Sunday, September 28, 2008

Service With a Smile

First off, I want to mention that the removed comment was simply a duplicate comment. I won't ever delete any one's valuable insight! Thank you all so much for your comments. I must confess that I was feeling a little discouraged earlier in the week and you each said something that was very useful and/or encouraging to me. Thank you so much. I feel so blessed to be in my shoes.
I want to share the circumstances behind today's topic.

As I previously mentioned, I felt like was directed to begin this blog. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While I have no intention of pushing my beliefs onto anyone of you, I will refer to its teachings and principles frequently. It is ingrained in every fiber of who I am and the life I live, so I cannot impart my experiences and musings without including pieces of my faith. But I pray that no one will be offended and that you will take away whatever good you find in it. Okay. So, a huge part of what I believe is "personal revelation", or that God will direct our lives in as much as we let Him. He does it through promptings and by placing thoughts in our minds to inspire us. That is how this blog came to be. I am a fairly open person, but all of this puts even me outside of my comfort zone.

Well, I was feeling frustrated last week because the blog wasn't going exactly as I expected and I was feeling a little lost and discouraged. As I prayed for direction, I kept feeling like I just needed to wait until Saturday night. Twice a year we are blessed to hear from the leaders of our church. They speak in Salt Lake City, Utah and it is broadcast all over the world. There is one meeting that is specifically for the women. That was last night. We listened to the three women who are leaders of the Relief Society--a huge organization of women, designed to bring relief to the poor and bring people to Christ. They each gave wonderful talks, but I'm not going to share them here. I want to discuss the *talk given by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf. When he began, I felt as though he were speaking just for me. I knew this was what God had been telling me to wait for. He spoke exactly about the purpose of this blog! He recognized that women too frequently doubt their abilities and achievements, leading to frustration and disappointment. He said that we were "created to experience the fullness of joy". "The fullness of joy"--that's what we're all here in search of! He taught that there are two principles to find the path to peace, happiness, and joy: 1. Create something beautiful, and 2. Be compassionate.

While I think both principles are equally worthwhile, today I want to focus on being compassionate, or serving. One of the main things I've learned about depression is that it feeds off of self-centeredness. I know that because I've been there. It's easy to get really down when you focus only on yourself. And the best antidote for that is to serve. Service forces you to focus on others. President Uchtdorf said, "when we reach out to bless the lives of others, our own lives are blessed as well. As we lift others, we rise a little ourselves." That is so true.

When my depression first began (and I was still in denial), I was working as a waitress. I was almost always in a horrible mood when I arrived, but I knew that grumpiness didn't earn good tips, so I forced a smile. I chatted with my customers about how they were doing and did all I could to ensure that their meal was as enjoyable as possible. This may not seem like true "service", because I was getting paid to do it, but I really did put all my effort into it. As a result, I did get higher tips, but I also was happy again before more than a couple hours passed. Then I would go home at the end of my shift and quickly sink back into my dark hole. Unfortunately, I didn't realize what the difference was until long after that job was over. My poor HH.

Another thing I've learned about depression is that when I'm really down, serving someone else seems nearly impossible. This is because of the lethargy that we've mentioned, and the negative self-talk (i.e. I have so little to offer, who would want it anyway?). But I know that it is more than worthwhile. I can't think of a single time that I've offered service and not been lifted from it.

What have you learned about the effects of service on your level of happiness? How do you get yourself past the feelings of tiredness and doubt and serve anyway? What are some of your favorite simple acts of service?

*I know this talk will be posted in its entirety within the next few weeks on I highly recommend reading it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Creating a Joyful Life

Thank you for your responses on the last post. Since the majority of those were direct to me via email, phone, or in person, my HH (Hot Hubby) suggested allowing anonymous comments. So, if you have something to share, but are feeling shy, you can now leave a comment anonymously. I would really like you to leave comments since we'll all benefit a lot more that way. I can offer limited insight since it's different for all of us.

Also, I was discussing with a friend the different levels of depression. I am hoping that this site can benefit people at all levels, from just having a down day to extended periods of sadness. That being said, this is, of course, not meant to treat depression or anxiety. If you are dealing with extended and/or extreme sadness, please seek medical attention right away. I have had successful experiences with both counseling and medication and would recommend trying whatever seems best for you.

Okay, onto today's topic. After I was forced to admit I had depression, I wanted to rebuild my life. That was an overwhelming concept! Thankfully, I was inspired to create a weekly schedule. Unfortunately, I can't figure out how to add it here. So, I'll give you the basics.

I did it as a spreadsheet, so you can picture that in your mind. And I named it "Good Life", in the hopes it would help me create one. I listed every day of the week at the top and then going down the side I listed the important categories in my life (not in order of importance): Home, Spiritual, Physical, Educational, HH, KN (my daughter--my son wasn't around yet), Emotional/Personal, Social. Then I put things to do for each one under each day. Somethings are for every day and some are just for one day.

Home: Straighten (every day), Bake something, Vacuum, Dust, Kitchen, Vacuum, Bathrooms, Bathtub, Blinds

Spiritual: Scripture study (every day), Read lesson manual (I taught a Sunday School class), Write in journal

HH: Family Home Evening (a weekly activity/lesson we do as a family), Neck massage, Talk, Date
KN: Read a book (every day), write in her journal, learn ABC's, Play with Play-doh, play at the park, Do a puzzle, Color together, Go for a walk
Physical: 30-60 min. walk (every day), sit ups, weights, stretch (every day), Be in bed by 10 PM, Drink 4 water bottles/day
Emotional/Personal: Do hair and make up (every day), Say 5 positive affirmations (every day)
Educational: Read a book (every day)
Social: Call 1 sibling, Go somewhere public, Call a far away friend, Call a local friend, Hang out with a friend(s), Go on a date with HH

So, you can see it was nothing major and now some of those things seem really basic (like doing my make up). But at the time it was all a stretch for me. And a big part of why I was depressed was because I felt like I never accomplished anything. I never accomplished anything because I got overwhelmed when I tried to determine what to do with my time. Laying it all out on paper really simplified things for me. And it forced me to do things (I made a commitment to myself to do everything on the spreadsheet each day--without any pressure if something came up and I had to miss a day). Most days I just didn't feel like doing anything. Well, what could be more depressing than days full of nothing! I shouldn't say "nothing" because I had KN with me all day, but I really wasn't doing much of anything each day. I was blessed with a very low maintenance daughter who could cope with that.

I just want to comment specifically on a few of the items from my "Good Life". First, I believe a clean house is essential to feeling well. That doesn't mean spotless. Just straightening once a day will go a long way in restoring inner peace. Second, I believe having faith in something is also essential but that will be left for another day as it is a much bigger topic. Next, I tried to focus on serving the people in my family and keeping it all small and do-able. Next, how many of you put off taking care of yourself b/c there's not enough time? Make time. This is another subject that deserves it's own post, so I'll leave that for today. Along those same lines is doing hair and make up each day. It's about taking care of yourself. No matter what you tell yourself, you deserve that. You do. I had days where I never even got out of my pajamas because no one but KN saw me during the day (my HH sometimes has to work really long hours). But it only made things worse because I looked outwardly the same way I felt inwardly. Next, being a mom is challenging, but not necessarily stimulating. I think lifelong learning is also essential to happiness. That's why we have such amazing minds! And lastly, I know socializing is one of the last things you feel like doing when you're down. That's why it's so important! When you're with someone else (on the phone or in person), you have to move outside yourself at least a little. And so you can forget, at least a little bit, how yucky you feel inside. Or, you can confide in them and find the reassuring comfort we talked about on Monday. Either way, it's a win.

So, start with wherever you're at and add on. Look at what you want to accomplish. Break it down into daily or weekly tasks and schedule it in. We started this blog talking about how our lives are too full and busy to find peace and joy, so why am I tell you to add more in? I'm not. When you determine what really matters to you, then look at what doesn't matter and cut it out. At least some of it. But keep your desired result in mind. Don't cut out things that bring you joy even if they seem less worthy. Just make sure it's real joy. For example, I can spend a whole lot of time reading people's blogs every day. But a phone call to one of my sisters really renews me. So, I might schedule a phone call with my sister and leave the blogging for a day when I have some extra time.

That being said, I still struggle with doing what is truly important in life. It seems like it's so much easier to blog than make dinner, or watch TV than go to bed on time. How do you do it? How do you determine what is important in life? How do you follow through? Is it easier to find joy when your life is organized, or is it just me?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Let's Talk

So, yesterday I made the connection that I promised a new post Monday and I don't get a chance to turn on my computer until about 2 in the afternoon. I didn't want to let you all down on the first "real" day of my blog, so I'm typing this Sunday night. I'm still figuring out how to make this work so I may end up posting on Sunday and Wednesday nights instead. But you can for sure look for it Monday and Thursday mornings.

Anyway, many of you have already touched on what I think is one of the most important things in rising above the grey clouds. That is, tell someone how you are feeling. I'm not an expert on any of this, but I have thought a lot about it the last several years as I've gone through it. So, most of what I have to say is going to be from personal experience. But since the topic is talking about it, I guess it's just walking the talk, right?

I can pinpoint almost to the day when my depression began. That's because I'm 99.9% positive that it was brought on when I started taking the pill. For the first couple years, my husband was the only one who knew that I was dealing with depression. I did a pretty good job of putting on a happy face for everyone else and I was in denial as well. He tried to get me to find help, but I refused.

There were a lot of reasons, but mainly I was horrified at the thought of anyone finding out that my life wasn't perfect. I "knew" that people relied on me to always be cheerful and happy. I "knew" that I would disappoint everyone if they found out that was far from true. But then we sort of reached a breaking point and my husband called my parents. I was furious at the time but inexpressibly grateful now. My mom kind of knew about it so she was mostly surprised by the depth of it. My dad was pretty much in shock. He was one of the people I had most feared to tell because I hated to let him down ever since I was a little girl. Guess what? He wasn't disappointed at all. I could tell he hurt for me a lot, but of course he wasn't disappointed in me. What parent would be? He loves me. And all he wants is for me to be happy. To be happy for me, not for him.

I got a therapist around that same time and finally admitted to myself that I really did have depression. It was all so liberating. It was like taking a deep breath after holding my breath for so long. I saw that no one around me thought any less of me when they found out and everyone managed to go on with life too. No one's life was ruined by my revelation, or even close. I gradually began telling other family members and a few friends. And not only was no one disappointed, often times they seemed to almost think more of me. Not because I have depression, but because I carry on in spite of it.

And as I've become more and more open about, that is the same response I've gotten just about everywhere. I've only encountered one person who responded negatively. And I know him well enough to know that he meant well, he just had never dealt with depression on any level. Everyone else has been incredibly supportive and very understanding. I'm sure you've read the other comments on this blog. We are all in this together.

I'm not sure if I'll do a challenge with every post, but this time I'm challenging you to tell at least one person this week. If you haven't told anyone how you're feeling, tell your significant other, or whoever you are closest too. You need their support and they need to know. You'll be amazed at what a relief it is. And of this, I know. You're all reading my confession! However, my challenge is for each of you to tell someone in person--not here. It's not the same. If you're worried about what the response will be, reflect on how you felt when you found out I (or someone else you know) deal with depression.

We all walk around feeling guilty and ashamed for not being happy all the time. Thinking that if anyone else knew, they would judge us harshly. And the truth is, most women that I discuss this with are relieved! There is so much comfort in knowing that you aren't alone in your situation. That's why we're doing this blog. So we can support and lift one another.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Plan

I want to thank everyone for your support and excitement over the new blog. I appreciate all the comments and emails. I've been moved to tears more than once and feel very blessed to be in the position I'm in.
I've come up with a plan, at least to begin with. I will post a discussion topic, including my personal thoughts, on Mondays and Thursdays. So, please check in on those days and don't forget to post your own comments because we can all benefit from each other. I will also post an applicable quote. Sharon, I hope you don't mind me using yours for now!
Any feedback on the blog itself is welcome. Do you like the music, or hate it? Are there any songs you want added or removed? Any suggestions for other resources or other things to add?
I would like to make it so the comments are always visible as part of the post, does anyone know if that is possible? Or how to do it?
Thanks again! And look for a new discussion topic on Monday!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

My Story

I've been working on this blog for weeks now. I've written the intro in my head dozens of times and they've all been great. But then I put my fingers to the keyboard and nothing comes out right. So, I'm just going to try to briefly explain why I'm doing this and what my goals are for this blog.
In a way, I've been working on this for over a year. After giving birth to my second child, I felt great for about 6 weeks and then everything tanked. Postpartum depression hit with a bang and my body just fell apart. It was all I could do to get out of bed every morning and then sit on the couch until my husband came home at night. He took over almost everything--the cooking, the cleaning, the parenting. I just tried to survive each day. I've dealt with depression for several years, so I knew how to get help for that. But the extreme exhaustion stuck around. I began researching different things and then went to the doctor to be tested for Adrenal Fatigue, even though I was already certain I had it.
As I sat in the doctor's office I saw a magazine headline, "How to Fake a Good Night's Sleep". And it hit me--that is the problem of so many of us women today. We're trying to be everything to everyone and of course, coming up short. So, we try to fake it. That's so stressful! And that's why I was sitting where I was sitting. Because I had tried to be the perfect wife and the perfect mother for so long that my body had given way under all the stress. And when I couldn't I felt like I had to make the world believe that I was anyway. I felt like the whole world was watching and judging my every move. If I bought a frozen pizza, I knew the cashier was thinking what a horrible mom I was for not giving my family a home cooked meal. If I walked during a morning run, I knew that everyone driving by was thinking how weak I was for not being able to finish my workout. If my kids didn't look perfect, I knew everyone would wonder what was wrong with me. If my husband didn't have a great lunch to take to work, I knew his co-workers would think I was a terrible wife. And the list goes on and on and on.
Sound familiar? I know it does to some of you because I've talked to you and learned that you feel the same way. And yet, when the tables are turned, I would never judge any of you to be those things. We're all willing to cut each other slack but there's none left for ourselves.
And that leads to the title of my blog--"Abiding Joy". I made that the title because that is my goal. I'm trying to stop wasting my energy appearing to have a perfect life and start spending my energy on appreciating what I really have. I really have a great life, one that should be full of joy. But I'm so busy putting myself down that although I can see the joy in my life, I can't really reach it. It's like standing outside a bakery window seeing and smelling all the wonderful pastries, but not being able to taste any of them. Why can I recognize that I have a wonderful husband, two healthy and adorable children, a great family, and fabulous friends, but I can't always feel the joy that all of those things should bring?
I'm learning things that help and I want to share those things with anyone else who can benefit from them. I also want input from anyone else who has gone, or is going through something similar. This includes depression and anxiety because I think that it is all very similar and connected. I think my lifestyle breeds stress which then breeds depression and anxiety. But I also deal with clinical depression. I have finally accepted that. I also finally accept that it isn't a sign of any weakness or defect on my part. Like someone with diabetes, it's a condition I have. That doesn't mean that I'm depressed all the time, thankfully! But I know that I will have bad days and good days, just like everyone else. But what I want is to not feel so distant from the joy in my life when I am having one of those bad days. And I definitely could feel it more even on my good days.
So, this is just a forum for us to share and discuss and learn to let the joy in and to make it stay so that we all can experience abiding joy.