The Vitamin L Diary: Day 2

Yesterday I briefly wrote about going on an antidepressant. Apparently I’ve struck a chord. Thank you for the private messages many of you took the time to send. I realize that not everyone is in a position to talk publicly about their depression, and it really is such a personal thing. I had waves of the sadness, but what I realized was that the other proactive things I was doing – exercise, regular schedule, better eating, less caffeine, etc. were no longer keeping things manageable. The antidepressant commercials always depict depression as people who walk around sleepy or sad. I had those days but I also spent a lot of energy to keep moving, so my depression also was expressed in irritability. I felt prickly like my cranky dial was turned up to 11.

And then there was that day in my kitchen.

My doctor, a lovely woman who turns out loves Jesus just like I do, asked me what I had been through during the last few years. And there I sat in the office on that crunchy paper, crying and telling her a few facts but feeling a bit numb. I told her I didn’t want to be numb. I told her I wanted to feel joy and laugh from the belly again, which seemed like such work at the time. I wanted to want to write, which had always been a place of physical, spiritual and emotional connection for me.

She warned me about the side-effects but told me to hang on because the first few weeks are the hardest. She told me that my brain had slowly rewired itself to deal with the stressors – death, illness, transitions that overlapped over extended periods of time, etc. – and that the medication was going to help reset things.

I’ve been mulling over this for a year now…I wrote in my private journal a few lines each day for three weeks about what I was going through because writing was one of the disciplines I committed to during that time of wanting to crawl out of my skin (which is how I felt for awhile on the meds). I didn’t want medication to be the only thing doing the hard work. There were patterns in my emotional and spiritual life that had been reset to cope and those had to be addressed as well. However, the online discussions about the drug I am now on scared me. I rarely found anything positive. I hope this is a little bit of that positive I was hoping to find.

One year later I am still on Lexapro under the care of my physician. It doesn’t work for everyone but it can help.

Here is Day 2:

So, I went to work out this morning hoping the rush of endorphins would help ease the fatigue I experienced yesterday. It did. For an hour. By the time I was driving home from Elias’ ortho appointment (around noon) I was crazy tired. I tried to read and then gave up. A little nap is all I need, I thought.

Three hours later I was thinking “what did I do?”.

I’m feeling nausea all day long so that is getting in the way of eating. I have to be careful that I don’t do the tired eating thing – eating to stay awake, but I was doing that before Lexapro.

I haven’t been experiencing too much dry mouth or the cotton-head feeling, but I have moments of being woozy.

Honestly, what I’m terrified about is the rumored weight gain on this drug. Seriously. My depression isn’t bad enough that weight gain is cancelled out by the drugs’ effects on my depression. Gaining 20 pounds would put me in a bad place.

May is a Good Time to Talk about Vitamin L

Today is my one-year anniversary on vitamin L, and it’s finally time to talk about.

I struggle with anxiety and clinical depression, and I take vitamin L – or Lexapro to be exact – to treat it. It’s been one year since I decided enough was enough. I was tired of being tired. Tired of being sad. Tired of always feeling on edge about almost anything.

Last spring I finally sought out the help I needed all along, and took some concrete steps in overcoming depression and the cultural stigma mental health issues carry within the Asian American, American and Christian cultures. And that is where I find convergence, because May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and it is also Mental Health Awareness Month. I couldn’t have orchestrated it better myself.

I don’t know about you, but I grew up being taught directly and indirectly that suffering was part of life and dealing with suffering meant swallowing it, sometimes ignoring it whole.

Tracey Gee in More Than Serving Tea writes:

In the Asian worldview, suffering is simply an assumed part of the way the world is. Sickness, disease and famine are accepted as natural part of life. In contrast, the American worldview sees suffering as an abnormal state.

In many ways, I suspect what we saw in Japan and how the Japanese reacted to the earthquake and tsunami was the Asian worldview playing out in realtime. I recall hearing news reporters almost gushing over how the Japanese would stand in line waiting patiently for emergency supplies. Other reports mentioned how there were no reports of looting despite the crushing need for food and water. No one person’s need to overcome the suffering was greater than another’s. The nation collectively swallowed suffering, saved face, upheld harmony and moved forward.

Reporters, in trying to draw a contrast, would allude to the perceived and actual chaos and looting that followed disasters here in America. But what 30-second television spots didn’t go into is that our worldview here in America is different. “How could this happen in America?” was a phrase oft repeated as images of looting, devastation, scarcity and suffering flashed on our screens in the aftermath of Katrina.

So growing up, I was a bit confused about suffering. My church upbringing addressed suffering as being temporary because one day all our tears would be washed away. I believe that, but what was missing was addressing the present tears and the sadness that haunted me. There weren’t enough church retreats, revival nights, youth group meetings, prayer meetings and praise nights to string together to keep me from the depression and anxiety.

I prayed. Sometimes I would pray for the ability to endure the sadness and suffering. Other times I would pray that it would all just go away, but when prayers failed to act like a holy vending machine I realized I couldn’t “Christian” my way out of what was going on emotionally and mentally.

Too bad it took so long to learn that lesson, but it’s been learned. I’ll probably have to learn it again sometime soon.

Anyway, last year when I first when on Lexapro I thought about writing about it because the other reality is that Asian American young women have the highest rate of depression than any other racial/ethnic or gender groups. While I technically no longer fit the “young women” category I am the grown-up part of that demographic. Depressed Asian American young women don’t necessarily grow out of their depression any more than I could pray my way out of clinical depression.

But where can we talk about this? Despite commercials and advertisements for antidepressants attempting to depict treatment, it’s never really that easy. I hesitated for years to seek medical help because health insurance, drug coverage and pre-existing conditions are things that the grown-up me worried about. I read stuff on the internet about different drugs and their side-effects, and there were great on-line threads but I wondered if there would be a real-life community for me to talk about this journey. And ultimately, I figured if I wasn’t suicidal I could suck it up, and I did for a long time.

Standing in my kitchen last spring, crying and feeling like the world was heavy and overwhelming forced the issue. I didn’t want to enter into my 40s swallowing that kind of suffering. I didn’t want to be a statistic. I didn’t want untreated depression to be a legacy I passed on to my daughter (and sons).

I picked up the phone and made an appointment. I had the prescription filled right away, and I endured the transitional 2-6 weeks of nausea, dry mouth, drowsiness, restlessness, etc. for the drug to help my brain chemistry re-set. I slowly shared with friends about my vitamin L and I am finding that I am not alone. Asian American young women may have the highest rate of depression, but they don’t have to go untreated. We just never talked about it.

So where can we talk about depression, swallowing suffering, avoiding pain and seeking help? I suppose we can talk about it right here if you want and if you’re willing.

 

 

 

 

 

You Can’t Make Me But You Might Make Me Want To Try…This Relaxation Technique

I have been having a heckuva time falling asleep at appropriate times – appropriate times being at bed time, at night when the rest of family is sleeping. Please no “getting old” comments. I am quite aware that things are changing for me as I have jumped into my 40s with aplomb, but that doesn’t change the fact that I miss my sleep.

Things I have tried:

  • exercise but not too late in the evening
  • unplugging and getting away from the backlit computer screen at least an hour before bed
  • stop reading in bed to remind my body that the bed is for sleep and not for studying
  • eating ramen noodles when I am hungry at night (msg folks)
  • reducing caffeine intake during the day

Things I am considering:

  • earplugs so that I can’t hear my husband’s cpap machine (think Darth Vader)
  • changing the time I take my medications
  • increasing my caffeine intake

So, I am fairly certain there are those of you out there who find counting sheep a big waste of time. What do you do to unwind, relax and fall asleep??

Is This a Log in My Eye?

I’ve been a little preoccupied with my child’s weight, to the point of scouring new ways to protein- and calorie-boost snacks. A larger serving of scrambled eggs at breakfast. A protein bar for a snack. An extra slice of turkey in the sandwich. A bowl of cereal after school. An apple and a scoop of ice cream for dessert.

But would I be doing this if it were my daughter?

I had to stop and think about that one…and clearly I am still thinking about it. My son, Corban, has a slighter build, and right now is almost the same height and weight as his younger brother, Elias. I’m fairly certain that if a growth spurt doesn’t happen in the next few weeks, the two will be sharing pants and shirts, which makes it easier for me.

But we noticed this summer that Corban was noticing that he was smaller, not just shorter, than his friends. He voiced some concern about being shirtless at the pool (thank goodness swim shirts make being wet and in the sun for hours a wee bit safer) and about changing in front of other boys for gym class.

He was worried about being too small, too skinny.

As his mother I’m worried about nutrition being a contributor (we’ll suspend issues of genetics for now) to his small-ish frame and worried that this awareness was contributing to his reluctance to try different sports. So I did what any worried, parenting-out-of-my-own-issues parent would do. Protein-packed snacks and frequent offers of said snacks? No problem.

But for no reason other than my own neuroses did I stop the other afternoon after straightening up the protein-packed pantry and ask my husband, “Do you think I would be trying to increase protein- and calorie-loads if this were Bethany and not Corban?”

I remember when Bethany was a toddler who downed whole milk as if we had a dairy farm in our backyard. Family members scolded us for feeding her whole milk because “that will make her fat”. I bristled and you can imagine my polite, pursed half-smile and reply.

Those relatives never said anything about Corban or Elias getting fat on whole milk.

But my kids aren’t toddlers anymore. My unscientific observations after three kids and six nieces and nephews are that baby fat is cuter on boys a whole lot longer than on girls and that any baby fat that lingers is written off faster for boys than for girls.

The world is, however, changing. Body image issues are equal opportunity as young boys see youngish men flaunt photoshopped six packs and pecs. How do I know? Because my boys noticed what hours of yoga and running did to my arms this summer.

“Mom, look at your arms! You look like a man!” Corban exclaimed. He proceeded to tell Peter that Mommy was stronger because Mommy had bigger muscles. (For the record, Peter is and most likely will always be stronger, but for now my arm muscles are more defined. And he and I talked to all of the kids about health, exercise, what strength and health look like for men and women of different body types and other fun conversations during quality family moments.)

So as one who often writes about women fitting into and the redefining the world of men, I felt it necessary to hit the pause button.

If it were Bethany and not Corban with a very low BMI, would I be packing the pantry with nutrition bars?


The Art, Gift and Discipline of Self-Care

It’s so quiet here. Even the ceiling fan in my office doesn’t make any noise.

Yes, all three kids are back in school, and I am trying to give myself a ton of grace as we try to re-establish a routine. What is always top on the list is how to make the transition back to school a healthy, joyful one for the kids. What has appeared and creeped up on the list has been ways to make the transition and routine a healthy and joyful one for me.

Me.

That’s OK, right? Right. Yes. Absolutely. Sometimes. Most of the time. Of course it is.

There were years when all I wanted was to be able to go to the bathroom without one of my kids needing/wanting to be within earshot or on my lap. All I wanted was to pee in peace. Was that too much to ask for?

But now that my toddlers are much older, it is a discipline to give myself the gift of self-care. Sometimes it’s a few minutes in the morning with a cup of coffee and the newspaper. Other times it’s 60 minutes of exercise. Or a bottle of nail polish.

It takes time to figure out what little thing or slightly bigger thing restores and rejuvenates my body, mind and soul so that my thought bubble doesn’t read “HELLO?! Am I the only one who sees this mess and cares about it?” It takes discipline to tear away at all of the real and important demands on our lives. It takes discipline to prioritize, to honor commitments, to understand yourself in all the crazy and beautiful ways God created you to be. My mind keeps wandering to those crazy sisters Mary and Martha and that little slice of life in their home we read about in the Gospel of Luke. Martha is running around very much like I run around and she is ticked off that her sister Mary is just sitting there listening to Jesus.

What kind of life does Mary think she has? Who does she think she is?

This morning I get the sense that Mary knows herself the way I want to know myself…so I am going to go sit…with my coffee. And then I am going to walk, not run, through my to-do list.

What are you going to do? Or, what do you need to do for yourself today? It’s OK. Really. It’s OK.

“The Talk” – Part 2

Several years ago it was time to have part 1 of “The Talk” with my daughter. Since then she and I have regrouped to talk a little more about sex and sexuality, as well as God’s gift of sexuality and intention for sex, love and marriage and Hollywood’s version. It’s an open conversation that we started in 5th grade, before the school health presentation, because I have control issues and wanted her to hear the information from me first.

This year was Peter’s turn to start the conversation with Corban. I was hoping the conversation would take place first thing this year, but I was reminded that before we began to talk honestly and openly about sex we would have to undo some of our harmless lies.

Kathy: Honey, when are you going to have “The Talk” with Corban?

Peter: Well, I was thinking we should start out with the Tooth Fairy.

Kathy: Oh. Shoot.

…at least a month later…

Kathy: Honey, how about “The Talk”?

Peter: Well, what about Santa?

Kathy: You couldn’t just take care of Santa when you took care of the Tooth Fairy?

Peter: Honey, that’s a lot in one talk. Too traumatic.

…another month or so…

Kathy: Well, how did it go?

Peter: Well, Corban’s response was, “Dad, why do we have to talk about grown-up stuff?”

The “grown-up stuff” he hears today at school will be no surprise. Corban mentioned last night that today’s half-day schedule involved a talk on puberty – imagine a 10-year-old boy speaking with a touch of disdain and rolling his eyes. Honestly, there is tiny, tiny part of my Mommy heart that is relieved that Corban isn’t in a rush to grow up. I saw (and continue to see) more of that in Bethany and her female friends, especially as it relates to their bodies – how they dress and look.

But it’s time. It’s time to start talking openly and honestly as best as we can, as appropriately as we can. Peter and Corban, just like Bethany and I did years ago, have begun what we hope and pray will be a lifelong conversation that starts with “grown-up stuff” and never ends.

From Death to Life Through the Elias’ Eyes

Last Sunday Elias came out of Children’s Church with a tombstone. It was supposed to be a replica of the stone that covered Jesus’ tomb, and on the stone the children were supposed to write what they were thankful for this Easter.

My heart nearly skipped a beat when I saw what Elias had written:

“Getting through two seizures in one day”

Where is the innocent thankfulness for chocolate eggs?

To add to my shock, Elias added a drawing after the incomplete sentence – a smiley face, a circle that he had colored in which looked like an exaggerated dot or period, and then another smiley face.

Someday I will explain to him how amazingly accurate his picture story was…It was a beautiful Tuesday in June four years ago – a friend took some amazing photographs of Elias smiling and playing in the open fields at Cedar Campus. By Wednesday, Elias had literally gone dark – just like the circle he had colored in – clinging to life, intubated, on a ventilator with nothing for us to do but pray and cry. Two hospitals, a team of doctors and specialists, a battery of tests and we still had no answers. There was nothing to do but wait. By Thursday morning, Elias was back to smiling though still regaining his fine and gross motor skills.

It was nothing short of a miracle. And for that miracle we are thankful.

Smiley face. Dark circle. Smiley face.

For some reason, the pattern makes me think of Good Friday. Holy Saturday. Resurrection Sunday.

I can smile on Good Friday because I know how the story ends, just like I can smile now because I know how that week in June ended for Elias. I know that in the midst of Christ’s suffering there remains the shadow of hope that grows and groans.

But as we wait to celebrate Easter, there is the dot – a pause button, if you will, filled and empty with silence, stillness, grief, waiting, and certainty because once again we know how the story ends, just like there was certainty for me in the hospital and the life flight to Ann Arbor and in the PICU even if in that moment we didn’t know how the short-term would end. Certainly God was with me and with Elias and with Peter and our other two children and our friend Andrea and her two children who traveled with Peter while I flew with Elias. I was and remain certain of it. Certainly God is in the silence and in the in between.

And I smile this morning having been greeted by Elias’ smile and signature, “Oh, Mom!” He doesn’t remember the seizures or the emergency medical flight to Ann Arbor. He doesn’t remember the spinal tap, the multiple scans of his brain and body. He doesn’t remember so much because his life had momentarily gone dark, just like that circle he had colored in. He remembers to be thankful and he really lives life like a celebration.

This Easter I have been reminded by my youngest child to be thankful for the smiles and everything in between. Even the circles that have been colored in with darkness because I am certain.

He is risen. Indeed.

Working Mommy=Unhealthier Kids? Work, Parenting, Calling & Roles

I’m always telling my children that they have the “meanest mommy in the whole wide world” but apparently I now have proof that they are pretty lucky kids.

According to a new study out of Britain, researchers have found that children of mothers who work full-time were the unhealthiest of the bunch. The second group of unhealthy kids belonged to part-time working moms.

Why? Because those kids ate more sweets, chips and sweetened drinks in between meals and spent more time than did their stay-at-home-mom-kids counterparts.

Hey, Bethany, Corban & Elias! Stop whining! You may have spending limits on clothing, and restrictions on the types of movies you are allowed to watch, but YOU get more sweets, chips, high fructose corn syrup enhanced drinks & tv/computer time than your friends whose moms do not work outside of the home. I have research to back this up!

I told you you were lucky to have the meanest mommy in the whole wide world!

Studies like this frustrate me to no end. Apparently fathers and their presence or lack thereof is irrelevant. Because their working trends have not changed significantly since the stone ages or so, it is obviously up to women to stay at home and raise healthy children. Razzle, frazzle.

I have worked outside of the home since Bethany was born (minus the first six months of her life when I was recovering from nearly bleeding to death, but that’s another story for another day). I may have been a career-driven 20-something, but when I was holding Bethany, and then Corban and Elias, in my arms I did not care whether or not I would see another byline again.

I have often wondered what it would be like to be a SAHM (stay at home mom) and to never feel that work gets the very best of me on some days while my children get the tired, worn out version of me. I have listened to SAHMs who refer rather wistfully to my “trips” away to exotic destinations like Madison, WI; Champaign-Urbana, IL; and Cedarville, MI. (OK, Seattle and SoCal are better!) What we’ve learned in living the journey together: the grass is always greener on the other side if all you’re doing is looking at the other side.

I’m in my 14th year of parenting with a lifetime to go and thousands of years of Korean American cultural baggage of guilt and shame with a splash of Christian fundamentalism to weigh me down. I do not have the energy nor the desire anymore to take on more false guilt or spend energy frustrated over things I cannot change. That is how I do it.

For those of you moms out there, what have you done to make it “work” for you and your family – whether you are a SAHM or a mom who works outside of the home? What about your situation has frustrated you or made you feel guilty or even envious of the other side and how have you dealt with it?

And out of curiosity, what do you think? Are kids with SAHMs better off?  Are kids with moms who work outside of the home better off? Does it have to be an either or?

UrbanFaith.com & Health-care Reform

I don’t know about your circle of influence and acquaintances but there’s been a lot of chatter about health-care around these parts. LOTS OF CHATTER.

Have you read the proposed reform and related reports on health insurance and Medicare?  I have not, but I’m hoping to skim through it because honestly I can’t comment on specifics unless I know and understand them at a very basic level.

What I do know is that on a personal level I’ve experienced the broken health-care system. A few years ago our family lived through a major medical crisis, which should’ve worked with our major medical insurance coverage that we were paying for out-of-pocket with a high deductible. Four trips in an ambulance, a LifeFlight jet ride with life support, and almost a week at a major university’s hospital – we lived and breathed health-care. We were fortunate. We had some coverage. We had some knowledge of the system. We had friends in hospitals across the country asking to see scans, films, reports, giving advice. And in the end it was our InterVarsity community that rallied together to help us tackle the $10,000+ in bills we nearly drowned under.

Please don’t tell me the system isn’t broken. Please don’t tell me that the “church” should step up unless you yourself are willing to ante up. Church is a building. “The Church” – well that’s something else entirely.

Please don’t tell me you are “pro-life” if you aren’t willing to consider how the current system could be changed to improve life for so many.

Please don’t tell me you are “pro-choice” if you aren’t willing to consider how the current system doesn’t give the same choices to everyone.

I need to stop.

UrbanFaith.com has teamed up with Sojourners to present a great roundup of opinion on the health-care debate, from a wide range of religious and political perspectives…take a look-see. Scroll down and you might see a face you recognize.

Thinking About Female Bonding Over Sweat and Jeers and the Etiquette of Exercise

Until last year, I exercised alone. My “routine” was easy: grab my water bottle, headphones and iPod, enter the gym and make as little eye contact as possible. Why smile at a stranger while I was willingly walking towards 60 minutes of torture on the elliptical? It was a great routine, which gave me just enough time to get through a single “This American Life” podcast.

Last fall a fellow mom asked me if I wanted to join her in a weights class. I hesitated, and managed to put the decision on hold for a week or so. As an extrovert, the idea of working out in community seemed like a logical move, but as the sometimes-insecure-woman-who-can’t-believe-she’s-still-struggling-with-moments-of-insecurity I wasn’t sure if walking into a room of women was a good idea because, let’s be honest, women can be a teeny bit catty.

As someone who is genetically predisposed to having a small, petite frame, I’ve found myself in dangerous female territory. I’ve had to explain why I exercise because certainly a thin woman doesn’t need to exercise. Right? Sure, there are plenty of reasons to exercise, but the media wants us to believe the reason to exercise is weight management. (Insert appropriate hate the skinny girl comment.) My polite comeback to the “you don’t need to exercise” comment is this: If we were looking at my 80+ y.o. grandmother and my 60+ y.o. mother (sorry, mom) I would agree with you. I don’t need to lose weight. But if you knew my mother and grandmother you would know that my mom had a heart attack before she turned 60, and both my mother and grandmother are on medication for bone density loss. Yes, I do need to exercise.

Add to that the entire exercise class sub-culture – barbells, hand weights, mats, steps & boards, exercise balls and bands, walls of mirrors and bad lighting combined with early hours and perky instructors all looked like a well-packaged means of torture. 

I was so wrong. It only took a few classes before I was hooked because I had taken a few negative personal experiences and my own prejudices and applied them to something I had never experienced. Muscle Max, Sculpting and Cardio-Mix turned out to be something that can be hard to come by – a fairer playing field where women spanning at least three decades are supportive of each other and their goals whether it’s losing a few inches or pounds, releasing some stress, or just making it through crazy push-ups (you should see this set of push-ups).

I’ve learned about parenting high schoolers and college-aged children. I’ve learned about diabetes. I’ve learned about what aging gracefully can look like. I’ve learned to laugh at myself when the voice inside wants me only to hear “you’re not doing it right” and keep moving even when I can’t figure out the step combo. I’ve learned that most of us can still name 5 things we would change about bodies, but I’ve also learned that in a room full of women we’re quicker than I thought to offer words of genuine encouragement to shed the lies that hurt our souls.

But that’s enough about me and my journey of discovery through sweat and squats. Anyone else out there finding that exercise is teaching you more than you expected? Anyone else learning to face their own prejudices and stereotypes of others through activity? Anyone else want to join me? (Bring some water and some Advil. Trust me.)