Monday, May 21, 2007

Feeling Listless?

This afternoon during Esther's nap, while Eli and Adam were at school, I watched Mission: Impossible III with Tom Cruise. Early in the show, Cruise's character, Ethan Hunt, goes to Germany to rescue fellow agent Lindsey Farris, played by Kerri Russell. When he finds Agent Farris, she is slumped back in a wheelchair, nearly comatose, her face a mess of blood and bruises. Agent Hunt pulls out this huge syringe, telling Farris that it is adrenaline, and that it is going to hurt. Then he plunges the needle into her chest. Within seconds, her eyes pop open and she transforms from torture victim on death's door to the bionic woman with catlike reflexes and a gun:

Forget the Diet Coke. Give me a shot of adrenaline.

Friday, May 18, 2007

"He Cheered Me Up"

Last night while Dan was doing the dishes, he discovered this:

I can assure you that this scene was not staged. It is just a random toy left out where it doesn't belong, and a random spot of spilled borscht from dinner. We could not stop laughing.

Tonight, as I was working in the kitchen, I finally picked the little daddy up and set him on top of the microwave. Then I spent some time on the computer while Dan washed dishes. Later, when I returned to the kitchen to help dry the dishes, I noticed that the little daddy was face down by the spilled borscht again. I asked Dan, who has been in a foul temper all night, if he had moved the little daddy. He smiled as he admitted to doing it, saying, "he cheered me up."

Hey, whatever it takes, right?

A part of my depression story

This afternoon during Esther's nap, I was resting on my bed, looking through an old journal. I was re-reading entries from the semester right after my mission, the semester I was first diagnosed with depression. I found this entry, written the day I saw a counselor and later a doctor for the first time, the day I took my first dose of Prozac. I was 22 years old:

14 November 1997

"Today when I woke up I could feel the dark empty feeling starting. It scared me and I cried a bit, and went to school. Dr. W. said, 'so, did you get two hours of sleep, or three?' I said '8 1/2' and he was surprised because I looked 'withered.' I thought I should go to the counseling center, but headed for the computer lab instead. It was closed. I went to the counseling center. Back track--this morning I prayed for help to get fixed from this crying-overwhelmed feeling. I went and asked the girl where I could go to get personal counseling. It was really hard to say that. She was so kind to me when I asked, showing me how to get there. I started crying and had to go hide in a bathroom stall for several minutes until I stopped. I cried because she was gentle and careful with me, maybe because she could tell I was having a hard time.

"I finally went into the center and asked the receptionist how I could talk to someone. I guess when people show up randomly like me they call it an 'emergency'--she got on the phone and pulled some strings and in a few minutes I was talking to B. I just told her that mom and grandma are on anti-depressants, and my dad is a psychiatrist and how I cried and felt overwhelmed a lot on my mission but it's worse now. I told her I got a 66% and a 49% on my 2 midterms and I just have these days where I can't do anything at all. It seems like the days I feel like myself are pleasant surprises--she said it sounds like I should start taking whatever my mom takes ASAP--but she was curious why my dad hadn't put me on it before. I told her he always tells me to exercise. She called the Health Center and made an appointment with a psychiatrist, Dr. C., for me. But his first opening is on December 1, so she recommended I talk to my dad and have him prescribe some medicine for me. I also asked her what I could do to get help for my hands, which I can't stop ripping to shreds. She said that one of the other counselors is a behavior specialist, and also does a lot with anxiety, and promised to get me in to see her. I was laughing by the time I left, but cried again soon enough.

"On my way to my 2:00 class I thought, 'I wonder if Tiffany will be waiting for me outside of my class?' and sure enough, there she was. I feel that Heavenly Father is sending me very concrete reminders during this time of difficulty so that I won't forget that he loves me. Tiffany is very receptive to promptings and able to act as His hands a lot. I went home right after class and called Mom. She was going to pick up Dad at the airport at 4:30 and said they'd call back. Dan called at 4:00, very worried after getting my disturbing email. He told me he loves me and he'll still love me if I take medication or not. He asked what he can do for me, and if he could call back tonight. Dad called a few minutes later and told me that from what Mom said I need to try some medicine right away. He had Tiffany take me to the Health Center.

"When I got in to the doctor, I told him what was wrong and that Dad wanted to talk to him on the phone. He went and called my family, and came back after several minutes and wrote me a prescription for 20 mg of Prozac once a day. He commended me for taking this difficult step of coming for help. He confirmed what Dad said--that my thoughts about suicide and wishing I could die (even though I wouldn't really ever try to kill myself) are not a normal part of going to school for everyone. That still surprises me--I can't believe it's not normal to wish you could die or think about killing yourself. I've been thinking those thoughts since high school. This nice doctor wanted to find me some Prozac samples so I could wait until Monday to buy it. But even though he dug through each doctor's desk in the whole health center, he couldn't find any. So he wrote me a prescription for 3 (Shop-Ko) and a different one for 30 (BYU). Even the pharmacist at Shop-Ko was nice to me.

"Dad is flying in tomorrow morning to hang with me all weekend. I took my first pill at 7:30 tonight. Dad says they start working for mom in about 3 days. I'm most worried about what all of this will do to Dan and kids of ours and what his family will think if they find out. Will I be addicted to it? After getting me some medicine, our next goal is to figure out how to salvage the semester."

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Five Questions

Thanks to my friend LL for asking me these fascinating questions!

1. If you got a tattoo, what would you get and why? (And if you're opposed to defacing your temple, it can be a temporary tattoo...) Where on your body would you put it?

Potato Girl Answer: I would have to go for a Mehndi-style henna tattoo on my hands or feet. Here is a picture of one I especially like:

Why? For one thing, these henna tattoos can last several months, but they are not permanent. I know I would get sick of something permanent. For another, this form of "tattoo" is not injected into the skin with a needle, and thus, it does not hurt. And I think the designs are beautiful.

2. If you had a super power, what would it be? Who would be your arch nemesis? Who would be your sidekick?

Potato Girl Answer: The one super power I've always wished I had is elasticity. I think that is because I'm so frequently bumming on the couch or in my comfy, comfy, comfy bed and I don't want to move, so I wish my arm could just stretch long enough to turn off the light, brush my teeth, make some breakfast for the kids...I think you get the picture. Who would be my arch nemesis? Maybe someone who left dirty dishes and other messes everywhere? Or perhaps someone who threw brownies, ice cream, and danishes in my path, forcing me to eat them instead of pursuing my true errand. For a sidekick, I would really like a dog that would eat all the fattening food for me, clean the house, and take me on long walks. In fact, I would like a dog that looks like this little shiba inu from Japan:

3. What is your worst bad habit? What good habit are you currently working on starting or hoping to start? What thing in your life should you probably be working on but you don't really care enough to be bothered with?

Potato Girl Answer: Oh, there is such a treasure trove of bad habits to choose from. The worst bad habit that is bothering me right now is buying myself some Pepperidge Farms cookies at Target and eating seven of them on my way home, without a beverage, and they aren't even tasting that good after the first one or two, but I'm sad and mad at myself for buying them, so I just keep eating.

The new good habit that I am trying to develop is to get up each morning and take a brisk walk by myself before Dan leaves for work. I have been doing this for almost two weeks now. Yay! I wish there was something that I really don't care enough about to be bothered with, but I seem to care about and feel bothered by every thing in my life that I should be working on but am not. Some of the things that I should be working on but am not include: helping the boys do their homework and piano practice, organizing the food storage containers, and getting rid of all the stuff that is cluttering up this messy, messy house.

4. If you had a magic button, what would happen when you pushed it?

Potato Girl Answer: This one is easy. The kitchen would be magically cleaned. Or the bathroom. Or maybe the basement. Let's just say the whole house. And the car. And the yard. Just how magic is this button?

5. What would be your dream car and what would be the coolest feature?

Potato Girl Answer: My dream car would get about one million miles to the gallon. And it would run on garbage, like the De Lorean in Back to the Future. Short of that, I would like to own a Toyota Prius, which gets almost a million miles to the gallon:

But for looks, it would have to be a classic Mustang.

Now, if you want me to ask you five questions, which you will post on your blog, here is what you need to do:

1. Leave me a comment saying, "I too am an autobiographer."
2. I'll respond by asking you up to five questions. You will answer them, because you like talking about yourself.
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Getting a Spiritual Perspective on Depression

I've been putting this post off because I told myself I needed to write all my thoughts about each of these. I would still like to do that, but in the meantime, I want you to have the links to the following articles from church magazines that I have found extremely helpful in putting depression and its attendant thought patterns into a more eternal perspective:

"Awake My Soul! Dealing Firmly with Depression" by Steve Gilliland, Ensign Aug. 1978

"The Great and Wonderful Love" by Anthony D. Perkins, Ensign Nov. 2006

"What Does It Mean to Be Perfect?" by Cecil O. Samuelson, New Era Jan. 2006

"Learning to Rely on the Lord" Ensign Sep. 2003

"Escaping My Valley of Sorrow"
by G. G. Vandagriff, Ensign Mar. 2000

"My Battle with Depression" by Mollie H. Sorensen, Ensign Feb. 1984

"Why Aren't I Happy?" by Jeffrey C. Jacob, Ensign Jan. 1991

"Learning to Love Myself" by Louise Brown, Ensign Mar. 1982

You should be able to click on the titles of the articles and go directly to the full text on the Church website. Let me know if you need any help.

Happy Mother's Day...and Happy Birthday, Esther!

Today was probably my best Mother's Day ever. My first conscious thought was "my Mother's Day gift is having three beautiful children." Look at my treasures:

At about 6:30 this morning, Adam woke me up to give me the present he brought home from school a few days ago. It is a picture of his kindergarten class in their spring concert, taken by his classmate Atalaya's mom, Leisa, who is a professional photographer. There was also a card, and his hand prints on a rolled up piece of paper. Actually, he informed me, they were Atalaya's hand prints...he'd gotten his mixed up with hers, but we're planning to swap tomorrow. Eli gave me his Mother's Day present a few days ago: a great card he made himself, and a flower planted in a paper cup full of soil that he decorated with markers.

I often feel kind of unloved or under-appreciated on Mother's Day, but I never felt that today. I attribute my good mood to the talk I gave in sacrament meeting this afternoon. I've spent the last week preparing for it by studying how we discern between the negative, defeating voice of the adversary and the uplifting, hopeful voice of the Lord. I spent the morning finishing my preparation for the talk. As soon as the talk was over, I felt a great sense of relief. This was followed by the positive feedback of various ward members who had appreciated how honest and real my comments were. I think that the assignment to speak got me outside of myself, focused on the needs of others and on being receptive to the Spirit's guidance, such that I never had time to think about whether my family was celebrating my motherhood with enough heart-felt enthusiasm.

After sacrament meeting, the women stayed in the chapel for some special musical numbers provided by our friend Brandon, a master's student in piano, and by our very own Leslie, who just finished her master's degree in viola. Brandon played a piece by Brahms, as well as his own arrangements of "Be Still My Soul" and "Abide With Me, Tis Eventide." Leslie played a beautiful Bach cello piece (on her viola), followed by a medley of primary songs and hymns: "Love is Spoken Here," "I Feel My Savior's Love," and "Sweet is the Work." After the music, we adjourned to the gym for dessert and talking. We spent the last hour in the Relief Society room for a lesson by my friend Heather about the women in our lives who have mothered us.

After church I skipped choir (sorry Aubrey!) so that I could be home when my visiting teachers brought me dinner. Laurie and Sue decided that instead of a visit in May, they would make Sondra and me a Mother's Day dinner, so around five o'clock I received a delicious roasted chicken with stuffing, potato salad, and lime jello:

After our meal, we went to explore Lillie Park:

We took a nice little walk around the lake, threw the frisbee, and played on the jungle gym.

Esther turned one today, but her birthday kind of got overshadowed by Mother's Day and my preoccupation with preparing my talk for sacrament meeting. Plus, it is easy to put a baby's birthday on the back burner when she doesn't yet know how to demand parties and presents. But thanks entirely to my visiting teachers, there was an element of festivity to the day:

Laurie decorated my Mother's Day cake for Esther, too, and brought her a huge present wrapped in pink paper. By the time we got home from the park, however, our little birthday girl was exhausted, so we put her to bed without cake. We saved her a piece, though, and will let her open her present tomorrow. Happy Birthday, Baby Sister! Here is my favorite picture we took of her today--is that some great hair, or what?

Monday, May 7, 2007


Tom Cotton is a great gardener and a great friend. A few weeks ago in Sunday School, we were discussing the creation. Tom mentioned a forest in town that gets a beautiful carpet of trilliums every spring. He told us they weren't out yet, but in a few weeks they should be ready. Then yesterday after class he took me aside to let me know that it was trillium time! He gave me directions to Montibeller Park in Pittsfield Township. He told me exactly how to find the trilliums, and encouraged me to be on the lookout for jack-in-the-pulpits as well.

So after church, the whole family, including Aunt Leslie, piled into Ruby, our 1993 Plymouth Grand Voyager, and went to find the trilliums. None of us had any idea of what a trillium looked like, but Tom had made it sound like there were just thousands of them, so I was hoping it would be pretty obvious. Dan said he thought they were a small blue flower, sort of like a violet or bluebell. The boys, of course, were super mad that we weren't going to the Arboretum as we had originally planned. They were threatening all kinds of anger if there wasn't a place to throw the frisbee. But this park had everything we needed: playground equipment, wide open spaces, grass...and a forest full of flowers.

Before getting to the trilliums, we found a tree that was surrounded by jack-in-the-pulpits:

Our anxiety about correctly identifying the trilliums vanished as we rounded a bend to see a vast carpet of three-petaled white and pink flowers:

The boys were quick to point out that Dan was completely wrong about the color being blue. Thanks, guys:

I wanted to stay there all evening, snapping pictures and enjoying the serenity. But we'd promised that everyone could do something they wanted to do, so our next activity was throwing Leslie's new football around a big grassy field. Adam spent most of that time on the blanket with Esther, who kept trying to feed him pieces of her string cheese:

I turned out to have no football-throwing genes, in spite of my dad's high school football career. Eli was much better, and Dan and Leslie were great:

I decided that since I couldn't throw anyway, I might as well practice using my left hand to increase my brain power (thanks for the tip, LL).

After football, it was time to try out the playground equipment. Leslie and Dan took turns holding Esther as they rode down the tall, metal, old-school slide. I enjoyed petting a cute little dog that looked like part chihuahua, part rat terrier. And Eli made us laugh by crawling through the monkey bars instead of swinging from them:

All in all, a very satisfying way to spend a Sunday evening. Thanks, Tom!

Sunday, May 6, 2007

The Ten Cognitive Distortions by Dr. Burns

It is unfortunate that Dr. David D. Burns put a large cheesy picture of himself on the cover of his book, because it makes him look like a used car salesman or an ambulance chaser. In fact, he is a highly respected psychiatrist. Dr. Burns attended Amherst College, the Stanford University School of Medicine, and did his residency in Psychiatry under Dr. Aaron T. Beck, the "father of cognitive therapy" at the University of Pennsylvania. Today he is an adjunct clinical professor at Stanford, where he has received numerous awards, including Teacher of the Year. He also writes books and travels the country giving lectures. I first "met" Dr. Burns several years ago when I participated in an 8-week cognitive behavioral therapy group run by a mental health nurse at the University of Michigan. Most of the members of the group, including myself, had problems with depression. We met one night a week around a large table, each clutching our copy of The Feeling Good Handbook, which we had been instructed to buy and bring with us. The book is 729 pages long, and I think we were encouraged to read it, in addition to completing weekly "homework" assignments. But we were a group of depressed people, and just showering (or not), dressing, leaving the house and getting to our meeting each week required a series of small miracles. Luckily, if we made it to the meeting, we could sit in comfortable chairs and listen to our wonderful facilitator explain the most important parts of the book to us. One of the first things we learned was that depressed people think differently from healthy people. David Burns has identified ten specific ways that depression can "twist" our thinking. He argues that if we can learn to recognize and confront our messed-up thought patterns, or "cognitive distortions", we can make ourselves feel better. His ideas have helped me a lot.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Welcome to Depression Club

It never occurred to me until a few minutes ago, in the shower, to create a blog about depression. The catalyst for this revelation is the group of 50 women that I will be standing in front of in three hours as I teach a class called "Recognizing and Confronting Depressed Thinking." But this story started long before the phone call in April when I was asked to teach a class on dealing with depression for the Ann Arbor Stake Women's Conference. I was diagnosed with depression ten years ago this November, but the story starts before that. I could say the story starts when my mother first began experiencing symptoms of depression in her early twenties. But even before that, her father was struggling with alcoholism and her mother had experienced a significant change in her personality, which we believe was probably the onset of her own depression. And if we knew more about my grandparents' parents, I imagine the story could go back even farther.