Category Archives: courage

Solo Parenting as a Mom with Depression

Mom reading to her daughter

My husband just finished a three-day backpacking trip. Before our son Zach was born seven years ago, my husband would go every year, for up to five days per trip. Since we’ve had kids, it just hasn’t seemed possible or advisable for him to go away for that long.

Some of my friends’ husbands travel frequently for work. I’m not sure whether they share these concerns, but this is what I’m afraid of when my husband is gone for a few days:

  • The kids will wake me up often, and I won’t get enough sleep (my husband usually does nighttime duty)
  • I will be short-tempered and yell more at my kids
  • I will lose my temper and get physically rough with the kids
  • I will feel guilty about my crappy parenting and start thinking about committing suicide
  • All my coping skills will fail, and I will attempt to commit suicide

I am happy to say that only the first of these fears actually happened. Here’s what I did to prevent the others.

Get enough sleep
It can be tempting to stay up late reading a good book or watching a movie, but remember that a good night’s sleep is the foundation you need to be able to use any other coping skills.

Maintain routines
I knew my kids would miss their dad, so I decided to make sure they got to do all the same fun stuff they’d usually do when he is around. We ate dinner and went to the nearby bookstore like we usually do on Friday nights, and camped out in the backyard. I took them to their Saturday swim lesson. I did let them watch a little more TV than usual, which they enjoyed.

Use a calendar to explain when the other parent will be home
My kids are four and seven years old so they don’t really understand time that well. We have a calendar posted on the refrigerator, and I used it to explain what was happening each day and when they’d get to see daddy again. Even though they still didn’t completely understand, somehow it was easier being able to point to each day. On my husband’s last business trip, we even crossed the days off to show how quickly the time was passing.

Schedule lots of play dates
Nothing can distract my children as well as playing with their friends. The night my husband left, we went to dinner at a nearby restaurant that has a bounce house. My son cried for awhile, but then he was too busy having fun jumping with his friends.

One of my friends even took my son Zach for an entire day and had him spend the night. Zach was so excited, it was as if he had won a jackpot.

My four-year-old daughter Kaylee was super excited to have Mama all to herself. She joked that her brother wasn’t home because he “wouldn’t play princess” with her earlier, like she’d personally evicted him.

I felt really proud when my husband came back from his backpacking trip. I not only kept the children alive, I bonded more with them and made the time really fun for all of us.

There was one little bump in the whole solo parenting experience. My husband decided to finish his trip a day early and asked us to pick him up at the trailhead. I misunderstood his directions and drove on a fire road for four miles, almost getting the kids and me stranded with no phone service (even dialing 911 didn’t work) and with actual thunder claps overhead. The road was so bad, driving over big boulders ripped off one of the running boards on my minivan.

If there were a time for me to completely lose my shit, this totally would have been it, but I had done so well the few days before, I breathed slowly and deeply and just had faith that if I stayed calm I’d get us out safely, even if it meant walking four miles in the rain with two kids.

For future reference, when there’s a sign that reads “OHV,” do NOT drive on it unless you have a 4×4 even when your GPS shows it as a regular road. “OHV,” I have learned, means “Off-highway vehicle.”

What do you do to survive solo parenting?

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.

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?

Wrap-up of Living Almost Five Days on $1.50 of Food per Day

Live Below the Line officially starts today. Participants will live on $1.50 of food and drink per day for five days. People do this to raise awareness about those living in extreme poverty and to raise funds for charities including Heifer International,, and UNICEF.

I am traveling this week, so I decided to do the challenge early, from April 23 – 27. As I wrote in my first post about the challenge, I was very worried about how eating so little would affect my depression and anxiety.

Here’s a breakdown of how I did:

  • Day 1: It was extremely hard, but I stuck to the guidelines.
  • Day 2: I purposely cheated by having a cup of black tea with milk and sugar that I hadn’t paid for out of my $7.50 budget
  • Day 3: I ate two tiny chocolate chip banana muffins I had baked at home but again hadn’t paid for within the budget
  • Day 4: I successfully avoided the temptation of pizza and cupcakes at a birthday party, but caved at dinner time eating some of my daughter’s hamburger and fries

My mood was terrible by the end of day 1, but improved dramatically on days 2 and 3. By the end of day 4 I was irrationally angry, basically terrorizing my family, especially my six-year-old son Zach. My husband was really freaked out by how angry I was, how upset Zach was, and that neither of us wanted to talk about it. I did apologize to Zach that night, but during breakfast on the fifth day, I could see that my husband and Zach were both still upset and hurt.

I decided to stop the Live Below the Line challenge a day early. That was part of the deal when I started. If the health or safety of my kids or me were jeopardized, I would stop immediately.

I did the challenge from a Wednesday through Saturday. Mostly it was because I just didn’t want to wait, but also I thought it might be helpful to have my husband around on the last day. I realize now it would have been better to do a Monday through Friday, as the challenge is usually set up. Weekends hold many more temptations, and my kids were home all day, grating my already frayed nerves.

I can’t imagine how people who live on so little every day can get by, especially if they have children. My depression worsened so much even though I was still taking my medication, still sleeping in a warm, comfortable bed, and with my husband’s help. I scaled my physical activity way back to try to conserve energy, but I suspect most people living in poverty can’t do that. They have to scramble at making a living just to survive.

I’m a little disappointed that I wasn’t able to do the whole five days, but I know that I made the right choice to stop early. My sponsors have donated $462 for UNICEF. Donations are accepted through May 30, so please feel free to sponsor me if you haven’t already. It would be so great to raise at least $500.

One of the benefits I got from eating so little is that it helped me go “back to basics,” figuring out which foods I need to survive and be healthy and how much healthier I eat if I prepare meals ahead of time. I’ve already hard-boiled some eggs and prepared a salad to eat later.

Thank you to all my readers for their support and their generous donations.

Day 3 of Living on $1.50 of Food per Day

I’m almost halfway through my Live Below the Line challenge, living on only $1.50 worth of food and drink per day for five days. My sponsors have donated $415 to UNICEF to alleviate extreme poverty. Please click here if you’d like to sponsor me.

I cheated yesterday, and I’m totally okay with that. I was meeting with my writers’ group, and the host is someone who has really great tea. I asked her to make me a cup of black tea with some milk and sugar. It tasted perfectly delicious.

Boy sticking out his tongue

Sometimes you just gotta stick your tongue out at perfectionism

I purposely made a choice to cheat a little because I constantly battle with perfectionism. I’m so extreme, deciding that if I’m not perfect, I must be worthless. So, when opportunities present themselves to blow a raspberry at perfectionism, and say, “Yes, I slipped up, and you know what, I’m still an awesome kick-ass person, so there!” I take them.

I am feeling surprisingly energetic. I appear to have lost 7 lbs. in two days. I was 15 lbs. overweight, so I’m rather pleased by this. The trick will be to eat more food when the challenge is over, but to keep it healthy and pre-planned.

I’ve read so many books and articles about how to lose weight and eat healthfully, and I’ve never bothered to do it. I couldn’t do it for myself or even for my children (assuming that I will live longer and set a better example for them). I could only make the effort in service of other people.

My being overweight is another sign to me of my being privileged. I can afford to eat a toxic diet of mochas, cheese danishes, scones, cookies, ice cream, and takeout. I’m thinking of planning my meals and one treat each week from now on, and calculating how much I’d normally be spending on overeating and donate that to charity instead. I can feed myself on the gratitude that I am able to donate to and UNICEF and leave it off my waistline.

I’ve loaded $5 each on three Starbucks cards. I’ve only given one away so far, to a guy in Oakland who was asking for spare change. I like the idea of giving food away but still letting the person choose what they want to have.

I’ve heard two of my friends complain recently about having people turn down the food they offered. They felt the person was being ungrateful or apparently they weren’t as needy as they seemed to be.

I understand where my friends are coming from, but I think being truly generous means being unattached to the person’s reaction. There’s a real difference between saying, “Here, I want you to have this,” and asking, “How can I help you?” I understand not feeling comfortable giving cash, and that’s why I like giving gift cards. A $10 Target gift card might be able to get someone a sweatshirt or pants on sale.

When I first decided to do the Live Below the Line challenge, I didn’t know there was fundraising involved. I was initially uncomfortable about that because I don’t like to ask people for money. I’m really glad I got over that discomfort though because I feel like my doing this is causing ripples that I hadn’t even intended. People are telling me they feel inspired, grateful, and more aware of how they eat, of they spend their money, of how much they waste, and how much they can help.

Thanks to everyone on this journey with me. You guys rock!

Day 2 of Living on $1.50 per Day

I’m living on $1.50 worth of food per day for five days as part of Live Below the Line, a project to raise awareness about extreme poverty and raise funds for charities. I am fundraising for UNICEF.

I am 20% of the way through my challenge. I’m honestly a little surprised I’ve lasted this long. I am impulsive and eager to start new things, and just as quickly come up with excuses and quit. I have a collection of athletic equipment I’ve collected over the years that I no longer use. There are gloves for my brief stint at weightlifting, boxing gloves from Muay Thai and cardio kickboxing, shoes for Zumba, and uniforms and weapons from doing Wushu. I refer to this collection as my “Duffle Bag of Shame.” I recently started doing aikido again, but haven’t been going because I’ve been going running instead. Point being, I’m no stranger to quitting.

What’s keeping me going in this challenge is partly pride. Tom Hiddleston did this challenge last year, as did many other people, and if they can do it, I can too, right? Tom Hiddleston is 6’2″, and he lived on £1 per day for five days in London. I’m only 5’2″, and I’m 10-15 lbs. overweight, so I figure the challenge should be easier for me.

I think sometimes about the billion people around the world living on so little, and sometimes it helps me tolerate my growling stomach and resist the temptation to quit, but it also reminds me that my doing this is a bit hypocritical.

I am still living in my comfy house with heat, plumbing, and electricity. I’m still driving my SUV around, which incidentally gets better gas mileage than my minivan. My husband and I own three vehicles. It pains me to think of how much food we waste because I forget to prepare it before it spoils, or my children don’t eat all of their meals. We have two refrigerators. I feel like a poster child for excess.

I confess that part of me is vain enough to want to do the whole challenge to be able to say I did. To brag even. That seems kind of sick, but I have to accept all the parts of me, not just the ones I’m proud of.

I’ve had 11 people/families sponsor me now and two people who’ve shared my fundraising page. I’m grateful that they believe in me enough to support me. I’d like to stick with the challenge for as long as I can, as a way to show my gratitude towards them. I’m usually really lazy about sending thank you notes, but I am definitely sending some after this challenge is over.

I’ll close this post with something my birth instructor taught my husband when I was pregnant with our son Zach. When a woman in labor says, “I can’t do this!” the birth instructor says the husband should say, “You can do this, you ARE doing it!”

You can do this, you ARE doing it!

Day 1 of Living on $1.50 per Day

I started my Live Below the Line challenge today, eating $1.50 worth of food per day to raise awareness about extreme poverty and to raise money for UNICEF. I have raised $270 so far. Please click here if you’d like to sponsor me.

Today went well, especially considering that I have never gotten through a day with as few calories as I have today.

I can see that my husband and my friends are a bit worried about me, but they’re also being really supportive and encouraging.

I’ve had a mild headache all day, but it hasn’t been too bad. My stomach has growled between meals, and I’ve felt just slightly light headed, but it clears up as soon as I eat again.

I definitely feel less mentally sharp. For a moment, I couldn’t remember where I had put some of my food, and I was terrified that I had somehow lost it.

I’m hyper aware of food that’s nearby. I wished I could take food from kids at the park, or from my own kids, but I maintained my self-control. I wonder whether I will still be able to on day four or five.

I’m still hungry now although I’ve eaten all the food I allotted for today. I’m going to distract myself with videos and drinking water.

I have drunk a ton of water today. I’ve been drinking tap water, and I feel cold most of the time.

Because I was consuming so few calories, I couldn’t be my usual over-achieving, hyper, caffeine-fueled self. I will often run five errands in less than two hours. I knew I wouldn’t have the stamina for that today so I took it really easy.

I also walked much less than I normally do. I can walk up to seven miles in a day, as part of my exercise regimen. Today I walked only 2.5 miles.

A hardboiled egg maker

A hardboiled egg maker a friend gave me

This morning I had a hardboiled egg for breakfast, brown rice and vegetables for lunch, an apple for a snack, and some pasta shells with an egg mixed in.

All the portions were tiny. I cooked half of the rice I bought and separated it into four portions. I microwaved all 16 oz of the vegetables and also separated them into four portions. My thought when I look at the tiny containers in the fridge is “It’s not going to be enough!”

I cooked half of the 7.5 oz of pasta that I bought. I beat the eggs in a bowl and lamented that some of the egg stuck to the bowl, and I couldn’t get it into the pasta. Then some of the egg stuck to the pan, and I had to scrape every last bit of egg I could off of the pan.

I’m definitely feeling less wasteful. I ate every bit of the apple except for the seeds and the stem.

I’m very nervous that I will run out of food by day five, so I saved some of the pasta for later.

It’s so hard not to just go to the local Starbucks and get a mocha. I really miss chocolate.

The Live Below the Line challenge offers everyone participating in the U.S. $1.50 per day, but I suspect that $1.50 might get you more food in some areas than here in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’m going to stay within this budget as best as I can though.

One thing I’m really excited about is that I’ve reached and surpassed my fundraising goal of $250. I hope I will still be able to raise much more because there are so many people around the world living in extreme poverty.

The feeling I’m left with at the end of this first day is that I am dog-tired. I think I will be in bed by 9:30 pm at the latest.

Guidelines and Prep for Living on $1.50 per Day

I am participating in Live Below the Line, a fundraiser for various charities that challenges people to live on $1.50 worth of food and drink per day for five days. I am raising money for UNICEF. Please click here if you would like to sponsor me.

The challenge officially takes place between April 28 through May 2.

I suffer from anxiety, so naturally I bought all the food today and have decided to start the challenge tomorrow, April 23, and finish it on April 27. The Live Below the Line site says that participants can do the challenge any five consecutive days until May 30 so this is still within the rules.

My food for Live Below the Line

All of my food for the next five days

I shopped at three different stores today to buy the food pictured above. It cost $7.50 exactly. I got a 5-cent credit for bringing my own bag though, so I’m going to buy a single tea bag from a friend for 5 cents, and I’ll still be within the $7.50 budget.

Here’s what I bought:
$1.69 for 6 eggs
$1.29 for frozen mixed vegetables
$0.99 for a 5-oz. can of tuna
$0.93 for 2 apples
$0.79 for 3/4 lb. of lentils
$0.70 for 3/4 lb. of brown rice (it was the same price for white rice)
$0.57 for 3 bananas
$0.29 for a 7.5-oz. pkg of pasta shells
$0.25 for a Cup Noodles

This is all the food I will eat during the next five days. I will not accept any other food or drink. The only thing I will drink is tap water, which didn’t have to be included in my $7.50 budget. I decided to give myself salt, pepper, and a very sparing use of olive oil for free.

My Meal Plan

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5
Breakfast Egg Rice, Veggies Rice, Veggies Rice, Lentils Rice, Lentils
Lunch Rice, Veggies Egg Egg Egg Egg
Snack Banana Apple Banana Apple Banana
Dinner Egg, Pasta Tuna, Rice, Veggies Tuna, Pasta Tuna, Cup Noodles Tuna, Rice, Lentils

This is how I’m planning to spread out the food during the five days. Maybe after I start cooking the food, I’ll find I can spread out the servings more. I think it’s pretty clear that I’m going to spend a lot of my time feeling hungry.

I won’t exercise aside from short walks. I will spend time meditating, praying, and reading.

My children know about the challenge now. Thankfully, they will be in school for some of the days, and during the weekend my husband will help me take care of them.

I was going to write about my experience of shopping and meal planning, but I’ll have to save that for the next post. Stay tuned.

Pledging to Live Below the Poverty Line for Five Days

I signed up today to participate in Live Below the Line, a challenge to raise awareness and funds to help some of the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty.

I’ve pledged to live on food and drink that cost no more than $1.50 per day for five days. The challenge is from April 28 through May 2. I’ve also pledged to raise $250 for UNICEF.

Tom Hiddleston's tweet about Live Below the Line

I first heard about Live Below the Line from Tom Hiddleston, who did the challenge last year and sent a tweet about it today.

I’ve become quite an admirer of his, not so much because of his acting, which is quite good, but because of his work as a junior ambassador for UNICEF and the dozens of inspiring quotes attributed to him. He spent five days in Guinea seeing first-hand the work that UNICEF is doing there.

After registering, I became so anxious about actually doing the challenge, I ate a small piece of berry pie. Hours later, I started to write this post, and I had to eat another small slice of pie.

It has been about twenty years since I had to get by with very little. I had a year after college when I made $50 per day before taxes. This was in LA during the ’90s. I got by by renting a room in a house, taking the bus or riding my bike, and eating mostly instant noodles and Campbell’s soup.

It’s not just the having to eat so much less that scares me, it’s what will I be like? I suffer from anxiety and depression, and having low blood sugar is one of my triggers. I already struggle with keeping my temper now, how much worse might I get?

I have a three-year-old daughter and a six-year-old son. Is it fair to put them and my husband through the horror I may become? I’ve written before about what my depression “looks like,” and it’s not pretty.

Part of me wonders, “Who am I kidding? I can’t do something like this. I’m too weak, too unstable, and who the hell do I think I am?”

There’s the quieter part of myself that asks, “How will I know if I don’t at least try? Will I let my depression stop me from trying to make a difference?”

I don’t know what will happen, but I know that transformation isn’t possible without giving up something, without taking risks.

I started this blog to challenge myself to be vulnerable and courageous, especially emotionally, and I think I’ve been doing that. I think now I can take the chance to be vulnerable and courageous physically too.

I won’t have food to turn to to numb negative or uncomfortable emotions. I’ll have my dialectical behavior therapy handbook, my friends and family, and the reminder that I’m doing this to raise awareness for the more than billion people who have to live this way every single day. I expect to spend a lot of time meditating and praying.

There is one change I’m going to make in that I will do the challenge one day earlier, from April 27 – May 1 because I will be driving long-distance on May 2 with my family, and I don’t want to risk being weak from hunger that day.

The other stipulation I have is that if the health or safety of my children or me becomes jeopardized, I will stop immediately. My husband will help me judge if that is the case.

Please consider making a donation to UNICEF via my campaign page and see if participating in Live Below the Line is something you might want to do.

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?