Faith vs Fear

Faith vs Fear

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Vacation

My Christmas vacation was everything I had hoped for. The weather was sunny and beautiful; the little resort town of McCall festive and friendly; we had amazing meals together; opened presents (the best part was watching my 10-year-old nephew's obvious delight with his gifts); and started the first ever family pool tournament (my brother's idea). All but one of my sisters was there, and we had visits from two of my stepbrothers and their families (something we had never been able to do before). There was lots of love and laughter and visiting for four glorious days.

I had developed some congestion in my chest as a result of the bad air quality at home (worse in the nation; not something to be proud of) before I left. The congestion quickly cleared up in the cold, clear, clean air of the mountains, but I ended up with laryngitis, and was reduced to mostly whispering. The only down side of the trip. But that didn't stop me from enjoying one of my favorite things to do with my dad and siblings: walking together in the snowy woods with my 84-year-old dad. Such a treat! We're grateful that he's still in good health and spirits.

It was so nice to get to put aside my role as wife, caregiver, and mother for a few days to focus on being a daughter, sister, and aunt. I came home feeling relaxed and refreshed (even with no voice).

David, unfortunately, didn't have quite as good a time. He was all right when I left, and was looking forward to some visiting and down time. He had a couple of unpleasant conversations where others vented their problems to him. Not a good idea at Christmas when he's sensitive anyway. When I came home he was mildly delusional, but trying hard to maintain his sanity. It took a day or so for him to work through it.

The change back to "normal" life after such a stress-free time has been difficult for me. I have a hard time going from being around positive-thinking people to someone who tends to be negative much of the time. I found some comfort, though, in talking to others on a forum for bipolar spouses. My family tries to understand bipolar disorder, and it helps that one of my brothers is a caseworker in the mental health field, but it's one of those things you have to experience to really understand.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holiday Thoughts

One of my favorite things to do, especially during the holidays, is to listen to music that reflects the reason why we celebrate this season. It helps me keep all the preparations and busyness in perspective, and to stop and ponder the light of the world.

He has been the light in my life and gives me comfort and direction in good times and bad.

"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." (KJV John 14:27)

"I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." (KJV, John 8:12)

May you feel of His peace and love this season and always.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I'll Be Home for Christmas

For the first time in nearly 35 years I get to spend Christmas with my dad and siblings. I am beyond excited, even to the point of being giddy. I've been thinking about traditions while enjoying the holiday season and counting down the days.

Christmases when I was young were sweet, low-key family gatherings. We gathered around the Christmas tree, listening to carols playing in the background, while we laughed and talked together and enjoyed the goodies my mother prepared. The evening always ended with my dad reciting "Twas the night before Christmas," and reading the Christmas story from Luke 2.

Marriage to my first husband brought new traditions. His family had a large, very lively, fun Christmas dinner and party on Christmas eve with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Our twin boys were born the week before Christmas (what a surprise that was: "You've got another one in there," the doctor said ten minutes after tiny (5 lbs.) Ben was born. We looked at each other in blank astonishment. But sure enough, after ten more minutes, Brian (also 5 lbs.) arrived!) Christmases then became high-energy, lively affairs as I struggled to figure out how to be in charge of my new family traditions. My mother-in-law had the right idea: she went all out for Christmas Eve, then had a wide variety of finger foods and treats for Christmas day. She would say, "If you go hungry, it's your own fault." I still miss the close association with his family, especially during the holidays.

When I remarried, traditions changed again. Because both of our former spouses had big family gatherings on Christmas eve, we sent the children to their parties, and stayed home. We learned early in our marriage to be flexible with holidays, and most of the time we wait until it's convenient for everyone to celebrate. For example, we go separate ways on Thanksgiving day and then get together on the following Sunday for a pie party. It works well; no one feels stressed about which family they should spend the day with, and we still have a family party after everyone has recovered from the day of feasting.

David has struggled with depression during the Christmas season most of the time we have been married, and as a result I have learned to lower my expectations.  I remember several Christmas seasons when he was severely depressed and refused to take part in Christmas activities at all. We learned to carry on without him, but it did lessen the pleasure. Sometimes I couldn't wait for the holidays to be over with.

The challenge has been how to adapt to his need for quiet (he doesn't like all the commotion and socializing that goes with the holiday), and my desire to enjoy the season to the fullest. I learned to do things to keep the spirit of the season with me. I read the Christmas story and other holiday favorites, with David or by myself. Sometimes I would take the children to look at the lights and go to a Messiah sing-in without him. It also helps that the building where I work goes all out with decorations and music which adds to my enjoyment of the season.

And now that we are officially empty nesters traditions are bound to change yet again. This year, because of changing circumstances, I get to spend the holiday with my Dad and siblings, while David is going to spend the time with his mother. We debated about what to do, but he felt strongly that I should have this trip with my family. He doesn't travel well or like cold weather and lots of people, so we felt that he should stay home. He says he can handle me being gone for a few days since it's with family, and that this trip is his gift to me. He's also looking forward to being able to choose how much socializing he does. And I've let the children know what the plan is so that they can check in and spend some time with him.

David's mood has been reasonably sunny with only occasional blue days so far during the holidays. He even insisted that I put up the Christmas tree earlier than usual and he strung lights on the tree and house with only token amounts of protest. I think it's because of reduced stress and a better understanding of his disorder and triggers. I don't know how long this mood will last, but I am grateful for his efforts to stay upbeat and involved. That is the true gift, not just to me, but to himself.

I hope that the traditions that you have for this season will bring you joy.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Here's Lucy! (and our other therapy pets)

Yesterday we watched an episode about therapy pets on "Wild about Animals." It got me thinking about the pets who grace our family's life.

When our dog Riley was killed by a car last May, we weren't the only ones who went into mourning. Sunny, our toy poodle, sat by the door looking mournful and not eating. Tootsie, our gray tabby cat, looked all over the house, calling for him. We decided a short time later it was time to get another dog.

Our daughter Katie found an online ad for a 5-month-old lab/pointer mix, and when we saw her, we knew she was the dog we were looking for. Her previous family had named her "Daisy," but the name didn't fit. After vigorous debate about a new name, we settled on "Lucy," although Katie insists on calling her "Ruby." LUCY fits her much better.

Her previous family kept her in a small outside pen, and had not taken the time to work with her. She was unruly and undisciplined, to put it politely, for the first few weeks, but Sunny (who is the alpha dog), and Tootsie (who REALLY rules the house) taught her good manners and how to behave. We enjoy watching them chase and play together; it's cheap entertainment. And the grandchildren love our pets; Tootsie makes it a point to come out and let them maul her when they're at the house.

Each of the animals has adapted to David's moods: Lucy is really good about walking by his side and coming when called and Sunny stays close by. On days when David can't cope, I frequently come home to find David sitting in his favorite chair with the cat sitting on his lap and purring. They are an important part of David's therapy and sense of well-being.

We recently added a small fish tank with two fish and a snail to our menagerie. For the first week we were like over-anxious new parents watching their every move. We've calmed down, though, and the sound of the pump in their tank and the movement of the fish is soothing for David. Although it does drive the cat to distraction (we saw her crouching on the couch, measuring the distance to the fish tank. She finally decided it was too much effort and walked away).

I couldn't resist this one. Tootsie has amazing patience with the grandchildren!

We have had several other dogs over the years, but the story of our family's therapy pets would not be complete without mentioning Cindy, an important part of the family for 12 years. We still miss her ten years after her passing. Cindy was a beautiful, sweet-tempered Swedish shepherd who was also a bit eccentric.

Out of all the Cindy stories we tell, my favorite involves the ladder in the picture below. The ladder went to a tree house about seven feet above ground. One day our older boys were playing there, and decided to see how far up the ladder Cindy would go. To their surprise, she made it the whole way! Then the problem became how to get her down. A frightened 75-pound dog is not easy to budge! We eventually put a large garbage can with a plank on top of it under the tree, and lured her down with her favorite food: hot dogs. I wish I had a video of that moment.

Cindy with our grandson Zachary

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I enjoy the opportunity to take time to think of our many blessings, and the low-key family, food, and football atmosphere surrounding it. Notice how relaxed I am about the big dinner? That's because my sweet sister-in-law and brother invited us to their house. She loves to cook and entertain much more than I do. I'm assigned to bring the drinks; I can handle that. We do have a pie party on Sunday with the kids who are in town and available. I'm looking forward to the get-together.

The words of one of my favorite hymns keeps going through my mind, and seems appropriate to share with you this season:

For the beauty of the earth, For the beauty of the skies,
For the love which from our birth Over and around us lies,
Lord of all, to thee we raise This our hymn of grateful praise.

For the beauty of each hour Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flow'r, Sun and moon, and stars of light,
Lord of all, to thee we raise This our hymn of grateful praise.

For the joy of human love, Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth, and friends above, For all gentle thoughts and mild,
Lord of all, to thee we raise This our hymn of grateful praise.

And for your amusement, I thought I'd share some funnies that a friend sent me:

I hope your Thanksgiving holiday is a joyful one.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Working with Mood Swings

I recently saw a list at "The Bipolar Spouse" about how not to interact with loved ones who have the disorder. Since I can't seem to link to the page, I thought I'd share them in a condensed form. After looking around the internet, this is the best list I could find on the subject. I have also had to learn the hard way about all of these issues, and I wholeheartedly agree with what he says:
"1. Ignore Suicidal Behavior or Tendencies"2. Fight Back Over Irrational Arguments"When the bipolar cycle shifts into a manic/hypomanic or depressive state, the mood and mindset of our loved on may slip into a very irrational state and the basic sense of reality may also deteriorate. Such arguments may arise that include topics or concerns that are normally not a concern or a threat and there may be no indication as to why the topic has been brought up at all. Choosing to fight back on such topics can be damaging to both parties and can enable our bipolar spouse to view such topics as a true threat and may inhibit some intense reactions and dangerous results if not resolved as soon as possible.
"3. Blame Your Loved One for the Disorder
"Bipolar disorder is developed over time and may generally be handed down genetically from the family tree. Those afflicted with the disorder never ask to be affected, nor have they chosen to host the disorder so it is not fair to simply place blame for the disorder on our loved one and how it affects the relationship. Given the progressive appearance of the relationship, younger individuals may witness the slow appearance of the disorder over time and make false assumptions that the changes are planned out by the afflicted individual. This is not the case and blaming our loved one for allowing the disorder to hurt the relationship is simply not fair to the individual.
"4. Enable Abusive Behavior and Disrespect
"There is a fine line between “acceptance” and “abuse” and unfortunately, even our bipolar loved ones can learn to cross this line during an episode if supporters are not willing to place an appropriate amount of accountability into the relationship. There are indeed occasions where our loved ones may make some irrational decisions and lash out without merit, but if we do not make it known that there is a line that must not be crossed, we as supporters can quickly being to advertise that we are willing to take any amount of such factors without much consequence. Although the disorder can push our loved ones over the edge, we must still maintain respect and love in the relationship.
"5. Digging Up Old Bones
"Bringing up the past can trigger off some intensive anxiety which may induce an expected episode and introduce either old arguments, or previously resolved tensions. Rehashing past mistakes or events can repaint an image that was once forgotten, and during an full-blown episode, that past may become the present again.
"6. Pass Judgment on Irrational Behavior
"Along the lines of placing accountability, we must keep in mind that bipolar disorder’s most common symptom involves driving the afflicted individual to act out on irrational decisions and present very ordinary behavior. Although some of these decisions can be managed, mistakes can be made and if we are willing to forgive and/or forget, this must be an all-or-nothing agreement. Mistakes are just that, mistakes…and they must be become an identifying factor of our loved ones.
"7. Support or Offer Self-Medication
"8. Use Physical Restraint or Violence

"During some manic/hypomanic episodes, frustrations and outright anger may ensue during an outburst or argument. Unless there is a threat to human life, it is imperative that physical restraint or violence is not introduced into the situation (unless performed by a paramedic or other trained professional requiring restraint). Confining or restraining one during an episode may result in firing a trigger which may make the episode ever worse.
"9. Leave Loved One Alone During Episode
"The worst time for our loved ones to be alone is during the high or low end of an episode. In some cases, when left alone due to a walk-out after a fight, abandonment anxiety may set in and spur feelings of worthlessness and a feeling of being unloved. It is during these times that irrationality may take over and dangerous decisions and actions may be made that could potentially be life-threatening.
"10. Making Condescending Statements
"Such remarks that may appear insulting or condescending in nature can only add to the challenges of a bipolar relationship. "Some examples of these remarks are:
“Snap out of it.”
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”
“So you’re depressed. Aren’t you always?”
“It’s your own fault.”
“You do this on purpose.”
Worst of all, do not say, “I know how you feel…”

True confession time: I used to raise my voice (OK, yell) at David or slam doors when I was frustrated with his irrational behavior and arguments. Unfortunately, all that accomplished was adding more contention and frustration for both of us, as well as for the children. I eventually learned better ways to react, but it was a long, slow learning process. Now when he's in one of his bad cycles (they do happen even though he tries so hard to control them), I listen to what he means, not necessarily to the words he's saying, watch his body language for clues to his mood, ignore insulting comments and irrational arguments and/or change the subject. When he tells me I'm yelling at him (and I'm not!) I calmly remind him that I am not yelling, I am explaining how I feel. It works MUCH better for both of us. The key is to remain as calm as possible to help him work through his mood swing, especially the dark ones when he says he's feeling "angry and hateful."

I also found some good suggestions on how to deal with biplar disorder at I especially agree with the counsel to NOT take anything he says when in one of his moods personally. He doesn't mean it, and most of the time doesn't even remember what he said.

Even though this illness is hard to deal with on occasion, there are also many happy moments and a strong bond developing between us that makes it worth all the hard work.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Trip Report

Duck Creek, on the way to Kanab

We've been unwinding, getting back up to speed at work, dealing with David's post-vacation depression (thankfully, fairly mild) this week. We keep looking back at last week, wishing we could do that again SOON. The sign of a good vacation.

We drove south through Cedar City to Cedar Breaks national monument; so pretty, but cold with snow on the ground. We eventually made our way down to Kanab in southern Utah and spent the rest of the time exploring the area.

Cedar Breaks National Monument

Cascade Falls Viewpoint, near Cedar Breaks

On the second night we went down a canyon looking for a camping spot when all of a sudden we saw the set for the old TV western "Gunsmoke!" That brought back tons of memories of watching old westerns when we were kids.

Old set for "Gunsmoke"

The next day we went to Paria Canyon and had fun exploring an old ghost town and abandoned western movie set. Even though the setting was beautiful with leaves changing color, old ghost towns seem forlorn, filled with withered dreams. I thought about the people who once made the area their home.

The Paria River

Remnant of an old ghost town

Remains of an old movie set

At an old western movie set

We decided to go to the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument instead of going through Zion's National Park. It was a good decision. We spent most of three days exploring the area, and saw maybe 5 cars go by, and 6 people who were there besides us. We had the area to ourselves, and enjoyed hiking, exploring, camping and spending time talking about where we had been, and making plans for the coming months and years.

Look at the fall colors!

David hiking in a slot canyon in the Grand Staircase Escalante park

Grosvenor Arch

We hiked up to the back of Grosvenor Arch for this breathtaking view

We had our dogs, Sunny and Lucy, with us, and they had also had a grand time running and climbing. It turns out that Lucy is an excellent guard dog (she raised the alarm when she smelt coyotes nearby and scared them off), and Sunny is good at pointing out the best trails. He doesn't realize he's just a five-pound toy poodle.

Sunny (our poodle) and Lucy (our 10-month-old lab/pointer mix)

We were less than excited about coming home, but I admit that I was happy for a warm home, running water and a soft bed. We noticed that David's mood was sunny and upbeat while we were down south, and when we arrived in the valley (at rush hour), his mood almost immediately started changing. We realize he does best in sunny, wide-open, slow-paced places, and we are hopeful about spending more time exploring in areas such as southern Utah.

Sunset from our last campsite

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans' Day Thoughts

I've been thinking about those serving in the military all day. Partly because we were out in the wilds when the Ft. Hood tragedy occurred, and partly because of my boys who serve. I read the account of what happened and the tributes, and feel heartfelt sorrow for all those involved, as well as pride in how these Soldiers responded. When I became a military mom I discovered that I feel a sense of kinship with those who serve, as well as their families. When one is lost, I feel their pain and pride. Obama is right: we have heroes among us.

When I was growing up Veterans' Day was a day out of school, and the big football game between two rival high schools (my brothers played football, and it was a big deal).

Now I stop to think of those who have served in order for the rest of us to have the freedom to pursue our hopes and dreams. I just finished "Three Cups of Tea," an amazing book that made me stop and realize how truly blessed we are to live in the United States, even with all of its faults. It also gave me a small insight into that troubled area of the world where my son will undoubtedly end up at some point.

I think of ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War;
the Civil War (I found the story of my great-great-grandfather's regiment, and it brought to life someone who was just a name on my pedigree chart);
WW1 (both grandfathers, one of whom saw action in France);
WWII (my dad, who served as a tail gunner in China), and my father-in-law (a Navy mechanic);
my former father-in-law (one of my favorite people, and a Vietnam Vet);
my brother, an 82nd airborne paratrooper and chaplain;
Jon, the Marine (he reminded me today that there is no such thing as an "ex-Marine");
Brian (who served 2 deployments to Iraq, and is now an officer at Ft. Lewis);
son-in-law Wes (who served a year in Iraq, and is now active Reserves);
Sailor Jeff currently in the Gulf onboard the Nimitz (and struggling a bit with missing his wife);
and family friend Bodie (Air National Guard).
I owe them all a debt of gratitude. As long as we have men like these, as well as so many other dedicated men and women who sacrifice and serve, our nation will remain strong and free.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Payday Weekend

We had one of those great weekends that cause us to stop and count our blessings.

We had a family halloween party on Saturday with most of the kids and grandkids in the area (the family with the new baby was excused). It was so much fun to watch 6 of our grandchildren, ages 2 to 8, play together and do some arts and crafts projects, while we visited with our children. Two of them spent Saturday night and most of Sunday with us. We had a good time playing together, and reading a pop-up book of the "Wizard of Oz." They went to church with us, and 7-year-old Gabby sang in the Primary music program. She said, "And I wasn't even scared because I was in a school program." We were proud.

Then, on Sunday, our Soldier Brian came into town for a short visit before heading to Ft. Lewis, and his family. We haven't been able to see him in a year, and he looks wonderful. He just finished five months of officer training on the east coast. Every time I see him I'm impressed by how much he's grown in confidence. I am so very proud of my brand-new Army officer. Sailor Jeff's wife is in town for some schooling, and they talked about military life and argued over which branch of service is better. (Jeff is doing fine on his deployment, but we miss him badly.)

I couldn't help but look back and think of where we were 15 years ago. It wasn't pretty. At the time, we had 5 teenage children, ages 13 to 17, struggling with broken- and blended-family issues, 2 young children at home, and 2 daughters living with their mother. David was undiagnosed, and reacting badly to family stress. Of course, it didn't help when the kids pushed his buttons, as most will do when frustrated. They were a close-knit group, and frequently egged each other on. (Oh, the stories I could tell!)

I knew David had some emotional problems, but I couldn't convince him of that. One time when he had an emotional break I was able to get him into a psychiatrist. Unfortunately, the dr. was more interested in overmedicating David and pushing us out the door. It took another 10 years to get him back to a doctor. I went to a family counselor for several years who helped me through some of the worst times, but he never talked to me about the possibility of David having a mental illness. His counsel helped, but it would have been much more helpful if he had given me some coping skills for David's obvious mental health issues.

Time passed (quickly, it now seems, although at the time I wondered if it would ever end) and our house emptied out within just a few years. Jon left for the Marines and married; Brian served a mission to the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico and later joined the Army; Ben worked and then served a mission to Perth Australia; Lara, Brittany, and Shannon each married and became young mothers. The younger children, Jeff, Katie, and Krista, also eventually grew up, married, and left home.

We wonder sometimes how we made it through those tough years. Mainly with prayer and patience, coupled with good friends and family who helped out. Weekends like this seem even sweeter after all the storms we went through to get to this point.

Update: David went to the p-doc today. The dr. increased his lithium to 300 mg. and put him on risperdone to help control the voices and paranoia. Here's hoping it will help! He also counseled with him to not doing his "walks" anymore. That means I will feel more comfortable about calling next time I see those symptoms start to develop. I just haven't been sure about what to do when David gets in that frame of mind. It makes me feel better to know that more help is available.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Daily Life and Time Issues (again)

One of my challenges is figuring out how much time I should spend with David vs. how much time I should spend on my own projects. I am finding, somewhat to my surprise, that I enjoy being with David, especially when he's in a stable period. A good thing. The problem is that I tend to get drawn into his activities at the expense of doing my own household chores and hobbies. And that can be very frustrating.

For example, David likes working with his hands on projects around the house, and wants me to drop what I'm doing to help him "for just a few minutes." He especially likes working on his pet project: a 1950 truck that he has rebuilt and lovingly calls his "hot rod." Although, when he's frustrated with it, he has less-than-printable words for it. The hot rod has been an ongoing hobby for the last 15 years (I'm really not kidding). Sometimes he's had it running, but he can't resist tinkering with it to make it faster, etc. The nice thing is that working on the hot rod has given him confidence in his skills, and something to focus on. This is the first summer in 3 years that he's been well enough to concentrate on it; a good thing. Jon and Ben have also been able to work with him on troubleshooting, so that he can get it up and running (yet again); a very good thing.

David and his hot rod (during one of its renovations; he later put the cab roof back on)

I listened to the program, Music and the Spoken Word on Sunday, and I appreciated the message (as well as the music) about problem-solving. I especially liked the thought that large problems can be solved by perseverance and taking it one step at a time.

So what's the solution? I don't have all the answers. I did decide that I'm going to relax a bit more and enjoy spending time with him, instead of resenting the time helping him. I also am doing some things just for myself. I started going to a book club with some friends, and we're reading "Three Cups of Tea." (Such a good book!) One of the wise village elders where the author was building a school reminded him that some things take time to build and not to expect everything to be done all at once. He also let him know that it was important to build relationships as well as projects. It was a good reminder.

David has done a good job lately of keeping his moods fairly even, with a few dark days thrown in to keep us on our toes. We've also had some fun family events: our granddaughter was baptized a few weeks ago. It was a sweet experience made sweeter by having all the children and grandchildren in the area there; something that doesn't happen very often because of conflicting schedules. Then, a few days later, we added a beautiful new granddaughter, Kylee, to the family. They make everything that we have struggled with worth the effort.

Isn't that the way life is: a mix of trials and joys? The trick is to learn to relax and enjoy the ride, which is sometimes easier said than done.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Learning Coping Skills

David struggled this last month with increasing bouts of paranoia and mixed episodes. For him, it seems to run in three-month intervals. The pressure and noise in his head, which he calls "buzzing and voices" builds up until the need to run away by himself becomes overwhelming. "Don't take this personally," he says when his illness starts to get the better of him.

Last weekend I was busy with a work-related project, and he went to help our daughter Shannon with her car. He came home and said all he could do was get her the parts she needed, but he couldn't focus enough to repair it. They did, however, have a long talk about his illness to help her understand what's going on with him. And early Sunday morning he left before I got up to take one of his "walks." The weather had turned cool and overcast with rain showers. He came home several hours later, and said, "I'm cold, hungry, tired, and I couldn't find a 'safe place,' so I came home." Welcome words!

When David comes home, I have to fight the urge to smother him with attention and affection until he feels ready to talk. I have learned to make home a comfortable place for him so that he wants to be here. Sometimes that means giving him lots of space. Then, when he's ready, we have a good conversation about his feelings and experiences (not very specific, but enough to help me understand where he's been). I have learned to stay very calm while he's talking, and spend most of the time listening to him. But he also is understanding of my feelings and encourages me to write down what has happened and how I feel about it.

I know he's feeling better when he jokes about "that other guy," and makes fun of the voices (he calls it "THEM") in his head and what they encourage him to do or not do.

We had a similar episode in July. After skimming through Julia Fast's book, "Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder" and browsing through helpful sites on the Internet, I (finally) figured out what I needed to do during these so very difficult episodes:

1. Remember that I cannot "fix" David. This is a hard one for me. I have a caretaker-type personality, and my instinct is to hover over him, and try to make everything better. There are times when he tells me to leave him alone. I have to respect his wishes, and leave him alone. He use to pick fights with me as an excuse to leave. Now he tells me what's going on with him, and is apologetic.

2. When the urge to leave hits him, there is absolutely nothing I can do or say that will help. The only thing I can do is pray for him and his well-being and safety. I feel comforted and reassured that all will be well. Though, human nature being what it is, I still worry, and as the hours tick by, find myself mentally and emotionally planning for the worst.

3. While he's gone, I keep myself busy instead of pacing, and waiting by the phone for a call. Last July, it coincided with one of my rare days off, so I took myself out for some retail therapy, and had a great time. This time, it fell on general conference weekend, so I listened to the sermons and crocheted baby blankets for 3 more expected grandbabies that are due in the next several months. I can handle the stress better when I do something for myself. For me, I need/want to be left alone when David is gone. I guess it's my way of coping. Our children have been wonderfully supportive of us. Shannon called to see how he was doing, and we had a good conversation about her father. Then, later, when David was home and feeling better, Jon and his family came by with a plate of cookies that their 8-year-old daughter made especially for "Grandpa David." We feel blessed by the care of our children.

I thoroughly enjoyed the shopping trip in July, but there were several messages that I needed to hear this weekend that helped me keep things in perspective.

"We are important to God not because of our résumé but because we are His children. He loves us because He is filled with an infinite measure of holy, pure, and indescribable love. He loves all His children, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken. God's love is so great that He loves even the proud, the selfish, the arrogant, and the wicked.
"What this means is that, regardless of our current state, there is hope for us. No matter our distress, no matter our sorrow, no matter our mistakes, our infinitely compassionate Father desires that we draw near to Him so that He can draw near to us.
"We increase our love for God and demonstrate that love by aligning our thoughts and actions with God's word. The pure love of our Heavenly Father ever directs and encourages us to become more pure and holy. It inspires us to walk in righteousness—not out of fear or obligation but out of an earnest desire to be like Him." President Dieter Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency

"Sometimes in our repentance, in our daily effort to become more Christ-like, we find ourselves repeatedly struggling with the same difficulties. Like climbing a tree-covered mountain, at times we don't see our progress until we get closer to the top and look back from the high ridges. Don't be discouraged. If you are striving and working to repent, you are in the process of repenting." Elder Neil L. Andersen, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

I appreciate these words of counsel and support to help me through the hard times.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

First Day of Fall

Happy first full day of Fall!
Fall is my favorite season of the year. I know some people really struggle with the changing seasons, including David. He usually has a bad bout of the blues about this time of year, and that can put a damper on it, but I enjoy it for several reasons:

1. Utah has beautiful falls with warm, sunny days and cool nights.

2. The red color of the scrub oak and gold of the aspens make the mountains come alive with color. We went to our favorite fishing spot on Sunday, and while the leaves haven't fully changed, there was a hint of things to come.

Lost Creek Reservoir, near Ogden, Utah

3. The start of the new school year, even though I'm not going this year, makes me feel energetic and eager to work on projects around the house. I'm not terribly domestic, so I try to take advantage of the mood while it lasts.

4. It's my birthday season, and I like taking some time to ponder over the events of the past year, and make new goals. It's my version of New Year's resolutions.

Some of my goals are to write more regularly here, and work on family history stories and research. My brother helpfully reminded me of that today.

I am also looking forward to working on household projects that have been long neglected. I plan on painting several rooms that desperately need it.

David and I talked this morning about how our summer went. He cheerfully recalled several activities and achievements he's had during the summer months. This summer hasn't been without its challenges, but he's been much more active and healthy than he has been in at least two years. That's a good feeling.

I came home this evening, and found him in the depths of deep despair. It's hard to know how to help him when he gets in these moods. I've found that about all I can do is sit with him quietly, and pray for the darkness to lift. Rob Thomas's song, "Her Diamonds" describes how I feel when he's so down. As hard as it is to watch him suffer, I know I have to keep going and not get sucked into his mood.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Soloist

David and I watched the movie "The Soloist" last night. It's the story of a LA Times journalist befriending a homeless street musician struggling with schizophrenia. Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx do an outstanding job playing the leads, and the music is an added bonus. I thought it was a moving and compassionate story of mental illness and homelessness. The DVD has some additional features that are well worth watching. One of the directors of an agency in LA dedicated to helping those who are mentally ill and homeless makes the point that all of them are someone's brother, sister, father, mother, son, daughter. She also mentions that the cost of helping them is less than the cost of having them in the legal system. She gave some helpful hints about how to help this neglected part of the population and the joy that comes from serving them. The directors insisted on filming the actual location and used some of the homeless people there as extras in the movie. They learned that they don't have to fear those with mental illness and shooting the movie was a life-changing experience for them.

David struggled with it in parts because it hit too close to home. I offered to turn it off, but he said, no, he wanted to face his demons. He thought it was an accurate description of how mental illness feels. I worried about it affecting his mood, but he got up this morning willing and ready to keep fighting his disorder. His illness is far milder than that of the musician, Nathaniel Ayers, but he asked me why it is that he has a home and a loving family while so many others with his condition don't. I don't have a good answer for that, but we feel grateful that he does. He says the movie gave him additional motivation to staying on top of his disorder.

I was intrigued by the story, so I read a little more about it online, and ordered the book from Amazon. Steve Lopez is the journalist who took an interest in the homeless population of Los Angeles, and found his life enriched by the experience. I'm glad to see an accurate, compassionate, respectful treatment of mental health issues in a movie. I hope more will be produced that will help ease the stigma.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Camping and Hiking Report

Happy 09-09-09!

Our August was a month full of activities: the end of school, my stepmother's funeral, work, and home improvement projects. We also managed to fit in a camping trip with our son Jonathan, his wife, Tawnya, 2 granddaughters, Jenna (8) and Gabby (7), and our 2 dogs, Sunny and Lucy, our 8-month old lab-pointer mix pup.

The plan was to camp near a reservoir that David remembered going to with his grandparents when he was young. Memory must have enlarged the lake in his mind because there wasn't much there now. We set off to find another place to camp. David and I both like exploring little traveled roads, and most of the time we have a good experience. This time, however, we saw a promising camp area, and went down a road that was little more than a cattle trail with a grass-covered stream beside it. Unfortunately, we didn't see the stream until it was too late.

Four hours, 2 jacks, a bunch of rocks that Tawnya collected while I entertained the girls, and several choice words later, we were back on solid ground. It was a pretty area, though.

We eventually found a better camping spot, and spent the rest of the weekend relaxing, visiting, playing with the girls and the dogs, reading (I brought a James Thurber book; it was great), fishing, and some more exploring of the countryside (without further mishap). David also found a horse pasturing. He brought the horse back to camp, made a bridle, and after exploring for a while, found its home. He enjoyed being on horseback again, even though he was sore afterward. It was all worth the effort of packing up and going.

A few weeks later we went on a day hike to see a waterfall with our daughter Brittany and her family. The day was perfect for hiking: not to hot, with an occasional rain shower to keep us cool. Her husband, Wes, and son Dylan had been there before and were our guides. Part of the trail was steep and rocky, but Wes and David were good to help me over the roughest parts. Sunny was also there by my side; we decided he would have pushed me up over the hard parts if he could have. The view at the end of the hike was worth all of the effort to get there.

So it is with life. We go farther with help and encouragement from friends and families. Especially when we get to steep, rocky parts and we don't know what lies ahead. And when we put forth effort and faith to keep going, we are rewarded by strengthened friendships and spectacular views that we couldn't see when we were struggling up the path.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Post partum Depression

I read the August 2009 Ensign magazine on Sunday, and came across an excellent article about Postpartum Depression. I'm glad the subject is finally out in the open and being addressed.

I still remember the excruciating emotional pain and bad, bad memories associated with postpartum depression twenty-nine years after I suffered from it. At the time I had no idea what was wrong with me. All I knew was that I had blinding headaches (caused, as it turned out, by an undiagnosed case of whiplash from a car accident the week before my daughter was born), crying spells, and little energy to take care of my 3 young children, a small married-student apartment and a demanding student-husband. I had been a happy-go-lucky person before, and it was confusing to me as to why the world suddenly seemed dark and hopeless. It would have been good to know what was happening, and may have helped my then-husband be more compassionate. I didn't have a name for what I had gone through until ten years later when I was expecting Katie, and the Dr. gave me a pamphlet on the subject. The lights went on, and I was finally able to start letting go of that part of the past.

There were a few things that I did to help myself during those dark days, including dragging myself and 3 babies to church every Sunday (the friendships and messages there were very comforting and helped me get through the week), listening to uplifting music and sermons, relying on prayer, thanks to the encouragement of my home teachers who came by at a critical moment to give me some desperately needed emotional support and a prayer, and reading scriptures and the Ensign.

A few years later I found myself working at the Ensign, and spent 25 years there doing typesetting and production work. It was a real joy and a great blessing to be associated with the magazine and the people who produce it. Over the years they have printed some fine articles about social and emotional health issues from a religious, spiritual viewpoint. I thought I'd include links to some of them, hoping that they might be of help:

* "Bipolar Disorder: My Lessons in Love, Hope, and Peace" January 2009.

* "Myths about Mental Illness," October 2005.

* "When Your Child is Depressed," August 2004.

* "Easing the Burdens of Mental Illness," October 2001.

* "Suicide: Some Things We Know, and Some We Do Not," October 1987.

Last year the LDS Church launched a site dedicated to helping family members, leaders and teachers reach out to those who have several different types of health challenges, including mental and emotional challenges. The site is still in the early stages, with more upgrades being planned, but the response has been overwhelmingly positive. The section about mental illness has basic, general information on the subject, along with some tips on how to help those who struggle, and additional links to other websites and articles. I especially appreciate the teaching ideas because David struggles with attending church on Sunday. The site is still new, but I expect that as the word about it spreads, it will be a help and comfort to those who come across it.

When I was working on my final paper, I was happy to find a newspaper story about a group of social work students at BYU who saw a need for clergy members to find answers when dealing with the mental health concerns of their congregations. All of these efforts and many others like them are important steps to reducing the stigma associated with mental health issues.

David has been struggling with his moods again, but he works hard to keep them under control. It helped that Sunday our home teacher and friend came by and spent an hour patiently listening to David talk about some of his concerns. We went on a walk afterward, and when he saw a friend's swamp cooler still covered, he asked them if they needed help with it. He says he decided that instead of complaining about what happened with our roofing episode, he was going to make the effort to reach out to others more. I am thrilled with the change of attitude.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Military Mom Whining

Jeff, in Chicago, when he graduated from Basic Training

Sailor Jeff's birthday was last week, and I'm missing him. He has a very lively, fun-loving personality; I even miss him teasing me.

Most of the time I can handle having my sons deployed, but every once in a while I get terribly lonely for them. Thank goodness for modern technology! I can't imagine what it was like before the miracles of the Internet and other technology. (Actually, I can. Jon was deployed to the Gulf in 1998 before I had access to the Internet; it was miserable.) I have been following Twitter and listening to the captain's recorded message.

It all helps, but what I really want is another e-mail from Jeff. I know he's fine, but . . . Part of it is that I know they had port call in Japan where my brother is, and I'm dying to know if they were able to connect.

I can be patient about some things, but this one is hard for me. I have to keep reminding myself that he's a big boy, he's fine, likely having a great time in port, and I'll hear about it when he has time.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Healing Weekend

I hadn't intended on making this blog so personal, but then I realized that mental health is personal.

So, for background information: I am the 4th of 5 children, and grew up in a modest, loving home with nurturing parents. When my mother died from a stroke, I was a sheltered and shy 21-year-old. I married a few months later (without taking the time to grieve), and then had twin boys within a year. Three years later I had a daughter, and then struggled for several years with postpartum depression complicated by unresolved grief, whiplash from an accident, and a marriage that was difficult. I eventually recovered, but I still feel the effects of it on occasion, and I understand how painful depression is.

Nearly 5 years after my mom died my dad married Kathy, who was not evenly remotely like my mother. They were married for almost 28 years when she passed away last week. Kathy, for whatever reason, was not very willing to share Dad (or her family) with my siblings and me. There has been a fair amount of pain and other complicated emotions involved in my relationship with her; mostly dealing with the feeling of rejection. I was more than a little nervous about attending her funeral because I wasn't sure what to expect.

I went to Boise with my brother and sister-in-law and met up with our extended family. We were so happy to be all together again for the first time in more than 8 years. It was heavenly. We hadn't had a comfortable place to gather for all those years since my mother's death until my brother built his new house in McCall 3 years ago. The realization that we can get together more often means a great deal to me, and I am terribly excited about the possibility of getting to spend Christmas with them, which would be the first time for me since I was a college kid in 1975. 

Kathy had been a big part of the performing arts in the area, and the service was a very nice combination of musical concert wrapped in a religious ceremony. One of her sons delivered the eulogy and made special mention of my dad; I felt the healing begin. At the reception afterward, her friends and family were warm and welcoming and went out of their way to tell me about how wonderful my father is. I could see that he is well-respected and loved, and that also helps me heal. I came home with a great sense of well-being and peace.

I still have some work to do in letting go of negative emotions related to her, but I am hopeful about it. I learned a long time ago, when I was dealing with my first husband and that divorce, how important it is to forgive. I made the mistake of burying my hurt and anger, and it came back several years later with a vengeance. I discovered that forgiveness is a process of being willing to examine hurtful memories, analyze them, then let them go. The trick is to not dwell on them too long, although sometimes that's easier said than done. It is not necessarily a quick fix, but eventually the hurt eases, and it feels so good to be free of the pain.

David and I both felt that he should stay home this time and go to his family's reunion with his mother and several of our children. He ended up having a good time, and had a long heart-to-heart talk with one of his cousins whose wife committed suicide after a long bout of depression. David came through his weekend alone quite well, although on one of his late-night walks Sunny the poodle got skunked. Guess who ended up giving him a bath? It's reassuring to know that I can be gone on occasion, and he'll be (relatively) all right.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

On the Run!

We had a good time camping last weekend. I will post the story and photos later. We are on the run this week; my dad's wife, Kathy, passed away, and we are on the way to the funeral. I'm a little nervous about it, but I'm hoping David will stay calm and focused until after we are home again.

David came through his pre-trip anxiety all right, but it takes away a lot of the pleasure in planning a road trip. I hear at least 3 times that it isn't a good idea to go, that we should stay home, that it's too far away, that he has a bad feeling about it. I've learned to stay calm and focused, and keep packing and preparing for the trip. If I lose my cool, he gets even worse. 

Thursday, August 6, 2009

I'm Done with School!!!

I just got back from my LAST class, took my LAST test, turned in my LAST paper! I don't know that it's really hit me yet that this journey of nearly six years is finally over, but I'm happy!

I've been thinking about the events in my life that have taken place since I started school, including: the births of 7 grandchildren, 2 high school graduates, 2 college graduates, 4 deployments, 2 weddings, 3 hospitalizations for David, plus his diagnosis of bipolar disorder, the passing of his dad from Alzheimers, and my job assignment change after 25 years of typesetting and production work.

I think that, even with the added stress of tests and papers, going to school helped keep me from losing my sense of identity through all these events. It also helped to be able to focus on each class, and then enjoy the feeling of accomplishment when they were finished.

What to do now that I'm done with the goal of getting my Bachelors degree? I'm not entirely sure, but I plan to do more with this blog, as well as put together family history stories and do some family history research. No doubt that my "extra" time (is there really such a thing?) will be filled with more family events (including 2 more expected grandbabies), some household tasks that I've put off doing, and if I'm really lucky, time to do some recreational reading and needlework. David and I have also discussed the option of going for a Masters degree, and while I would still like to do that, I think it'll be some time before I actually start to do it.

What I do know is that we are going to relax and play this weekend, even if it means dragging David camping. He's going through the pre-vacation anxiety, but we deserve some play time. I went to the university bookstore and had a really fun book-buying shopping spree (I can't resist books), and I found a small token graduation gift that I can hardly wait to give him.  

I'll post more about the last few weeks with David later, and when I figure out how to add pdf files, I'll add my final paper about the need for mental health education. I thought about posting it here in its entirety, but its 5 pages with a bunch of footnotes long, and I thought it might be overwhelming. It turned out to be an interesting and enlightening project.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Journal Entries

Jeff left this morning for his deployment aboard the Nimitz. It's going to be a long six months until he's home again! And Soldier Brian leaves today for Ft. Lee Virginia and the last of his Army officer training. He will be done in October.

Sometimes I go post journal entries about my military kids at a site for military parents. When David was diagnosed with his disorder two years ago I added some thoughts about what he was going through. When I updated my journal this morning, I decided to add some of those entries here. It certainly has been a wild ride.

At the moment I'm busy working on my LAST paper (due next week), and dealing with David's mixed episodes that have been fairly intense, but he's slowly doing better.

Sep 22, 2007
I had intended to keep this journal just for the military kids, but I think that on occasion I'm going to talk about David and the battle we are in for his mental health. I find that I'm responding to this much as I do when my boys are deployed—disbelief, grief, worry, small joys, the need to find out everything I can about it, etc. It feels like another type of roller coaster ride.

I went with him to the Dr. again on Tuesday after a bad weekend and my b-day, and after the Dr. consulted with the clinic psychiatrist, he left some meds for David at the reception desk. After 1 1/2 days of dragging his feet, and several discussions about why he needs them, he picked them up!! I know it's a little thing, but I'm DELIGHTED! I just hope he'll take them, and they'll help. He goes back to the Dr. in 2 weeks for a consultation, and we'll see what happens then. I went to my bishop and he gave me some needed counsel and comfort, and I managed to survive a magazine class writing assignment and mass comm law test, so life is looking better today.

Jeff called Monday, just as they were leaving Hawaii for the trip home! He sounded happy, and he and Jon were having a good time together. (They were on the last leg of a deployment, and the "Tiger Cruise" is when a family member can join the ship in Hawaii for the trip to San Diego.) The captain left one of his much-appreciated recorded messages about leaving Hawaii as a full rainbow appeared over Diamond Head, and a list of some of the activities they have planned for the trip home. I can hardly wait to see my boys again!

Oct. 20, 2007
David and I went to the psychiatrist on Wednesday, and he was diagnosed with bipolar type 1 disorder and ADHD. That means that he has the type with extreme mood swings happening often (like every day). He's coming to terms with this illness, and is taking some meds that are really helping so far. He also likes the dr., and has been talking to me a lot about what's going on in his mind, and the bishop gave him a blessing, which helps. I'm truly grateful for all the help and understanding from our congregation members who know about this. I've been collecting info about this disorder, and in the near future (when I can figure out how to coordinate schedules) we're going to have a family meeting about what's going on with their dad, and how they can help. Jon has been an absolute angel about spending time with his dad and checking up on him regularly. It's a real comfort to have him only 5 minute away from us.

My job has also been extra stressful with preparing talks given by Church leaders 2 weeks ago for publication. As stressful as it is, though, there's a lot of comfort found in the messages. Said one leader: "It is our faith in Jesus Christ that sustains us at the crossroads of life’s journey. It is the first principle of the gospel. Without it we will spin our wheels at the intersection, spending our precious time but getting nowhere. It is Christ who offers the invitation to follow Him, to give Him our burden, and to carry His yoke, “for [His] yoke is easy, and [His] burden is light” (Matthew 11:30)."

March 5, 2008
David got his disability approved today!! I can't even express how REALLY excited I am! This means that because David has a mental illness, I'm legally in charge of the money and can use it to pay bills—we can even meet our obligations. It's a long story about why I'm so thrilled, but it's a huge relief. He's been struggling badly with anxiety and depression with worrying about the family finances (if he only knew . . . that's one of the hard things about having a spouse with a mental illness. There are some similarities to being a single parent, especially where money is concerned, and I hate that), and Katie's 18th birthday. He went into deep mourning about it because she's his baby girl and he's having a hard time with the idea of her growing up and leaving home before too long. I'm hoping that with at least one thing taken care of he'll calm down a bit. I personally rather enjoy the idea. The 2 dogs and the cat make up for the lack of children at home and keep us entertained.

April 30, 2008
David is hanging in there, but he isn't taking his meds right now, and I'm a little anxious about how long it'll be before he crashes again. Brittany suggested I grind his meds and put them in his drink. (Seriously tempting idea!) I've decided it's similar to raising another teen; he's going to have to take responsibility for his condition and deal with the consequences.

June 30, 2008
It has been a crazy month. Lara came home for a visit from Oaxaca, Mexico. I'm so happy to see her again after 3 long years since they moved there. Katie graduated from high school (our last, and it's so nice to be done with public schools after 25 years!)

We had a party at Jon's house, but David wasn't feeling well, so he stayed home. When we got back, we discovered that he had been throwing up blood, and he FINALLY agreed to go to the hospital. At the same time, Riley cut himself on something outside, was bleeding, and needed help. Lara took charge of Riley, and while David was getting ready to go to the hospital I called Wes (our son-in-law) and Ben, who were still at Jon's house to come give David a priesthood blessing. No sooner were they done, when David threw up more blood and collapsed! Ben called 911, and Wes performed first-aid for shock (that military training really came in handy). Lara and Brittany went to the store to get first-aid supplies for the dog, and when they got back, the ambulance was there.

It turned out that David had a bleeding ulcer, ended up in intensive care for the night. They ended up having to do emergency surgery, and his psychiatrist came in the next day and adjusted his meds to a coated lithium. He recovered without complications, but he's awfully weak still.

 Jeff and Nikki came home, and we had a small reception for them. It turned out to be a nice event. Now it's vacation time: to Idaho to see my family and go rafting on the Salmon River!

August 26, 2008
It's 1:30 a.m., and I really should be asleep, but we just heard about David's dad's passing. He and Jonathan are with his mother, and it's very fitting that they should be together, but I can't sleep, and thought I'd unwind a bit by writing. We will miss Grandpa, but I know this must be a relief for him, and I don't doubt that he's having a grand reunion with his 2 children and other loved ones who have gone before him. I feel really sorry for his brother---he lost his only sister in May, and now in 2 days time, both his only brother and one of his grandchildren. David is handling this about as well as can be expected. He's been doing much better with his moods ever since he had that bleeding ulcer and Ben and Wes gave him a blessing of health. He still has bouts of depression and anxiety, but he's learning how to handle it better, and I'm grateful. His stomach is still giving him problems, but he's resisting going to the doctor---just like a man!

Sat. Oct. 4, 2008
We've survived the last month all right. It was one of those times in life when you wonder how you'll get through everything, and breathe a huge sigh of relief when things finally calm down. David ended up in the hospital with viral meningitis the same weekend as his dad's funeral. Unfortunately, the meds and the meningitis didn't play well with the bipolar, and it was really tense (with another "wandering" episode) before we realized that the narcotics he was on for the meningitis pain was causing hallucinations. He simply cannot have that kind of medicine any more. He's finally doing better, and as he says, he'll never be "normal," he's at least back to where he was emotionally. The change in weather is always hard for him, but he's pretty good about taking his meds.

The funeral was a bittersweet experience. Lara left for Mexico the week before, so she couldn't be here, but both Jeff and Brian were able to come. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I wasn't at my best. We planned the funeral Tuesday, and it was an all day episode. I kept saying that I'd call the boys when we were home (because I left my address book at home, and couldn't remember their numbers), but we got home later than expected, so I left a message for Ben to call Brian, and I made a 2 minute call to Jeff (we had to go to our night job, and I was in a hurry). He ended up texting Brian about getting emergency leave. Poor Brian! He told me later that was the absolute worst way to hear about a death in the family. It WAS good to have them here for the weekend. They both look wonderful, and it was so nice to have them home.

My only excuse was that I was under extreme stress with the funeral, and David's illness. In addition to that, school started the same week! I ended up only taking the blogging class (very fun), and I'll take the last one in the spring. I also had to move out of my office to the secretary's desk. Very, very upsetting! I'm finally settling down again. I've learned that during high-stress times that after I stop whining (and I do spend more time whining than I probably should), if I will focus on what I can do, and leave the rest up to God, I can survive and learn from the experience. I do like my job at the teen magazine, and the people I work with are amazing. I'm looking forward to my trip to Ottawa, Canada, in another 2 weeks. We've been working hard at improving the magazine's website at

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Family History

I read a lecture by David McCullough about the importance of history to our society. He says, "History is filled with voices that reach out and lift the spirits, sometimes from the distance of centuries." I think that is one of the reasons why I find history so fascinating. I am looking forward to reading his books now that I, theoretically anyway, should have more time when I'm done with school. I know, famous last words, but one can always hope!

When I was going through my divorce, I came across the journal that my great-grandmother kept during the 1930s. She describes her day-to-day life on the plains of Canada, as well as some of her childhood memories. Her story helped me understand that life keeps going on, even when it feels like things will never get any better. Her story gave me courage to carry on during difficult times. In addition to her story, I have collected a number of other treasured family stories over the years that help me to understand myself better. My goal is to put them in a form that my children and grandchildren will want to read. It will probably take me years to finish, but if these stories lie unread in the bottom of a drawer, then what good are they? My hope is that they will help others along the way. I did finish Grandma Zerelda's story for a class project when I first started at the U.

David's grandma Zerelda and I hit it off immediately when we met. I love history, especially family history, and she was delighted to tell me about her childhood in person and sent me long letters filled with fascinating detail about life in the early 20th century. One of the reasons that I was interested in David's family history was to try to understand his background, hoping it would give me a clue to his moods. Sure enough, Grandma Zerelda described her father: "My first recollections of life were while living with Grandpa and Grandma Garner, Mother’s parents. My dad wouldn’t have me. Boys were all he wanted and was angry about each girl that joined the family. It seemed he was either angry or overly happy; no in-between. This was heard many times; relatives or visitors would discuss the story. Some way, no satisfactory answer was to be mine, although this has been pondered many, many times. I was with my grandparents until age 11, when my baby sister was expected while they were living at Caliente, Nevada."

It seems to me that there are more questions about the nature of mental illness than there are answers. Some believe it to be a genetic tendency; others do not. More research needs to be done before we really understand all there is to know on the subject, but in David's case anyway, I really believe it is a genetic tendency, and her history helps me understand him better.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Saying Farewell to My Neighbor

We went to the funeral for our sweet 85-year-old neighbor Elizabeth on Saturday. It was a beautiful service, filled with tender thoughts from her children and grandchildren. A daughter compared her to a rose that was continually unfolding, reminding us that she picked up oil painting and excelled at it when she was 70 years old. One of her sons gave a rousing rendition of "Country Roads" by John Denver, with the audience spontaneously rising and joining in song. I don't know that I will ever hear that song again without thinking of that moment. He said his mother was given $10 a week for family expenses while they were growing up, and one summer she sacrificed all of it for her son to get a guitar and music lessons.
A mother of eight children, with an alcoholic husband, she was a fine example of someone who overcame great adversity with humor, compassion for others, and joy in living. Her children rallied around her, treating her like a queen. They were the most important part of her life, and they knew it.
We appreciated her patience with our children. One time she alerted us to an underground cave our children built in our backyard without our knowledge. It extended into her backyard, and when she saw smoke rising from the ground she was concerned about their safety. On several occasions they went to her house when they forgot their house keys and couldn't get in after school, and sometimes just because they liked being with her. She welcomed them in, spoiled them with treats, and let them play with her collection of dolls and other toys. I always enjoyed visiting with her about our families, life's lessons that we both had learned, and gardening tips.
We will sorely miss her.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


I talked to Sailor Jeff last night, and he said they aren't leaving for another two weeks. I was happy; that means two weeks of not worrying about him. He felt a little let down, but OK about it. He says he just wants to get it over with, but I'm sure he'll find a way to enjoy this extra time at home. We had a good visit with him and his wife, Nikki, when they were here on leave. I didn't want to let go of him.
Even though this will be deployment number 7 for our family, I am still anxious when our boys are deployed. We have a former Marine, 1 active duty Army, 1 active duty Army Reserve, and a Sailor. All have been deployed at least once.
I have found some things that help me cope while they're gone:
1. The most important thing is to rely on faith and prayer.
2. I spend more time on military parent forums visiting with other parents who are also experiencing the same waves of emotion that I am: deep pride mixed with fear.
3. Keep busy with other things.
4. Send e-mails and care packages regularly. Though, to be honest, I could do better with this.
5. Keep as informed as possible about what's going on in the area of the world where they are. I depend on blogs that deal with trouble spots to give me a better picture of events taking place.
6. Jeff's captain is really good about leaving recorded messages, and I often visit the ship's website to read and look at pictures about it.
The Internet is a great thing. Our Marine was deployed to the Gulf in 1998 when the African embassies were bombed. I didn't have Internet access, and had no idea of where to look for information on what was happening. I was a basket case. Brian was deployed to Iraq in March 2003, and then it was a case of too much information all of the time. That was also unnerving.
When I have asked my sons to tell me about what they're doing, I get the standard response: "Oh, just the same old thing." But I don't know what "the same old thing" is. It helped me understand Navy deployments last year when PBS aired the series "Carrier" that coincided with Jeff's deployment to the Pacific.
Surprisingly enough, David does better with deployments than I do. He has to remind me that a) they are well trained, and b) in Jeff's case, he is on an aircraft carrier that is well protected. I know that, but I never completely relax until I know they're safely back on US soil.