What Mental Health Help is For (Wyn Magazine)

I said before that my story is long. What I find fascinating throughout its process are the ways my mind is opened to new understandings. One of these examples was through the process of canning.

I used to do a lot of canning; mostly meat, beans, soups, and stews. With all my food sensitivities, there was no longer anything like fast food in my life, and this was my attempt to build a buffer.

Invariably I would start a project bigger than I could complete in one day, shuffle the crowded fridge to keep things food-safe overnight, and finish canning the next day.

Unfortunately, about a third of the jars would crack during the canning process. When I pulled them out of the hot water, the glass bottoms would fall away with all my hard work and all my patience.

I called the local canning guru, changed my technique according to what she suggested, and tried “one last time.”

As I removed the heavy lid of the pressure canner from the second batch, my middle daughter bounced through the kitchen and asked if any broke this time. I told her I’d learned what made them break and now could carefully avoid it.

“What made them break?” she asked.

“Temperature stress,” I began, and then translated it down to six-year-old level. “When the inside temperature is too different from the outside, the weaker glass isn’t strong enough to handle the difference; it breaks.”

And I froze.


That was a good explanation for my some of my depression.

My inside was nothing like my environment, and I had cracked.

Read the rest at wynmag.com

Strength is Overrated (Wyn Magazine)

This is the story of my ending up in a very unexpected and deep depression.

It is a long story, and still not complete, even its indulgent length, but it is a start. And it says a lot about expectations and assumptions.


The short, bitter version is that I thought I could do it all, and I was wrong.

The longer, more compassionate version is that I never saw it as inappropriate to “do it all.” It didn’t seem like too much, at first.

Read the whole story at wynmag.com

Then you’ll understand why a camel is the featured image {wink}


Staring Down the Dragon (Featured Article at Wyn Magazine)

First, the bad news:

For some people, depression isn’t something you “get over,” and sometimes there really are things you can do that slow your recovery or make the depression worse.

The good news is that there are things you can do to help yourself get better and stay better.

(Read the rest at wynmag.com)

Courage– Revisted

Image courtesy of Colin Brough via stock.xchng

It takes one kind of courage to look straight at  your life, compare where you are to where you want to be, and then dive into making your life the one you want to live.

It is another kind of courage (more in line with General Sherman’s definition) that has us look straight at the cost of something, and choose it anyway.

Both have been coming into play in this “year of courage” (as I labeled 2013).

I have had a string of successes and delights this spring.

  1. I adopted a dog that was just what I wanted (still learning how to train him ;])
  2. We had a family vacation in Hawaii that was almost completely stress-free and got me far enough into my novel that the momentum meant something.
  3. I finished my first 10 speeches to achieve my “competent communicator” award in Toastmasters
  4. I finished my novel last week, and am now letting my story-brain rest, working on non-fiction writing instead (blog, WynMag).
  5. I’m wrapping up a last few editing of WynMag projects and the first issue will go live soon. (And I’m ahead on my submissions for the next issue).
  6. I’ve got the children signed up in a homeschooling program for next year (that we will actually start this summer), so that we have more financial flexibility to explore and experiment with curricula to find what will work best for our family.
  7. We’ve sold the rabbits (most of them, anyway), bringing us down to pet-levels.
  8. Our second round of baby goats is due this week (and we know better what to DO this time, so the enjoyment level will be even higher).
  9. The children will complete their first year of “away school” next week, and I won’t have to be the bad-guy, sending them on with empty hopes that people might change, and the slightly less-empty hope that there’s not many days left.

These are all tied, in my mind, to the first type of courage.

Now comes the second kind.

Image courtesy of Sarah Peller via stock.xchng

In the process of getting healthy on a mental/emotional level, I’ve come to recognize a series of needs that I must not just balance or juggle, but meet.

  • Writing
  • Exercise
  • Right eating
  • Sleep

These are the non-negotiable for internal stability.

But having those covered allows me to see there’s a second tier that really enhances the first tier.

  • Clean Space
  • Calm companions
  • Achievable, completable goals
  • Spiritual pursuit (singular)

I suppose having spiritual pursuit in the second category is going to look bad to some people, but it’s true. Until I am stable physically and mentally, asking the hard questions and pushing in any realm that has Deep Meaning is simply asking too much.

One of my biggest problems, all through my mothering journey (I can’t remember much thinking about it before then), was an image of a robot changing its own batteries. That’s how I saw “self-care”.

Continue reading »


Courage is a virtue recognized in every culture.OneWord2013_Courage150

Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at its testing point, which means at its point of highest reality.

A chastity or honesty or mercy which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions.

–C.S. Lewis

In The Mystery of Courage, author William Ian Miller asserts courage is unique among the virtues because it is the only one where stories of its opposing vice are less gripping or tantalizing than stories of the virtue. ;}

This is a story of my rediscovering courage.


There are two kinds of courage: physical courage and moral courage.

Both types, as General William Sherman observed, involve a full awareness of the risk involved, and a willingness to endure that risk.

There is an additional, third element within moral courage, and that is a driving motivation of some deeply-held principle.

When, at the end of December, I designated 2013 as a “Year of Courage” for me, I was not looking at these definitions.

I could not tell you what danger I felt was arrayed against me, or the mental math that I undertook to decide what made the risk worthwhile, or even what risk I felt I was taking.

Image courtesy of Bina Sveda via stock.xchng

What I could tell you is that months off of a two-year depression I was still a fearful person.  Not consciously, but pressed by a friend I admitted that I made most of my decisions primarily through the matrix of safety.

I did whatever I could to minimize every kind of risk, but it didn’t make me feel any safer, only claustrophobic.

Then, during Thanksgiving break, I read a blog post that made me ask, “What could I accomplish if safety wasn’t my primary objective?”

Continue reading »

Looking Ahead, thinking about 2013

Two years ago Becky sent me a little pewter badger necklace after I described my sudden affinity for the critter.

Notes I’d collected across the internet had me using the term “totem” for the badger. Not totem in the mystical sense, but in the classifying sense:

Totems are chosen arbitrarily for the sole purpose of making the physical world a comprehensive and coherent classificatory system.

Lévi-Strauss argues that the use of physical analogies is not an indication of a more primitive mental capacity. It is rather, a more efficient way to cope with this particular new mode of life in which abstractions are rare, and in which the physical environment is in direct friction with the society.

Firth and Fortes argued that totemism was based on physical or psychological similarities between the clan and the totemic animal. Totems are a symbolic representation of the group.

[All the applicable bits from Wikipedia]

“A Bucketful of Puppies” courtesy of ivanmarn via Stock.xchng

The point? I was in a hunker-down and endure mode, and honestly, for me, thinking about a badger (and how they, too, are created by God along with the more-photogenic or likable puppies and kittens and ponies of the world) and their rather singular focus on food and defending self and home…

I could really identify with that for a while.

That’s why 2012’s shift into hope was so delightful to me.

The depression wasn’t lifted (yet) in the beginning of 2012, but the weight was lifted enough that I could begin to see out from under it, that there was life in sight.

I think of it now, this word-and-verse-for-the-year stuff, because this year is ending, and a new word has come to me.

Two words, actually, like a progression. My brain has split them, one for 2013, and one for 2014.

I have a new (old) necklace that means something with this year’s word.

For months I hardly took off the badger necklace from Becky, and had all the awkwardness of trying to explain an abstract thought to people who just thought it odd or noteworthy I had this random animal on me.

“Looks like there’s a story, there!” more than one person said. And they were right, but it wasn’t a short one.

I don’t know if I’ll wear this one as long, but I have proven to myself that tangible, tactile reminders are very effective for me, and help me stay focused.

I really like looking back and seeing what the symbols of the last few years have been.

Image courtesy of Charlie Balch via Stock.xchng

They seem like cards. Playing cards.

They’re not dealt at regular intervals, or at least the intervals don’t look regular to me, but now they’re in my hand, and somehow I’m accumulating these skills or lessons.

Endurance, the act of endurance, was part of my hope. The almost-surprised I’m-still-here that seemed to make hope possible.

And part of Hope is anticipation. I’m not waiting for nothing. The coming years’ “cards” (two words that I see splitting between two years) are founded on a hope that does not disappoint and on what comes before.

I love reviewing that pattern (from Romans 5) because without trying I see the pattern reproduced in my life.

And that is why the “year’s verse” from Psalm 119:74 is so delightful to me. Without trying. I used to irritate some women in various young-mom groups with my reflexive gratitude for not being alone in ‘this parenting thing.’ I don’t have to try really hard; I just love my husband.

And that’s the way I see this image of bringing joy to others: that somehow it’s who I am or what I’m already doing that has this impact.

At least, that’s the way I want it to be.

I am such a do-er that when I feel threatened I react and defend myself by not-doing.

And then I’m usually miserable, because I’ve not been designed to enjoy “nothing.”

What I am trying to learn (when it’s on my mind– I have scads of stuff I’m trying to learn) is how and when not to be my own defender. To do what I’m supposed to do in a given situation without tying it to what has come before, or the way people do or don’t treat me.

I have spent years trying to adapt and be better at understanding people, and I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it. But what’s come out more and more is that even understanding people doesn’t give you power over them.

It may provide influence, or give you a (longer) chance to be heard, but in the end they’re still going to make their choices for themselves, and influence only goes so far.

Image courtesy of Mateusz Atroszko via Stock.xchng

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem called The Village Blacksmith. It is a character sketch of a good man, and there’s this bit I think of every time I think of being debt-free– in any sense.

 His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate’er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.

When I think of giving, when I think of delight in giving, that anticipation comes out of a full heart.

“To serve is beautiful, but only if it is done with joy and a whole heart and a free mind.”

Pearl S. Buck

It doesn’t come out of a sense of obligation, or keeping up, or earning what “they” deem to sell me, such as grudging acceptance, or tolerating my existence.

Psalm 119:74 still applies to this year’s word, because of this element: I want to “look the whole world in the face,” and owe no debt to any, save the debt of love.

My word this year is Courage.


The Platinum Rule

Everybody’s heard of “The Golden Rule:”

Image courtesy of Sebile Akcan via Stock.xchng

Treat others the way you want to be treated.

It is a concept that has existed forever, but I read somewhere that it was Jesus who turned it on this positive angle. Everybody else– Confucius, the Greek philosophers– couched it in opposite terms:

Don’t treat anyone the way you don’t want to be treated.

It was “the law of reciprocity” and contained a rude (underdeveloped) sort of empathy. Sort of like another admonition I read on a twitter profile:

Be gentle with others. Everyone is fighting a secret battle.

All of these build on the idea that we know our own needs and that there is a commonality to our race (we’re all human) that allows us to recognize (from our own experience) what others would value and/or fear.

The frustrating thing about conclusions is that they are fully dependent on the assumptions that lead to them.

Even the Golden Rule.

I have been told more than once that I’m not like most people, and Jay had that great line last week, “You are a square in a world of circles. You come at things from such a *completely* different angle nobody else sees.”

The man wasn’t being critical or complementary. I think bewildered is the best word. It’s nice not to be the only confused one. And nice to be accepted, even “off center.”

So when I assume that others are like me, that they value and desire the same things– I can get in trouble.

For one thing, other people “golden-ruling” me really are trying hard, and I shouldn’t get offended when it doesn’t fit, and what I give other people (because it’s what I would have wanted) can land completely wrong.

So I think the level-to-aspire-to is The Platinum Rule:

Treat others the way they want to be treated.

Image courtesy of Sara Haj-Hassan via stock.xchng

By necessity this requires knowing the other person well enough to make a reasonable guess, but it also requires the presence of mind to apply what you know.

Many people I know (and I include myself in this category) are just plain-nice people. They’re not in the habit of doing unkind things, and I can’t think of situations where they would be deliberately hurtful to anyone.

But some of these people have hurt me.

And I have hurt some of them.

Here’s one specific example, going both ways– it relates (as I see it) to the way we process information differently. Continue reading »

Talking About Feelings

I spent my young adulthood in a master’s course on parenting.

That is, at age 16 (I believe it was) our family began hosting foster kids.

Our first placement was a set of three sisters. We were prepared for one, but they asked if it were possible not to split them up.

So I ended up sharing my room with a 6-year-old while the other two bunked in the next room.

Can I just say (and it’s all I’ll say) that going from 3 to 6 kids overnight was stressful.


After them we had a string of boys, one at a time, and I got to watch my parents deal with the vast variety these kids brought to the table. I even had to be one of those skilled adults at times (thankfully some training was provided).

There have been several times when I will tell a story (from my childhood) to, or in front of, my mom. And it’s not about her or to guilt her. In my mind she’s incidental to the point of the story.

And she will say, “I’m so. sorry. I had no idea. I was so young.

And then I feel really nervous, because I’m currently (or my kids are currently) our respective ages.

Gets me wondering what I’ll be apologizing for in 30 years.

But by the time we were bringing extra kids in, my parents had worked through three kids of their own. Kinda ironed out the major wrinkles it seemed to me, and I just took it all in.

When I had my own kids, I didn’t feel overwhelmed or “completely unprepared” like the sympathetic MOPS speakers always talked about. Yeah, the ever-present daily-ness of things wore me out, but it was a while before I really felt out of my depth.

All that to say that I know the “right way” to do most things.

Whether I have the energy to do those things is frequently in question, but I’ve always got this You should/could be doing *this* in my head.

And I know from months and years of watching and working with parents and children that (for example) it’s a good thing to talk about your feelings, rather than letting them explode all over your environment and the people you love.

So I’m really good at not-exploding.

But I’d had so much on the “emotions” side of things in the last week, that I should have been doing *some* talking at least, and I think I was doing less. Of the meaningful kind.

By yesterday I was so stretched (I was back on the wagon after a weekend of too much sugar and grains, working too hard, and that other, emotional, stuff) that I was pretty minimal on the parenting side of things.

I normally redirect and (try to) teach negotiating skills during after-school conflict, but I was just burned out and laid down a lot more ultimatums than usual.

Image courtesy of Ned Horton via stock.xchng

Anyway, there was yet another sizzling confrontation in the living room, and I walked in on Melody trying to explain something to a concertedly disinterested Elisha.

She was escalating; I ordered her off her brother’s case and she turned to me with her copious tears.

“I just want him to understand!” she said.

“But it’s his project,” I said, slipping into default mode (my default is pretty much autonomy). “Unless he wants to include you in his project, you’re stuck. You can feel what you feel, and ask God to help you with that, but you can’t push in where you’re not welcome.”

I remembered an earlier mom-intervention from that afternoon.

“Not long ago Natasha tried to help you with your spelling, but you didn’t find it helpful. I told her to back off, because that was your project, and it wasn’t her place to tell you what should work for you.”

Melody’s face was now troubled.  She was beginning to see both sides, and even for grown-ups, simultaneously holding both sides of a conflict gets heavy.

“But– but–!”

“It happens to me to!”

I wanted to shout, but said it carefully. Melody looked interested now, through her pout.


“I want to help another grown-up, I think I’ve got great ideas, just like you do for Elisha, or Natasha does for you. But it’s not. my. project. If this person doesn’t want to let me in there’s nothing I can do about that except pray, and give my feelings to God. There’s too much in life we just can’t. control.”

And at that moment I felt something in me relax.

I was still so tired my skin ached, and annoyed at how long it takes my system to level out after eating wrong, but I’d said something I needed to say.

And it didn’t hurt that my little girl seemed to learn from it too.


The Fine Balance in Growth

What could possibly threaten something of your size?”

“My size.”

“Yes, frej, of your size. Surely there is no predator larger than you?”

Lindorm turned his head from side to side, hungry to speak, but wondering how he dared. This would be used against him.

“Every lindorm continues to grow all his life,” he whispered, hoping she was the only one to hear. “If the creature is foolish enough to stay on land his own weight will crush the life out of him.”


The  life-cycle of the Lindorm (limbless dragon, or giant snake, for those of you just joining the story) has an awkward twist, in that here is a creature that is a terror both on land and in the water.  Best as I can piece together, the females must navigate as far up the rivers as their bulk will allow them to travel, and leave their offspring on the shores to disseminate into the nearby terrain.

Ostensibly this will give them a better chance of survival, considering the always-increasing size of the long-lived water lindorm.

But being the brilliant, master-predators that they are on land, how do you get them back in the water, where the average human will have less of a chance to run into them? (This is the challenge of the cryptozoologist– to explain both the unlikely creatures plausible existence, and why they’re not seen more clearly or frequently.) Well, you have my lindorm’s explanation there above: as the mass of the monster increases, so does the strain of living on land.

Some instinct, therefore, calls him to the water.

But too soon, and the young lindorm will become Chiclets for the established sea creatures.

So this keeps the population in check, but also shows why the ones that remain are the cleverest (in a definitely-creepy way) of the species.

So why am I thinking of this just now?

Well, I’m approximately one week away from returning to my novel, and shooting to have it submittable by the end of the year. Continue reading »