Exercising (Away) the Demons of Depression & Anxiety

I used to always say that I would only run if chased, but last year I got a good pair of running shoes and would run two or three times per week. I stopped once it got too cold, but this week I started again.

A woman jogging

I only run about two to three miles, but it feels great. I signed up to run a 5k next month to help me stay motivated. Thankfully, 5k is just over three miles, so I should be able to run the whole thing without worrying about training too hard.

For most of my twenties, I treated my depression and anxiety by doing aikido a few times per week. I didn’t really know that I had depression or anxiety. I just assumed everyone else was being an asshole when they didn’t behave the way I thought they should.

I admit that I hope one day I might be able to treat my symptoms without medication. Having two kids under the age of seven seems like a bad time to try. In the meantime, medication plus exercise is working as a great combination.

One thing I like to do to squeeze in exercise into my day is to drop my car off somewhere that I’ll need to come back to later. I often park my car at my son’s school, walk the mile and a half home, do stuff around the house, and then walk the mile and a half back to his school.

The other day, I did basically the same thing except that my son was attending a day camp 6.5 miles away. I put my bike on the back of my truck, drove to the camp, rode my bike around for about 10 miles then drove my son home. My husband thought that seemed odd, but it makes sense to me.

There’s something really motivating to me that I have to go back to my car. Plus, leaving it in different locations varies the areas I’m going to, and that keeps it interesting. On my bike ride yesterday, I found a beautiful garden I’d never seen before.

I personally feel best exercising outdoors. When I run around my neighborhood at night, I get to smell the handiwork of my neighbors who are much better gardeners than I am. I smell roses, jasmine, wisteria, and orange blossoms.

Of course, if you can’t be outdoors due to weather or sleeping children, walking around the house can be effective. I vary the path I take through the bedrooms, kitchen, and living room, again to keep it interesting. I also try to get as close as I can to furniture and walls to maximize the area I’m walking in and to pretend a bit like I’m doing an obstacle course.

Last year my doctor recommended that I get a Fitbit, a pedometer that you can link online to your friends’ Fitbit accounts and sort of “compete” for first place. Some of my friends walk way more miles than I do, but being only a few steps behind one of my friends can help motivate me to walk a bit more just to get ahead. You can even “cheer” or “taunt” your friends.

I aim to walk at least 10,000 steps per day, but I don’t sweat it if some days I walk over and some I walk under. It’s all just about keeping moving. I even wear my Fitbit to sleep. Sometimes I wake up in the morning with steps counted because I tossed and turned so much.

My son Zach is in a martial arts class with his friend two afternoons per week, so his friend’s mom and I walk around for the 45 minutes the boys are in class. This is great because we motivate each other to exercise (no matter that we sometimes stop at Starbucks on the way), and we get to catch up, when time to socialize is often hard to find.

Whatever form of exercise you choose, I suggest you make it fun, by inviting a friend, changing things up if they start to feel repetitive or boring, and see if “stranding yourself” without a vehicle helps motivate you.

A friend of mine runs half-marathons, which is great for her. I might be tempted to feel inferior except that I honestly feel no desire to ever run that far. Unless I’m being chased, of course.

How do you motivate yourself to exercise?

Happy Birthday to My Blog!

“Pretend You’re Good At It” is a year old today! Thank you for being here, whether this is your first visit or whether you’ve been here since the beginning.

Zach, Kaylee, and me

I’ve enjoyed sharing my adventures with my son Zach and my daughter Kaylee. Even though I don’t make any money at this, I still tell my kids this is my job. Some day if I play my cards right, I could get paid whole tens of dollars for writing.

The blog has grown slowly but surely, and I’ve been surprised at some of the responses I’ve gotten from readers. One person said this is the only blog she reads. Another said she was so inspired by my “This Is What My Depression Looks Like” post that she made an appointment to get treatment for her chronic pain and depression.

There was that time Anne Wheaton retweeted a link to “My Miracle Child,” and I got 1,200 page hits in a single day. BlogHer has featured nine of my blog posts.

I successfully completed the Ultimate Blog Challenge, publishing 31 posts in 31 days, including some from guest bloggers Sassy Single Mom, Mara Migraineur, and my husband.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect to last this long. I have wanted to quit multiple times. Then I remember the comments I’ve received about how I’ve helped someone feel better about not being perfect, about struggling with mental illness or cutting, or about messing up as a parent now and then.

I don’t expect to ever be as popular as Scary Mommy or The Bloggess, but I don’t need to be. I care about creating and nurturing community, however small it is. Thank you so much for being a part of it.

What would you like to read more about in the next year?

Mrs. Fix-It (Not)

Tools

My husband is really good at fixing things around the house. He’s got all kinds of tools, screws, nails, nuts, and bolts. He can paint walls as well as any professional.

I recently tightened the screw in the toilet paper roll holder with an Allen wrench, and I was thoroughly impressed with myself.

My usual tool for repairs is blue painter’s tape. My husband hates that I put it up all over the house, but he gets real quiet when I tell him, “Well, you’re welcome to fix it ‘properly’ whenever you have time.”

People have asked me why I don’t use duct tape instead. I like the impermanence of painter’s tape. It won’t damage the wall at all, if and when we remove it. I once posted on Facebook that I can vow to spend the rest of my life with my husband, but I just can’t commit to using duct tape.

We put blackout blinds in Kaylee’s room, but there’s a window in the door that needed to be covered as well. I got some blackout fabric and naturally, used blue painter’s tape to secure it.

Blue tape around the window

I recently got a jogging stroller for Kaylee, and the handle had a rip in the foam. I do wonder a bit whether duct tape would be more appropriate since the stroller is outdoors all the time, but that’s the beauty of painter’s tape. I can try it first, and if I change my mind, I can easily remove it.

Blue tape on the stroller handle

In the last six-and-a-half years, the only other tool I’ve used regularly is a screwdriver, for all the horrible toys my kids get that require batteries. If I can get away with it, I just tell the kids I tried putting in new batteries, but the toy still didn’t work, so it must be broken. Alas, there are still some toys that are only usable with batteries.

I know my husband cringes at seeing all the blue tape around the house, but I think it’s worth it for me to feel empowered to fix things in whatever way I can rather than be dependent on someone else. It’s also a bit of “flipping the bird” at my perfectionism. As much as it bothers my husband, I think it also reminds him of my quirkiness, which he must love to be able to tolerate it.

What unorthodox materials do you use to fix things around the house?

I confess that I giggled a lot writing this, especially writing, “tools, screws, and nuts.”

Hi, I’m Frankie, and I Suffer from Depression

The front of my business card

The front of my business card

Every time I give my business card to someone, I think, “Oh my God, what have I done?” On this blog, I admit that I’ve been hospitalized for depression, still deal with thoughts of suicide, and have been a bit rough with my children.

The people I’ve been giving my business card to are usually parents that I know from my son’s school. Some of them have been neighbors. One couple I especially like and would like to get to know better. I was so out of it, I gave each of them my card.

I worry that they’ll be afraid of me, especially of having me around their kids. I fear they’ll misunderstand depression and think it’s contagious or something. Worse, I’m afraid they’ll think I’m weak, for taking medication and for not being able to control my thoughts.

Then I remember. I remember that I’m still the same person they know and (seem to) like. I remember that I write to give a voice to those with depression and anxiety. I present at least one face and experience that is a reminder that it’s okay to suffer from mental illness. I am not alone, neither are the other people who read my blog who deal with mental illness.

The back of my business card

The back of my business card

Part of my “paying it forward” from the many people who have supported me is to make a stand for those who are suffering and haven’t gotten help yet. I can’t do that if I’m pretending in my real life that I’m someone I’m not.

Depression does not define me, I am not my depression, but I don’t ever want to hide it from anyone. The treatment I find most effective is connection, in being with other people who understand and accept me as I am.

I’ve been telling people in my life about my depression for four years now, and so far not a single person has rejected or ridiculed me for it.

My hope is that being authentic and out-spoken about my depression may encourage others to be open about their experience or at least realize that they’re part of a larger community.

Depression lies, but I and others speak the truth that it’s treatable, and it can get better.

Do you feel comfortable sharing your struggles with people who aren’t close friends or family?

Tales from the Crib

Zach sitting in his crib

Zach sitting happily in his crib

When my son Zach was a preschooler, he complained that we didn’t have a dedicated playroom like most of his friends did. This was pretty surprising considering just a couple of years earlier, he was quite happy playing in the 28″ x 52″ play area that was his crib.

Zach spent a LOT of time in his crib. We sleep trained him when he was 3.5 months old, and he took two 2.5 hour naps every day plus slept 13 hours at night. He clearly felt very at home in there. He’d refuse to get out of his crib after his nap or make me put him back after I changed his diaper.

He slept in his crib until he was over three years old because he never tried to climb out. We finally moved him out of the crib when it was recalled during the “Every Dropdown Crib Is a Death Trap Recall.”

He did wake up some times with his arms or his legs sticking out through the crib rails. We put in crib bumpers but had to remove them when he started pulling to standing. I remember so clearly him pulling himself up to a standing position, feeling so proud for a few seconds, then screaming in terror when he realized he didn’t know how to sit down again.

Zach taking Panda for a drive

Zach taking Panda for a drive

Zach would put everything in his crib: big toy fire trucks and cranes, books, all of his stuffed animals, and every blanket and pillow he could get his hands on. He would put foam alphabet tiles in his crib and make a car out of them, then take his trusty sidekick Panda for a drive.

Zach throwing a tea party for his stuffed animals

Zach throwing a tea party for his stuffed animals

He’d use his crib as a picnic area for birthday and tea parties with his stuffed animals. He was so sweet to them. He’d tell them, “Good job!” My friend told me that her son was always putting his stuffed animals in timeout I’ll admit, I felt smug and superior. Now I know that even really mischievous toddlers can become really sweet first graders.

He’d use the crib rail as a keyboard and play music while singing and dancing.

One day I asked my husband if I could lay all day in bed and read, and he said, “Sure, as long as you do it in Zach’s crib.” To both his and Zach’s surprise, I pulled a stool over and climbed into the crib. Zach had been looking at a book, but he couldn’t stop looking over at me and laughing.

Zach and me in his crib

Zach and me in his crib

Zach will be seven years old this summer, and I’m glad he’s comfortable out in the world at school, museums, zoos, and the beach, but I still miss reaching my fingers through the crib rails to tickle him and hearing him squeal with delight.

Did you kids love or hate their cribs?

This post is part of DropCam’s “Tales from the Playroom” series. DropCam makes a high-definition video baby monitor.

Raising a Follower

Boys in a dog pile

Photo by Julie Elliot-Abshire

Of these mommy types, I’m pretty clearly a dominatrix. I’m a control freak and a perfectionist. I’ve gotten better since I’ve had kids, but it’s still problematic. I’m especially concerned about how my six-year-old son Zach will blindly follow and believe everything other kids say, especially if they are older, more confident boys.

One day, my son’s principal told me to ask Zach about “poop tag.” Apparently, his friend Lucian told him to touch some poop on the ground and tag two other kids with it. I explained to him that no matter what other kids tell him to do, he still has to “use his brain,” and ask, “Should I be doing this?” or “Is this okay?”

There’s another boy Seamus who tells Zach tall tales about dragons, unicorns, portals, and something about “bad God” and “good God”. Zach was getting scared from some of these stories, but insisted that his friend was telling the truth, and that I “just didn’t know.”

Part of it is that these boys are checking out books from the school library titled “Fantasy Encyclopedia,” “Dragonology,” and “Monsterology.” I told Zach that “fantasy” means it’s not real, and he said, “But it’s an encyclopedia!” I had a talk with the school librarian, and she explained to the boys that none of those creatures are real although it’s okay to make up stories about them.

I asked the principal what suggestions she had about getting Zach to question other kids’ authority instead of accepting them as his cult leaders, and she said if he’s used to being “dominated” (although she apologized for using that word), he’s going to seek that in his friends. She recommended giving him some tasks and a deadline, say Friday, posting it on the fridge, not reminding him about it all week, then going over the list at the deadline to see how he did.

Clearly, I do order him around a lot, but isn’t that supposed to be part of my job? I try to give him more responsibility, but in small increments. When I bring him to pick up his sister Kaylee from preschool, sometimes I ask him to stay buckled in his seat in the car while I run in and get her.

The other day, I had Lucian and Zach in the minivan and asked them repeatedly (including right as I was getting out) to stay buckled in their seats. When Kaylee and I got back to the van, the boys were in the trunk area of the van. I yelled at them to get back in their seats. I said that when they’re with me, I expect them to follow my instructions, and because they didn’t, they’re not allowed to have another play date for at least a month.

I like the principal’s suggestion of basically giving him a project, but I’m not sure when he’s supposed to do that when he’s already pretty over-scheduled already.

This feels a little damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

My husband and I do a lot of things for the kids that they could probably do, but it takes them so much longer and requires more nagging. Zach is turning seven this summer. It seems like we’re at the point where we need to swap expediency for the hope that being more independent at home might make him more confident with his friends.

It might just be his personality to be impressionable with certain kinds of people, but it’s a good practice to encourage and enable independence and self-confidence.

Are your kids followers? Does it worry you?

Small Fears I Let Get the Best of Me

A bridge in a rearview mirror

I have big anxieties about whether I’m being a good mother, whether something catastrophic is going to happen at any moment, and whether my loved ones are going to suddenly decide I’m a complete fraud and leave me forever. This post is not about any of those things. This is instead about silly things I worry about but continue to act as though they’re actual problems.

Equating the IRS with the Boogey man
I have a rather irrational fear of the IRS. We don’t own a business so it’s not like we’re trying to write off hundreds of questionable deductions, but I cannot bring myself to mail our tax documents to our accountant. I know I could photocopy them and keep a copy in case they get lost, but I’m so worried that we won’t even know in time that they’re lost, so I drive them 15 miles each way just to make sure that they get there without mishap. I’m also too lazy to weigh the envelope and figure out how many stamps it would require. I’m pretty sure I’m spending more money on gas than I would on postage, but this way gives me peace of mind. Or at least quiets down a little of my crazy.

Parking RIGHT up against the curb
This one is truly ridiculous because it’s inspired by a line in Neal Stephenson’s book “Snow Crash” (excellent read, by the way). He writes that minivan-driving mothers know “it’s better to take a thousand clicks off the lifespan of your Goodyears by invariably grinding them up against curbs than to risk social ostracism and outbreaks of mass hysteria by parking several inches away, out in the middle of the street (That’s okay, Mom, I can walk to the curb from here).”

I tell myself that I’m parking right up against the curb so it’s easier for my son Zach to climb in to our SUV, which sadly gets better gas mileage than our minivan, but really, I’m just committed to maintaining the standard of perfection set in a work of FICTION. It’s alright, by the time my kids are teenagers and likely to make this wisecrack, I’ll be an expert at parking with the tires just kissing the curb.

Parking right against the curb

I parallel park my minivan this close to the curb.

I did actually say this line to my poor mother once, and was immensely gratified to have embarrassed her enough for her to continue parking for a few more minutes. Yes, I was a brat, and I will never do this again, except maybe to my own kids when they’re learning to park.

My mother drives differently because of me
It’s funny how one bad experience can affect not only one’s future, but also someone else’s future. When I was 16 and learning to drive, I once forgot to disengage the emergency brake before driving a few feet. My mother was so upset by this, to this day, over 20 years later, she still takes the emergency brake off before putting the car in gear (which by the way, is less safe). When shifting into drive, you’re going to shift through neutral at which point you have no emergency break and are not in any gear.

Do you have innocuous fears from your past that still haunt you?

Mommy Types: Which One Are You?

A mother pushing a stroller

I know quite a few moms now, and I’ve noticed a few patterns in our styles of parenting. There are many ways of parenting, of course, but here are a few that I think predominate.

Honey-tongued (The Saint)
This mom uses a sweet voice talking to her children almost all of the time, no matter what they are doing. The only exception where she might raise her voice is if her child is about to be hit by a car. In all other situations, she is endlessly patient and understanding. She’s fully educated about child development and how kids are acting out as a developmental milestone towards self-empowerment.

Dominating (The Dominatrix)
This mother runs her household with an iron fist. Her children will be well-behaved, come hell or high water. She uses her “stern voice” quite often, demanding not only complete but also instant obedience. This mother is probably the most often disappointed by the reality of raising children, and she’s frequently in denial that she can have actual control over her life and her environment.

Incredulous (The Unbeliever)
This mom is constantly surprised at her children’s antics. Her constant refrain is, “Are you kidding me?” She keeps trying to rein in her children’s wildness and free spirit, but at the same time, she is in awe and extremely grateful that her kids will not take shit from anybody when they’re grown.

Even-keeled (The Realist)
This is the mother who will take her two children on a flight to far-flung places like London, Paris, Switzerland, and Australia. She knows it’s going to suck, and she plans accordingly. When her children throw epic tantrums, she shrugs and says, “Yep, they’re behaving like children.” She doesn’t get flustered, she has her set of survival skills, and she manages to either comfort them or convince them to go somewhere quiet where they can regroup.

Uncertain (The Worrier)
Frankly, this is just about every mom. Our mantra is, “Am I doing the right thing?” It’s not a question of whether we’re screwing up our kids, but how much. We half-heartedly joke about how our parenting will result in years of therapy for our kids later in life. We’re really uncertain about the “right” way to parent but sure that we’re covering most of the “wrong” ones. We know that there isn’t really a “right” way, but we keep striving for it anyway.

We are all a combination of these types, of course. I think there’s benefit in “trying on” other styles that we’re less drawn to.

I spend most of my time being the Dominatrix and the Unbeliever. I’m not naturally a Saint or Realist, but I can pretend to be good at it, and at the very least keep my kids on their toes. Consistency is all well and good, but I’d like to give my kids pause sometimes for them to figure out which version of mommy they’re dealing with.

Which kind of mother are you most of the time?

Calling Out Shame

I recently watched Brené Brown’s TedTalk “Listening to shame.” As she described some of the messages shame tells us, I got noticeably uncomfortable and started to feel like I might cry. I am very familiar with feeling “not good enough” and questioning, “Who do I think I am?”

To thrive, shame needs “secrecy, silence, and judgment.” It can be terrifying to call out and name shame, but it can also be freeing and empowering.

My entire childhood was defined by the shame that my father was either in jail or running from the law. I felt shame that, according to my father, my mother didn’t want me and tried to abort me twice. I’ve felt shame that I wasn’t white like many of my friends at school. I was the youngest and smallest in my class every year.

I often tear up when we have parent teacher conferences. That stems from my fear that I’m not a good mother. I’m ashamed that I’m overweight. I feel guilty that I’ve indulged too much, too often, and I’m ashamed of my lack of self-control. I feel ashamed about scraping up my skin.

I know that when I buy in to the things shame tells me, I’m harder on myself and everyone else. I hold unrealistic expectations and judge people ruthlessly, even my husband and children.

Brené Brown says that, “empathy is the antidote to shame,” and “the two most powerful words when we are in struggle [are], ‘Me too.’”

Intellectually, I’m aware that some of my friends also worry about being good mothers and aren’t happy with their weight (some over- and some under-), but I think I’ve still been buying in to shame’s contention that I’m the only one.

A friend recently told me that she’s stopped doing a negative behavior. She was uncertain at first whether to tell me about it, worrying what I might think of her, especially if she relapses. I told her how proud I was that she was taking care of herself. If at some point she relapses, I’d rather be there to support her than be left in the dark.

We all have shame, and we all have the capacity for empathy. When we feel bad about who we are, or who we aren’t that we wished we were, perhaps we could access the empathy we’d have for a friend or other loved one and remember that we are not alone, we are doing the best we can with what we know, and we are worthy of love, forgiveness, and compassion.

How do you stop shame from clouding your judgment or keeping you from being courageous?

Sometimes It Helps If Mommy Leaves

A boy crying while swimming

Yesterday Kaylee threw a huge screaming fit about going to dance class. She’d stayed up late the two nights before, so I could tell she was tired, but I also know that she loves dance class, and once she got in the class, she’d be fine. I was bringing my friend’s daughter also, so I left Kaylee screaming, still buckled in her car seat, while I brought the other girl in and put her tap shoes on her. It helped that I got a parking spot right in front of the school.

I managed to get Kaylee to stop screaming enough to come inside and sit watching the class from the window in the hallway. A few moms emphathized with me about her stubbornness and lack of cooperation. I admitted I was mostly annoyed because I had wanted to go get a cup of coffee. One of the moms offered to watch Kaylee, so I left. On my way out, I asked another teacher to try to persuade Kaylee to join the class in my absence.

Of course, when I got back, Kaylee was not only in the classroom, she was participating and having a great time.

I’ve learned with both my kids and even our cat that they like an audience. Once my husband and I leave the room, the kids pretty quickly give up their tantrums. They’ll allow themselves to be distracted and reasoned with.

I’ve had a few friends who changed swim schools before because they didn’t like it when the instructors sometimes asked the parents to leave the pool area if their kids were crying. I prefer a pool where the instructors are experienced and comfortable with comforting kids who are upset and secure enough to ask the parents to leave.

Kaylee once threw a fit at a swim school, and we literally put her screaming and kicking in the arms of the instructor, and walked out. He laid her on his back for the whole class. He would teach another kid, teach her for a couple of minutes, then put her back on his back when it was another kid’s turn. She fell in love with that guy.

As parents we feel that we should be responsible for our kids most if not all of the time, and that no one can comfort them like we can. That’s certainly true sometimes, but it’s also very important for kids to have other adults they can trust. Every teacher and parent does things a little differently, and kids pay special attention to anything that’s new or different. They learn that there’s many different ways of following the rules and getting along with people.

I think surrounding my kids with other trustworthy adults can help them feel part of a larger community. I want them to be careful and aware of danger, but I do want them to grow up overall feeling safe.

Do you feel comfortable leaving your kids with other adults when they’re upset?

Scary Mommy: An honest look at motherhood

A personal blog about parenting while living with anxiety and depression

Honest Mom

A personal blog about parenting while living with anxiety and depression

The Bloggess

A personal blog about parenting while living with anxiety and depression

Illustrated with Crappy Pictures™

A personal blog about parenting while living with anxiety and depression

Miss Bookish Girl

Musings on cooking, travel and books.

Sassy Single Mom (dot) Com

A personal blog about parenting while living with anxiety and depression

My Migraine Family

I have migraines. I have a family. I'm not sure I entirely thought this whole thing through very thoroughly, but I do love them. My family, not the migraines.

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