Showing Thankfulness, When You Are Struggling to Live One Day At A Time

You’ve made it through Thanksgiving (maybe you have the in-laws or another Thanksgiving celebration to go to this extended weekend). Between the food, friends, family, football, and Black Friday, everyone seems happy, joyful, delighted and thankful. In the depths of depression, it is difficult to join in and there are times, I feel like I am performing and even though I can be surrounded by people, I can be lonely.

This is the time I have to write out what I am thankful for and sometimes we write it out as a family. It can start out simple – air. After being on a ventilator, I am VERY thankful I can breath on my own and eat and drink whatever I want.  Clean water – access to it all the time. Medicine – even with side effects, medicine daily saves my life. My doctors. Shoes. Hair (after the transplants I lost my hair) and it’s grown back Heat. Clothing. Running water.

Then I go to the people in my life. then, most importantly, to my God and Who He is and His unchanging character.

After my transplants or any significant event in your life (wedding, birth or loss of a child, surgery, moving, a marriage separation or divorce, etc.), there seems to be an acceptable amount of time society thinks you need help, prayers, one on one visits, your grass cut ( you get the idea) and you should be recovered.

However, a mood disorder, that is something most people dismiss or don’t know what to say. Some people do, and will remain faithful in keeping up with you, holding you account spiritually, socially, and making sure you are taking care of yourself. Cherish those friendships, invest time and care into them, make time to pray with them or ask them to pray for you when you are too depressed to pray for yourself.

Don’t try to fake it so much, holidays are not all joyous without drawbacks, But you can start making a thankful list and see how blessed you are. Take advantage of the sunshine, give to others and push yourself to make your thankful list as long as possible.

Recognizing Depression

The topic of depression is talked about often in our society. Prescription drugs to fight depression are advertised on television, magazines, and pamphlets in physician’s offices. News stories are easy to spot at all major television networks, print, and online. Even our children say they are depressed after a day at school when they have been teased or bullied.

I started showing signs of depression in 2003, years before my heart failure. I didn’t know these signs and was suffering for a while before I could get professional help. My family misunderstood me and it would cause conflicts and many hurtful words were exchanged on both sides. Meanwhile, a lot was happening physically, chemically, and emotionally inside of me.

There are many depressive disorders, also referred to as affective or mood disorders. Researching these with the guidance of a therapist and a psychiatrist helped me tremendously. Some common early signs of clinical depression can include: mood of sadness, despair, or emptiness; the loss of the ability to experience pleasure (Anhedonia); low self-esteem; apathy, low motivation, and social withdrawal; excessive emotional sensitivity; negative, pessimistic thinking; irritability; suicidal ideas.

Some depression facts include: Suicide rate for patients with major depression is 9%; 18 million people per year suffer from major depression in the United States; the incidence of depression ratio of women to men is 2:1; Only 50% of Americans who suffer a bout of depression will seek treatment. Treatment can be effective up to 80% of depressed patients. *

When I started seeking help from my primary care physician, it was a catastrophe. I highly suggest seeking help from a medical professional – a therapist, psychiatrist, psychologist or a combination of a therapist and a psychiatrist or psychologist.  Therapists and psychologists cannot prescribe medication. However, a good therapist will be well versed in psychotropic medications.

If you suspect you or someone close to you may be suffering from a depressive disorder, seek professional help right away.

 

*Handbook of Clinical Psychopharmacology for Therapists, 6th Edition

How Not To Help A Sufferer

If you experience any type of mood disorder, I can pretty much bet that you have heard all kinds of advice. I live in the Bible Belt of the United States, grew up in a Baptist home, attended a conservative Christian university and all too quickly people are eager to throw out Bible verses to me.

I truly believe the Bible is inspired by God, the authority on His redemption plan for man, and teaches how Christians (those who accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and follow Him). However, I ALSO believe the best way to combat depression or mood disorders is a 3 pronged approach: (1) Christian based therapy on a regular basis (2) Regular help with a psychiatrist or psychologist (3) Medication when the exam shows the need for it, especially if the brain or heart has been disrupted.

Below is a link from the Christian Coalition on How Not to Help a Sufferer. I have had all of these comments said to me by either family members or close friends who at the time, did not understand one thing about depression.

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/how-not-to-help-a-sufferer/

 

Christmas Calamity and Christmas Peace 2015

I would have never put calamity and peace together. We still have a lot to travel on this journey. A lot to learn, to wait, to sift through, mountains and valleys. Psalm 23 comes to mind easily.

1 The LORD is my shepherd; I SHALL NOT WANT.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He LEADS me beside still waters.

3 He RESTORES my soul. He LEADS me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I WILL FEAR NO EVIL, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

On Wednesday, December 16, my niece, Melissa Johnson, was driving to pick up her employers from the airport. She hit a pole, lost control of her  truck, it flipped twice, injuring her badly, leaving her without breathing. She was wearing a seatbelt, headed to pick up her employers, then to prayer meeting. 19, first semester finished at Indiana University South Bend, gifted with children, loved Minions, three older brothers.

25 Days later, Melissa’s condition remains unstable. She is out of ICU, breathing on her own. Her body will heal (broken leg has been operated on, bruises are fading), but how much of her mind and her cognition will return remains unanswered.

Joel, the kids and I drove to Indiana for Christmas to be with his sister, Kay and brother in law, Dave, and our nephews. Melissa did not wake up when we were there, but we wanted to be there to support the others.

This was a difficult time for me to face an ICU unit. The sounds, the IV beeps, the ventilator, the nurse suctioning her mouth, positioning her body. The smells of rubbing alcohol, the gloves, the IVs – yes, they each have an aroma.  I left each night GRATEFUL I could stand up and walk out, because during my transplant experience and relapses, I would shrink further into the bed every time my loved ones would leave. I would cry endlessly. I would watch the clock and listen to the clicks, listen to all the IV beeps in the rooms surrounding me.

Each evening we left the trauma center I had panic attacks beginning, quick breathing, tightening of the chest, pain down my arms, severe headaches. Guilt. Thankfulness. Growth, Recognition of what Joel, my parents, and my caregivers at Emory did for me.

Most of all, I left with an enormous amount of thankfulness for my donor’s family that gave me a 2nd chance on life. After 3 and 1/2 years, I finally wrote UNOS (United Network For Organ Sharing).

The first year, they don’t allow you to write. It’s too raw, too hard for the donor’s family and the recipient. The 2nd year, I’d had a relapse and had to go through rehab again.

We started family therapy, marriage therapy, I was depressed, had suicidal thoughts, was lonely. Many friends and even family members began to desert me, thinking I “should be over this, “or I “wasn’t thankful or joyful enough.” My second year was tough as people expected me to be the mom, housewife, homemaker, get back to exercise, fitter, stronger, faster — I had a heart that was 20 years younger. I should be a powerhouse!  But I wasn’t. Through the year, I progressed, our family progressed, and God revealed more of Himself and His Word.  He also blessed me with physical recovery.

It took seeing Melissa in a trauma unit for me to write to UNOS, having them to contact my donor’s family with my letter of thanks. I don’t know what, if anything, will come of it.

But I wanted them to know how grateful I am and how much it matters to Joel, Chloe, and Jack.

 

Why does everybody keep giving my kids junk food?

  
 In a society with impatience, instant gratification, entertainment, rewards, everywhere we go someone is eagerly trying to give my kids, 9 & 7, junk food.

  • Read for 500 minutes a month – earn a personal size pizza at Pizza Hut with 620 calories & 67 carbs, courtesy of Book It, a program encouraging young students to read daily.  
  • Say your Bible verse at Sunday school, earn a fun size of M & Ms , 75 calories, 3 grams sugar. 
  • Complete a music lesson, receive a kid’s handful of skittles (or comparable) for 25 cal or 4 grams of carbs. 
  • Study hard for 9 weeks at school, receive an Oreo milk shake, courtesy of Applebee’s at a whopping 840 calories and 100 carbs.  

Throughout the year, let’s take Valentine’s Day ( which used to be cheap little cards), Easter baskets, Halloween, Thanksgiving (or Bust A Gut Day), Christmas ( candy canes, candy, cookies, hot chocolate), birthday parties with grab bags filled with sugar. Really? This is how we reward ourselves and our children?

Every mom wants to be the mom at school who brings in “treats” because it’s a pick me up, it makes the kids happy, gets in good with the teacher. It doesn’t help a diabetic child, or a child struggling with their weight. It sets them apart even more than they already are.

Sugar is everywhere. The checkout line, the school, the church, retail. Has the entire country gone insane? Hot chocolate and donut holes at church while singing Christmas carols? A Christmas party with cookies, brownies, candy & juice boxes?

What would that same parent say if I offered their child a cigarette ? But it’s a “ treat” to give my children a full sized Oreo milkshake because they worked hard for their grades? Why are we rewarding with things that will ultimately destroy their bodies when it’s not a “ one time thing?” It’s every place we go.

And a 9 year old and a 7 year old cannot make long term decisions. That is why they can’t join the military, sign a contract, get married. They cannot understand long term effects.

With the epidemic of childhood obesity, please consider non food based rewards and treats like games, puzzles, dollar store items, certificates. For functions with food, such as a birthday party, offer cake or ice cream, not both, water bottles to drink. How about encouraging words? Instead of a personal pan pizza, credit to a book store?

Just like most people wouldn’t give out food containing nuts because some kids might have nut allergies, be aware that some kids may also have medical issues with sugar.

Treat Yourself!

Indulgence, celebrate, extravagance, pleasure, delight, satisfaction.

I love treating myself & boy, can I rationalize getting a food or drink treat. I LOVE getting a coke ( which is now off limits for the kidney diet restriction. Off limits, but yes, I’ve had one.). I LOVE a Starbuck’s iced caramel macchiato decaf, with extra caramel. I enjoy baking breads, brownies, etc.

A while back I was talking to my sister about giving my kids treats and how I’ve gotten into regularly giving them or myself treats. If it’s a regular habit, it’s not a treat. A treat implies that it’s unusual or the minority of time.

So my nerd, analytical mind is thinking …” How many days a week? Once a month? Once a week? How often? What’s healthy for the kids or for myself? Do I restrict the size to a tall, or a grande? I haven’t settled on an answer, just that it’s the minority of the time, a minority of our diets. For me, it won’t reflect in labs or mistreat my new healthy organs someone sacrificed for me & God graciously gave me.

Moms… Any input on giving cookies, chips, candy, worthless juice or soda or junk to your kids is helpful to discuss. How many “exceptions” do you make for birthday parties, holidays ( Valentine’s Day, Easter coming up)? What about if you are a guest at someone’s house? What if you want chocolate cake, but don’t want your kiddo to have it? To sneak or not to sneak?

Wake Up, Muscles!

It has been a long road in recovery the last 5 1/2 months, especially in the area of physical therapy. After lying in bed in the hospital for 7 weeks waiting for the transplants and 9 weeks post transplant, let’s put it this way: my muscles went into a long winter’s hibernation. Asleep. Dead sleep.

When I wast first “waking up” in mid or late July, I had no idea I would be so handicapped. My legs wouldn’t move, my hands wouldn’t raise up to rub my face or hair, I couldn’t even talk.

So began Physical Therapy, PT and the infamous Amelia. Wiggling my toes, ankle pumps, quad & glute pumps, sitting up, standing up, walking to the door of my ICU room & floor. I’ve never experienced such fear & pain in my life. Even getting moved from the bed to a recliner was fearful & painful. “If I fall on the floor…” was all that I could think. Amelia demanded a lot & wouldn’t take no for an answer if I wasn’t in excruciating pain. She was tough, but I learned that the only way through this was doing the exercises. Hard work, feeling uncomfortable & out of my comfort zone.

If you aren’t exercising, you need to start. My physicians told me repeatedly told me the only way that I was eligible to be the first triple transplant in Georgia, was my strong will, my exercise background of running marathons (18 between 2001-2007), and the fact that I was compliant to what they expected. My past fitness really helped and helps me now to recover.

Ok, so you probably won’t have three transplants in your future. You may be in a car accident, develop disease, get older, etc. if you smoke or heavily drink, you’ve increased your health risks for many diseases. Do you really want to settle for a low quality of life?

Stop the excuses: it’s too hot, it’s too cold, I don’t have time, I don’t like to exercise, I can’t afford a gym membership, blah, blah, blah. Find some music & walk. Park far away in a parking lot instead of circling like a vulture wasting time for someone to get out of the closer parking space. Go upstairs & downstairs in your house 10 times. Use soup cans to do bicep curls or straight arm raises. Move your body out of the couch and do something! If not for yourself, think of your family without you prematurely. I do a lot of painful exercises for my husband, Jack, & Chloe.

If you choose not to exercise, don’t be surprised that as you age or something happens in your health that decreases your quality of life.