Balancing Gratitude Amidst Grief

It was my daughter’s 4th birthday the other day. I still can’t believe it, she’s already 4!

My baby, who was born what seems like maybe a month ago, has been with us for four years! It was a rough start when I was pregnant with her – coming off of a miscarriage, and losing two more babies within a couple of months. Her whole beginning was a roller-coastery up and down of hormones and emotions.

But it all worked out. She’s here. And she’s awesome.

Her crazy loud cry has been causing long-term damage to my eardrums since the day she was born and she’s been saying, “NO” without explanation basically since birth. But, she’s still snuggly and giggly and tiny enough to carry around on the side of my hip. She’s learned how to smooth over any ill effects her loud cry or her loud NO might impart with a silly face, an infectious giggle, and a coy little bat of the eye. She is a fiercely strong person, independent and mighty, but who still looks up to her mama so much that when asked what animal her patronus would be (she loves Harry Potter and got a wand for her birthday) she replies, “you, Mama!” In case you weren’t aware, the patronus is the animal spirit that protects you. So, it makes sense that it’d be me.

Because she’s only 4.

Before her birthday party, we went to church. The girls took communion and after the liturgy the Greek school students were awarded their end-of-year certificates. It was a proud moment for our oldest, who has been doing her best to learn Greek language and Greek culture, even though she is only exposed to bits and pieces in her mixed-heritage home.

She’s almost 6.

Everyone was at church on that day, but not to watch her get her certificate. Our family had another reason to be there. A forty-day memorial for our cousin who died. Way too young. Suicide. My husband’s cousin’s baby who had a wide smile, an infectious personality, and a giving nature. I don’t know what animal his patronus would be because I never got around to asking him. Even if I had asked him, I probably wouldn’t have gotten a serious answer, it would’ve been just be for fun.

Because he was 23.

It’s chilling to realize that parenting doesn’t get easier with time, it gets harder. Sure, we get to sleep in a little longer on the weekends as they get older, but like my friend Jane always says, “little kids, little problems . . . big kids, big problems” meaning the hectic minute by minute demands that make raising small children so profoundly difficult is nothing compared to the less frequent but more intense issues that arise with parenting older children.

It doesn’t always work out. It isn’t always awesome.

Her birthday felt surreal. In the morning, I was rocking my baby while the church choir sang a beautifully haunting, “Memory Eternal” for our cousin. I held her in my arms and inhaled her cinnamon-scented head, clutching her to my body and etching her skin with my fingertips as if this were the last time I would ever touch her.

Because you really never know.

Our little family of four found time to celebrate as a small unit, a few moments amidst the chaos that was celebrating with extended family. We sang, “Today is Your Birthday” by the Beatles. We bounced together – just the four of us – in the rented bounce house, and we cheersed with plastic forks as the four of us ate the leftover cake straight from the platter before bed.

That same day as 40 days since death.

Throughout the day our family laughed and we cried. We passed around bracelets with our cousin’s name etched in the band, a memorial we could wear. We sang to my daughter before she blew out her candles – a tribute we could hear. We celebrated together, we mourned together, back and forth so many times it felt more like a lifetime than a 24-hour day.

The minutes pass and the moments are counted from birth until forever. There is no end date to parenting. There is no greater joy, there can be no greater grief.

They’re always our babies, no matter what.

She Found Herself

She found herself unable to breathe. It had been building up for awhile but today if felt tighter. Quite uncomfortable. It was more than uncomfortable, really, she felt stifled. Sweaty. Claustrophobic. She began to unbutton. It was a slow process because the buttons were tightly secured and they barely fit through the buttonholes. It took a considerable amount of effort to free each one and, just part way through, her fingertips were on fire.

There were so many buttons.

And this was after the zippers and the snaps and the knotted straps.

After winning the battle against the knots, the snaps, the zippers, and the buttons, she was looking forward to ripping off her insecurities once and for all and tossing them aside.

She thought she had finished with the hard part so she brusquely ripped off the last of it. Her eyebrows pulled together and she gasped in surprise when instead of feeling a heavy weight released, she instead felt a weighty jolt and searing pain. She ended up with bleeding wounds in several places from the parts that had been smashed against her being for so long that they had grown into her skin.

Eventually, she was able to throw it off and it landed in a wrinkled heap on the floor.

She found herself almost feeling sorry for it in it’s wretched state, all crumpled up on the floor. She had, after all, held it so close to her – treated it so tenderly – for so long. She looked at it for a long while trying to figure out why she had been so drawn to it in the first place. It was not attractive. It was less than attractive, it was hideous.

She found herself wondering why she didn’t realize how repulsive it was until now.

She left it there in a continued undressing. She slowly peeled off layer after layer of self doubt. She had learned her lesson and instead of jerking and ripping she worked slowly, gently. Sometimes she had to stop for awhile and come back to it. She kept at it, and after she was done she tackled the removal of her cloak of jealousy and her heavy chains of despair. Piece by piece, she undressed.

She didn’t realize how fatiguing all of her costumes had been until she found herself bare. She stood up straight and stretched out her spine.

She wrapped herself up in a coat of self worth. It was fuzzy and cozy and large enough to tuck around her thick thighs and pull up under her pockmarked chin. She slid on a headband of grace and a draped herself with a necklace of humor.

She looked at herself in the mirror and was startled by her reflection. She was not accustomed to seeing herself  in such garments. She questioned whether or not they suited her and what others might think about her distinctive change of attire until she reminded herself that she did, in fact, deserve to be comfortable in her own skin. Happy, even.

She pulled her shoulders back, stood up straight. She found herself automatically starting to put on a smile, until she remembered that she didn’t have to. That a fake smile was another costume she could leave behind if she wanted. She felt adequate without one at that moment, so she let her lips drop to a relaxed horizontal position.

She found herself skipping that one-last-look-in-the-mirror she was so used to taking. She just walked away content.

 

I’m Parenting Young Children and THIS is Exactly What I Was Afraid of.

Some people know they want kids and they’ve always known they’ve wanted kids since before they could remember. Not all of us are like that. Some of us were scared shitless about what becoming parents would entail.

SHITLESS, some of us were. I’m talking colon-cleansing-from-the-stomach-flu fear of the unknown. Because the only “known” we had before kids was listening to parents complain. And hey, that’s fine, I get it! I complain too. It’s cathartic. Parenting is hard. And the complaints are legit.

But to a scared shitless non-parent who isn’t sure if they’re up for procreating, those complaints can reverberate off our skulls and pile on top of our shoulders like an avalanche of doubt and anxiety and make us second guess whether or not it’s worth it.

Which is a shame, really. Because if you’re second guessing whether or you’ll be able to manage a daunting task like parenting, it very likely means that you will be great at it. Or at the very least not be too horrible. Which in the parenting world is basically the same thing.

Here is a small sampling of some of the things I was afraid of before having kids.

THE TANTRUMS

My youngest came out of the womb in the midst of a tantrum. Even the postnatal nurse raised her eyebrows when she heard her scream as I held her, rocked her, fed her. She handed me a few extra bottles of “sensitive” formula without me asking. Over the past four years, her tantrums have slowly and steadily subsided. She is now of the age that she can have a conversation about at tantrum after one occurs. Here’s one example of a recent one we had:

“Do you know why I let you watch a movie on the way to daycare today?”

“No.”

“Because the last couple of days you’ve been a very good listener and you’ve been acting like a big girl – no whining or screaming. You’ve been using your words.”

“What else?” she asks me.

“What else did I notice about you?”

“Yeah.” She nods and smiles. She’s used to me listing some of her strengths that I see.

“I notice that you’re strong and you can do hard things and you’re a reader and a nice sister and a nice daughter and a nice friend.”

“And a nice cat and a nice dog. BAHAHAHAHAHA!” she cracks herself up.

“And you’re funny,” I add.

“I’m hilarious.” She retorts.

“What does hilarious mean?” She wants to double check she’s used the word correctly.

I distinctly remember that only ONE person I know told me before I had kids that children are funny. ONE!!! And I remember being surprised since all I had heard up to that point were complaints. All I heard about was the tantrums. Never the conversations after. My kids make me laugh a thousand times a day.

THE TIME COMMITMENT

Before I had children, when I’d hear someone talk about the practices or the games they had to take their kids to, I’d cringe inside. When they told me they couldn’t attend a fun weekend excursion, I’d feel so sorry for them. UGH. What a pain in the ass! I worried about a time when I would be forced to sit on the sidelines, bored out of my mind, wishing I was somewhere more exciting.

But then I took my child to her first swim class. I watched her stick her tongue out in concentration every time she pulled with her arms. I watched her creep along the side of the pool, her shoulders shaking a bit out of fear, as she practiced crab walking along the edge. I watched her look at me, her mouth involuntarily turn down and I watched her hold back tears as she worked on floating on her back. She was afraid and she let it show for a minute. I watched her smile after she was done as she smacked a high five into her teacher’s palm.

I sat there enthralled, cheering her every step of the way, giving her a smile every time she looked in my direction. I watched her succeed and I felt victorious. It felt as if I had accomplished a great feat myself. Except watching her achieve felt even better.

THE BOREDOM

When I didn’t have kids and I looked at what parents were doing . . . it looked really boring. They weren’t traveling the world, they weren’t taking salsa dancing or art classes for fun, they weren’t going out all night chatting with friends.

They seemed kind of lame.

Before having kids, I was afraid of being bored. I didn’t realize that having kids meant never being bored again. I didn’t know that when we drove down the street my child would say things like:

“Moon. Moon. Moonie. Where are you?! Mom, where’s the moon! Oh! There it is! It’s following us! Mom, it’s following us! Mom – I want to eat the moon. I want to eat it. Mumm Mummm Mummmm Mum Mum! The moon is in my belly. HAHAHAHA!!! Mom. Can we really eat the moon? I really want to eat it.”

No one warned me that I’d ALWAYS BE LOOKING AT THE MOON. And that it is really beautiful. Always. Some days it’s skinny, some days it’s plump. Waxing, waning – doesn’t matter. Always beautiful. And it’s not just the moon. It’s the stars and the trees and the rainbow tinged bubbles that are blown out of wands. These conversations happen about every possible topic that exists.

No one warned me that I’d notice everything in the entire world, all around me, from a fresh pair of eyes.

THE MESSY DIAPERS AND THE CHANGING OF PEE-SOAKED SHEETS

Even though I tell my kids to stay in their beds because they, and I – need to get good night’s sleep – I also secretly love the nights when one decides to come up to the side of my bed and tap me on the shoulder to wake me up so I can lift them onto the mattress and put my arm around their belly and rest my head above their chin, sniffing their cinnamon-scented head.

Even when it’s at 4 am and they don’t stop tossing and turning until 5 minutes before my alarm goes off.

Even if it’s because they peed through their pajamas and onto the sheets. Even if I need to help clean up, re-dress, reassure that it’s okay, and then set the washer to cleanse on high.

Changing and cleaning, when it comes to them, just means taking care of them. Is nurturing. Is so, so, SO much different than cleaning or washing my house, or my things, or sort of mess my husband makes. When it comes to my children, cleaning a shit-filled diaper is less gross than it is concerning. Does it look like she’s hydrated enough? Is it happening often enough? How long has she been sitting in this? Do I need to change her more often? Do I need to apply A&D – is she red? Is she uncomfortable?

No one warned me that when it came to my children, changing and cleaning would not be chores – they’d be me not hesitating for one moment when it comes to these tasks because I’d be making sure my children were safe and healthy and clean.

That said, I still remind my toddler not to pee on me when she’s sitting on my lap. Because being soaked in pee after your child knows better is really, really gross.

I’m still a bit afraid of the unknown. Of the big kid problems that I know loom around the corner.The teenage years. The asshole friends. I already wake up a 3 am in the middle of the night and worry about a time, 15 years from now, when my girls are college freshmen walking around a dark campus at night. I fret over things that scare me to death. The difference between now and before I had kids is that I know all of the fears and worries are worth it. A million times over.

Inside Out and Blue and Yellow and Blue and Yellow

One of my favorite kid movies is Inside Out. The personification of the emotions in Riley’s head are adorable and – even though completely physiologically inaccurate – they are so realistically portrayed. My favorite part of the movie is when Joy figures out that Riley doesn’t just need HER, she needs Fear and Anger and Disgust and especially Sadness . . . it’s so, SO well done. If you haven’t watched it, you should. No matter how old you are. I love the image of the first core memory that is a mixture of Joy and Sadness – a swirl of yellow and blue.

Tomorrow I’m going to a student’s funeral. A boy who had sandy blonde hair and a toothpaste commercial smile – when he could manage to flash it. A boy who had intelligence and a caring nature that went above and beyond what a typical teenager possesses. A boy who had depression and his own demons he was fighting.

Depression is such a bitch.

It was a joy to watch him, to teach him, to know him.

Blue.

Yellow.

Blue.

Yellow.

The funeral is on my mind when I put my kids to bed tonight, and my heart feels a little heavier than usual. When I go into their room I feel down until they say things like, “Can you give us one more huggie and kissie?” and they ask it more than once. I oblige every time.

Yellow.

Yellow.

My youngest daughter looks at me and smiles when I tuck her in says, “I’m going to dream about princesses!” And I hope she does dream about princesses. I sort of hate princesses, but that’s beside the point – I just want her to dream of something that makes her happy.

Yellow.

They’re so young. Their little internal emotional dashboards are still so simple. So joyous, much of the time. So many yellow core memories. Right now, parenting is exhausting and brutal but exhilarating and rewarding. It’s hard in some ways but so easy in others.

It scares me, a little – a lot, actually – for when their emotions get more complex. For their memories that are all swirls of blue mixed in with yellow. For memories that don’t have any yellow.

Blue.

I know it has to happen. I know their Sadness is important. Logically.

Emotionally, it’s harder.

And the thought of something more than Sadness. More than blue – for my kids – it’s terrifying.

So many of us deal with depression. It’s in my genes and maybe in my kid’s. I don’t know what color true depression would show up as in Inside Out, but I know for sure that it is not the same blue that sadness is. I’m pretty sure it isn’t even a shade of blue at all.

I’m just about positive that losing a child isn’t a color. It’s a gouge in the orb.

I’m trying to take my cues from Joy. I’m trying to humble myself and acknowledge the fact that Joy doesn’t exist in a vacuum. That the rest of the shit that exists is necessary. Is useful.

It is, right? It is.

Blue.

Blue.

Blue.

I’m sure it is. Logically. Emotionally – it’s harder to wrap my brain around.

When Birthing and Dying, Discomfort Prepares Us

I distinctly remember a certain point when I was no longer fearful of childbirth. Before getting pregnant, the thought of giving birth was a little scary. More than a little scary, really. It terrified and disgusted me in equal parts. I worried about the leaking and the tearing and the pain. When I eventually got pregnant, I wasn’t as disgusted, but I was still a bit afraid of the unknown.

But somewhere in that third trimester, things began to shift. Maybe it was the separation of my pelvic joint or the stabbing feeling I got every time I sneezed that brought me to my knees, or maybe it was the pee that ran down my leg while I was gasping for breath after that sneeze. It could have been my organs getting crushed inside of me, or perhaps it was my sore tailbone or the fact that my blood pressure got lower instead of higher like my doctor predicted, so instead of worrying about preeclampsia, like I was prepared for, I worried about blood pressure (and blood flow to the baby) that was too low.

Pregnancy does weird, unpredictable things to the body.

My point is, before that baby came, I was ready. My anxieties and fears were cast aside because of how uncomfortable I became near the end and all I cared about was GETTING THIS BABY OUT OF ME. I guess it’s probably the same when you’re the one coming into the world. Your arms squashed into your sides and your head is pressing against a hard place. You’re ready to get the eff outta Dodge.

I think it might be similar when you’re dying. So uncomfortable that you’re ready to move on to whatever the hell might be next.

My grandma is dying, as we speak. Not in the vague existential way that we all are, but at this very moment, her body is shutting down and letting go. She’s got a few days left, at most.

She’s been ready for awhile. Maybe it was the loss of her husband or the loss of her independence or the loss of her ability to use her hands, and then her legs.

She was able to make the choice to prolong her life by going through a risky surgery or opting out of the surgery and saying goodbye. She didn’t hesitate. When told she would not be going back to the nursing home she’s been in for the past year or so her response was an immediate, “Good.”

She’s been uncomfortable for a long, long time. The thing about pregnancy is you know an approximate end date. Not so much with dying.

Near the end, she watched her husband of 50+ years forget who he was. She watched him shrink down to a fraction of himself and eventually dissolve into dust. She quickly grew weaker and weaker, her head, her heart, her body. Her spirit grew thin as her body grew stiff and tremorous and unreliable. She transformed from an active, social woman to a bed-ridden depressive to a wheelchair-bound hermit within a matter of months.

Growing old does weird, unpredictable things to the body.

She had to be removed from her home and she removed herself emotionally from most of her friends and her family. She was weary. She was so very depressed. She was not her best self. She created more than a bit of discomfort to some of those around her.

She was done.

Is that how it always is? The discomfort? The GET ME OUT OF HERE?

Perhaps.

Maybe it’s the discomfort that gets us all ready. To come in, and to leave.

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Yiayia and Her Love-and-Feta-Stuffed Cheese Pita

My mother-in-law is amazing. I hit the jackpot with this lady and I know it. As her daughter-in-law, I reap all the benefits of her being my mother – she babysits my children (all the time), she has us over for dinner (weekly) and she sends over plates of her leftover homemade Greek food (every other daily) – plus I have the added bonus of not having any of that inevitable mother-daughter emotional baggage since she didn’t have to raise me during my early teenage years. She’s adores her grandchildren and she doles out lavish amounts of love and an even more generous quantity of chocolate chip cookies. She is a master in the kitchen and right now just thinking about her food is making my mouth water.

Today she taught my youngest how to make homemade phyllo dough. She put together the dough, took out a small handful and opened it up on the counter using a thin wooden dowel.

She rolled the dough out into papery sheets and then used a paint brush to swipe on melted butter before adding a cheese filling and rolling it up, turning the phyllo into a rose shaped cheese pie.

My daughter stood on a chair pushed up to the counter and watched her yiayia attentively. She doesn’t usually stand still, but when she watches her grandmother cook, she hardly moves a muscle, her eyes stay fixed on Yiayia, other than when she briefly glances at me, standing right beside her, to share her excitement with a smile. She helps Yiayia mix the cheese filling. Yiayia shows her how to roll out the dough.

After a tutorial, Yiayia hands over the paint brush and lets her add the butter to the phyllo sheet she has just rolled out.

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As I watch these moments my children get to experience with their yiayia, I am thrilled for them. I will them to remember every bit of love she dispenses, every word of Greek she utters, every cooking tip she bestows. Their yiayia gives them so much that no one else can offer – not even their own mother. Her love looks different than mine does. Her language is different than mine is. Her food is so much better than mine will ever be.

As I devoured my portion of the cheese pie I tried to savor each bite. There was no way I could make myself eat more slowly, but I tried to be as present as I could be while I enjoyed my dish. As I ate, I reminded myself that Yiayia’s cooking, just like Yiayia’s love, won’t be around forever. I try to think up ways to preserve her memories and preserve her recipes, but I know that no matter what I do, I will never be able to recreate this day, or this dish.

The SECRET REASON I’ve been a half-assed blogger all of these years.

I can’t even believe this is true, but I’ve been blogging for 6 years now. SIX!

I realize this type of statement is the kind of things people (like me) start to say at a certain age when time suddenly starts flying by at record speed and they can’t believe the cashier at the register didn’t even card them when they bought wine and, even worse, they not only didn’t card them but quickly hit the “Recognized Over 40” button.

Other statements people like me (okay, okay, ME) say at this stage in life are, “I mean, I don’t fit into a bikini by any stretch of the imagination, but eh, things could be worse.” and “Oh my god, I have to work with the NEW person? The whippersnapper fresh out of college? Jesus, I’m not sure I have the patience for this” and “I’d go with you, but I’m not sure if my hip will hold up.”

Everyone else on the planet hears those statements and nods their heads and rolls their eyes and says, “yes, yes, all of this is expected, why are you blathering on about it?” and I know this because I’ve done it a million times myself – but for some reason when it’s ME, I just can’t help it. The words just unexpectedly come out of my mouth as fast and as furious as a bout of food poisoning – a regurgitated cliche.

I knew I’d get older, of course, but I didn’t realize that I’d never actually FEEL older. (Which is why older adults act just as petty and ridiculous as the whippersnappers straight out of college, or even the kindergarteners straight out of pre-school, but that’s an issue to take up in another post). It’s alarming, really, to look around at all the white-haired people around me and realize how much talent and insight and wisdom I had previously not noticed or ignored.

I’m sorry, I haven’t blogged in like 5 months and all of sudden I can’t stop talking to you. I digress.

I have always enjoyed writing and thought of myself as a writer, however, right before embarking on this blogging adventure it hit me that I hadn’t written at all since college – which meant 11 years of non-existent writing. Writers don’t like it when they realize they haven’t been writing, just like old people don’t like it when they realize they’ve wasted a lot of precious time.

I desperately needed to practice writing. And not just because of my age. But because of My Secret.

When I started this blog, I knew nothing about blogging. I didn’t read even read other people’s blogs. I started blogging because I needed to practice my writing and I needed a place to put it and because of my age I needed it NOW.  One of my friends started a blog and I thought, “Oh, there’s a place I could keep my writing all in one spot. On the internet! Sure, why not? I hear there is a lot of room there.” (She’s become a rich and famous blogger lady by the way, and here I am writing my first post in months.)

But, little did I know when I started that having this spot was paramount to keep me interested and invigorated and most importantly – WRITING. At first, I had no clue what to write about so I started writing about my horrific sleep and my insane dreams because those were a constant in my life – but it wasn’t long before I started writing whatever else came to my mind – and I was shocked to discover how cathartic writing about my issues with infertility, anxiety and depression were. I was shocked to learn that I really loved writing poetry. I was shocked to learn that people other than my mother started reading what I wrote.

I was even more shocked when writing about parenting gave rise to being published on Huffington Post, Working Mother, For Every Mom, Faith It, Motherly, Mumsnet, Parenting.com, YourTango, and actually being paid to write for Bottles and Heels, Sivana Spirit and Kids Safety Network.

But all of that was just a bonus.

The real prize was that I was making progress on My Secret.

Okay, okay, okay – WHAT SECRET? I can hear you yelling this from your computer.

I was secretly working on a project to preserve the life stories of my in-laws. They were in on the secret, but the rest of my husband’s family didn’t know. My inlaws didn’t at all live a life that I can relate to – they grew up as goat herders who lived at the top of a remote mountain in Greece – yet they themselves are so relatable.

And they are getting older.

There was no way I was going to let my children grow up without knowing who their grandparents were.

So, I started writing down their stories. I listened to all of their amazing memories and typed my heart out. Along the way, I was loved and my kids were being loved and we were all constantly FED. YOU GUYS HOW WE HAVE BEEN FED! So, I wrote and wrote and I ate and I wrote and edited and edited and screamed and cursed and gave up for awhile and started again and I ate again and gave up again and started again and eventually I FINISHED.

 

I wrote all of the stories they could tell me about their lives from birth until their arranged marriage in their early twenties and it turned into a book. Through it all, I wrote about the process of getting those stories, which was not always easy, I tell ya!

And I finished in time for them to read it. To enjoy it. To hopefully read it with their grandchildren someday. And I am so grateful for that.

So, now that you know why I’ve been here all this time, you can understand why I only had time, energy, and desire to post sporadically and why I am at a bit of a crossroads now that the book is finished. I’ve valued this blogging experience so much that I’ll probably keep doing it though.

So the secret is out – I’m excited I can share their stories with you soon, too, because it’s on its way to being self-published.

If you’ve liked what you’ve read here, or if you know what it’s like to have a parent or a grandparent who came from the Old Country, or who just lived a whole different life compared to one you have, I think you will be able to relate to what I’ve written about preserving their stories, or watching them impart their take on life on me and my kids or maybe even having a hard time understanding what the hell it is they are talking about because I can in no way relate to their experiences. Other than the human experiences of family and giving and love.

Also, if you love food. Because I’ve included a lot of her recipes.

Post to come soon with an excerpt and a link to where it can be purchased.

 

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Have a Loved One Who is Struggling With Depression? Here Are The 5 Ways to Best Support Them.

September is Suicide Awareness Month.

September is a designated time for us to share stories, resources, and awareness. Over 40,000 people a year in the U.S. die from suicide. That is a horrifically high number. I don’t know how many others suffer from depression and anxiety and grief as a result of those losses, but it seems like it must be astronomical.

Here are a few things I’ve learned that I think are worth passing on this September.

1. Be Nice. This may sound overly simplistic, but it couldn’t be more important and a lot of times it couldn’t be more difficult. For me, a red flag that I’m sinking into a depressive state is my irritability. I snap at people and I say rude things – things I don’t even mean. As a result, I piss off people around me and I end up feeling horrible – sinking me even further into the hole sliding into. It’s strange because I don’t even notice I’ve sunk that low until I find myself repeatedly acting like an asshole. Instead of yelling back every time or screaming, “WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?” like you probably want to, a gently phrased, “Are you feeling okay? You don’t usually snap at me so much.” could go a long way. So could a touch on the arm or a neck massage. Emotions are strange – and depression lies and makes you forget that you were ever capable of feeling well – so you just might help your loved one realize that what they are feeling and how they are acting isn’t typical for them.

2. Take something off of their plate. A common symptom of depression is extreme exhaustion. Offering help with even the simplest of tasks (washing dishes, picking up something from the store, making a freezer meal) can help your loved one feel like they can handle life a little better. Forget the phrase, “Let me know if I can do anything.” Instead, ask if there is anything you can help with at a specific date and time, or offer up 1 or 2 options of specific help that you know you could provide.

3. Ask them if they have self-harming thoughts. Not everyone who has self-harming thoughts, or even suicidal thoughts, is at that moment actually contemplating suicide. However, it does give a huge heads up that professional help is needed. Most people don’t offer up to others that they are having self-harming thoughts and most loved ones don’t think to ask. Even though it can make us uncomfortable – THIS IS THE QUESTION WE NEED TO ASK. If they are having those kinds of thoughts – tell them they NEED to make an appointment. With ANYONE. Depression lies and tells us that everyone probably has these thoughts even though this is not the case. A general practitioner is a great place to start if your loved one isn’t already seeing someone. Tell them to use you as an excuse for making the appointment. You aren’t expected to help them figure this out on your own – but you can refer them to a professional who can.

4. Share your own struggles. You might not have experience with anxiety or depression or other mental health troubles, but if you have battled – let them know. Sharing your own experiences lets them know that it’s okay to not feel okay. It opens up the opportunity for your loved one to speak about struggles that are often hidden inside because they of the stigma that surrounds those topics. It will help them feel not so alone. Be mindful not to tell them what will work for them – because what each person needs is different.

5. Take care of yourself. If the person you are supporting is very close to your inner circle, you need to be mindful of compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is when the physical and emotional toll it takes to support a loved one starts to affect your own health. It’s important to be supportive, but you cannot do that well without taking care of yourself. Do not feel guilty about taking care of yourself. I don’t know who made up the phrase, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” but it’s dead on. Remember that you are not responsible for “fixing” your loved one’s depression.

If you have been affected by the suicide of a loved one, know that it is not your fault. We can only do what we can do, and as much as we would like to think we can control the actions of those around us, the reality is we cannot do more than offer the support we are capable of offering.

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.

This is How Behavior Charts Will Always Be Implemented in Our House

My daughter is an age where she is developing new skills at a rapid pace. She is putting pieces together she would have missed before. She is figuring out how to do things, which inspires her to figure out more. It’s wonderful to watch, and even better to be a part of. She’s young enough to include me in her process and her celebrations. In many ways, it’s like we’re doing all of these great things together.

This age she’s in is full of moments that make is easy to be a mom. More than easy, really. I’m so lucky to be a part of it all I can’t help but smother her with kisses and squeeze her in my arms as much as possible. I praise her effort, her persistance, and her achievements. I burst with excitement and gratitude and positive energy.

At this same age, my daughter is also pushing her boundaries further than ever. Boundaries I created. She is testing the limits around her. Limits that I put into place. She is asserting herself as her own person, making sure her voice is heard. When I’m not marveling over something amazing that she’s telling me, I’m listening to her shouting out, “NO!” in my direction. LOUDLY.

This age she’s in is full of moments that make it seem impossible to be a good mom. I try to hold it together because I’m supposed to be the adult here, but sometimes I really suck at adulting. Sometimes I explode with frustration and anger and monstrous meanness.

It seems to me that I am bombarding my daughter with an outpouring of emotion on a regular basis but exactly which type of emotion it is varies depending on the moment. During the good times, everything is laughter and tenderness. During the bad times, everything is chaos and crisis.

A few weeks ago, my daughter and I had our roughest week together – ever. She was whining and crying and no-ing left and right. I was turning red and yelling in response. We both cried a lot. I took away her sandals as a punishment one day after she threw them at my head. It was an ugly week for both of us.

I knew I had to help her turn her bad behaviors around, but I felt a bit like a hypocrite after exhibiting some frightful actions myself. So, when she told me I was acting ugly and stupid I didn’t correct her – I told her she was right. I asked if she was willing to make an agreement with me – to work on listening and acting nicer.

Each day if she acted nicely she’d get a smiley face and once she earned five smiley faces she’d get her sandals back. Since I also needed to listen and be nicer, I explained that I had to follow the same rules she did. I’d “grade” her each night and she’d “grade” me using a sad or happy face system. She told me that if I got a sad face I’d have to lose a shoe. I agreed. She demanded that she get to pick out which shoe. I agreed again.

She seemed pretty happy about our arrangement and we shook on it. For the first time all week it seemed, we hugged and left each other full of smiles, tender touches and all the feely-good feels.

Our system worked. She didn’t say no to every request I asked of her. I worked on speaking calmly and kindly. If I ever started to raise my voice, she’d remind me of our agreement.

“Mom, I think you might lose a shoe today.”

“No way. Not today, babe!” I’d reply as I held up my hand for a high five.

By the end of the five days, she earned her sandals back and I kept all of my shoes. We celebrated with ice cream.

So far, our nicer habits have continued without continuing our charting. Here’s hoping they stay that way for awhile – and if either of us need some smiley’s to promote positive behavior – the other will be there to go along for the ride.

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