To all you moms dealing with anxiety and depression…

To all you moms dealing with anxiety and depression

To all you moms dealing with anxiety and depressionDear mom struggling with depression and anxiety,

I know how you’re feeling and you’re not alone. That’s the first thing I want you to know.

I know the lies depression and anxiety tell you. That you’re a failure because you didn’t get to everything that you should have gotten done today. That your kids deserve a better mother than you. That no one really cares and no one would miss you if you were gone.

I know that tight feeling you have in your chest that prevents even the best-practiced yoga breathing from relieving your anxiety. I know the teary breakdowns from overwhelming tidal waves of emotion. And I know that racing-mind feeling that won’t let you fall asleep at night.

You probably deal with a seemingly endless cycle of ups and downs. A medication works for a while, you feel like yourself again, and you dare to dream you’ve found the answer. Then a few months later, the symptoms return. You try to increase the medication, but the side effects are too rough. So you begin the process of switching meds, hoping the next one will work. Or you add another to what you’re taking. Or you try alternative therapies to manage mental health. Something works for a while, then it doesn’t.

Up. Down. Up. Down.

Such is the challenge of dealing with a chronic illness, physical or mental. I know people with Parkinson’s who deal with the same ups and downs with medications. It sucks.

I get it.

But listen. Even though things seem really bad right now, I want you to hear this: It’s worth it to keep fighting.

It’s sometimes hard to believe, but it’s true. I think it’s especially hard to believe when you’re someone like me who has been dealing with depression and anxiety for over six years — ever since I was diagnosed with postpartum depression — and you’re really, really tired. You’re down, you’re beaten, and you’ve had enough.

When you’re in a low point, it’s really easy to forget how it feels to feel good. Normal. It seems like you’ll never find normal again. But you will.  I did, and I’m relishing that normal right now because I know it likely won’t last for longer than a few months. But I’ve come to peace with the crappy ups and downs of depression and anxiety. I enjoy the good times and fight my way out of the bad times. This is my challenge in life, my mountain to climb, my burden to bear. Everyone has something, and this is my something.

But let me tell you this: I know that I can tell you to keep fighting and that things will get better because I’m in a good place right now. When I am down and feeling depressed and anxious, though, I sometimes wonder if my kids would be better off without me. I worry I am negatively affecting them and ruining their lives, and anguish that maybe if they had a different mom, they’d be better off.

I can’t feel the love in their hugs. I can’t see the adoration in their eyes. I can’t understand that if I wasn’t here, they would be inconsolable.

That is how depression lies to me.

Yet now, because I’m feeling like me, my kids get off the bus in the afternoon and nothing feels better than their happy hugs. I revel in hearing their stories about their days. I see their love for me in their faces, I feel it in their skinny little arms wrapped around my waist, and in their sticky smooches on my cheeks.

So I want you to reach back into your memory and find these kinds of happy times with your friends, family, and loved ones — times you had fun and laughed and enjoyed life. You might not remember how great those happy feelings felt. But I’m telling you, you felt them. And you will again.

It’s worth it to keep fighting, because the happy times, the normal times, those are things that are worth existing for. You’ll feel them again. You will. Just keep going and you’ll get there.

xoxo,
JD, aka Honest Mom

PS: I really, really want to encourage all moms dealing with depression and/or anxiety to reach out to a doctor if you haven’t yet. Call your primary care doc and ask for an appointment right away. If you don’t have health insurance, I have a list of free and low-cost resources for therapists and prescriptions in this blog post. And of course, in an emergency dial 9-1-1 or the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255. They have trained professionals available to help you 24/7. There is no shame in asking for help. Ever. We are moms. Being a mom means doing hard things. And sometimes the hardest thing is asking for the help you need.

PPS: I have a private Facebook group for Honest Mom fans, and you’re welcome to join it. We talk about parenting challenges and mental health, and share both the tough stuff and the fun stuff. If you’re interested in joining it, friend me on Facebook and then send me a message. Ask me to add you to my private Facebook group for Honest Mom fans. Since it is private, no one can see that it exists, see what you post, or know that you are in it. I hope to see you there!

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How to manage depression, anxiety and stress during the holidays: 7 great tips

Manage depression, anxiety, and stress during the holidays

7 tips to help you manage depression, anxiety, and stress  during the holidays

Back in 2012 when I had like 10 blog readers, I wrote this post. Many of you haven’t seen it before, but I have noticed lots of people googling and finding it recently. So, I figured it may help a bunch of you out there, and I’m republishing this (tweaked) post for you now. I hope my tips help decrease your holiday stress, anxiety, and depression – I’d love to hear what you think!

*****

Like most moms, my stress level skyrockets during the holidays. I mean, don’t get me wrong. December can be fabulously fun. But those of us with small kids know it can also be fabulously stressful.

Shopping, cleaning, cooking, decorating, wrapping, helping with special school homework projects, planning, donating time … AHHHHHHH!!!!

No wonder we’re all feeling like we’re going to lose it. But for me and others who struggle with depression and anxiety, this time of year can be even tougher. I’ve been working really hard to fight off the feelings of panic and anxiety that have been creeping in. And I know it might sound crazy and unattainable, but I want to looooove the holidays, you know?

My kids are little. They love Santa and Christmas and decorating and making cookies. They want to be around me. Near me. Cuddling with me. I know they won’t be little for long. So I want to enjoy my girls, their holiday wonder, and the fact they think I’m the BEST THING EVER and still want to be around me all the time. Because someday I’m going to ask them to bake cookies, and I’ll get some big eye rolls as they continue to text their friends while never actually looking up at me.

I am not looking forward to that day.

Anyway, I kind of knew I would be feeling this way. So I find myself revisiting ideas I wrote down long ago for how to navigate this tough time. Over the past few days I’ve been following my own advice – and I have to say, I do feel much better. So whether you deal with depression and anxiety, or are a person who always gets really stressed during this time of year, I hope my ideas help you, too.

7 tips for decreasing depression, anxiety, and stress during the holidays

1. Do just a few things well. Or maybe even just one thing. Especially during the holidays, we moms put so much pressure on ourselves to do everything and do it all perfectly. Lighten up on yourself, mama!

Don’t decorate the entire house from head to toe if it stresses you out – just focus on the living room and make that one room beautiful.

Do you really like sending out holiday cards? Or do you do it because you feel like you have to? If it’s the latter, save yourself the time and money and don’t send them this year. Aunt Edna will survive. Or she can get on Facebook like the rest of the world and see pics of your kids there.

Another idea: This year, instead of baking dozens of cookies from scratch, I bought pre-made dough. My kids only care about the part where they cut out the cookies and decorate them, anyway. Less effort for me, more fun for them.

Give yourself a break and take a few shortcuts. It’ll definitely cut down on the holiday stress.

2. Skip the “obligation” parties that stress you out. You know the party that a certain mom throws every year that everyone seems to go to? The one that requires you to dress “casual chic,” bring a Yankee Swap gift, bake six dozen cookies for an exchange, and bring a bottle of wine and a homemade appetizer?

Yeah, that party. Skip it. Along with any other parties that aren’t actually fun. Parties should be FUN, remember?

3. Don’t overcommit to volunteer activities. Sign up for one extra activity. Volunteer at the food pantry. OR your kid’s classroom holiday party. OR the community Santa parade. Remember, you are not the only person in your community who can volunteer. You do not have to carry the load. Pick one and feel good about your contribution.

4. Don’t make any big changes. Now is not the time to try a new antidepressant (unless your doctor really recommends it), paint a room in your house, or get a pixie haircut. For the love of God, woman, don’t set yourself up for disaster. Wait until a (much) less stressful time.

5. Get some alone time. And I’m not talking about going to the grocery store alone. Or holiday shopping for anyone (who isn’t you). I’m talking about plopping your butt in a coffee shop and reading a book for two hours.

Ask someone, anyone who is remotely trustworthy, to watch the kids – and get out of your house and away from all your obligations so you can decompress for a little while. This is good for everyone, but especially depression sufferers – it can really help to reset your mood.

6. Try to turn a sad moment into a nice memory. This one is hard, I know. But here’s what I did a couple years ago: I was feeling really down about my dad’s death and him not being around. He loved Christmas so much. I was dissolving into tears when I noticed the bowl of walnuts I had out – and remembered how my dad loved cracking open walnuts with me when I was a kid.

So I poured myself some eggnog (his favorite), cracked open some walnuts, and listened to Christmas music for 10 minutes while my kids sledded outside. It eased the sadness to do something that reminded me of my dad, instead of just sitting on the couch and bawling.

7. Exercise and sleep. No, I’m not kidding. I am 100% serious, mama. I know, I know, how is there time to sleep, let alone exercise? But if you are dealing with depression and/or anxiety, sleep and exercise are CRUCIAL.

It’s hard to drag my butt to Zumba on a weeknight after the kids are in bed. But I am doing it. I’m also power walking an afternoon or two with my neighbor as we push our kids in strollers. And I can tell you – I am feeling so much better over the last few days. I guarantee it’s the exercise. You know, exercise, endorphins, blah, blah, blah. It’s true.

Sleep is no joke, either. Put down the laundry basket, stop wrapping gifts, and enough with cleaning the kitchen. (Or if you’re me – step away from the Internet.) Just Go To Bed. It’ll all still be there in the morning. And no one will be the worse for it if it doesn’t get done – except you.

Are you doing anything this month to ease the stress of the holidays? What ideas can you add to this list?

PS – If reading funny holiday stuff helps you de-stress, check out this post on how NOT to get a great holiday card photo of your kids, and my (fictional) humble brag Christmas card letter I wrote for Jen at People I Want to Punch in the Throat. Plus you can read about why my Elf on the Shelf is defective. And naughty. Happy holidays!

photo credit: Altweibersommer via photopin cc

Why this carb-lover is going gluten-free…and how I’m doing it.

gluten free for beginners

The whole idea of being gluten-free used to make me laugh. Chortle, really.

I adore baked goods. I swiped my kids’ graham cracker snacks all the time because hello? YUM. Annie’s white cheddar mac and cheese? Um, yes please.

A life without gluten sounded like a life not worth living to me. Until all of a sudden, just a few weeks ago, a host of health problems hit me (seemingly) out of left field.

Before the real drama started, I hadn’t been feeling my best for a while. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know I deal with depression and anxiety. I’ve written about how I’ve been frustrated with this terrible “brain fog” I’ve been feeling for months, seemingly because of antidepressants. My concentration has been nonexistent, I’ve been feeling like I have ADD, and I’ve just been out of it for ages.

Also, I should mention that I’ve always had IBS, which is the catch-all term for when your GI system doesn’t work right but no doctor can figure out why. I was tested for Celiac but it was negative (and I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief because see: my love of carbs?). But my GI system is still freaking out.

Anyway, to combat the brain fog and all that jazz, I’ve been weaning off antidepressants – again – in hopes of correcting these symptoms by clearing out my system. As of mid-May nothing had changed, even though I was down to a very low dose of my SSRI.

And then out of nowhere, I got really ill on Memorial Day. It’s a loooong story, so here’s the nitty gritty: I thought I had the worst PMS known to woman, got misdiagnosed with vertigo, ended up getting CAT and MRI scans, and then saw a neurosurgeon to be sure a brain thing I was born with (called a chiari malformation) wasn’t causing all this. Oh, and found out I have a cyst on my pituitary.

Um – say WHAT???

The nausea and balance issues have begun to fade, but all my other symptoms are still going strong: vision issues and depth-perception problems that prohibit me from driving. Headaches. Exhaustion. And all the neurological crap. Writing this post has taken me AGES because I can’t think clearly and looking at my big computer screen for too long is hard.

Finally my doctor ordered blood work – you know, after scaring me with the idea of brain surgery first – and got the Lyme test I had been requesting because I live in Tick Central, USA. She didn’t want to order it because I don’t have typical symptoms. But after me pestering her about it, she did.

In the meantime, Hubs started researching my symptoms himself.  What could be causing all this? And lo and behold, guess what can cause most of my symptoms? Yes, late-stage Lyme disease. But also? GLUTEN. Not Celiac – simply a general gluten intolerance. (I have found many articles about gluten intolerance symptoms, but this one lays it out best to me. I have 8 out of 10 symptoms on the list.)

Feeling so out of control of so many aspects of my health, I decided five days ago to go gluten free to see if I could improve my symptoms. And it’s been a whole lot easier than I ever thought it would. I’m mostly sticking to fruits, veggies, meats, potatoes, and rice. I’ve been following these Mayo Clinic guidelines to understand what is and isn’t GF. And I asked some GF friends for a few basic gluten-free snack recommendations, and they’ve all been delicious.

Seriously. I’ve been eating delicious, healthy food and still having some yummy snacks – and most importantly, ice cream. And it’s been easy! I didn’t even want to eat my kiddos’ muffins this weekend because those muffins now symbolize my GI issues and maybe even my other health issues. They no longer look tasty to me. It’s amazing.

I also found out on Friday that yes, I have Lyme. So I’m now on antibiotics and waiting for the confirmation Lyme test – and treatment of late-stage Lyme is controversial (who knew?) so I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that this round of meds works.

Honestly, I’m not sure if being GF with help with my neurological issues. Perhaps all of those issues are due to Lyme. Or my cyst. I won’t know more until this coming week.

But however the Lyme/cyst stuff turns out, I’ll have a feeling I’ll be staying gluten-free, simply because it’s already helping my digestive system. As I continue on with this GF thing I’ll be blogging about recipes and products I like, challenges I’ve had, and other discoveries.

If you’re thinking about going gluten-free, I invite you to follow along my journey and see what happens. Maybe being GF could change my life – and yours.

Here are my gluten-free meals and snacks so far. See? I’ve been eating well!

– Spicy fish (not the taco part) topped with Newman’s pineapple salsa

– Veggies sautéed with Wegman’s oil, over rice with parmesan cheese

– Salmon baked with GF teriyaki sauce, rice, snap peas

– Sandwich in GF wrap with GF pretzels and fruit

– Steak, veggies, potato

– Enjoy Life chocolate chip cookies

– Glutino multigrain crackers and Skippy’s all-natural peanut butter

– Nature’s Path Organic: Mesa Sunrise GF cereal

– Synder’s of Hanover GF pretzels with Newman’s pineapple salsa

– Talenti GF gelato: chocolate peanut butter (the most AMAZING thing EVER)

– Nutella and pears (Yay that Nutella is GF!!!)

Have you been thinking about going gluten-free? What intimidates you about it?
Also, if you are dealing with late-stage Lyme – I’d love to hear from you about tips and resources.

6/18/14 Update: It’s not Lyme, according to the second blood test. So now I’m off to a neurologist to try to unravel this health mystery.

photo credit: J P Davidson via photopin cc