An Alternative to Vaccines: Voluntary Intentional Exposure

A kid sick in bed

Illustration by Cécile Graat

There seems to be this dichotomy where there are only two choices to protect our communities from preventable diseases: vaccinate or don’t vaccinate. I propose we offer a third option: doctor and CDC-monitored voluntary intentional exposure.

There are currently over 50 confirmed cases of measles in the U.S. right now. I suggest we offer families who choose not to vaccinate for philosophical beliefs (rather than medical or religious reasons) the option to have their unvaccinated child spend time with a known infected person to intentionally try to catch the disease. Some families have already tried these “pox parties” to try to get their children to develop natural immunity to chicken pox, but having doctors and the CDC monitor the exposure, quarantine, and treatment during the illness would likely make this safer and more effective.

One of the biggest problems with diseases like measles and pertussis is that it’s not immediately apparent that a person is infected and contagious. This would eliminate that uncertainty. You would know exactly when the child was exposed and be able to quarantine them while they’re contagious, have them monitored by their doctor and quickly provide treatments for any complications such as pneumonia or ear infection.

Once the child is no longer contagious, the quarantine can end, and the child can go back into the community with lifelong immunity. One more child contributing to herd immunity, without the need for a vaccine.

Parents who don’t vaccinate their children now are already taking the risk that their child will contract diseases naturally. I imagine if offered this option, many families would choose it. This must of course be voluntary and offered only as an opportunity. Coercing or compelling people is not effective.

Telling concerned parents who choose not to vaccinate their children to “Just Do It” is about as effective as the “Just Say No” to drugs campaign. If we want to increase the percentage of people who are immune to diseases like measles and pertussis, we need to offer other viable options.

Can We Have Meaningful Dialogue about Vaccinating?

Needle and vial

Photo by Brian Hoskins

I’ve been shocked by how quickly my Facebook feed went from showing Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes like, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” to showing videos and sarcastic articles condemning parents who choose not to vaccinate their children. I get so frustrated seeing stuff like that because mocking and ostracizing people you disagree with might seem entertaining and validating, but it’s really just counterproductive.

Dr. Bob Sears wrote, “The answer won’t be to make everyone vaccinate; neither should the answer be to allow diseases to run rampant and kill people left and right. The answer needs to be somewhere in the middle, and it needs to include love, understanding, and calm-headed people who will actually stop and listen to each other.”

I understand why some parents are afraid to get their kids vaccinated. I slow vaccinated my son. He only got one vaccine per month so that if he were to have an adverse reaction, I would know exactly which vaccine it was, and he wouldn’t have to get any subsequent doses. Unfortunately, the only way to find out if someone has an adverse reaction is to get the vaccine. Some parents aren’t comfortable taking that risk.

Fortunately, neither of my kids had any adverse reactions to the vaccines. They occasionally had fevers, and my son vomited once or twice, but nothing more serious than that.

Reading side effect warnings can be pretty terrifying these days though. The prescription information provided by the pharmacist always seems to include dry mouth, seizures, and hallucinations for medication, even if it’s just to stop diarrhea. There have been reports of “long-term seizures, coma, and permanent brain damage“ after the DTaP vaccine. The information sheet states, “These are so rare it is hard to tell if they are caused by the vaccine,” but I can understand why that would give some parents pause.

There’s also the mentality that if my kid catches a disease naturally, they’ll have lifelong immunity. This is why people born before 1957 don’t need to get the measles or mumps vaccines. They’re so likely to have caught the diseases and are still immune.

Of course, catching chickenpox exposes people to developing shingles later in life. My mother-in-law got shingles, was in so much pain she lost the ability to walk, developed pneumonia, and then passed away, all over a period of a few months.

Still, vaccines are not infallible or perfect either. For one thing, they don’t always prevent infection. Six of the people who recently caught the measles at Disneyland were in fact vaccinated but for some reason not fully protected. People can still catch the flu even after getting the vaccine, although it can be milder than if the person were not vaccinated at all. Immunity can also wane over time, requiring booster shots.

Asking parents to vaccinate their children is asking them to take a calculated risk, except you don’t know what the actual calculation is. 1 in a trillion is meaningless if it turns our your kid is that one. Low probability is not necessarily persuasive to everyone.

Still, I’m grateful that my kids are less likely to pass on a preventable disease to our adult friends who have cancer, any friends we have who are allergic to eggs or yeast and aren’t able to get some vaccines, or to children who are too young to be vaccinated.

Reducing the spread of disease requires between 75-95% of people to be immunized, depending on the disease. How can we work together to get to those numbers? Not by ridiculing or condemning the people we want to persuade. There is no Us vs. Them in this. There is only Us, and we all need to work together to figure out how to protect our friends and families.

How Do I Tell My Son His Friend is Now a Girl?

A girl and a boy

Please check out my guest post on My Migraine Family about explaining to Zach about his friend being transgender.

Coping Strategies When I’ve Forgotten to Take My Antidepressant

I woke up grumpy, irritable, and inexplicably angry. It took me a few minutes, but then I remembered that I had forgotten to take my antidepressant yesterday morning. I didn’t realize until last night around dinner time. I took it then, but that was a whole 12 hours without it.

My four-year-old daughter was whining a lot at breakfast, and just the sound of her voice grated on me. I had no patience for her or her brother. My face felt permanently set in a scowl. My husband seemed to notice the change in me right away but didn’t say anything. It’s likely I would have snapped at him no matter what he said.

My only saving grace was that I was aware that I was being unreasonably angry and impatient. I focused on breathing more slowly and deeply. When I asked my daughter to get dressed, I watched as she futzed around and noticed my urge to yell at her to hurry up. Instead I asked her to “please focus.”

When focusing on my breathing stopped helping, I noticed how my toes felt touching the carpet, or later, the inside of my shoes. I noticed what my knees felt like touching the fabric of my pants.

All of this noticing is a form of mindfulness. We can only pay attention to one thing at a time. We think we’re multitasking, but what we’re really doing is task-switching very quickly. Paying complete attention to one thing in my body helps anchor me in the present moment and briefly pause the rage going on in my head.

There’s usually some story I’m telling myself that I don’t even realize. I feel like my kids are misbehaving just to piss me off. I feel like everything is going to go wrong, and I’m powerless to change it.

I need to be somewhat calm to do this, but I try to come up with another narrative. I look at my daughter screaming at me and think, “She must be tired. She’s struggling to find words to express what she’s trying to say, and she’s frustrated.” My son is making loud noises and being hyper because he wants some attention, not attention for its own sake, but to feel connected to us. Coming up with another story gives me understanding, and that understanding helps me develop patience. I feel powerless at times, but so do they.

I used to feel so guilty for losing my temper in front of my kids, like I was failing them somehow. It took a long time, but I realize now how important it is, how valuable, for my kids to see me not only lose my cool, but then work really hard to regain my composure. I can explain coping strategies to them until I’m blue in the face, but nothing will be as compelling as modeling it for them.

Calming down requires forgiveness

Calming down requires forgiveness. I have to forgive myself for getting irrationally angry in the first place, and I have to forgive my kids and myself for not being perfect.

I’m still going to have to practice calming myself after the kids get home from school. It doesn’t help that it’s going to rain all day, but while they’re in school, I’m going to try to “fill my bucket” with positive experiences so I can start from a more fulfilled place than if I just run errands and “get stuff done” like a workhorse.

A friend is coming over to hang out while her house is being cleaned. I’m going to ask her if we can watch the latest episode of “Castle” on Hulu, which is my weekly Tuesday gift to myself. I’m going to take my dog Maggie for a walk in her new doggie raincoat. The thing that best alleviates my depression is reconnecting: with people, with my dog, and with nature.

I will yell at my kids again, if not today, then tomorrow, and/or the day after that. I will never be “cured” from my depression. It’s a constant, ongoing process. But I’m not powerless or alone in this. That’s what gets me through it every time.

How do you get through times when you’ve just had it but don’t have the luxury of getting away from your triggers?

My Journey into and out of Silence

Being silent is something that doesn’t come easily to me. I’m always talking to someone, listening to music, or reading (Facebook, a novel, or live updates to a baseball game. Go Giants!).

So, it was quite a departure for me to spend a night and a day in silence at a church retreat recently. About 30 people came to the Mercy Center in Burlingame. We met on a Friday afternoon and got our instructions for the retreat.

We would be able to talk during dinner, but after that we would be silent from 7 pm until 3:30 pm the next day. During that time we would do a series of meditations, alternating sitting, walking, and lying down. We were asked not to speak or even make eye contact. We were also asked not to read, write, or use any electronic devices, aside from an alarm clock.

We each had a private room with a simple bed, desk, sink, and closet. There were community bathrooms on each floor. Meals were included.

The thing we did most was pay attention: to our bodies, our breathing, our thoughts, and our surroundings. This was not altogether a pleasant experience. Sitting for long stretches got physically uncomfortable at times, and paying attention to your thoughts can show you just how cluttered and chaotic your mind is.

I noticed I spend a lot of time planning what I need to do next, even if it’s days, weeks or even months away. I have negative self-talk about eating junk food and being overweight. I judge people for inane things like what they’re wearing, how they move, and whether they were following the instructions.

Noticing these thoughts allowed me to create distance from them. Instead of just accepting them as truth or fact, I observed them objectively and let them go. After awhile, I was able to have short stretches of time where I didn’t think that much. I just felt my breath moving in and out of my nose and lungs. I felt the smoothness of a tree leaf. I smelled a rose with my full attention. I savored my food and felt grateful that I didn’t have to prepare it and that it was healthy. I felt my legs, knees, and feet as I walked super slowly and with purpose.

The Mercy Center has an outdoor labyrinth that’s surrounded by trees and flowers. At the entrance to the labyrinth I asked for help being present and eating healthier. As I walked into the labyrinth I focused on my breath and on letting go, of my anxiety, my worries, my ever-present thoughts. When I got to the center, I ran my fingertips over a tall rock and felt myself filling with peace, stillness, and lightness. As I walked out, I imagined myself carrying that lightness back into my daily life.

The calm and lightness I felt from the retreat lasted about 20 minutes after I left the Mercy Center on the last day. I immediately ate ice cream and was already checking my phone at red lights. I’ve had many false starts at writing this blog post because going to a retreat is supposed to bring some amount of enlightenment and empowerment to really change my life, right?

I did learn some new mantras at the retreat, which I’m still using.

(while inhaling) think, “Breathing in, I am breathing in.” (while exhaling) think, “Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.”
(while inhaling) think, “Breathing in, I calm my body.” (while exhaling) think, “Breathing out, I smile.”

What I think I got most out of attending the retreat is that I’m not alone on this journey to find my calmest, most empowered self, and as difficult as it is to make time for myself to slow down and just be, it’s sometimes the most important thing I can do. There’s no shortcut to epiphanies or transformation, but it’s all going to be okay if I take life one breath at a time.

Please share in the comments your experience attending a retreat, whether it was silent or not.

Retreating into Silence

Tomorrow I’m going to an overnight silent retreat with my church. I did the church retreat a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. It wasn’t a silent retreat though.

An angel signaling "quiet"

One of the signs my depression is getting worse is the voice in my head runs on and on. It’s not even that I’m thinking. Sometimes it’s music playing in my head, sometimes it’s me narrating to myself something that just happened. I never really experienced a truly quiet moment until I started taking an anti-depressant.

I have tried having periods of silence though. Before we had kids, I would take a weekend day and just not say anything or talk to anyone. This would drive my husband absolutely batty. He wanted so desperately to be able to talk to me. I confess, I kind of enjoyed his frustration, it was cute.

Years ago, I used to be afraid of silence and being alone. I somehow instinctively knew that it strips you down to the bare bones of who you are, and I was afraid of what I would find. I was terrified that some horrible part of me would bubble up to the surface.

Now I understand that getting quiet and noticing the thoughts, sensations, and feelings that come up are the best way for me to let go of all distractions and to notice the peace and calm that’s present in every moment.

It seems a little contradictory to be surrounded by a big group of people, then insist on being silent. Are we still supposed to make eye contact? Do we smile at each other? I’m not sure. We’ll get to talk to each other during the orientation and dinner. Then we’ll do guided meditations and be in silence until the afternoon of the next day. We’re not supposed to read or write at all.

I’ll be honest, the thing I’m most looking forward to is sleeping. My dog Maggie has been keeping me up for about four or five nights. I let her sleep in bed with me, and she was all polite at first, but then she showed her true colors and started hogging the bed. Now I’m putting her in her crate at night, but she cries and barks for awhile before settling down. (Note: If you adopt a dog that is crate-trained, make sure you always put her in her crate when you leave the house and at nighttime. It will be better for everyone, trust me.)

Retreat is always kind of a funny word to me. It implies defeat, a “running away.” In some ways, I guess it is, running away from the hectic daily routine, the overwhelming to do list, the constant needs of my husband and children, my dog, my friends, my kids’ schools, etc.

It is also a “treat” to take care of myself. It feels almost child-like to care only for my own needs. I suppose some people might consider it selfish, but most people I think recognize self-care as something we all really need. None of us is the Energizer Bunny, try as we might to imitate it. We can’t always “keep going.” Sometimes it’s our responsibility to stop, and listen, and rest.

I don’t expect the retreat to be life-transforming, but I hope to experience some healing: physically, emotionally, mentally. I hope to connect with the people from my church and to whatever it is in the universe that binds us together. Some people call it God. I just know that when I get really quiet and still sometimes I do sense Something that is beyond my thoughts, worries, and fears. I know way deep down that I’m okay, we’re okay, and in the end, we’re all going to be okay.

Do you carve out time to sit in silence? What do you get out of the experience?

My Dog is an Anti-Depressant

I’d read that owning a pet can improve mood, but it surprised me how quickly adopting our dog Maggie helped alleviate my depression. I still feel anxious sometimes, but Maggie has brought a sense of security to my life that I didn’t realize was missing before.

Maggie and Kaylee

Just two days after we adopted Maggie, my seven-year-old son Zach melted down for an hour, making me late for my exercise class, then taking up my attention for the rest of the class so I didn’t get to work out at all. My four-year-old daughter Kaylee was making him more upset, and after I’d finally calmed down, she pooped so I had to change her pull-up.

Normally, I would have lost it, yelling, feeling bitter and resentful, and laying guilt trips on my kids. Instead I showed more patience and kindness than I knew I had. I came up with idea after idea to try to comfort Zach and help him regain his composure. It helped that I knew that he was tired because it was only the second day of school, and it was the first full day.

Even though I know I am loved by my friends and family, there really is something special about a dog’s love. It is so innocent and complete. Maggie has bonded the most with me, probably because I feed her and spend the most time with her, but it does feel special to be someone’s absolutely favorite person in the whole world.

I’m hopeful that Maggie will bond more with the kids. Last night she did lean against Zach’s leg while we were reading books.

It’s been especially helpful for Kaylee not to be “the baby” anymore. Zach is so easy-going, he gives Kaylee her way a lot because it’s not worth the bother, but Maggie’s walks and feeding take precedence over Kaylee demanding attention every minute. I think Kaylee also feels more grown up because she doesn’t need as much help as Maggie in some ways.

Taking care of Maggie has of course triggered my perfectionism, but it’s also given me an opportunity to practice letting go of trying to do everything “right.” Some dog owners highly recommend feeding your dog in a “Kong” or other feeding toy that makes your dog work to get their food out. It keeps them busy and mentally stimulates them.

I tried repeatedly to feed Maggie from a Kong, then felt like a failure when she showed little to no interest. Then I took her to the vet and found out that she’s missing a bunch of teeth. I remembered that when she was found, she’d been covered in foxtails, including having some in her mouth.

I imagine there are dog owners who train their dogs to be super well-behaved and to eat their environmentally-friendly organic food out of feeding toys instead of dog bowls. Maybe there are, but I don’t have to be one of them. We’ve created a home and a family with Maggie, and if there’s anything I want to celebrate, it’s that we are all great, interesting, and extraordinary, each as our imperfect selves.

How does having a pet help you cope with stress?

Maggie: Our Adoption Story

We quite suddenly adopted a dog two days ago. My husband was wary of me visiting the dog adoption clinics at a local pet store, and I assured him I wasn’t ready for a dog. I said we’d probably wait until next year when our younger child turns five.

Maggie

Then we met Maggie. When I first saw her, I thought, “I should really ignore that dog. She’s probably not right for us.” Then a volunteer offered to let my kids pet her. So I pet her. The volunteer started spewing off Maggie’s qualities: she’s 4-5 years old, she’s a Bishon Frise Maltese mix, she doesn’t shed, she’s hypoallergenic (so even people who are usually allergic to dogs could be okay around her), and she’s crate-trained.

Her hair is incredibly soft and thankfully short. When she was rescued, she was covered in foxtails, even having some in her mouth, and seemed like she hadn’t been fed properly for awhile. Doggie Protective Services cleaned her up, shaved her hair, vaccinated her, spayed her, and put her in loving foster homes until she could be adopted.

We were not planning to adopt a dog, not yet. Many people say though, “you don’t adopt a dog, they adopt you.” That’s really true in our case.

I’m beginning to think Maggie had some help from other four-legged friends. My sister-in-law has a small dog, a Silky terrier, and I got to walk him quite a few times in May. Then another couple we know got my daughter not to be scared of their Shih tzu Vinnie. My son Zach loves Vinne so much, he asks to have play dates with him.

I follow quite a few animal lovers on Twitter. Many of them are also big advocates of pet rescue, Anne Wheaton and Ricky Gervais in particular. Anne Wheaton does a charity calendar each year, with proceeds going to the Pasadena Humane Society.

My kids are four and seven years old. I’d like to think that I’m not just trying to fill some void left behind of not having a baby or really little kid anymore. I suppose it doesn’t really matter what my intentions were, just that I stay committed to taking care of Maggie for the rest of her life.

I’ll admit, I’ve worried a tiny bit that I’m a flake, I’ll get buyer’s remorse and decide I can’t take care of her. The funny thing about suffering from anxiety is it makes you anxious about having anxiety.

Thankfully, Maggie has been so easy to take care of, and we’re all adapting so quickly, I haven’t had any concerns about not being able to take care of her. I’m a little nervous about when it starts raining a whole bunch, but since we live in California and we’re having a drought, it seems like I can punt on this for quite awhile.

I’ve never owned a dog before, and my husband hasn’t owned one for about 30 years. I feel somewhat irresponsible adopting a dog without prior or recent experience, but my friends and neighbors who own dogs, DPS Rescue, and the salespeople at the pet store have been really helpful.

Maggie’s going to take awhile to get adjusted to her forever home, but one day I hope to train her as a therapy dog. It’s supposed to be good for her and for the people she visits. I already feel more stable and relaxed having her, and it’s only been two days.

Ever rescued a pet? Share your story in the comments below.

To My Son at the Start of 2nd Grade

Zach's haircut

I got the idea to write a Back-to-school letter to my son Zach last year from The Four Wendys. It’s easy to get caught up in trying to get back into the schedule of getting up early, packing snacks and lunches, and buying school supplies, but it’s really nice to take a moment to reflect on the year ahead and how far we’ve come as a family.

To my sweet, beautiful boy,

First of all, I’m sorry your recent haircut was a bit traumatic. I respect your right to grow your hair out, and I appreciate that you agreed to get it trimmed at the start of the school year. I know you’ve said you don’t want to be “handsome,” but you’re kind of out of luck there. You are one good-looking kid. Girls may come up to you again and announce that you’re their boyfriend. That’s okay. You can say, “Okay,” or you can say, “Well, let’s just be friends.”

I’m sorry that a couple of your friends have moved away to other schools. I know you will feel their loss, and I’m always here for a hug when you need it. I know you have a big heart, and you are a fiercely loyal friend. I will help you keep in touch with your friends, even if it means driving an hour each way to see them.

I’m excited to see what new friendships you will develop this year. I hope that you will play with kids where you tell me later, “we” did this and that together, not just that “so-and-so” told you what to do and how the world works. Real friends give and take, and you know quite a bit about how the world works too. You’re so easy-going you follow other kids’ leads well, but being easy-going can also make you a good leader too.

You’re already well along in your training to be a future Mythbuster. You already love math and science. Your reading has improved so much you’re devouring Pokémon and Ninjago graphic novels. Even though I can’t always keep up when you try to educate me about them, I’m really happy that you’re so passionate about the things you love.

I know handwriting is not your favorite thing, but I’m really glad you’ve been practicing over the summer. You think that it’s useless because eventually you’ll just type everything, but you never know when you’ll need to send another ninja a message, and he’ll need to be able to eat it to avoid having it fall into enemy hands. It could totally happen.

It may be stressful at the beginning of the school year. You’ll have a new teacher, a new set of classmates, and long days of having to pay attention. I promise you though that we’ll still have lots of fun. We’ll spend time with your friends who go to other schools, I’ll still take you to fun places, and I’ll help out in the classroom as much as I can.

Whatever happens, I want you to know that Daddy and I love you very much. Your sister loves you too, she just shows it differently. We are all very proud of you. You are sweet, funny, smart, creative, friendly, and generous. You are also extremely patient and forgiving when I’m grumpy and rushing you all the time.

Thank you for being my favorite son, my sweet, beautiful boy. I am grateful that I get to be your mom.

Don’t Give Up Yet, Just Wait

Just Wait - It Can Get Better

I have thought about committing suicide many, many times over the last 20 years. As a child, before I even knew what suicide was, I had wanted to disappear. I had wanted the fear, the pain, the loneliness, and the anger to go away, forever.

I’ve been extremely lucky to create a network of supportive, loving friends, and family. I didn’t always have that though.

When I was 22, and I first really started to think about committing suicide, I had almost no friends and I was estranged from most of my family. I had an unfulfilling, low-paying job. Luckily I did have a bike and a car. I numbed myself by riding my bike 42 miles every Saturday. When I felt the suicidal thoughts bouncing off the walls of my apartment, I drove up and down PCH (the Pacific Coast Highway). I sought out whatever beauty I could find: in the ocean, the trees, the sunlight.

I basically procrastinated, and doing so saved my life. Even after doing over a year of DBT (dialectical behavior therapy), taking an antidepressant, and creating a life worth living, I still feel the pull of my depression. I still sometimes think:

  • I am worthless
  • I don’t deserve my husband or my kids
  • I’ll never amount to anything
  • I’m tired of fighting myself all the time
  • I can’t do this anymore
  • I just want the pain to go away forever

I honestly feel like I’m living on borrowed time. My father committed suicide two years ago, his brother committed suicide twenty years before that. Who knows when I won’t be able to fight anymore?

Then I remember that we’re all living on borrowed time. Every minute we have is a gift. Every moment, we have the choice to say, “Not yet. Not today. Just wait.”

There are nights when I lay in bed beside my daughter, and I’m just exhausted by my guilt at not being a good enough mother, wife, friend, writer, human being. I think about how much I wish I could definitively end all of the pain with one fell swoop. It’s not enough to think about what it would do to my friends and family. It doesn’t help to think about how damaged my children would be.

Sometimes all I have the strength left for is to say, “Just wait.” Blues Traveler wrote a song called “Just Wait”:

In time you just might take to feeling better
Time’s the beauty of the road bein’ long

I don’t know what’s going to happen next. That’s the thing, I have to wait and see. I need to be here to find out what more I’m capable of, what more I can contribute, how much more love I can experience and share. I do think about needing to be here to guide my children through their depression some day, should they experience it.

I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to fight, but I know that I’m not alone. I will fight alongside Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess), Wil Wheaton, Stephen Fry, Andrew Solomon, and my many friends and family who struggle with depression.

As the Barenakedladies wrote:

Nothing worth having comes without a fight
Gotta kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight

I am deeply saddened by Robin Williams’ death. The love, joy, and inspiration he shared will live on through his work, his loved ones, and his fans.

If you or someone you know is deeply depressed, please get help. Call a suicide hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You cannot be replaced. You matter. You are needed.

Even if you can’t imagine a moment beyond the pain, just wait. It can get better. Wait, reach out, wait some more. It can, and it will get better.

Scary Mommy

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

Writer, Reader, Cook, Geek. Not always in that order.

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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