Category Archives: connection

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 Vinnie 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.

The Catch-22 of Offering Help

I see you.  You matter.  You are not alone.

I was elated that dropping my daughter off at her first day of Pre-K went smoothly. She’d been “acting out” so much for the past few weeks. I guess I was distracted by my relief.

I went to a Starbucks to write, and when the woman in front of my held up her phone to the cashier and asked, “How do I get the bar code to show up?” I blurted out, “You can just shake it.” She didn’t look at me, but she said, “I don’t LIKE to shake it. That’s why I’m asking!” I stood in stunned silence then mumbled, “sorry.” She said, “it’s okay,” but still didn’t look at me.

Twenty minutes later I still feel stunned, but most of all I feel ashamed. I imagine other people can brush off these things, but immediately I feel my self-hatred flare up and start shouting in my head, “Who the hell do you think you are, you obtrusive fuck? No one asked you! No one gives a damn what you think!”

The thing is, it seems like most people want it both ways. I see on Facebook all the time people complaining they don’t get enough support and simultaneously how dare people stick their noses in their business!

I do worry about butting in where I’m not wanted, but I’m more afraid of being apathetic. I, not surprisingly, have serious baggage about feeling abandoned by my parents and also guilty for not being able to stop my father from engaging in illegal activities or to cure his depression and anxiety, which ultimately resulted in his suicide. The next time you’re irritated when someone offers to help, consider that they might share my “rescuing complex” or “compulsive need to help.” It doesn’t excuse it, but it might shed some light.

Blurting out an answer to a question directed to someone else, I can see I came off as meddling, and maybe the woman thought I was judging her for not knowing how to get the bar code to come up. Maybe she was already having a crappy morning, and I just made it a little worse.

I’m tempted to stop offering to help altogether. It would save me the pain of these confrontations. If people needed help, they’d just ask for it, right? Who DO I think I am anyway?

I am a mother, a friend, and a neighbor. I couldn’t survive without all of the people in my life who help me get through parenthood, and honestly, who help me just make it to the end of the day. Isn’t it still a good idea to “pay it forward” once in awhile?

I realize that a lot of it has to do with timing and approach. Things go better when I pause to assess whether this is an appropriate situation to offer help. I’m a Sagittarius though, so thinking before speaking is not my strong suit.

When I see someone juggling a bunch of stuff and usually a couple of kids, I ask, “Can I give you a hand?” or “Would you like some help?” Sometimes they say, “yes, please!” with gratitude mixed with relief. Sometimes they say, “That’s okay, I got it.” Either way, I’m grateful to be in community with that person for just a brief moment.

I have this Margaret Mead quote on my About page, and I really do believe it: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

So even if I get a metaphorical door slammed in my face once in a while, I’m still going to offer a helping hand now and then, even if it’s just looking a person in the eyes, smiling, and expressing, “I see you. You matter. You are not alone.”

How do you balance offering help without butting in?

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Voices from BlogHer ’14

When people ask me how BlogHer ’14 was last week, I get speechless. There were so many great speakers and panels, and I met such friendly, welcoming people, it all rushes over me like a wave when I try to talk about it.

Business cards from BlogHer '14

Some of the business cards I collected

Here are a few important messages I took away.

We are all BlogHer
I used to think of BlogHer as just the media company: its co-founders, its editors, its administrative staff. BlogHer ’14 showed me that all of us who read, write, and share blog posts are part of something so much bigger.

I was struck by how egalitarian it felt. A few of the speakers were high-profile people like Arianna Huffington and Kerry Washington, but most of them were bloggers just like me. The Voices of the Year writers, the 10×10 speakers, even Jenny Lawson aka The Bloggess, were once quiet, still-in-the-shadows attendees like me.

It made me realize that I have just as much chance as anyone else of being on that stage one day, and I have so much more to contribute.

We are capable of more than we think
Alexandra Rosas of Good Day, Regular People spoke about how much she has achieved over the last decade, first by getting published for syndication on BlogHer, then by proposing and sitting on a panel at a BlogHer conference, to speaking at BlogHer ’14 as part of the 10×10 series. She was really inspiring. She encouraged us to “surprise yourself with what you can do,” and remember that “just because you can’t do something now doesn’t mean you can’t learn.”

The blogger behind Busy Dad Blog described the influence we can have. Whereas celebrities can create exposure or raise awareness, “Bloggers have the ability better than anyone to change the conversation.”

Kerry Washington expressed her gratitude to Shonda Rimes for making her the star of the hit TV show “Scandal,” and she encouraged us, “Fulfill your dream, or you’ll be robbing someone else.”

A closing keynote speaker urged, “People are waiting for you to make a difference.”

We need to take care of ourselves first in order to thrive
At the same time we support our families and our communities and be the force for change, we also need to care of ourselves first. A few speakers used the analogy from airplanes of “put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.”

Arianna Huffington talked about her book “Thrive,” which calls on us to “redefine success and create a life of well-being, wisdom, and wonder.” She recommends making more time for sleeping, detoxing from digital devices, and learning from other people’s “wake-up calls.” She pointed out that we pay more attention to the state of our digital devices than of our bodies.

Kerry Washington juggles multiple projects, including being a new mother, starring on “Scandal,” and working with the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. She explains that she budgets 80% of her time on where she can make the most impact and 20% doing whatever brings her joy.

We’re all in this together
Even though there are a multitude of topics bloggers write about, whether it’s food, parenting, politics, elder care, or dog training, there are issues that affect us all.

Katherine Stone of Postpartum Progress said, “You don’t need to be an expert to change someone’s life, you just need to give a crap.”

Feminista Jones said, “You don’t have to be black, gay, or poor to know when something is wrong.”

A person asked how to help when you don’t belong to a group that’s being treated badly. Kristen Howerton of Rage Against the Minivan said, “The first step is listen. The second step is listen. The third step is listen.” She said after that you need to “amplify” the group’s message, by sharing and retweeting their messages.

We are unique
Many speakers talked about focusing on what we love, the thing inside us that “glows or sparkles” and makes us shine. Elisa Bauer of Simply Recipes said, “Blog about what you love because life is too short to blog about anything else.”

Regardless of whether other people blog about the same topic, each of us has our unique point of view. We need to be who we are without apology. Courageously being ourselves, we can work together and achieve great things.

Please share your BlogHer ’14 stories in the comments below.

What I’m Hoping to Get Out of BlogHer ’14

Crowded conference hall

I’ll be attending BlogHer ’14 tomorrow and the day after. It will be my first blogging conference. I’m nervous, excited, and apprehensive.

Reading about and preparing for BlogHer ’14 has made me take stock of what I want to get out of blogging and what I’ve accomplished so far.

My page views are few and far between. The only sponsorship offers I’ve received have been from scammers. I’ve started and already abandoned an eBook idea.

Still, I’ve been fortunate enough to have had 10 posts featured in various categories on BlogHer. I’ve had two posts published by ScaryMommy. I successfully completed the Ultimate Blog Challenge in January, publishing 31 posts in 31 days. One reader wrote to tell me that my “What My Depression Looks Like” post prompted her to schedule an appointment with her doctor to try again to get her chronic pain treated.

I hope one day to have enough material to publish an eBook, probably about parenting while living with depression. I hope that slowly but surely I am building a welcoming and safe space for people to talk about mental illness without fear of judgment, to share their experiences of being vulnerable and authentic, and to call out shame when we feel beat ourselves up for not being perfect.

As scared as I am of being surrounded by bloggers who probably have way more experience, much larger readerships, and are actually making money at blogging, I’m going to remind myself to use this intimidating experience as an opportunity:

  • to soak up every bit of wisdom and encouragement they have to offer
  • to be inspired by other people’s passion, dreams, and ideas
  • to broaden my perspective on what is possible through blogging
  • to get one-on-one feedback about how to write and edit effectively
  • to meet new people who share my interests, my values, and my enthusiasm
  • to find people who can guest post on my blog and/or will let me write for their blog
  • to have a great time standing in my right to be there and owning that “I am a writer”

Check out my Twitter feed for updates from the conference.

Indifference Can Be a Killer

A doctor with a clipboard

Ever had a doctor blow off your concerns, dismiss you, and leave you completely unsatisfied with your visit? Go check out my guest blog post over at My Migraine Family.

Why Mothers Should Embrace Grandparents’ Day

Check out my guest blogger post on Scary Mommy about how mothers and grandparents each deserve to have their own special day.

Feeling Irritated? Get Curious!

My cat woke me up in the middle of the night meowing loudly. My first instinct whenever something happens that I don’t like is to get angry and resist that it’s happening. Even though I was half-asleep, I managed to breathe and remember that he doesn’t do this every night. He was probably meowing for a reason, not just to annoy me.

An irritated woman

I got up and saw that during yesterday’s play date someone had moved a foot stool in front of the cat door, so he couldn’t go outside. I moved the stool aside and went back to bed. He continued to meow for awhile, trying to get me to open the door for him, but I focused on my breathing and listened until he finally went out the cat door on his own.

My dialectical behavior therapist used to encourage me to try to widen my perspective. When I’m depressed and angry, everything seems black-and-white to me, and there’s only one explanation for anything. When I was feeling strong negative emotions, she would always tell me, “Get curious!”

It’s a skill to look beyond first impressions and knee-jerk reactions. This morning at Starbucks, it was really crowded, and I was irritated that two women were taking up two small tables when they were obviously together and didn’t seem to need both tables. I considered asking them if they would give up one of the tables, but decided to wait it out and see if other people joined them or if they were leaving soon anyway. Sure enough, after I ordered my drink, I saw that two other people had joined them, and they really did need both tables.

I’ve written before about meeting hate with kindness. I think getting curious about what motivates people is the first step in being able to show them kindness and give them the benefit of the doubt.

One of the DBT skills I learned was “Check the Facts.” Here are the steps:

  1. Describe: what happened? Be specific.
  2. Consider: what is my interpretation of what happened? What story am I telling about it?
  3. Determine: what is the threat? What am I worried will happen because of this event?
  4. Evaluate: what is the catastrophe I’m worried will happen because of this event?
  5. Predict: how likely is the catastrophe likely to occur? Assign a percentage.
  6. If the percentage is less than 50%, practice radical acceptance

It can help write this stuff down, especially when you’re feeling really strong emotions, but after some practice, it’s pretty easy to do just in your head. By the time I get to step three, I’m usually already calming down and feeling more compassionate and understanding.

I really like the use of the word “catastrophe.” I can be so extreme, reacting to every little thing as though it’s a really big deal when it usually isn’t. Real catastrophes are natural disasters, poverty, hunger, child abuse, etc. My projection that someone is being rude is just another example of my perfectionism. We all get distracted, stressed out, and tired, and we each deserve a break.

How do you practice giving people the benefit of the doubt?