The Christmas story narrated by the children of Windy Ridge. Thank you, family, for playing along.
December 17, 2014
The Christmas story narrated by the children of Windy Ridge. Thank you, family, for playing along.
December 15, 2014
December 9, 2014
November 15, 2014
Twelve years ago I officially started eden’s bouquet. Sabra Eden was three years old and my first model and inspiration. Suddenly, she is fifteen. Here is a little video taken on her birthday that captures who she is today. I am blessed.
November 11, 2014
We need to change the way we perceive mental illnesses and depressive illnesses or they will remain just as debilitating and deadly. Depression has become an epidemic. So has autism and other disorders. You and I live in a rapidly changing world and it might take awhile to pinpoint the cause, but in the meantime we need to learn all that we can so we can help those suffering.
I may be a dreamer, but I am also a realist. I like solid evidence.
Six years ago I wrote about depression, here. I find that I still stand by what I wrote then, but in that last six years I have had much more experience with this horrid, deadly, misunderstood and very treatable illness. The majority of my personal experience is with postpartum and major depression, which are basically the same thing, different causes. You can read about some of my personal experience, here.
I find that most who think this is not a medical illness usually admit that they have never researched depression, (and they carelessly throw out their unfounded and very strong opinion) or they are the sufferers themselves who doubt because it is hard to see past the dark cloud and perceive things realistically.
What if people treated physical illness like mental illness? Read this thought provoking article, here.
I am not saying we can’t get depressed from life choices—we can. That can be fixed by changing our ways. I am talking about depression, caused by a chemical imbalance*, that is no fault of our own. The human body does not end at the neck, as our pastor notes, and our brain is subject to sickness like the rest of the human body. Depressive illnesses are disorders of the brain. You can read about it here and here and here and here and here and a thousand other places. It is common knowledge in the medical world. You can reject this knowledge, but you will need to reject facts about heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other common illnesses to be consistent.
Here is a very simple, informative video on how depression and other illnesses and treatments affect the brain:
Some of the most bothersome symptoms I observe/experience are hopelessness, insomnia, ruminating and intrusive thoughts. Insomnia increases the hopelessness and hopelessness increases the insomnia, but both are caused by a chemical imbalance. The hopelessness is always unreasonable and often requires medical intervention. A depressed mind is not capable of good feelings—that is why it is called depressed. If it was capable of good feelings this illness would not be an issue—we would simply think happy thoughts and be on our way. I have never found any amount of spiritual or natural treatment that has cured severe clinical depression and we have tried many. As soon as medication was started, symptoms improved, and eventually disappeared. I thank God for medicine and doctors.
“Talk therapy” is very important while waiting for the medicine to do its job. Talk therapy is simply filling their head with truth to combat their faulty perception. It is reassuring the sufferer that this is just a medical illness and it will get better. The same way you would reassure someone who was suffering with diabetes, except in the case of depression, reassurance is a key part of healing—it can be a matter of life and death. The wrong words can kill.
Here is one example of proof that depression is a medical illness: my sister had an episode of postpartum depression that cycled. It went something like one week of wellness and two weeks of depression, one week of wellness, two weeks of depression. It was like clockwork. You will never convince me that every other week she needed to repent or chin up and “mind over matter” her way through it. She suffered depression after two of her six babies and was successfully treated with antidepressants and sleep aid both times and is now medicine free and doing excellent.
Below is a simple, quickly thrown-together, survival guide for the critical breakdown stage. This is meant for the loved ones of the depressed because at this crisis stage they need others to stand up for them.
If you think you or a loved one might have depression, go to the doctor. It won’t hurt anything to get an evaluation and professional advice. Studies show that the earlier treatment is started the better it works.
The hopelessness increases as you try things that you think ought to work, but do not. Insomia and hopelessness become a vicious cycle until you reach the breaking point. This stage is life threatening.
Did you know that 90% of suicides are done by people suffering mental illness of some kind? Did you know that 40,000 Americans die from suicide each year? That is an average of 1 every 13 minutes. It is the second-leading killer for ages 15-34. SECOND-LEADING. Did you know that war is not the leading cause of death in the military? Suicide is. More than 3000 service members have taken their own lives since 2011. That is staggering.
You can watch the video above for a simple illustration of how they work, but I want you to know that often they take time and take work to get them right. Sometimes you get lucky and the first medication and dose will do the trick. In our experience they are not miracle pills that you can swallow and be immediately cured. I wish. Antidepressants take time to do their job and sometimes have side effects. In our experiences they take the full 6 weeks to take full effect, though there is progressive improvement starting the first week. Sometimes you may experience pretty severe anxiety or other side effects the first days of treatment, but in our experience it was temporary and evened out quite quickly. Sometimes the one you try won’t work and you’ll have to try another kind. Often the dose will need to be adjusted. This all takes time. Sadly, so many give up before finding the right medication and dose and are left untreated. This makes me sad. I have heard so many depressed people say “oh, I tried antidepressants and they do not work for me”, but they didn’t really take the effort to get them right. If my loved ones didn’t have us to help and encourage them to keep trying they would have come to the same conclusion and I hate to think of how that would have turned out. They do work and are so worth the effort.
Rumination is the compulsively focused attention on the symptoms of one’s distress, and on its possible causes and consequences. Rumination is similar to worry except runimation focuses on bad feeling and experiences from the past. I call it being stuck in a rut. The mind spins and spins and gets more and more stuck. We are used to being able to think our way out of things and it just isn’t possible during severe depression. Again, depression would not be a problem if we could simply think our way out of it. Here is an example of ruminating thoughts: “I shouldn’t feel like this”, “I am just a hopeless person”, “I am a burden to everyone”, “I will never get better”. When the depressed person is sitting in silence this is likely what they are doing and it isn’t healthy.
Intrusive thoughts are unwelcome involuntary thoughts, images, or unpleaseasnt ideas that may become obsessions, are upsetting or distressing, and can be difficult to manage or eliminate. The keyword being “unwelcome”. This is one of the most horrific symptoms of PPD and it greatly increases despair and the risk of suicide. They can be sudden intense thoughts and images of ending life or violence toward others. It is important to understand that these are a SYMPTOM of an illness and in no way reflect the person’s character.
In other words, your mind thinks it will work, so it does for awhile. We have personally experienced placebo many times. It would kick in on the way to the emergency room or doctor’s office. The mind would react to the possibility of help and the sufferer would experience temporary relief. I found it frustrating because they would then gloss over the symptoms once in the emergency room and think “perhaps, I can do this without help” or “maybe it isn’t as bad as I have been thinking” and wouldn’t get the help they needed. We also experienced placebo effect with inefficient medicine. The mind would get a burst of happy as soon as the medication was started and then if the medicine wasn’t actually working properly the letdown was brutal. Proper treatment should be progressive relief. If not, any limited relief is probably placebo and the medication needs to be changed or adjusted.
(I would love if placebo alone was an efficient treatment, but for severe depression, it is not. In my experience it is very short-lived)
Another major symptom of depression is being easily overwhelmed. A child may simply need a shoe tied and the depressed mother will be instantly overwhelmed. The already weary mind cannot handle much and this makes it hard to cope and help yourself. Decision-making is very difficult at this stage. It is so helpful if they have someone that can take charge and make all of the decisions so the mind can rest and heal. If they are being properly treated the crisis stage shouldn’t last long and all they need to know is that they are going to get through it.
Here is a list of how to help a mother suffering PPD during the crisis stage while waiting for the medicine to work:
(this list could also help anyone suffering a depressive illness breakdown)
“We know that Jesus will return and those of us who follow Him will find ourselves safely home to enjoy him forever, but we still pull off to the side of the narrow road gasping sometimes—-knowing the adventure ends well doesn’t lessen the hardship of the journey. This is why we travel together, loved one. Do you feel like pulling over? Let me know. I’ll sit with you awhile and we’ll find a way to help regain your strength for the narrow road.” Lori Stanley Roeleveld.
I don’t want anyone else to die. We can help. I went to doctor’s appointments with my sister and my son so that I could be an advocate—-so that I could help them when they could not help themselves. I sat with them through their dark hours even though it was heartbreaking and exhausting. Let us sacrifice our time for each other. Let us love like Jesus.
(As I sat through those dark hours with them I knew that despite it they could still die from suicide because I am human and could not care for them perfectly. I fell asleep when I didn’t want to. But I also want to know that I gave all that I could and they fought as hard as they could and if they die it will be the illness that takes them and that gives me peace.)
*I realize that saying “chemical imbalance” might be simplifying a more complex disorder, but it seems that whatever the true cause a chemical imbalance is present and fixing that helps
November 10, 2014
My first “known” experience with mental illness was when a dear friend, and cousin of Levi, developed schizophrenia in our early twenties. I say “known” because now that I look back I realize mental illness has been a part of my family since the beginning. I remember the confusion of trying to help our friend. I made the same wrong judgments that I see people making today. Though I truly wanted to help, I was anti-meds, arrogant and totally unlearned and inexperienced. I was young and ignorant and was no help at all.
God humbled me and changed all that when I experienced an episode of postpartum depression after my sixth baby. I clearly recall the heavy, dark despair. I sat in our living room, gazing out the window and feeling trapped, from morning to night. My perplexed husband left with the kids to give me a break. I remember thinking that the only way out was to die and the feeling of relief I had from that thought was terrifying. I immediately called Levi and asked him to come back home. At this point I still had no idea what I was dealing with. Late that night it suddenly dawned on me and I sat up in bed and exclaimed, “I think I have postpartum depression!”. Through the dark cloud I managed to realize that there was no reason for me to feel like this, that I was actually a very blessed woman. I got on the computer and started to research. Throughout my pregnancy I had postpartum thyroiditis which I found increases your chance of depression and once that was resolved the depression was too. I am thankful that my episode was fast and furious. That was 13 years ago. After that experience I realized my error in judgment regarding our friend with schizophrenia. I started to see people through different eyes. Through eyes of love and compassion.
I remember telling my sister about my experience. I told how I was in awe of how the mind could be so horribly affected by hormones, I told her how my eyes had been opened to the truth of this and how if I had it again I would definitely seek medical help. Little did I know that God would use this experience to help my sister.
Two years later my sister and I were both pregnant with little boys. It was a joyous time of shared cravings and anticipation. It was my seventh and her third. Her son was born two months before mine and I started noticing a change in her weeks after she gave birth but hoped they would resolve. I began to worry more as she started losing weight and became more quiet and withdrawn. She still came around family but just wasn’t herself. I gently urged her to talk to her doctor, but she resisted, sure that she just needed to change her lifestyle. She is a fighter. She joined a gym and started to exercise. She signed up for more schooling. No matter how hard she tried the depression grew progressively worse. I stood by as she tried natural medicine, prayer, counseling from friends, but because of the stigma of antidepressants and advice from friends and family she avoided the doctor and traditional medicine. Though I was skeptical about natural medicine to treat her depression I so badly wanted it to work. It broke my heart to see her waste away and I felt like it was me against the world because in my circle, and at that time, my opinion that she needed a medical doctor and medical treatment was not popular. My poor sister was caught in the middle. She was so sick that she was unable to take care of herself and she was going with the majority. The majority in our circle love her just as fiercely as I do so it was a confusing time for her. We are not a family that fights and this was no exception. It was just each side passionately making their case because they thought it was the best for my sister. They were blindsided by this depression and desperately wanted to help. My sister desperately wanted to get better.
At about 3 months postpartum the situation became extremely urgent and she and her husband moved in with us while her kids stayed with an aunt and uncle. She lost her milk. She pulled at her skin and clothes and her eyes were wild with pain and despair. The mental torture was absolutely unbearable. Every single second hurt. It was many hours of talking her through. If she sat inside her own head for more than a few minutes she would be worked up into a frenzy of despair and the constant telling of truth was crucial. It was twenty-four hour a day battle because she was unable to sleep.
She didn’t know if she could survive it it.
We didn’t know if she would survive it.
She would tell us to drop her off at the hospital because she felt she was too much of a burden. We assured her that she wasn’t too much of a burden, but I started to doubt my ability to keep her safe. I panicked and called a friend who worked at the hospital. Thankfully he told me to just stay calm and stay with her.
(Later, my sister told me that she was glad we didn’t bring her to the hospital because in her troubled mind it would have validated all the horrid thoughts that she was thinking)
Twice we brought her to the ER because she had been up for days without a wink of sleep and was losing touch with reality. Twice they brushed her symptoms off as “normal” due to motherhood and a newborn baby. We were all exhausted. I started screening calls. I discouraged friends from talking to her unless I thought that their message was simple and would help because I knew the wrong words could be deadly. Finally, my sister agreed to let me bring her to a medical doctor. On the way there I prayed that this doctor would know how to treat her. My prayers were answered and she immediately started treatment. Antidepressants and sleep medication. Each day I saw a subtle improvement. Within a week she was able to move back home with her children and was no longer disabled by the depression. Within two months she was back to normal and at one year she was off the medication and thriving like before. Little did I know that many years later God would use this experience to help my firstborn son.
When my son was around fourteen years old I started to notice a change. My once creative and driven son had no energy, no motivation and joy was hard to come by. I fervently hoped they were just normal growing pains. His despair led him to drugs. Though he was not functioning properly I wouldn’t consider him disabled. At 18 he lost his best friend to suicide and that is when my son’s depression became disabling. He dove headfirst into the dark world of “self-medicating” (oh, how I hate that term). When I had the chance to see him I would gently ask if he thought he needed help for depression. Finally, after running out of options he came to me and said he needed help. I grieved and rejoiced on that day the I first brought him to the doctor. I grieved that one of my worst fears, that my children would suffer this illness, was being realized. I rejoiced that my son was still alive and we were finally getting help. Because of my battle and his aunt’s battle he was well prepared to fight this illness. He started treatment with antidepressants and sleep medication and after a few tedious adjustments his depression was under control. He is now being weaned off both medications.
See my basic survival guide, here.
November 3, 2014
My firstborn son is married.
We had two weeks to prepare. Their original plan was to get married in court when he was 6 months sober and then have a big wedding the next summer, but last minute they decided to have a small wedding now. Then, the small wedding began to grow larger.
The weather forecast was uncertain. Maybe rain, maybe sun? We were prepared (hahaha) to have the wedding inside or out. The day dawned gray and moody—-perfect for photos.
I am the mother, photographer, hostess, optimist.
I have a rule here. No stressing about weddings. I broke it several times.
I went about pressing my boy’s suit as I recalled yesteryear and folding his little boy clothes. I reflect on where we’ve been and where we are and I am feeling sentimental and thankful. The kids and I set tables, arrange bouquets and dust chandeliers. Levi’s mom and dad flew from across the country to join us and his mama immediately started cleaning. I was going to stop her, but it was so nice having her work beside us.
Landon had his four brothers for groomsmen. His best friend asked to officiate, making the ceremony and vows extra special. Jed & Lucas filled the misty air with beautiful music.
Clouds gathered and swirled around the treetops giving Windy Ridge a sense of mystical romance. The steam engine echoed up from the valley and the cows grazed in the front pasture during vows. It was perfect.
(thank you to my baby sister, Rachael, from Trousseau Films for helping with the video)
October 30, 2014