Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Expectations as a Root of Anxiety

Today I want to discuss the roots of anxiety, and how mothers can naturally combat it by changing their expectations.

After trying Celexa (anti-anxiety med) for one day and feeling an overwhelming nausea, I left a message to have the doctor call in an alternative antidepressant. The office never responded and I was too busy to call back.

It was God's will. I don't need a medication; I need a shift in focus.

Yesterday the Lord revealed a better way to combat stress and anxiety--specifically my brand of stress. As a perfectionist there's always more I'd like to accomplish in a day than there are hours to do it. Thus, I'm never completely satisfied and when interruptions and curve balls are thrown at me, the stress piles on.

Here are my present problem areas and what the Lord is teaching me:

1. Stress About Homeschooling 

Most other homeschoolers have started school and I feel left behind in the dust, which is pretty silly because when most homeschoolers stop for the summer, we're still going. The benefit of homeschooling is that you can fit education into your life seamlessly, in ways that uniquely fit your family. You can teach children how to live a one-piece life with God as the center, with all other priorities centered around honoring and serving Him.

My mistake 

I was rushing my preparations for school, and stressing about the fall clothing switch and the delay it's causing, and stressing about my son's concussion brain rest and the delays it's causing...all because I felt I wasn't measuring up to other homeschoolers. The desire to return to routine was part of my stress, but when I was honest with myself, it was more the feeling of not being able to measure up.

So what if we start school in October instead of September? We have 12 months to complete a school year, and I aim to please God only, in gratitude for entrusting me with these precious children.

2. Stress About The House

The house is rarely tidy because I still have a five year old who actively plays with toys in imaginative ways--and not just in one room. Her things scatter about and of course she doesn't put away one thing before moving to another, or before going outside.

Both the boys' room and the girls' room get cluttered with clothes they've taken off or tried on, and that drives me batty. As I walk around the house, not a single room is in order and I feel like a failure, especially right now. Without the routine of school I don't remember the 5-minute pick-ups, which are so central to a tidy house. I spend all day tidying up, in addition to the laundry, cooking and dishes. All the other things I have to accomplish, like school planning, bills, paperwork, etc. get pushed back to late nights or not at all, and there is never time to rest and always the feeling of being behind.

My mistake

I resent my family because I'm overworked and stressed, and so I raise my voice and try to guilt them into doing more--such as, "Don't you see that I already have enough to do? Why is it so hard for you to pick up after yourselves?" As a result of my crankiness, they don't understand the depth of my love for them, or the depth of my satisfaction in being their mommy and their teacher. I have to change so that my love shows.

And of course, lecturing them about responsibility doesn't make them behave more responsibly. I have to give them responsibilities and hold them accountable. When routine is lax, I can expect them to irritate me. It's the very occasional child who is a neat freak. Most others will be sloppy if they can get away with it. I must either have a chore system and 5-minute pick-ups in place all the time, or I shut my mouth about a messy house and try to serve my family in love. There's really no other choice.

And am I really a failure for having a messy house? I have four children with whom I stay home, and we use our house all the time. We prepare and eat three meals a day plus snacks; the kids play outside and get dirty, generating a lot of laundry--even bringing in their dirt often. They use their art things, their toys and their books, and they don't always put them away promptly. It's no wonder our walls and our floors and our carpets are nothing to look at, and why they don't stay nice for long, even after I clean them. It's no wonder I feel embarrassed when someone comes to the door, unless I've invited them and I've thoroughly cleaned the house.

We are all gifted in different ways, and we all have a choice in what we spend the bulk of our time on. A messy house rattles nerves so trying to be a good manager is important, but measuring my worth by the look of my house is not a healthy thing, and will continually contribute to my anxiety if I let it. Other moms can certainly do better than me, either because they have fewer children, a larger house with better storage, they're away from home more, or their children are away at school and don't interrupt their cleaning efforts. Or because they're just better at organization.

3. Stress About Interruptions

It isn't unusual for me to experience four interruptions while doing the dishes or hanging clothes from the dryer. I get irritated that my agenda has to be put on the back burner--the tyranny of the present, so to speak. Most every day my goal is to have a nice looking home by the end of the day, but rarely do interruptions allow that to happen.

Medical appointments further interrupt us and get to me as well, but I'm getting better at accepting that God has a purpose for us to be out visiting doctors frequently, instead of signing up for other things. We didn't do anything to cause juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, or asthma, or excessive ear wax, or OCD, or poor vision, or ADHD, or speech articulation issues.

My mistake

The reason I stay at home with my children is to nurture them and disciple them and to cherish these years with them. So then, why am I stressing when they interrupt me for a band-aid or a drink or help with their shoes or the snap on their pants--or to read them a book? Aren't I missing the boat when I look upon all these things as interruptions? Instead, aren't they the point?

Who cares if I go to bed with a house still messy? Some stranger who came to the door and got a peek--how long will that stranger even remember my house? Where will that stranger be ten years from now when my children are remembering not a loving mother who always had time for them, but a stressed-out one who complained about all she had to do?

The Big Fix

1. Know Your Core Values - What are your goals? What are you living for? What is worth spending the bulk of your time on? List these things and review them whenever anxiety plagues you. Chances are, you aren't being true to them, and that is the root of your anxiety.

2. Stay in the Word - We please an audience of one. Truly, this is key to our peace. The Word keeps us centered on what is important to God. Without the powerful exhortation of the Word, through the influence of the Holy Spirit, we will continue to follow our own agenda and experience stress and failure.

2. Pray for yourself - We remember to pray for many people, but so often we forget to pray for ourselves. As we pray for ourselves, the Holy Spirit will bring our weaknesses to our mind. As we bring them before the Lord, we humble ourselves in the process. A humble heart moves toward Christlikeness.

And Christlikeness = Peace

Friday, September 12, 2014

I Have Hope: Simple Woman's Daybook

Outside my window:

Cloudy and cool, like fall. Thoughts of fall and winter make me so happy.

Two days ago we had a tornado warning, stemming partly from an actual tornado sighting in a neighboring town, albeit only a 30-mile-an-hour one. Having no basement here, I put the kids in the hallway with pillows for 45 minutes while I continued to check our PC computer for updates and peek outside. It missed us, but since then there's been a worsening of Mary's anxiety. Her anxiety started with the first tornado warning of spring, and I have to admit it's discouraging to have a setback now. Cold weather can't come soon enough for me this year; thunder and lightning will cease, and the bees will hibernate and with them some of Paul's anxiety too.

On my mind:

We got off track with the anxiety-therapy appointments due to the tree-climbing accident, and I'm eager to get back to them in another week. I've met with the psychologist twice now, and so far we've accomplished intake appointments for the two boys, and a fear hierarchy appointment for Peter. The next appointment will include a fear hierarchy for Paul, and an intact appointment for Mary, followed by the first therapy appointment for all three children, which will entail 40 minutes of therapy each, back to back.

Peter has responded best to my attempts at home therapy using OCD books, such as Talking Back to OCD. Mary and Paul have more resistant cases of anxiety and definitely need professional help. Paul doesn't always recognize which thoughts are real and which are OCD-related, and his vomit phobia (emetophobia) is fairly problematic. Mary claims challenging her fears with logic doesn't help because the fear is too powerful.

For my part, I'm exhausted and overwhelmed with their issues and Mary's problematic sleep, so yesterday I went for help of my own so I could continue to help them and take them to their appointments without being overwhelmed by my own anxiety and workload.

I don't meet the criteria for depression (they asked several questions to ascertain this), but the doctor indicated that feeling overwhelmed can be a symptom of depression. I mostly fit the criteria for anxiety, so she prescribed Celexa, which is an antidepressant noted for combating anxiety pretty well. However, it made me extremely nauseous and very anxious. (And I didn't sleep a wink because of the anxiousness, so insomnia was a problem too.) The first common side effect is nausea, as opposed to Prozac, which has abnormal dreams as the first common side effect, with nausea being far down the list. As a busy mother who must be able to drive four children to appointments and homeschool them, nausea for even two weeks as my body adjusts just isn't going to work. I called and requested they call in some Prozac for me instead, explaining my situation.

My doctor also prescribed the Topamax again for migraines, but this time a 50 mg dose rather than 3 months of the 25 mg dose. I decided not to take that again tonight, but to hold off until I find an antidepressant that works. Trying to adjust to two medications at once isn't wise because I won't know what side effect is from which medicine.

I have come to the conclusion that I need a therapist too, but that there just isn't time right now or anyone to watch the kids while I go. I have thought back to the time last February when I got that terribly upsetting email from my mother after she had been drinking. A few days after that I decided it was time to break ties with her. Her upsetting emails after drinking had been going on too many years and affecting my life too much. Following that decision I was sad and depressed for about two months, and both boys reacted to that--Peter with behavior problems and Paul with depression and sadness (he tends to take on the weight of other people's problems). And although Mary claims now she never noticed me being sad, she may have reacted to the stress caused by Peter's behavior issues, which, along with the mid-spring tornado warning, sent her into an anxiety tailspin that is still going on.

I still have had no contact with my mother and don't plan to, but I have more anger than I did before. I see the effects her drinking and denial had on my life and my siblings' lives, and it makes me angry, which isn't healthy. Since I got married and started a family, her behavior never affected just me, but my family as well--my innocent children particularly. Surely deep down she knew that if she upset me, it would affect my family as well?

Still, I understand the sin curse and all that it entails, so being angry is fruitless. I would benefit from help to get through the stages of grief over my upbringing, and the lack of support system I experience now due to my upbringing. I realize what I'm feeling is just the stages of grief, after having denied the seriousness of her problem for so many years, and its impact on my life.

While counseling would be good, I'm sure the Lord will get me through this fine as well, it just may take longer and require the antidepressant, since it also coincides with perimenopause and upheaval in my kiddos.

I realize too that it's hard for readers to have a peek into so personal a struggle, but one thing it does do is help people realize that we all have difficult paths, for whatever reason. I am not alone...you are not alone. We all struggle, and the Lord is there for each of us...intimately available to us in our sorrow.

I have hope. I believe the kids will get better. I believe I will get better. I know this season of life will seem like just a glitch some day. I know somehow the Lord will use it for his glory, and I pray with hope that He will both save and take care of my mom and extended family in ways only He could.

The reason for my hope is the Lord.

Psalm 38:15 LORD, I wait for you; you will answer, Lord my God.

My Blessings:

~ God's love and mercy
~ A qualified psychologist
~ hope
~ modern medicine 
~ that Beth is not anxious
~ the hope of more cold weather soon
~ comfort soups and breads soon
~ colorful leafs coming
~ the hope of routine soon
~ the curriculum we need on the shelves
~ that with heaven comes our perfect bodies and minds
~ support from online friends

Thank you for your prayers and for your friendship! Both have meant so much to me since starting this blog back in 2009. You have encouraged my heart so many times! Writing helps me so much so I am going to make a better effort to write at least 3 times a week, despite the craziness around here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Calm Parenting Secrets: Christian and Mainstream

A concussion follow-up appointment yesterday revealed some bad news, most of which we expected, based upon my son's on-going symptoms. He cannot concentrate on anything, either academic or in play, without getting a headache behind his eyes, often accompanied by blurred vision. Even being read to requires a concentration that gives him a headache. He loves to read and be read to, so without that in his life he feels a sense of hopelessness, as do I. His condition requires a nerve-wracking and depressing brain rest. Only complete boredom is available, for even playing Lincoln Logs right now bothers him, as does painting a simple watercolor picture.

The Children's Hospital neurosurgery department revealed that most children have no symptoms two weeks after their concussion accidents, and we're beyond the two weeks. Not all concussion patients lose consciousness, but if that does happen, the concussion tends to be worse. My son did lose consciousness for less than a minute, so his concussion is probably between mild and moderate, but patients with pre-existing health conditions, such as anxiety disorders, can take longer to heal and can suffer from Post-Concussion Syndrome, with some symptoms lasting up to a year or more.

I knew all this from my research, but I was thinking positively, hoping for some miraculous reason they would take off his neck brace and give him an okay to do an hour of school a day, or say something resembling hope.

But no, in addition to all our other appointments, I have to take him back for an MRI to check for a sprained neck (requiring either surgery or extended time in the neck brace), and I have to take him for a two-hour appointment at the Traumatic Brain Injury clinic to have him checked for lingering signs of concussion (concussion is labeled Traumatic Brain Injury). If there are no lingering signs, he would probably then be referred for a vision evaluation with a pediatric ophthalmologist.

He no longer confuses time and place and his long- and short-term memory seem completely intact. The day after the concussion he underwent cognitive testing and could not repeat five random numbers. I tested him briefly yesterday and he could repeat up to seven random numbers, so I don't expect them to find lingering signs of concussion, except for the headaches, trouble concentrating, and blurred vision.

I don't have to tell you that I left that appointment yesterday in a sorry state of mind. My son is driving all of us crazy with his boredom, and we all wish we could go back in time and keep him out of that tree. Never have any of us felt so desperate to erase something.

After purchasing The Total Transformation by James Lehman, I became the fortunate receiver of regular and excellent parenting emails delivered as a newsletter to my inbox. I learn something valuable every time I click on them.

Guess what I learned today? A calm parent raises calm children. Yes, the stress around here is all my fault (being facetious), even though my frame of mind is normal under the circumstances. I don't know what we're about to face or how long the discomfort will last. I do know that speech appointments, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis appointments, excessive ear-wax appointments, eye appointments, anxiety-disorder therapy appointments, ADHD/OCD medicine follow-up appointments, and your standard dental and winter-illness doctor appointments, fall just short of doing me in as a homeschooling mother.

In case you also deal with that overburdened feeling, I want to go over a couple Christian calmness techniques, as well as some standard psychology techniques for controlling our emotions and reactions.

First, the Christian perspective:

Think Purpose and Plan: God's ways are not our ways. When circumstances like excessive appointments, or a tough diagnosis, or seasons of life overwhelm us, we need to get over ourselves and keep our eyes on God and his plan.

Occasionally I'm blessed with comments from strangers, such as "Your children are so polite and well behaved. What is your secret?" The other day a lady followed me out of a consignment shop and said the above to me, smiled at my children, and then offered me a large bag of clothes her teenage son outgrew. She was as sweet as could be. Paul smiled and joked with her over the "what is your secret" question with "Mommy gives us a lot of milk."

These encounters occur in doctor's offices or thrift stores or grocery stores, but always, they surprise me because my children can drive me nuts in doctor's offices, grocery stores, and thrift stores. These are not calm outings for me--my kids being the creative, overactive types. But somehow, passersby see something that I miss. We are God-followers and that makes us different than about 75% to 80% of America. When God is the center of the family, it shows, even when we're overwhelmed and overburdened.

All our appointments get us out into the world and when Christians are out, they shine. God makes them shine--it has nothing to do with what we've done right, but everything to do with God's power and grace.

So the first Christian technique for remaining calm is to remember that God has a plan. While that plan may make us uncomfortable, it serves a greater purpose and we need to trust in that.

Think Servant of Christ:  Not only do we have to trust in God's plan, but we need to be a willing servant, or instrument in his plan. We live to serve God, not the other way around. He saves us and loves us and sustains us, and much is required of those who call him Father. We have been given salvation instead of endless suffering; in gratitude for that we give up our lives for the Lord. Whoever loses his life will gain it. Our best life comes from serving our Father, not ourselves.

Luke 12:48 ESV But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.

Luke 17:33 ESV Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.

I want to save my life by getting back to routine, starting school, getting a chore and errand chart going, having fewer appointments, etc. I want to restore sanity, but God wants me to learn to smile amidst the unknown and unchartered.

Think Psalms: Need I say more? Psalms sooth and remind and teach, and give us a divine hug.

I also find it helpful to use standard psychological helps, such as:

knowing our triggers
knowing what we can and can't control
distinguishing between fear and facts
digging for the root of anxiety
staying in the present
finding better ways to communicate
practice calming strategies
choosing our battles
using calm language
finding support
being forgiving of ourselves

See these two articles for explanations on the above strategies:

Parenting Anxiety? 5 Ways to Relieve the Worry

Losing Your Temper With Your Child? 8 Steps to Help You Stay in Control

I often turn to Psalm 46 when I feel overwhelmed. It contains so many soothing truths. On your worst days, you can start there:

Psalm 46
God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Jeremiah the Prophet: On Anxiety and Depression

Jeremiah, by Michelangelo, 1512
Looking for information on a medication, I happened upon an article on Web MD about Web confessing, in which people confess things or talk about their lives anonymously on the Internet. The title questioned whether it was a guilty pleasure or healthy habit. Maybe you don't have time to read it? Let me just report that studies show it is beneficial to unload your heart and mind, but of course you have to use discretion to protect yourself and your family.

Even though this is an anonymous blog on which I share pictures sparingly, I do often delete things I regret writing. But feeds? They exist forever, thus the need for anonymity or reserve to the point of producing text that is sterile, or sadly, too much like this: "Look at my great life...no messy heaviness around here! Aren't you jealous and don't you wish you were me?"

Not surprisingly, I've been discouraged lately. I haven't been writing, and hours of research on curriculum cut my devotional time considerably. Depression and anxiety seeped into my daily life before I realized what hit me.

If you have someone near by to talk things over with, that helps, but busy moms relocated from original home states don't always have that advantage. It's harder to make friends once you are swamped with child-rearing, but holding on to old ones is somewhat easier when they live nearby.

We had multiple issues with the kids and other worries, and then the arm-break in one child and the tree-climbing accident in another resulted in more stress. Not to mention, when you take children to the ER, they are trained to ask the child immediately what happened, before asking the parent, so as to uncover any possible child abuse. Taking two children to the ER within two weeks of one another? You'd better have a good story. Maybe you aren't so paranoid about such things, but I feel guilty the second they ask me what happened, even though it's never negligence or abuse.

Yesterday I was so overcome by anxiety that I made the dreaded appointment at the clinic to be seen next week for anxiety and depression. (And migraine follow-up...the Topamax flopped and I'm out of ideas).

I couldn't relax thinking of when the next accident would happen, or the next crisis, similar to the way you feel when you get in your car after a minor accident. When my five year old did a forward roll, I imagined her breaking her neck and being in a wheelchair for life. I pleaded...please no somersaults until you get training in gymnastics...because what if she doesn't tuck her head as I instructed? (Ridiculous, I know, but husband knew someone who used bad technique and did end up paralyzed after a forward roll. Last week she did a handstand that ended in a unintentional flip, and the landing was scary.)

Stick to cartwheels and round-offs, I pleaded.

One child is on concussion "brain rest" right now, but when we start hopefully soon, school will change and be difficult this year, with all four formally taught at once. And with learning-disability materials abounding, most lessons will be teacher-directed. Who will keep up with laundry and cooking and cleaning?

Then yellow-jacket wasps, the venom of which Paul is allergic to, built a nest outside the playroom window. When husband sprayed it outside with the gun-like wasp spray, it drove many inside from some tiny hole or opening, and in a panic, I used wasp spray in the playroom to kill them in a hurry before they overtook the house and stung Paul multiple times. That would be too much venom even for an EPI PEN, I suspected.

You aren't supposed to use wasp spray indoors, but I didn't realize it until I read it after: "Never use indoors". Now I'm paranoid about the spray on the ceiling fan and the bits that dropped on the carpet underneath, even though husband washed it at least from the carpet. How long is it toxic for? Should I just take down the ceiling fan to discard it or try to clean it on top of all my other duties? The kids aren't comfortable in the playroom anymore, and it's one of the largest rooms in our house; we need it. I keep thinking about the effects on our nervous systems, and did it get on other things too, even though it's not an aerosol?

Stop the insanity!

I did just that last night by starting Jeremiah. It reminded me so much of God's faithfulness, power, and mercy. Isn't that what's missing from our lives when we cut devotional time too short? A sense of awe about our Creator? We lose a sense of God's provision, his mercy, his sufficiency, and most importantly, his love for us! Worry and depression seep in and choke us, and all the while the answers were right there in Scripture.

Be still and know that I am God.

We forget over and over again, and that's why we can never be done reading the Bible.

Do you remember Jeremiah? He ministered to Judah during 627 - 586 B.C., urging God's people to turn from their sins and go back to God.

Jeremiah was a miserable failure according to the world's standards; for 40 years he served as God's servant, but nobody listened. He was consistent and passionate, to no avail. He was poor and suffered severe deprivation to prophesy as God instructed. He suffered prison and a cistern, and he was taken to Egypt against his will. All rejected him, including neighbors, family, the false prophets and priests, his audience, and the kings.

Wow! And I thought I had a difficulties.

But what did God think about Jeremiah? Only that he was one of the most successful men in all history, because he was one of the most faithful and obedient.

I am still going to talk to a doctor about depression and anxiety, but I know that isn't the whole answer--not now, not ever. We can have no problem that isn't answered in Scripture.

And in the end, it doesn't matter how successful the world regards us, so why are we pressuring ourselves so? Is a somersault gone wrong ever the end of the world, or like Jeremiah's struggles, might it be part of God's plan, and something we can trust Him through?

We need only please an audience of one.

Just one. 

Jeremiah 1:4-10 

The Call of Jeremiah

The word of the Lord came to me, saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
    before you were born I set you apart;
    I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.
“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”
But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.
Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”
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