Category Archives: Lily

Depression Toolkit #23: Friends

This morning I managed my best ‘socialising’ so far this summer outside the family: 2 hours with a couple of really good friends and some of our children. Although I was nervous, being around people I trust and know well in a home setting was just what was needed. People I can chat openly with. People whose children are similar ages to ours, given that we met in an NCT group some years back. The children played well and Joe was able to indulge his latest Lego fad to his heart’s content as well as a large amount of ice lolly and running around in the sun with the other pre-schoolers.

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I hope I can build up these social meet-ups and get out to more places so that I don’t deny the children opportunities to try some great activities over the summer. I am terrified of the swimming pool. I won’t go to parks without my husband there too. Any place that demands my engaged parenting for any period over about 30 minutes is too daunting to consider. Anything I can avoid, I will. It is very frustrating for parents who have to work during the school holidays not to be able to be with their children and take them out and about, but I am becoming aware that my frustration at not doing things is not for lack of time or motive, but anxiety – and that it has the potential to impact on Lily and Joe if I do not find good ways to use this time.

So I am especially grateful for friends. Friends who know the children well enough to go to places together, so I don’t feel over-burdened and so I can catch up with where they are. Friends with weddings, enabling us to focus on great celebrations and not worries. Friends who invite us to their country to share their culture and give the children a broader experience of the world. Friends who pray, send cards and flowers or private messages, who remind me of the kind folk in our lives. I wasn’t good at making friends when I was little, but these days I am amazed at the number of people in our lives, and how close so many of them are.

A friend loves at all times,
    and a brother is born for a time of adversity.

Proverbs 17:17

Depression Toolkit #22: Being shepherded

I just read Lily’s Bible notes with her, and read this verse in the Good News version:

He will take care of his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs together
and carry them in his arms;
he will gently lead their mothers.

Isaiah 40:11

Yes.

ewe

We were in Herefordshire in 2007 when I was three months pregnant with Lily, staying on a farm with my parents. There was a ewe (number 9 I recall) who was particularly protective of her lambs. I understand that feeling now. And I understand her fear. Her need to be kept safe and to keep her precious family safe.

This evening I met for an assessment with a counsellor from the local Christian counselling service. They recognised my need for counselling and have put me on their list: hopefully a space will come up after the summer. Being listened to by someone who understands my background was very helpful. One of the things that came out of the discussion was the need to not only find positives (like this series of tools I’m working on), but also to carefully look at the painful things and mental habits I’ve got into which need addressing. This gentle shepherding promises to be a healing experience I think.

Depression Toolkit #21: Animals

We have two guinea pigs: Beatrix and Stripe. Both boars and both named by the children. They are remarkably manageable pets and a lot easier and more forgiving than the children. They make a number of different high-pitched noises and a few grumbly ones. As they are herbivores they do a wonderful job of keeping the grass short and finishing left over inner or outer parts of vegetables. Stripe is definitely the dominant one, exerting his alphahood by chattering teeth and shuffling on his hind legs and mounting Beatrix once in a while. Beatrix doesn’t like this, but they get along well enough otherwise. I have discovered that I like looking after animals and the daily routines. It makes me feel connected to nature and grounded.

Recently I discovered that they both had mites. I was disappointed for the sake of the guinea pigs, but also for myself as a task like fixing hurting cavies now requires a huge amount of Robinson Access Memory and can result in a frozen brain screen and needing to reboot.

So several mental Ctrl-Alt-Deletes later I realised that I already had anti-mite shampoo and needed to search the internet for advice on bathing them and scouring their hutch and cage. We have an outdoor hutch with a rain cover, a cage in the shed for wet days or ‘holidays’ and a run for the grass. I broke the job down and managed a bit each day. One day I bought the insect spray. Another I searched for bathing guinea pigs. Another I thoroughly cleaned and disinfected the cage. Today I finally cleaned out and treated the hutch, lining it with just newspaper, and sprayed all the tunnels/toys I intend to keep going forward. I also bathed the guinea pigs and clipped their claws for the first time, which was 96% successful and as our book says guinea pigs can’t die from cutting the blood supply I hope Stripe will forgive me.

Having bathed the boys, we noticed they started behaving differently. Stripe was still on top sociologically, but also literally for a huge percentage of the time. Joe thought this was hilarious. Lily reminded me that two boy guinea pigs can’t have babies so it’s a good thing Beatrix only has a girl’s name (where is she getting this from?)…

I separated them with a bit of cage, and when my husband got home he swiftly came to the conclusion that as they had had their first baths today, they probably couldn’t cope with each other’s smell until they got ‘reacquainted’. Every time we allowed them to mix Stripe was straight to the point, so tonight I am grateful that the hutch divides into an upstairs and a downstairs. Each has all they need and a honey stick to sweeten the deal, and they haven’t complained so far.

 

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I think Stripe (black with white stripe) is digesting the property pages while Beatrix (agouti?) chills on the ground floor (triple aspect). Hopefully by tomorrow they will be happy to be friends again.

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There is something calming about caring for animals, and with depression it is also overwhelmingly satisfying to manage new things like tackling mites and claw-clipping. I will have to keep a close eye on them and clean the hutch again, but I now know I can do it and that it is ok to pace myself.

I have wondered about other pets at times – fish sound interesting and not too hard. They are also very calming if all is going well. We can’t fit a cat or dog in our present property and do justice to them, but maybe in the future we could look into getting a larger pet. I searched online for which breed of dog would suit us best yesterday and every online quiz I tried suggested something different. I would love a tortoise if we could look after it well. And Lily has rather taken to a parakeet on youtube, but that is not going to happen.

Before we had animals we went to the zoo a lot and also other animal parks. Animals can be even more calming if they belong to someone else! Sitting and watching an animal is educational and takes your mind off your problems.

…ask the animals, and they will teach you…

Job 12:7

 

Depression Toolkit #20: Blessing others

I am learning to re-introduce this one gently.

I love helping others out, even when it drains me. Maybe it is a deep-grained sense of duty. I like to see things fixed. I want to weep with those who are weeping and laugh with those who are laughing.

So the end of term is providing the opportunity to find a wonderful gift for Lily’s teacher, who has done so well in her first year of teaching. I found just the thing on Notonthehighstreet.com, and will also print out home-made thank you cards with her picture on for her teacher and classroom assistants. I am limiting myself to Lily’s immediate helpers this term for my sanity.

Then there is the exciting prospect of a new nephew or niece soon, and coming up with something to bless my brother and his wife and family with.

My husband and I are attending a wedding soon. And we are visiting friends in Albania, so lots of potential for finding lovely ways to bless people. And there are birthdays, occasions and times to focus on others.

It’s not just gifts. I love the idea of the five love languages, and learning to bless others in different ways, such as:

  • words of affirmation
  • acts of service
  • receiving gifts
  • quality time
  • physical touch

Apart from the planning element of gifts or written words, which I have to pace (early preparation is key here), most of these can be managed in the moment, and are more true for it. So although I am not keeping up with every event or birthday, I am hoping to be more of a blessing to others and to focus more away from myself.

The Lord gives strength to his people;
    the Lord blesses his people with peace

Psalm 29:11

 

Depression Toolkit #19: Lists

This one sounded almost too easy when my neighbour suggested it to me a few weeks back. ‘Make a list’ she said. ‘Keep it simple’. I had not been making lists as I didn’t want to disappoint myself at how little I was doing, or make a list that included Make List.

In fact, the first day or two (and it wasn’t even every day), I just wrote the absolute basics:

  • Get kids up and fed
  • Lunch
  • Collect Lily from school

That sort of thing. I could manage all that, even if I didn’t eat all the right things at lunchtime.

So now things must be improving (yay!) because today I’m up to here:

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and this is huge progress for me, even though it isn’t as much as I’d like to be achieving. And yes, my handwriting is usually about that bad (especially when it’s only for me to read).

Every time I get most of a list achieved it is a big deal, where in the past it was a failure. I am already aware of quite a number of things which didn’t make the cut for today’s list, but I am plodding through the most important details of the coming weeks a step at a time. There is a lot to look forward to. Also I am very grateful that my energy is returning, having been knocked out by a tiring cold over the weekend – this reminds me that my mind, like my body, will go through a ‘getting better’ process and to try and see it happening and be pleased, even when the steps are tiny.

In time I am hoping to create a Bucket List:

bucketlist

There are some great ideas and a way to make a list digitally here. I think I am not in a place where I can dream dreams just yet. Most of my dreams involve things like running away to the Arctic Circle. But I will get better… and when I do some ideas will be realistic and and some crazy.

The corollary of making future lists is to mentally block past lists. At the moment all past lists until I am strong enough to sort them. So, no regret lists, no angry lists, no pity lists, no what-if lists, nothing. That is for God to deal with and in time I will work on areas I need to.

Record my misery;
    list my tears on your scroll –
    are they not in your record?

…By this I will know that God is for me.

…in God I trust and am not afraid.
    What can man do to me?

you have delivered me from death
    and my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before God
    in the light of life.

Psalm 56:8-13

Depression Toolkit #18: Writing

This morning, school: 2 hours, Joseph’s nursery induction. Tiny children. Painting. Skipping pages. Toys.

Lunch: quivering wreck. Couldn’t even feed myself or listen to Joseph. Half-noticed Frasier playing.

This afternoon, school: 1 hour, Lily’s first play. Heat. Picnic. Noise.

So grateful for help and for the opportunity to get away home by myself before I melt into a bundle of nerves. Last night I had a good idea for a book. Or was it yesterday?

Usually writing is my creative outlet, my scream against the night. Now my trembling fingers are sulking and my mind is ewdiufhwleuhfxn. This aches soooo much I just want it over. Please words. Why can my son watch a whole film now, but I cannot? What am I even so angry about? Will it be long before the next chocolate hit? Is school really so nerve-wracking? How can I have a cheerful conversation one minute and be rooted to the spot the next? Does it show? Should it? If I push the bubble too much, will it pop?

I suspect I am going to need to lie low this weekend and let God pick up all my broken pieces, and disturb my muse a little more. Last night I had a good idea for a book. Maybe I can make this happen. One word at a time.

Snoopy-writing

…I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed…

Luke 7:7

Depression Toolkit #16: Colour

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Beauty comes in many forms, and the colour around me these sunny summer days is startling. The tighter I withdraw myself from normal routines, the more detail I notice. The slower I go, the more I see and the more I trust. There are SO MANY colours in nature. I took some photos in our small garden and found a rainbowsworth in no time (click it for a larger version). I just want to drink it all in, to lean on the beauty and learn the colours. I never even saw them all before. The grace of it all. The sheer madness of abundance. And that’s just in the part of the light spectrum I can see.

Man-made beauty can also make me stop in awe. Sometimes all I need to jolt out of a depressive rut is a bright colour. Colour is powerful. My husband used to have a set of mugs at university which included a bright yellow one to cheer people up. I found it comforting, but when it broke we needed a replacement. Thankfully Lily decorated one with my mum as a Christmas present. It still cheers me up. We all need a cheer-up mug sometimes. I highly recommend it.

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I choose colours to wear according to how I am feeling on many occasions. And if the garden can be decorated with so many hues, it is probably ok for me to wear red sometimes. Or blue. Or green. Maybe you want to wear colours according to your mood. To be able to send a message that you just need a blue jeans and neutral top day. Or a bright orange day. Or a shocking purple day. To be seen. To know that what’s inside has a colour and to feel ok to express that.

…he views the ends of the earth
    and sees everything under the heavens

Job 28:24

Depression Toolkit #12: Water

There is nothing quite like a nice morning bath. Or a glass of cold icy water on a hot day. Or a dive into an empty swimming pool.

swimmingpool_large_imgWow.

Water is life-giving, refreshing and soul-calming. No wonder so many people have water features in the garden. Today, after much insistence from Lily I faced my fear of going to a crowded park on a hot, sunny Saturday and managed to do enough of my share of parenting. One of the lovely features of Holywells Park is the water spray area, which is open between May and September. Children and teenagers run between the jets and arches as they turn off and on intermittently, giggling and filling bottles to squeeze on to each other. Huge fun and a wonderful part of summer. Lily was reluctant, but eventually paddled in the area, shrieking with excitement at the sudden parabolic jokes and wobbly bursts of fun. Joseph was far less keen and wouldn’t go near.

Sometimes I feel like that too. Reluctant to go near the water, afraid that getting wet might hurt or make me look silly. In fact, the best fun is to be had getting in to life and living it.

I know that the park trip has cost me, but I am not going to stop living and I am adapting so that I can take further steps. I prepared by making sure we had (almost everything) we needed – with help from my husband, and took a camera and a magazine to help me when I was frightened. Now to stay indoors this evening and bury myself with television, ice cream and books until I can face more activity.

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As a deer longs for streams of water,
so I long for you, O God!

Psalm 42:1 New English Translation

Depression Toolkit #6: Music

Lily came in to see me late this morning while I was still in bed, and cheered me up by dancing in her own unique way to music on the radio. I think it was Radio 1.

Music can certainly help. Having a child interpret the music by circling with floaty arms and closed eyes adds humour which can lift me too.

In the past I learnt to play a number of instruments, but none particularly competently. I got grade 4 piano when I was quite young, but needed to stop learning as it was stressful racing through grades and not something I could enjoy. Later I learned a couple of brass instruments briefly at high school before settling on percussion and drums. I enjoyed the drums and it was helpful for me in the past to be able to release my mood through music when I felt rough. I also took saxophone lessons for a couple of years when the children were tiny which was very satisfying, but didn’t get further than around grade 4.

Recently a church family lent us a digital piano so that I can practise and also see whether the children are going to want to learn. Then another church friend (a near neighbour) gave me lots of basic sheet music. It has helped me to find tunes I can play, even with two hands and chords. I am doing exercises when I feel like it and learning things most days. The children are taking an interest and perhaps in the future will want to learn music when they are ready.

I also like listening to classical music and usually find Radio 3 comforting, although when my mood changes I will try any station. And in the car I put on CDs a lot, especially Christian music for speaking truth and love into whatever situation I’m in. Some friends from university, Nick and Becky Drake, have produced some excellent family-friendly albums, and we also like Steven Curtis Chapman, TobyMac, The Rend Collective and many others. If you get as excited about Lego as I do and know TobyMac’s work you may find the following amusing (see 2:20 onwards especially).

This last few days has been particularly heavy. I did not make it out to the church weekend at all in the end. Just way too anxious. I am resisting the anger and guilt that are knocking on my door. Today I could not go out with the family. I know the medication is affecting me a lot and that this is temporary. I also understand that there will be an end to the anxiety and depression, which is spurring me to keep looking forward.

Saul, first king of Israel, suffered with depression. Interestingly, when David played music it calmed him (usually). There is a passage about this:

“And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him.”

1 Samuel 16:23, English Standard Version

The translation of ruwach-ra’a as ‘harmful spirit’ in this translation sits more neatly in my theology of God as one who loves, but also disciplines and has the power to harm. More interesting thoughts about this passage can be found here.

On the guilt edge

I am not too happy about being depressed.

I took advantage of the glorious weather on Friday to attend a huge teddy bears’ picnic in the park (the event was huge; the teddies were generally teddy-sized). Many people who were there were known to me, including Lily’s class and friends from a number of circles. It felt good to be among people and to chat.

And then, wow.

It knocked me out emotionally all of the rest of Friday, Saturday, Sunday and half of Monday.

What was confusing was that I could function generally pretty well in my usual way. I just needed an inordinate amount of time and space to recover. Mostly I have been watching Frasier, season 5. Just the thing for knocking the edge off the blues. Eric Morecambe did the same for me when I was depressed at age 18. Annoyingly, I have already reached the point of finding the humour more irritating than funny. I may need to search online for the funniest episodes: Frasier is the only programme I own the entire output for and I know there is some genius writing in there.

When I was 18 I learnt to offset my self-centred depressiveness by serving and caring for others. By finding new purpose and God’s grace in being able to see him at work beyond my normal sphere. I had three amazing weeks in Bosnia and Croatia that summer and came back ready to move forward. This time around things have to be different; I’m not an ambitious teenager with high hopes and no one else to worry about. Ironically I have more plans to visit the Balkans this summer (Albania), but this time with my husband and children. I have also been learning that with God at the centre of all I do, my husband my next priority and my children after that, I cannot do any more or spread myself any thinner until I am recovered.

I am a Doer, so learning to just Be is a hard lesson for me – I know, I spent a lot of 2012 wondering what that may mean, but not achieving it. This season will be a lesson for me in Being, and in also learning not to feel utterly guilty about all those things I might have Done should I not have had to pause.

Do be patient with me. I care enormously – part of the reason I am where I am. But I cannot always help or serve others beyond the four of us just yet. I need more of God working in my life and healing and restoring me. I am determined to recover and I don’t know how long the journey will be. I will not be doing this in my own strength however; I need to get closer to God and listen to what is on his heart. And I might need some help along the way tuning in to what he’s saying on some days.

Until then, I don’t know what to do with these tossed salads and scrambled eggs.