7QT–Things That Help

Seven Quick Takes
I’m back! Welcome to visitors from This Ain’t the Lyceum. I’m hoping to begin blogging regularly again this week, at least until baby #4 comes along in August. I hadn’t really intended to write mainly about mental health, but I guess that’s the biggest thing occupying my mind these days. So here are a few practical things I have figured out, read about, or learned from therapists that have helped significantly with my depression and anxiety.

Dont Panic, Panic, Button, Stress, Worry, Fear, Stop

1.  Mood charting. I’m sure there’s an app for this, but I do best with pen on paper, so here’s a handy chart you can print out. This particular one includes categories for depression, anxiety, irritability, sleep duration, weight and medication. I alter mine to include whether or not I’ve had a nap (see #5), and specifically how much trouble I’ve had being patient with the kids. I found it very helpful to have the different categories separated, rather then under one big “was I depressed today” box to check. When I differentiated between anxiety and depression, I discovered that anxiety was a bigger problem than I thought, and began working on that. Another chart to help you identify trends in your routine: The Well Mom Checklist asks some basic questions to help you take control of your day, like “have I eaten nutritious food today? Have I let others help me today?” It’s aimed at postpartum moms, but you can easily alter it to fit your situation.

2. Self-esteem exercises. I know, it sounds awful. But it works. I’ve written about these before, but it bears repeating: you believe it more if you say it in so many words, especially out loud. I’m also supposed to be starting each morning by saying “yippee!  Another day with Rosie!” but I confess that I haven’t worked my way up to that yet.

self-esteem

It helps when you have a nice brother who adds his own note at the bottom.

3. Make a list of everything you accomplished today–and don’t forget the little details! For example, don’t just write “took care of the kids;” write “fed the kids breakfast, changed their clothes, read books to them, brought M. to school, made sure he had his backpack and lunch, put the baby down for a nap, washed her face, said night prayers with them.” This is a really wonderful exercise to do at the end of a long day when you feel like you’ve accomplished nothing.

listofaccomplishments

4. Make a little list of small tasks you can do in your spare minutes throughout the day, to give you little boosts of satisfaction in your accomplishments. With 3 small kids, I found that my free time comes in 5-minute portions, which I generally spent (a) wasting on Facebook, (b) running around thinking “what should I do? Should I cook? Should I pray? Should I clean? Should I nap?” until the kids demanded my attention, or (c) starting some big project, and then inevitably being frustrated when I had to stop it two minutes later to take care of the kids. My therapist suggested a way to make the best of these moments without stressing out:

  •  Do something small, something you know you can get done in a few minutes, so you can feel like you accomplished something. Make a phone call, sort the socks, take the meat out of the freezer, answer a quick email, hang up all the jackets, etc.
  • Do something big, but start out with the understanding that you’ll do it one step at a time, so you won’t get frustrated when the interruptions start.. First I’ll take out my dinner recipe. Next time I have five minutes, I’ll get the ingredients out. Next time, I’ll chop the vegetables. Next time, I’ll grate the cheese….
  • Just sit and be present. Give yourself permission to rest for a couple of minutes, and focus your mind on the information your senses present to you, without judgement or analysis. This takes a little practice, but it works.

5. Naps. At various times in my life, a daily nap has been a necessity, not a luxury. I sleep for about two hours every day while the baby and the 3-year-old nap, and guess what? I don’t feel guilty about it! I used to, but that was before I started paying attention and noticing that every day I didn’t take a nap was a day I was cranky, mean, weepy, and depressed to the point of despair by the end of the day. When I started thinking of a nap as a mental health necessity, it became easier to make it part of my daily routine. Now I take a nap even when I don’t feel particularly tired, or when there’s something else I’d rather be doing, because I know it’s not being lazy, it’s essential self-care.

6. Bare Minimum Mode. I got this idea from the wonderful Jennifer Fulwiler. The idea is that you’re not just sliding into chaos, but purposefully choosing to cut out some non-essentials during certain seasons of your life. As Jen says,

I found it helpful to articulate those activities that were just too much for me right now, cut them out, and embrace that as a proactive strategy, rather than walking around feeling stressed about what wasn’t getting done.

Here’s a post she did with some more details. My version of Bare Minimum Mode includes using paper plates and plastic cups, and not worrying too much about having three, distinct balanced meals–as long as we’ve eaten something healthy today, and no one’s hungry, we’ll call it good.

7. A nightly routine. Every night for the last week, as soon as the kids are in bed, I go through this routine:

  • chart my mood for the day
  • check the “Well Mom Checklist”
  • take five minutes for quiet mindfulness/being present

This has surprised me in two ways: (1) it feels wonderful and really helps me relax, and yet (2) each successive day it becomes harder to do. So many excuses!

Bonus: don’t skip your nightly routine in favor of staying up past midnight to argue about gay marriage on Facebook. That would be bad.

Please see Kelly at http://www.thisaintthelyceum.org for the rest of the Seven Quick Takes! I missed you, and I’m going to do my best to begin blogging regularly again.

Advertisements

Preventative Maintenance for your Marriage

Speaking of marriage and therapy, how do you feel about couples therapy?  I used to think therapy of any kind was only for people with serious problems–marriage on the brink of divorce, bipolar disorder, death of a child, etc.  I discovered that therapy can not only help you with “smaller” problems, which aren’t as dramatic but can do plenty of harm on their own, but it can be wonderful preventative maintenance.  There’s nothing wrong with making sure that things are running smoothly, and bringing little problems out in the open before they turn into trouble.  I really loved this article (shut up, I read it in the waiting room) about Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell’s marriage:

Kristen: You do better in the gym with a trainer; you don’t figure out how to cook without reading a recipe. Therapy is not something to be embarrassed about.

Dax: I noticed an actor and her husband on [a recent cover of a celebrity tabloid] that said, “In Couples’ Therapy!” The clear message is, “Oh, their marriage is ending.” There’s such a negative connotation. In my previous relationship, we went to couples’ therapy at the end, and that’s often too late.

What a great point–nobody expects you to know how to parent, how to eat right, how to exercise, or just about anything else, without learning how.  Why is marriage any different?  Why do we expect people to know everything they need to know about marriage on their wedding day?

My husband and I were lucky enough to find a good counselor through a recommendation from my midwives, but ran into some problems with her after a while because her secular worldview was really starting to clash with ours.  Then we learned about counseling services from Catholic Charities.  Not only are you receiving counselling from a trained professional, but he’s a Catholic, too!  (Our counselor isn’t 100% orthodox, but it is SO helpful just to have someone who’s on the same page with you, so you don’t waste all your time explaining that no, birth control isn’t an option, and no, you’re not being oppressed by the Catholic patriarchy.)  And they have a sliding scale payment system–we only pay $20 a session.  What a gift.  Anyone else have tips for finding a good counselor?

This and That: Self-Help Books, William Blake, and Landscapes

Seagulls, Sky, Bird, Flight, Flying, Escape, Clouds

Here’s a little poem by William Blake, which my father sent me in response to my piece on detachment, that says it all:

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise.

I think that’s exactly what I was groping my way towards.  Of course, it still doesn’t answer the question of what it means to bind yourself to a joy, or how exactly to kiss it as it flies!  I hope to write a few more thoughts on this later.

Speaking of that post, I feel bad using Metcalf’s painting, The White Veil, as a quick illustration.  It really deserves a post of its own.  Take a look:

File:Willard Leroy Metcalf - The White Veil (1909).jpg

I don’t know enough about art to understand how this can be so beautiful while being so realistic (isn’t that exactly the way the world looks through a veil of snow?).  I never get tired of looking at this, even in the middle of a New England winter.  I’ve always loved landscapes, even the more boring, extra-realistic ones.  I’d rather look at a landscape than a portrait any day.  I could look at this one all day:

File:Claude Monet - Branch of the Seine near Giverny.JPG

Branch of the Seine near Giverny, Claude Monet

I guess it’s the composition that’s so pleasing in both of these paintings.  Gauguin’s wonderful at this, too:

L’Aven en contre bas de la Montagne Sainte-Marguerite

Les Alyscamps

In the next week or so I hope to be posting reviews of a few books, including a fascinating new theological fantasy, some thoughtful and clever historical science fiction, and the first of a small series on self-help books that I’ve found to be truly helpful.  In the past I had a dismissive attitude toward self-help books, but I’ve come to realize that even the silliest books have a core of truth, if you’re willing to see it.  They’re like cliches; if you can get past the corniness, you’ll realize that they’ve become cliche for a reason: they’re true.

Tunnel of Love

Image

Tunnel of Love at the Reality Theme Park: “Here…you gotta dig your own…”

Pretty perceptive for a cheapo greeting card, right?  It doesn’t matter how much you love each other, or how virtuous you are, or how Catholic you are; marriage only works if you are constantly working on it.  What spoke to your wife when you were dating may not mean much to her now, and something that still screams “romance” to you may be just kind of embarrassing for your husband.  You have to sit down and have awkward conversations, and learn to use phrases that sound stilted and artificial to you.  You have to read cheesy self-help books, and it wouldn’t hurt you to log some preventative maintenance at the marriage counselor’s, either–even if you think your problems aren’t serious enough for therapy.  (More on this in a future post.)  Over the last five years, I’ve been constantly surprised by how much work marriage is.

In Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love, the tunnel isn’t something you dig so much as something you have to survive, but his descriptions ring true to me.  The song uses an amusement park as an extended metaphor for a relationship, with distorting mirrors and a “room of shadows.”

…the lights go out and it’s just the three of us
You, me, and all that stuff we’re so scared of.

The tunnel is supposed to be a place where you have your lover all to yourself, under cover of darkness, but Springsteen points out that nobody comes without baggage.  There’s all kinds of things you don’t learn about someone until you live with them (and I don’t mean anything sinister!  People are just…complicated).  Sometimes the complications help you get closer, but sometimes they get in the way, or they were never really there at all–they’re just false projections from miscommunication:

There’s a crazy mirror showing us both in 5D
I’m laughing at you, you’re laughing at me.
There’s a room of shadows that gets so dark, brother,
It’s easy for two people to lose each other….

Springsteen laments the counter-intuitive nature of a relationship, which starts out so simply but gets so complicated just at the height of intimacy:
it ought to be easy ought to be simple enough
Man meets a woman and they fall in love
But the house is haunted and the ride gets rough
And you’ve got to learn to live with what you can’t rise above
if you want to ride on down in through this tunnel of love.

I’ve always been intrigued by the line “you’ve got to learn to live with what you can’t rise above.”  It sounds cynical–how can love turn into something you just have to “live with”?–but I don’t think that’s what he means.  The “tunnel”–the experience of real intimacy and commitment, with all its difficulties–is something you can’t “rise above.”  You have to go through.  When you’ve done everything you can to solve your problems, you are still two different people, and it’s never going to be entirely simple.  You have to live with it–embrace it as part of your life, instead of resenting it or pretending it’s not there.  Let me know if you find out what’s at the other end of the tunnel!