It’s been a while since I’ve updated my blog. The truth is, I started to write my next piece in my series discussing the blessings that I’ve gained in my depression and I found myself stuck.
In July I had my beautiful baby boy. I wish I could write about how he came into this world, but at the moment, those few weeks – the birth and the subsequent healing period – are fraught with difficult emotions that I can’t seem to verbalize without anxiety and tears (even admitting that much is more than I’d care to do). Slowly, I’ve tried opening up to people, but much of it I still keep deep inside because I’m not ready.
And that means I’m not ready to write here. I’m still blogging, but on lighter notes and with less worry about grammar and un-mixed metaphors. You can find me over at Mom, My RL RPG.
This week is National Infant Immunization Week and so I’m taking the time to post a blog about why I vaccinate and why you should too. Some of you are going to click away, but I hope that you stick with me because this is a topic I feel passionately about and I want to share that passion with you.
Immunizations are a strange topic to feel zealous about. After all, people aren’t lying in hospital beds dying of smallpox anymore and how often do we run into someone who’s life has been irrevocably changed by polio? For the most part, we take for granted the level of health that we experience as people of the first world. Women don’t die in childbirth and infant mortality is low, so we spend our pregnancies ‘bonding’ with our babies and making birth plans so that we can experience labor the way we want. The idea that someone would die from the flu is a rare tragedy rather than a reason for us to quarantine ourselves, neglecting jobs and community. We get our jabs early on in life, update them as necessary, and we go about our business. Usually.
I took immunizations for granted for a long time. I’ll admit that getting pregnant with this baby reintroduced the “immunization debate” into my world and I realized that a lot had happened between my first child and this one coming in July. Minnesota was #3 for pertussis (whooping cough) outbreaks last year. Wisconsin was #1. The words “epidemic” and the audio files being passed around of what such a cough sounds like alarmed me. We have a vaccine, I thought to myself, what’s going on? Since then I’ve discovered that the anti-vaccination movement, once a fringe group, has been screaming louder than those of us who know the science. Where once I could trust that people would listen to their doctors and immunize themselves and their children, I found that people would talk about not vaccinating with pride. I was flabbergasted. And then I got angry. And since then, I’ve decided I have to be more than just a mom who vaccinates, I have to be an advocate. I have to raise public awareness. This is why I vaccinate on schedule:
1. Vaccines Save Lives
The simplest point I can make is to point out that people don’t die of measles, rubella, polio, smallpox, etc anymore. Or rather, they shouldn’t be. If I can drive home no other point, I want to drive home this one – people do not die. We have a collective amnesia about this. People are far too kind to those who don’t vaccinate because we think it’s not a big deal. Last year 18 people died of whooping cough in the United States. No, that’s not a lot, but consider that none of them had to die to begin with. Consider that as long as people neglect their vaccines, that number will rise. Most who died were infants that were too young to receive the DTaP. In addition to that number were the number of people that ended up in the hospital. Wales just experience their first death this last week in relation to a measles outbreak that they’ve been fighting because they didn’t have a herd immunity due to the quack Wakefield who incited paranoia with regard to the MMR vaccine.
2. Collective Responsibility for One Another
I’m pro-life so I’m pro-immunization. If it’s abhorrent to me to kill a child in the womb, it’s just as abhorrent to allow a child to die of a disease that could have been prevented. A half-second prick to the arm or leg and it’s done. If everyone who can get vaccinated does so, herd immunity will protect the unborn, the newborn, the sick, and those for which the vaccine didn’t “stick”. This is one of those times when it’s good to be part of the crowd. It’s not about my rights. It’s not about individual autonomy. This is about living in a society and having a communal debt to one another. On a smaller scale, as I explained it to my son, my shots, my husband’s shots, and his shots will protect his brother. I don’t just do this for my life. I do this for everyone else’s too.
3. The Science
Repeat after me: Vaccines do not cause autism. Let me repeat that again in case your eyes glossed over that: Vaccines do not cause autism! There is so much evidence to debunk this myth that I have linked every word in this sentence. Sadly, the internet is full of people perpetuating the myth. When I google “vaccination safety” or “immunization myths”, the anti-vaccination movement has done a bang up job of getting questionable sources, disreputable people, and the uninformed to post their ideas on the internet without a shred of actual evidence (it’s all anecdotal or grasping at straws by twisting individual words). Vaccines are safe. They’ve even proven that thimerosal is also safe (and would help millions overseas obtain life-saving vaccines). Are there chances for an allergic reaction? Absolutely. However, the severe reactions are very, very rare.
This week I would encourage you to speak out about why you immunize. We’re the herd and this is not a harmless issue. Our public safety is at risk and we ought not sit idly by while false information is passed around as fact. I speak out because the anti-vaxxers don’t speak for me. Don’t let them speak for you. We’re the voices of reason in a part of the world that has forgotten that life is fragile.
Further reading (for those who need a face on this issue):
Three Sisters, One Disease
25-year Old Dies of Measles (current Wales epidemic)
Mum Backs Free Vaccines
Baby Dies of Whooping Cough (Dec 2012)
From First Cold to Grave (2012 death)
(As a disclaimer this is a private blog. Anti-vaccination comments will not be approved or responded to. Feel free to read this instead).
Brief update: I’m 27 weeks pregnant with our second boy! I haven’t forgotten about my 100 Things posts, but I’ll talk more about that post-partum. Today, I have homeschooling on the brain. You may not all be aware that we homeschool, or if you are, you may not know why (although that’s always hard for me to envision as I’m opinionated and feel the need to share that opinion with everyone).
I didn’t enjoy school growing up. In general I found it to be the breeding ground of mediocrity and disinterest; it also didn’t help that I was consistently the outsider. Often times my questions were met with irritation if the answers weren’t in the textbook and my reward for finishing my work early, for grasping information quickly, was busy work meant to keep me silent (which rarely worked). My frustration with my education was extended into college when I discovered, much to my chagrin, that I would have to sit through essentially the exact same courses I took in high school. I’ve heard various arguments for the Gen Ed curriculum on the college level, but in my mind it always comes back to one core issue – the public school system simply isn’t considered adequate. When Elijah and I discussed children, the one topic we both agreed on was that we wanted to homeschool.
Ultimately, I homeschool because when I evaluate all possible options for my children to get the best education, for us, homeschooling meets the criteria. Between my husband and myself we have more than enough credentials to get from kindergarten to graduation. More than that, we both have a passion for the education we want to give. We’re in love with classical Christian education which includes teaching Latin and later Greek, as well as logic and rhetoric. We want education to be fun and integrated into daily life. I never stop being a teacher or a mother. Having my son stand by my side in the kitchen while making pancakes is as important to me as making sure he learns to write his letters and do his math. As his mother, I know how his mind works. When math concepts are out of reach, we can put the workbook aside, get out Lego Sam and Lego Frodo and they can go on a math adventure (which may or may not include Stormtroopers). I don’t want my son to ever define himself as being “good” or “bad” at a subject. He has strengths and he has weaknesses, but I’ve heard too many of my friends say they are “bad at math” which in fact, they only lacked the one on one attention. I want to give my children both the skills and confidence to excel in those areas where they are genuinely gifted and in those areas where they aren’t as strong, I want them to be free of mental blocks that keep them from doing the best they can.
So what about everyone else?
Homeschooling isn’t for everyone. A child’s education must always come first and that might mean the local schools… and that’s okay. I refuse to say homeschooling is the best way or the only way. It’s the best way for us. The key is parental involvement. When my mom noticed I was struggling with my multiplication tables in the fifth grade, she made flashcards and sat with me every single night quizzing me until I got them. She advocated against getting marks off when I transferred from an Australian school into an American one (and I was spelling color as “colour”). She fought my teachers when they wanted to give us fifty math problems for homework and she thought we needed to be outside playing. My parents had my back and as a result, they made sure I got a quality education even when I had mediocre teachers. The point its, my choices are not an indictment against anyone else. They do not make me superior. They are the choices we have made for our family and they work for us.
I would however, encourage anyone who is in a position to consider homeschooling to do so. Yes, it takes patience (and you won’t have enough). Yes, it takes time (and you still won’t have enough). Just don’t write it off because of misconceptions about yourself or about homeschooling. That said, it might not be a good fit. Or it might be something that surprises you. You never know.
It’s been a while.
Months ago, when I started down the path of writing about my depression, I was embarking on a personal journey with an unknown ending. I was frightened at what was ahead of me, but I knew I had to go, so I packed up my emotional provisions and I set out. This blog has been a piece of the puzzle. In writing about the blessings that God has given me through afflicting me with depression and anxiety, I am building altars like the patriarchs of the Old Testament. Here is where God met me. Here is where He answered. Here is where He sustained.
Here is where He blessed me.
My writing has been meager as of late because God has given me a clearer ending to my travels. Our small family of three will be expanding to four come this summer and my morning sickness has become less and less. It was difficult to contemplate writing when I wanted nothing more than to sleep away the nausea. Now, I am waiting with eager expectation the return to shore from these lonely and distant waters. Pregnancy does not grant me any large measure of relief, but I did not think it would. I am okay, though. I have all that I need to make it, and knowing what I have at the end renews my strength.
I hope to pick my writing back up in the next month. Onward and upward I go.
I’ve never been much for sentimentality with regards to time. I go to bed at my usual time on New Year’s Eve sans resolutions and I refuse, rather stubbornly, to make a bucket list. Yet, each year, on my birthday, I like to take a moment and reflect on where I have been and where I am going. My life has been tumultuous, and it is difficult for me to see past the next bend on the road I walk.
Aging doesn’t terrify me; I’ve caught a strand of grey in my hair on occasion and I find myself smiling. I see life like I view a pregnancy, the point of the swelling stomach and spiderweb stretch marks is to carry a child to term. The point of this body, this life, the point of each line and wrinkle, is to carry my soul to the end, faithfully sustained by Christ, so that I might be delivered to my King at the appointed time. I have not always existed, but I exist now and, by the graciousness of my Lord, I will continue to exist for all eternity. What is 30 years to a hundred? Or a hundred to a thousand? Or a thousand to an eternity?
At the same time, I feel the walls of the unknown pressing in on me. I have moments where I can work myself up with worry that I won’t accomplish what I want to or cause myself panic with regards to choices in years past. I’m human with a limited comprehension of my world and my life. There are places I want to go, books I want to read and that I want to write; there are unrealized dreams that I wonder if I can recapture. There are days when I look at my life and judge it mundane in comparison to others that I see.
This is what it means to be young, I suppose. That inner desire for all things to be exciting and thrilling – to collect experiences like seashells to be displayed when I lay on my deathbed. Yet what I do, I do not because the world deems it vibrant and worthy, but because God has declared it that it is. As the Ancient of Days, He sees what I cannot. I am laboring for the long view with faith in the promises that my God has given.
Today, I am thirty. I am on a journey going forward, and I will not look back and long for what has come and gone. I will look forward and I will measure my success by an eternal standard rather than one that is finite. If I were to hope for one thing in the coming year and years, it is that Christ keeps me faithful to His glory to the end. Maybe it, Lord Jesus, and amen.
Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life. Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. – Proverbs 16:31-33
“What word is this?” I ask, pointing at word ‘man’ the workbook.
He looks at me with blue eyes and blinks, “Um. Map.”
“No, look at the book, sound it out,” I repeat, jabbing at the glossy page. He continues to stare at me and then scratches his head. I inhale, trying to soothe my frustration because that won’t get us anywhere; I’m certain I’ve thwarted whatever education was going to happen today anyway. I know that he knows the word. He read it yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that. Today, though, I can’t get him to read, to put his eyes on the book and to sound out the letters.
“I don’t know.”
Someone, quick, get me to a wall that I may beat my forehead repeatedly. We call it quits for the day and I wander up to read a homeschooling book a friend gave to me recently. I start to read the section on learning styles because of something that caught my eye when I had flipped through earlier. As I read the descriptors, it dawns on me:
My son learns exactly the opposite to the way I learn.
Abstract Random is the label I read and the description sounds like the little boy growing up in my house. He likes routine like any child likes routine (in the sense that he knows what’s going on), but he’s always been okay with random changes. Move once or twice, change the location of dinner, do school in the afternoon or morning, and he rolls with it without batting an eyelash. I’ve made the assumption for five years that he’s laid back, that he’s relaxed.
It never occurred to me that he likes it. I mentally flail. Is this truly my genetic offspring? Who is this tiny alien that has invaded my home? How could I have been looking at this from the wrong perspective the entire time?! For the last month I have been fighting and struggling to get him to sit down, be quiet, and focus. I made sure the lessons were short, I tried to be engaging. He’s smart, he gets it, but he doesn’t like the way he’s getting it, so he fights me in his own way. We butt heads because I know it’s in his brain. I’ve seen the glimmers and the shimmers and even the occasional explosion of knowledge. Maybe being conventional doesn’t work on someone who thrives on being unconventional.
Tomorrow, I’m going to try something different. I might try school on the living room floor and we’ll start with a story (he loves stories) before jumping into math with Legos instead of crayons and paper. If my hunch is correct, I think he’ll love it.
As for me? I’m groaning… and I suspect that God is smiling because He knows exactly how I learn.
I have been quiet as of late. It’s in my nature to pull inward when in pain, and so, as the darkness sears my soul, I draw the curtains, and crawl back into my bed. I don’t want to talk about how I’m feeling. I don’t want to answer questions about my day. I just want to wrap my arms around my knees and weep as hard as I possibly can. If only the tears were enough to assuage the depression with which I live.
I’m walking a road that breaks into the soles of my feet, leaving them aching and bloody. I’m in the woods at night with nothing but a small lantern that permits me to see only one step further and no more. I am not afraid, I know this road too well, but it hurts nonetheless. So what do I say? What can be said?
There are blessings here. I have not forgotten my goal even as my vision grows cloudy, even as I sigh because I can do nothing else. A hundred blessings. I will find them, even as sorrow colors everything in shades of gray and mutes the music that all creation sings to the its Creator. I will find them, and I will speak of them, even as my voice trembles with anxiety that refuses to be soothed. There are some things simply worth doing no matter the cost. For the joy set before him, Christ endured the cross, and I am called to take up my cross and follow him. There is a joy set before me. In the darkest of nights, I lay hold of my Savior, my joy, and I remember what it is to have faith.
You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep. Psalms 88:6
My grandfather passed away yesterday. He had Parkinson’s and I knew when he slipped into a coma that the call would come at any moment. I did not think on it too deeply, and when I received the news, I did not stop the tears. This is the first death I have experienced in which the person taken is someone dear to me, and yet I am struck by how my heart feels it the way it felt the loss of friends as I grew up, as I moved away, time and time again. Perhaps I am not such a stranger to death as I thought I was.
He was a smart man with passion, and in his healthier days we would go round and round in heated debates about the world and life. We were raucous and loud, and if there is any question as to where my stubborn streak was born, one only had to look at this man. He loved Jesus, and he loved his family, and while his faith was more in the vein of the ‘40s and ‘50s, it translated down to my mother, and then to me, once again proving that God is made strong in our weaknesses.
I was blessed in these last few years to see him. We still debated, but I had to demonstrate patience. His mind was sharp, but his body moved slowly. Our debates were quieter, but we remained equally stubborn. We shared ice cream in the evenings, as we had when I was a young girl, and I even had the chance to include my son in such a tradition. Three generations around a table that looked more at home in the ‘70s than in our sleek and minimalist 21st century. When I left him last, I knew I would not see him again on this earth. I part of me began to mourn then.
He was a true Christian and in his last months, that faith which had rippled out from him, poured back over him as it hit the edges of his legacy, and Christ granted him peace and assurance in a fulfilled Law and a perfect Savior. Even so, while I find great comfort that he closed his eyes on earth and opened them again to see the glory that is Christ, I weep for those of us here, that remain in a world that is often so dark.
Death is not natural. Oh, it is natural in the sense that it is common, and that it is sure to happen, but it’s not how it was supposed to be. We were not meant to die. I find that as the tears come, I feel as though I am weeping the same tears Adam and Eve must have wept when they were banished from the Garden, and when she first tasted the loss of life in her son Abel. Just as sin has been passed from generation to generation, so too this grief, a remembered grief. I cry because things are not yet as they should be. I mourn because the waiting is not yet over.
My grandfather is not dead, but he is where I cannot go. I am glad that he has been able to cast off from himself the body that failed him, and that he had worn that body out so that it was worth discarding. Today he sees the treasure I long for, he sees our Creator and is known as he was always meant to be known. For that, I have joy and peace.
Even so, I miss him.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down for these words are trustworthy and true.” -Revelation 21:3-5
Usually I try to paint an image with my words, to create an avenue of sorts that will allow someone to travel down the path I’m on and maybe even to share a bit of insight. The lovely turns of phrase seem to fail me today and whatever insight I may have seems dodgy at best. I don’t like to talk about that which touches my heart deeply, mostly because there’s no escape route – I’ve never had roots before and I’m keenly aware that I can’t slip away when life gets sticky. The short version is that the medication I take to keep back the dark depression also prevents me from being able to get pregnant. I’ve been working with my doctor to try to find a solution and the one that would have worked, maybe even should have worked, didn’t. It’s left me utterly depressed (chemically induced at the moment – a side effect of the medication), and my doctor has admitted to being entirely stumped. This leaves me deeply discouraged in addition to my soul-weariness. What comes next? I wonder.
It seems that as I move further along in life, the problems become more complicated. There isn’t a right answer to this puzzle. God blesses with one child (Sarah) and God blesses with many (Leah) and God blesses through adoption (our very salvation!). The question in front of me isn’t what is right or wrong. All the choices before me are worthy options, each with its own merit, each with its own pain. The question is, what pain can I bear? What pain should I bear? What has the most eternal value?
The solution I wanted remains elusive and may not even exist. There are details and private matters that my husband and I have to decide on together and we both carry different fears that have to be faced. Rather than rail against God like a petulant child demanding my way, I want desperately to assess the situation with patience and maturity (even if it comes with tears). Whatever my God has designed is good for me though it hurts in the here and now. It makes me think of a quote by Sarah Edwards, after the death of her husband, the Puritan pastor, Jonathan Edwards:
What shall I say? A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud. O that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands upon our mouths! The Lord has done it. He has made me adore his goodness, that we had him so long. But my God lives; and he has my heart. O what a legacy my husband, and your father, has left us! We are all given to God; and there I am, and love to be.
I will not run from the discipline of God (not punishment, discipline). He is teaching me to think bigger than me, bigger than this life. I don’t think I’m anywhere near there yet, but I am comforted in knowing that my tears have weight and meaning. All suffering, for the Christian, is of God, for our good and I think it’s okay that I hurt.
So that’s where I am today, a little more quiet, a little more wounded. I look forward to feeling better in the coming weeks; already the fog is lifting as this medication runs itself out of my system. Hopefully with clarity will come wisdom and courage.
Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. – 1 Peter 4:19
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me. – Henry Lyte
The world was gray again, when I woke up. I willed myself out of bed and I trudged to the kitchen. Opening a box of cereal might has well have been weightlifting with the amount of energy I exerted, but my son needed to eat. Once he was settled, I laid back down and didn’t bother with my own breakfast. The seconds turned to minutes and minutes to an hour until finally I couldn’t ignore the day any longer. A shower. A perfunctory meal, barely enough to sustain me. An hour mindlessly searching the internet because I didn’t much care about the dishes in the sink or the laundry that had turned sour in the wash. When I snapped at my son for a small infraction, the flags I had been ignoring, waved more desperately. It made sense, the weight loss, the sleepless nights, the daily anxiety, and the ennui that had settled on my shoulders. I was depressed. I am depressed.
This is a scary post to write because I haven’t been here in a very long time. I’ve had the moments, when doctors play with my medication, but I’ve had the blessing of knowing that I can easily slip back into even-keeled normalcy. Not this time. This time, I’m staring into the neutral grays of my world wondering what has misfired in my brain to make all the colors fade. I have broken down in tears several times with good reason. I remember vivid brilliance somewhere in the mist of my memory and I’m slowly forgetting in the haze of clouded thought.
Those who have known me, who walked with me during the most agonizing periods, maybe holding their breath right now. I’m seasoned in this walk though it doesn’t make it any easier. My newest friends have only heard my stories, edited or abridged, because there’s really no way to make this real until it’s here, tangibly. While my voice still works, I have to write this. I don’t know how long this storm will last or how hard it will rage. There’s a chance this is seasonal, I’ll know in about a week or so, based on self-treatment for SAD. In the mean time, I’ve written this, a field guide to the wilderness of my psyche.
Pray for me. It is God who afflicts me. He created me and I was born into a sinful body. I’m broken and I will remain so until Christ restores creation fully. It is both my cross to bear and my blessing to receive, as deeply as it wounds me. Pray for healing, but pray also for grace, mercy, and the ability to suffer such affliction well. My sinful heart is most apparent in my pain and my family can attest to that.
Be patient with me. I am weakest during this time. I am committed to all that I have given my word to, but my emotional energy has been significantly reduced. Where once I sprang out of bed and greeted the sun with smiles, I now loathe that my eyes have even opened. My family must be, without argument, my first obligation. Everything else I have promised will get done, but it maybe slower than expected. I will turn down more than is usual. I will be hesitant to agree. I simply must conserve.
Set boundaries. The natural inclination of any healthy person around a depressed person to try to bring cheer. It cannot be done. It is important to recognize one’s own emotional energy levels and to determine ahead of time how much one can invest. Perhaps agree to a walk for an hour or a cup of coffee one afternoon. I am insecure during these periods, unable to gauge my relationship to others. My first assumption is that I am unlovable and unwanted despite the head knowledge to the contrary. My heart is sick within my chest. If I know a person is giving what they can, I can take a small bit of comfort in knowing that I am not sucking life out of those around me.
Care for my family. My husband has no respite from his ill wife. There are few boundaries he can set as we share the same house, the same room, and the same bed. My son bears the brunt of my frustration as every sound is like nails on a chalkboard and he needs constantly from me when I have very little to give. Those men who will invite my husband to go out, have fun, and let go of the burdens for a time, are blessings. Play dates for my boy, while I quietly drink tea with a good friend, restore both of us.
Don’t try to fix me. This isn’t a puzzle with straightforward solution. Depression comes in many forms. I have seen it caused by circumstances, by dietary issues, by season, and in my case, simply by bad chemical make up. I have a wonderful therapist who has put his seal of approval on my day to day activities and said that I’m doing things right. I have a thoughtful psychiatrist who is working through the medical aspect while wearing brightly colored ties. It’s a real condition with very real consequences and also real solutions. I’ve lived with it for over fifteen years, trust me when I say that I’ve heard it all and I’ve spent a great deal of time blaming myself instead of getting help.
Don’t try to spare me. Ask me. Even if I say no, ask me to go, to do, to give. People will treat me as though I’m delicate and I am not. I want to hear about my friends’ hard days, even if it’s to complain that the kids are sick again or the paint on the house is peeling. I welcome the chance to not be the one unloading or with all the troubles. I also want to hear about joys because I live vicariously through others’ happiness during these times. Another’s pleasure may not bring all the hues back into my day, but I might catch a glimpse of a green tree or a red rose, and that will have made it entirely worth it. Laughter can soothe some tears and I will take what I can get.
Pray for me. I said it at the top and I will say it again. God has done this to me. He who measured the depths of the oceans and heights of the mountains has also laid the boundaries of my sorrows. My God is sovereign. Call to him on my behalf.
And I can’t understand, and I can’t pretend,
that this will be all right in the end.
So I’ll try my best, and lift up my chest,
to sing about this joy.
When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll.
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well with my soul.” – Page CXVI “Joy”