Faith vs Fear

Faith vs Fear

Monday, January 25, 2010

Mental Health Days

I took a day off, just for myself, last week. I enjoyed spending it on family history research (something I like doing and haven't been able to do for a long time) and having a long, leisurely, quiet lunch reading Stephen King's book "On Writing."

I discovered the need to take time out for myself long years ago when I was a young mother feeling overwhelmed and lost in the day-to-day efforts of caring for my three babies. One day when my then-student-husband was home (a rare event) I had a chance to run some errands by myself and then took a drive to some nearby towns where I had grown up. Remembering past events, both happy and sad, reminded me that I was a worthwhile individual, not just a wife and mother. It also helped me put my life in perspective and was instrumental in working through debilitating postpartum depression. Even though those years of young motherhood were painful for me for a number of reasons, I learned a lot of coping skills that have come in handy. Taking a mental health day has been an important part of surviving hard experiences over the years.

I know I need a mental health day when I start feeling irritable and resentful. Sometimes I take a whole day, sometimes just a few hours. On occasion I tell David about my plans, and spend the day with him. Most often, though, I don't tell him because he wants to be a part of it, or he comes up with tasks that he thinks I should do, which defeats the whole point. The only rule I have is that it must be something that I really want to do. I know that I am very fortunate to be able to do this because I can take an occasional day off from work and my coworkers are understanding and supportive. Even if it's only for a few hours I come home from these days with my emotional batteries recharged and ready to jump back into everyday life.

David's moods have been more or less stable, but he's having an increase of noise and voices in his head; it takes a real physical as well as mental toll on him. We're a bit worried about the effect it's having, including a desire to self-medicate, so he's going back to his doctor for another visit soon. Hopefully this week.

We took a long walk together on Sunday that helped him feel better, at least temporarily. Walking and exercising seem to lift his spirits, especially when he's not feeling well. I like walking with him, enjoying the dogs, the area where we go, and lots of companionable quiet. Sometimes those walks feel like mental health days for me, too.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Martin Luther King Weekend

The week around Martin Luther King's birthday is always a time for introspection and sentimental musings for me because there are several birthdays in the family this week and it is the anniversary of my mother's death 33 years ago.

I made the mistake of not coming to terms with the loss of my mother at the time it happened. Instead, I buried my grief for years. I couldn't even talk about her or my childhood, even though I had a long, happy childhood and loving memories of her, for more than 15 years. Our oldest son Jon, and my daughter Lara also have birthdays that coincide with the anniversary, and I felt that I had to be at least reasonably cheerful for their birthdays.

Fortunately, some friends helped me talk through my feelings, and I came across the book, Motherless Daughters at a bookstore. I didn't have the money to buy it at the time, so I read and cried through it at the store. That was when I realized that it was all right to miss my mother (I still do), and I can honor her memory by the way I choose to live my life. Healing finally came when our sweet granddaughter Alicia Maree was born six years ago on that same date. I felt my mother's spirit when I held that precious newborn, and it gave me a sense of the circle of life.

I spent part of the long weekend sorting through old family pictures, looking at images of the family as they were growing up and wondering where the time went. My problem is that I am hopelessly sentimental and have SO MANY pictures (boxes of them, to be honest) that I get overwhelmed trying to sort through them. I start organizing them, then end up putting the pictures back because I run out of time. And they sit for several more months before I get brave enough to try again. This time I left the boxes in the living room to motivate me to go through them sooner rather than later. Notice that I don't say HOW soon that will be? David and I were joking about my problem, and I told him the good news is that I don't have any more film to develop and I will never get duplicate photos again. Thank goodness for digital cameras!

I've been working on writing a series of stories about service for the magazine, and have also been watching the developments in Haiti; my heart goes out to those who are suffering such unimaginable pain and to those who are there trying to help them. It restores my faith in mankind to see such outpouring of love and help from around the world. I am also grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the Church's efforts to help.

It seems appropriate to consider Martin Luther King Jr.'s words on the subject: "Agape is understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill toward all men. Agape is an overflowing love, which seeks nothing in return. Theologians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart. When you rise to love on this level, you love all men not because you like them, not because their ways appeal to you, but you love them because God loves them."

Or, as King Benjamin taught his people in the Book of Mormon: "When you are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God." (Book of Mormon, Mosiah 2:17)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Brick Walls

I just finished reading the book The Last Lecture for my book club. Written by Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon who had terminal cancer, the book is a gift to his children about the wisdom he learned during his life. The rest of us were lucky to be included. I appreciated the collection of anecdotes and words of advice and wisdom.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is "Brick walls are there for a reason. They give us a chance to show how badly we want something." There is a lot of truth in that statement. And sometimes brick walls lead us in a different direction than what we had anticipated.

For example, when I started school six years ago, I had been the typesetter for the magazines for 20 years, and even though I enjoyed the work (reading to my hearts desire is part of the attraction), I knew I had come to a professional brick wall. I was also feeling stale personally because my two youngest were then in high school, and David was undiagnosed and difficult. Going back to school was my way of climbing over that wall. However, I anticipated using my degree to be a production editor and proofreader. I had no idea it would lead to a different work assignment, including getting to write articles for the magazine. What a happy change it has been; full of challenges and rewards.

One of the issues that I have been struggling with lately involves going to a different ward than where we have been going for the past 22 years. Every year our Sunday meeting time changes because more than one ward meets in our building, and we rotate our schedules (for example: 1 ward meets at 9:00, another at 11:00 and another at 1:00). Last year we met at 11:00, so this year it's at 1:00, which means we don't get home until 4:00. I know that for some that seems like a REALLY long time to be at church, but I enjoy the chance to reflect on spiritual matters and the food for thought that keeps me going through the week. As well as the fact that I love the people in my ward, in part because we have worked together through the years to help each other and to help raise our children together. The problem is that David doesn't function well in the afternoon, and feels that he will get more out of church if we go to the morning session. So it was either go to my ward alone, or go with David to the earlier meeting. I know. A no-brainer decision. But it was something of a brick wall for me. We started going to the other ward in January, and it's going to be a good experience for both of us. We have been warmly welcomed by people we have known for years as well as by those we've never met before. I'm looking forward to getting acquainted and learning with a new group of friends. And it's not like we won't get to visit with our regular ward members (our bishop asked us to help out on a committee to plan ward activities and socials, which will be fun), but I will miss the weekly association this year. I anticipate that this brick wall for me will be another channel of growth.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Lessons from 2009

I've been struggling with post-holiday blues (and a case of writer's block), but I'm finally feeling better. Reflecting on the past year helps me put things back in perspective. For us, 2009 was a year of new beginnings, with some important lessons learned.
Some highlights:

We became empty-nesters this year when our youngest daughter, Katie, married her long-time boyfriend, Kevin, in May. In October, we added another granddaughter, Kylee, to the family. Sailor son, Jeff, was deployed to the Persian Gulf in August. He will be finished with his Navy enlistment next month and will be home soon. Soldier Brian graduated from college and was commissioned an officer in the Army. His twin, Ben, finished up his Master's Degree, and applied the credits to start his phD in nuclear engineering. On the same day that Brian graduated, I also graduated after five years of schooling with a degree in Mass Communication. I loved the experience, but I'm glad to be done with the pressure of homework and finals.

We soon discovered that there were some things we enjoy about being empty-nesters. We like being able to take short trips by ourselves, and had fun going to southern Utah twice this year, as well as some fishing trips nearby. We had never lived together by ourselves because we both had three children when we married. Somewhat to our surprise, we find we are glad for the change.

David felt well enough to work on projects around the house for the first time in three years, including our roofing experience and working on his hot rod. We learned that in order for him to work on a project he needs to focus on one thing at a time. And when he starts to feel overwhelmed and confused, to sit down and rest for awhile. He had a few episodes of hypomania and worked all night on something, but he learned to force himself to take breaks and rest. In addition to the hot rod and the roof, he put in pavers for the parking strip and added a screened-porch that we enjoyed through the fall.

He had several bad bouts of depression and mania when he ran away from home, but we slowly have learned how to better cope with it. I'm learning to let him take responsibility for himself, and offer encouragement and support. I've also learned to leave him alone sometimes when he needs space. I was able to go home twice this year, once for my stepmother's funeral and then again at Christmas. It was so helpful to get away for a few days from the routine. And, for the most part, David did all right on his own.

One of the best things about this year has been keeping this blog about our adventure in bipolar land, and becoming acquainted with friends who offer understanding and support. It makes a big difference in how I cope with David's ongoing illness.

What will 2010 bring? Who knows? But I'm grateful for friends and family who bring such joy to my life and an abiding faith in a loving Heavenly Father who never fails to provide comfort and guidance when I need it.