Anchors of Happiness

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We’ve all read about how experiences are better gifts for your kids than toys, but I really liked the way this study put it: holidays with your family are “happiness anchors” in your memory that have lasting effects on your psyche. Now that I’m a parent, I realize how much work my own parents put into arranging special trips for us–not necessarily the giant, Disney-type extravaganzas that most people talk about, but everything from beach vacations to day trips and little rituals at home. Here are some of the moments anchored in my mind.

  • I remember being woken up in the middle of the night to go see comets, eclipses, and meteor showers. I remember driving out to the countryside, being a little scared in the empty darkness but feeling safe with my big brothers, guarding my eyes against the passing headlights to preserve my night vision.
  • I remember road trips that my father planned meticulously, always making sure we’d be near the best delis at lunch time. I treasured a Bazooka Joe comic in Hebrew from a Jewish deli in Connecticut for years.
  • I remember trips to mines and quarries: a boat ride on an underground river, a cold cave pool that never saw the light of day, and giant loose chunks of mica free for the gathering.
  • I remember hours and hours of reading out loud before bedtime: Narnia and Robin Hood with my mother, Tolkien and Homer with my father. Just one more chapter, please!
  • I remember one glorious time when someone offered us a free dumpster full of books that survived a fire, and my father couldn’t resist. We parked it in our driveway and climbed in and dug around for treasures all week.
  • I remember science museums, art museums, planetariums, zoos, aquariums, beaches, mountains, operas, concerts–but also so many small things that my parents probably thought were no big deal: helping my father organize books for a book sale. Science experiments with my mother. I even have deeply happy memories of my bi-weekly turn to come along on the grocery shopping and get to pick the flavor of soda for weekend dinners.

I’m writing these down mostly to remind myself that my kids don’t need big fireworks from me. Today my six-year-old got to come–just him!–to Walmart to buy diapers, and we stopped for a little snack and a chat afterwards (“Subway is the best restaurant ever, Mama!”). My four-year-old is thrilled because she got to do “cutting practice” today (something my mother used to do for me),

Tovah cutting

and my two-year-old is just happy that I watched her do a trick. (“Watch this, Mama! SAME TRICK!”) They will remember the vacations and the expensive trips, but they’ll remember the little things too.

Electroconvulsive Therapy: what I wish I’d known

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Not this bad.

So. When I was in the psych ward last year and my doctors approached me with the idea of electric shock treatment (aka ECT: electroconvulsive therapy), my first reaction was, “that still exists?!” It turns out it’s not the torture treatment it used to be. It’s safe, quick, easy, and very effective. But my hospital wasn’t very good at giving me the full picture, so here’s what I’d like you to know if you’re considering ECT. (Please note, these explanations are in my own words. I’m don’t know if they are 100% accurate, and I’m sure they’re not technically correct. Double-check with a good doctor!)

  1. It’s an option for people who are already using the conventional means of therapy and/or medication, and aren’t getting better; and for people who need to get better in a hurry. As a postpartum mother of 4 with suicidal depression, who’d already been on medication and therapy for years, I needed something to change, quick.
  2. It re-sets your brain. My husband did a lot of research and found out that ECT kind of erases some of the thought patterns that have built up in your head. If you head back home after your treatments into a situation that hasn’t changed, with all the same stressors and problems, your mind will fall back into its old patterns again. You need to take advantage of the time after ECT to work hard and establish good new patterns for your brain: coping strategies, positive thinking, relaxation techniques, etc. I found Cognitive Behavioral Therapy extremely helpful for this.
  3. That means that you’re going to have a long recovery period. You’ll probably need to take time off work, or lessen your other responsibilities. You’ll need people nearby to cover for you and help you out. You’ll need someone to drive you to your treatments and stay in the hospital the whole time, and you’ll need someone to check in on you while you’re recovering. Obviously this is a tall order. But apparently, unless you take these precautions, your ECT may not have much effect and you may end up back where you started.
  4. My side effects were short-lived irritability and confusion, and some fairly significant memory loss. I was told that I would lose the memory of the morning before the treatment, and that was it; but in my case, that wasn’t true. I’ve lost memories from the last few years of my life, mostly the last year. I can’t remember places we went, things the kids did, books I’ve read, people I visited. I can’t remember what my friends’ youngest kids are named, or what they’ve told me about recent developments in their lives. It hasn’t really affected my life that much, but it makes me sad. I feel like I’ve lost part of my identity. I think it was worth it, though. I’m not sure how much of my recovery was due to the ECT, and how much was due to medication, therapy, and changes in my situation; but I’ve talked to people for whom ECT was an unequivocal success, even a life-saver.
  5. Get somebody you trust to help you research and make the decision, especially if you’re in the hospital or in the middle of a crisis. I was scared, uninformed, panicky, and generally not in any state to make important decisions. I was so lucky to have my persevering husband to depend on. This is something you shouldn’t do alone.

Please write to me if you’d like to talk about it! My email is preverized@aol.com

Dear Me:

  1. Dear 14-year-old me: spending every lunch period sitting in the chapel and crying is not normal. Tell someone, for heaven’s sake. This is called “depression.”
  2. Dear 18-year-old me: why would you even date a guy who’s mean to people, inconsiderate to you, and doesn’t really care much about you or anything else? I don’t get it.
  3. Dear 20-year-old me: learn NFP before you get married, you dummy. Don’t just say “oh, we’ll learn it when we need it.” Trust me, you’ll need it.
  4. Dear 21-year-old me: just give the baby a bottle. You will never regret it.
  5. Dear 22-year-old me: anti-depressants are wonderful. It’s about time.
  6. Dear 23-year-old me: I know you don’t really believe it when people say this, but it really will get easier as your kids get older. Really!
  7. Dear me for the last five years: just go to bed. There are very, very few things you could be doing that will make you happier than more sleep.

Come see the rest of the 7 Quick Takes at Kelly’s!

“Experiences too deep for deception”

I’m reading Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, about a psychologist’s experience in a concentration camp. I was immediately struck by this quote from Gordon Allport’s preface:

[Living in the concentration camps,] how could he find life worth preserving? A psychiatrist who personally has faced such extremity is a psychiatrist worth listening to…..Dr. Frankl’s words have a profoundly honest ring, for they rest on experiences too deep for deception.

That sums up exactly why I wanted to read this book. I want to hear why life is worth living from someone who has seen the most suffering that life can offer. I want to hear from someone who can truly understand the temptation to suicide or despair. I don’t want to hear from someone who feels hopeful because they see some good that came out of their suffering, or some lesson that they learned from it, or because they see it as some form of discipline or redemptive suffering that will make sense from the viewpoint of heaven. I want to hear from someone who was able to find meaning and joy in the middle of absolute desolation.

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I first started thinking about this when I read this beautiful article by a woman who held her dying newborn. I was really captivated by it because she did not write about the happiness that came from knowing her daughter was going to heaven, or a positive outlook that allowed her to appreciate the few hours she had with her, or because she learned a spiritual lesson from her experience; instead, she was granted the grace of feeling the joy of heaven on earth, right in the middle of her suffering.

I was flooded with peace. I was filled with the deepest joy I have ever felt. I could not understand why sorrow and grief had occupied any inch of my body before that instant. This was a different world….We were right inside the heart of God.

To me, this was an assurance that the promise of joy is true. Because of her situation, this mother’s story was “too deep for deception.” I have never felt this joy, but I believe her, because the circumstances of her witness make it reliable. As she writes:

[I]f I could share only a sliver of what it felt and breathed and loved like in that NICU room, you would never again fear any doubt of the divine or the existence of an afterlife.

Even when I’m angry at God, I still love the saints. I love their witness of holy joy in every possible circumstance of life. I love Corrie Ten Boom, because she gives us this same assurance of the joy to come: “I’ve experienced His presence in the deepest darkest hell that men can create. I have tested the promises of the Bible, and believe me, you can count on them.” I love the apostles, because, as my mother once told me, the fact that they were willing to be martyred for their faith in Jesus shows their witness can be trusted. They must have seen it with their own eyes if they were willing to die for it, and pass their faith on to others. I love Laura Fanucci, the mother whose newborn died, because she shared with us her firm reason for hope in the midst of unspeakable suffering. And I am loving Viktor Frankl, for the hope he gives me. I’ll leave you with this beautiful image of Frankl’s wife, who became a vision of heaven for him:

Tilly Frankl

My mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness….A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth–that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way–an honorable way–in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.

 

 

 

Image of Tilly Frankl on her wedding day: source

7QT: the benefits of Food Stamps

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I used to struggle with spending my food stamps for anything other than the bare necessities. After a while, though, it became too much of a hassle to scrupulously separate my shopping, and I began to realize that it was all right to spend my food stamps on anything the system allowed. Here are 7 wonderful things food stamps provide, besides just nutrition:

  1. Easy meals. Some people can make healthy stuff from scratch every day; I can’t. From frozen burritos to things like pizza dough, deli meat, and bagged salads, convenience food can mean the difference between me throwing something in the oven and taking a little nap before suppertime, and me freaking out, yelling at the kids, and going out for McDonald’s.
  2. Healthy convenience foods. If you don’t have to worry about your budget so much, you can buy better stuff. Instead of the cheapest frozen pizza, you can buy bake-at-home stuff with real vegetables on it. Instead of fruit cups in heavy syrup, you can afford the stuff packed in real fruit juice. Instead of spaghettio’s, you can get the good canned soup. For your husband who always forgets to pack a lunch, there’s Clif bars and V-8.
  3. Stuff your kids will actually eat. Cherry tomatoes! Gogurts! Instant oatmeal! Cheese sticks! Clementines!
  4. Stuff you really don’t need, but every kid should have once in a while. Lunchables, goldfish crackers, those little breadsticks-and-fake-cheese-dip things.
  5. Things you can stuff in your kids’ lunchboxes. Juice boxes, granola bars, fruit snacks. These double as ways to keep your kid from screaming in the car, and ways to pack for an unexpected outing. That’s pretty darn close to a necessity.
  6. Fancy ingredients. Feta cheese, olives, artichokes, hummus, avocados, fresh herbs…all kinds of things that didn’t usually make it onto my list until I had food stamps. It’s nice to be able to vary your diet more and make any recipes you want!
  7. Ice cream.

See the rest of the 7 Quick Takes at Kelly’s!

How political feminism demeans 50% of women

worf and dax

Well, this is what came up when I searched “traditional Catholic wedding.” Now that I think of it, for people who live in a very traditional society, Klingon women don’t seem very oppressed.

So Mike Pence won’t eat alone with any woman besides his wife. Liberals find this upsetting, because they interpret it as an objectification of women. Isn’t he saying that women are nothing but temptations, and if he was sitting next to a pretty one, he couldn’t be responsible for his actions? Nobody’s wondering what his wife thinks about it. The focus is the conservative man’s attitude toward women, marriage and sex; but nobody’s looking too closely into the conservative woman’s mindset. Maybe Karen Pence agrees with his rule; maybe she doesn’t. But let’s give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she understands and respects where he’s coming from. In fact, let’s assume it’s possible for a conservative woman to have a modern marriage.

Let’s face it: this stereotype of conservatives is our fault for electing Trump. But when feminists assume that all conservatives are as misogynistic as he is, or have old-fashioned, patriarchal views of marriage, they’re including conservative women, too. After all, 42% of all women voted for Trump. Are they masochists who like to be oppressed? Are they deluded dupes who never heard of feminism? Are they too stupid or cowardly to stand up for themselves? Whichever it is, it’s not very respectful of women, is it? Feminists are, by default, assuming that all women who espouse conservative views of marriage, relationships, and sex aren’t worth listening to. They’re assuming that we needn’t take conservative social views seriously, even if women hold them. They’re assuming that you can discount the experiences of 42% of the women in America, just because of their vote. That flies in the face of everything liberalism stands for.

I’m a conservative, but I didn’t vote for Trump. Every time I start to sympathize with feminists, though, they drive me away by their disrespect for my beliefs. Feminism, which claims to speak for all women, seems to be increasingly driving away all but a small, radical group of them. At the Women’s March, many white women felt unwelcome because the organizers were so focused on marching for minority rights that they downplayed white women’s concerns with Trump and the direction America is taking. Similarly, feminist women who were pro-life were officially disinvited from the Women’s March.

Let’s return to Karen and Mike Pence. It’s possible, of course, that she is oppressed or stupid. It’s certainly possible that she’s wrong. It’s even possible that she’s a misogynist. But are you willing to say the same of every woman who believes that abortion is wrong, or that taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to fund contraception, or that marriage is only between a man and a woman? Is every conservative woman not only wrong, but also stupid, evil, or helpless? What an insult to women! If you think we’re wrong, fine; but at least pay us the courtesy of assuming that we’re smart, modern women who’ve thought things through.

Good men through the ages

Indian elephant

I’m finally filling in my gaps in world history, starting with a book about India. I’ve always loved India–the colors, the architecture, the music, the dance. No surprise that Indian history is just as beautiful.

I was especially struck by the story of Ashoka, a 3rd century BC king. After a dissolute youth and a period of ruthless and violent conquest, Ashoka suddenly repented and tried to rebuild his life–and his entire society–around a strict moral law. I can only imagine that his new subjects–the ones who survived his earlier massacres–were less enthusiastic about his conversion. Yeah right! Now he decides to be non-violent!

But it seems to have been a real conversion! Ashoka set up dozens of carved edicts, abolishing the death penalty, urging care for the environment, developing highways, and even trying to enforce religious tolerance. I find this so touchingly familiar. Tell me you’ve never gone through this stage: Guys, look at this cool thing I just found out about! I’m going to change my whole life, right now, and you should too! I’m not going to stop talking about it until you do! Ashoka even sent a kind of missionary to the east and the west, he was so excited about his new ideas.

Ashoka edict

As you can imagine, things didn’t go very well for him. I was expecting him to get assassinated pretty soon, but he seems to have made it to old age. His moral reform, of course, didn’t last any longer than he did. But by his own account he never gave up: “I am never fully satisfied with the end product of all my work, my exertions and the conclusion of my business…but work I must for the public good.” He also makes this heartbreaking admission in one of his edicts: “now I realize how hard it is to persuade people to do good.”

That’s the problem, isn’t it? It’s an old, old story, trying to make heaven on earth. Ashoka wasn’t the first to try to do it through political means, and he wasn’t the last. It’s never gonna work, but it sure is tempting.

Good men through the ages

trying to find the sun…

Five year plans and new deals wrapped in golden chains.

And I wonder, still I wonder, who’ll stop the rain?

“Who’ll Stop the Rain,” Creedence Clearwater Revival

elephant picture: source

sculpture of Ashoka’s edicts being carved, at the Parliament Museum in New Delhi: source