bowl, whisk eggs.  Whisk in the flour, baking powder, and the rest of the salt.  Add the cooked onion, garlic, potato, and zucchini, and stir together until well combined.

4) Place a rack in the upper third of the oven  and preheat to 200 degrees.  The oven will keep the pancakes warm as they're being cooked in batches.

5) In the medium saute pan you used to cook the onions, heat 2 TB oil over medium heat.  When the oil is heated, drop in the batter by rounded tablespoonfulls.  Flatten gently with a fork.  Cook about 2 minutes or until golden brown around the edges, then flip and cook for another 2 minutes until golden brown.  Place on a plate and keep warm in the oven until ready to serve.

6)  Serve with sour cream or creme fraiche and a dusting of paprika and ground cumin.  These are best served immediately, but can be cooked and kept in an airtight container in the fridge.  Reheat in a lightly greased saute pan the following day.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Beach Day

Sleepyhead on Aisle 6!

         I need a beach day.

         I live in a landlocked state with some gorgeous lakes and rivers and mountains, but I need a beach day.  Nothing fancy or wild, just a lounge chair, bucket of cold drinks, a good book, and bare feet in the sand.

         A lot of moms fantasize about this, because location is key.  Think about it, when was the last time you felt overwhelmed or depressed at the beach? Never, that's what.  Something about an endless stretch of sand and waves invites calm and reflection, and boy could this mama use some.

        Until that day comes, I am doing my best to take little vacations where I can find them.  Drinking coffee while the baby sleeps and the preschooler watches cartoons? Heaven.  Both girls asleep while Daddy and I watch a grownup TV show? Bliss.  Dinner and a movie with no kids in tow? Parent nirvana.

        Yesterday my mom and the girls and I surprised my little sister on her 5-year sober anniversary.  I was exhausted, the baby was holding a low-grade fever from teething, but I was determined to get my butt out of the house and have some fun for a change.  She and her girlfriend have a tropical Hawaiian hand soap that smelled like coconut, fruit, salt water, and I swear sunscreen.  For a blessed minute, I was on a beach baking in the sun with a fruity drink in my hand. 

         And then we went to Chuck E. Cheese.

       I haven't been there since the late 80's, and all I remember is the creepy robot animals in the stage show.  We had a good time, aside from the pervasive smell of cheap cheese and grease.  The games are a LOT more sophisticated than the ones I remember, but it was still fun to see Evie going nuts and making friends with every kid she ran across. 

      You know what they still have there? Skee-ball! I sucked at that as a kid, and I am AWESOME at it now.  I could've done it for hours, feeding token after token into the machine like a slots junkie in Vegas. 

      But eventually the kiddos got tired, and I had to leave my beloved Skee-ball and start the hour and a half drive home.  The first 30 minutes of which were dominated by a screaming tantrum from the little girl pictured above. (Trust me, she wasn't nearly this cute.  I wanted to slap her multiple times across the face.)  In the middle of my exhaustion and frustration, I went numb.  I wanted to pull over, get out of the car, and sit by the side of the highway until things got better. 

     It's not the single meltdown that gets to you when you're a parent.  It's the accumulation of days, weeks, months of it, until finally one just beats you down to nothing.  Hence, my need for a beach day.  No kids, not even my husband, just me, my thoughts, and sandy toes.  But since that would require at least 12 hours of driving, the best I can do for now is hide in the bedroom and confess all this to you. 

     If you're reading this, that is.