October 1, 2030

My Journey with Postpartum Anxiety and Depression (Post 2 of a 3 part Mental Health Series)

This has been hard to write...and, talk about! It my first post of this series, I talk about 10 Reasons Why I Don't Want to talk about PostPartum Anxiety/Depression. If you missed it just click on the link above.

In this post, I talk a lot about my faith, because it has been a big part of my journey. Thank you for your respect and having an open mind to someone else's journey and story, even if you chose to believe and worship, (or not worship) in a different way than I do. Isn't it awesome that we all have the right to different beliefs and perspectives!? 😊So...I'll respect your beliefs and you respect mine, ok? πŸ˜‰ Hearing the journey of others is what brings understanding and compassion.

Ok...let's get into it.

The night I came home from the hospital after giving birth to my third child, I sat nursing him in my bed around 3 AM. He was nuzzled up warmly against me. My husband slept next to us and my two older boys slumbered safely in their own rooms across the hall. All was quiet in our dark, peaceful home.

And... I was filled with absolute panic.

Instead of gazing down at my baby, my heart brimming with wonder and joy, it raced and pounded in my chest, and tears I could not stop poured down my face. The room seemed to close in around me, and I felt so alone. Over and over I thought, "I can't do this. I can NOT do this." I now was a mother of 3 kids, ages 3 and under--and I was overwhelmed and terrified.

Two nights earlier, I'd spent a long night of labor, followed by a hazy, sore day with a new baby, trying and failing to catch up on the missed sleep and recover from the physical strain of labor. After the second hospital night, which of course was filled with nurse checks, baby wake-ups, and breast-feeding sessions, I was back home and bone-weary exhausted. Even after I swaddled my babe and lay him down sleeping in his bassinet next to my bed--when I finally had my chance to sleep, I still sat up in my bed, the rising terror keeping me wide awake. Who can sleep when the room is spinning and their heart is pounding?

My husband woke to me sobbing and sobbing.

I cried-gasped this all out to my husband. He reassured me it would all be ok, and that we would do this together, and that I should get some sleep. I quieted--but, that terror and dread didn't fade.

Unfortunately, these feelings weren't new or unfamiliar.


As a teen, I struggled with anxiety, though I didn't know it by that name at the time. I just knew that in certain situations--on dates, in math class, and while playing sports in public (all things I was truly horrible at, haha)--irrational panic would come over me. I'd get horrible stomach aches and become super panicked. In each of these settings, the only thought in my brain was, I GOTTA GET THE HECK OUTTA HERE. And every time my mind and body went into freak-out mode, of course I'd become an even worse date, I'd understand math even less (if that's possible!) and I became even more unconfident and uncoordinated in sports. (I hated freaking humiliating gym class! Algebra 2 and stupid P.E. were my only C's in high school! haha! Isn't PE supposed to be the easiest A ever? For the record, I switched to a weights/running class designed for female athletes and totally LOVED it and got an A! I guess I'm just realll bad at team sports, especially the crappy hunger games sport of co-ed dodgeball. *eyeroll* Even nice guys get mean when they play dodgeball!)

In college, because of my hours in the math tutoring center, the kindness of the tutors, and by the grace of God (this is no joke, I prayed for help every day!!) I barely passed my one required math class. (Annnnnnd, that's why I chose to study art! haha!) I took dance classes for exercise, which I LOVED, and emphatically denied my roommates' attempts at recruiting me for their intramural teams. (Though, I always came and cheered them on!) Therefore, I was mostly able to avoid math and sports through college! *Hallelujah!!!*

BUT--during college, my dating anxiety ramped up BIG TIME. By this point, I wasn't just getting nervous with a stomachache on a date, I was getting physically sick. This is a delightful perk of having IBS--your digestive system is literally affected by stress, which meant that nerve-wracking situations caused my guts and bowels to throw tantrums...and I'd be running to the bathroom multiple times on one date. I'd be so embarrassed and stressed, that I'd get MORE upset, causing the IBS to flare-up even worse! No wonder I avoided dates at any cost! They were so awful and mortifying. If a boy liked me before our date, they SURELY would change their minds afterwards! And, I didn't know how to talk about this...Did I really want to tell a cute guy that I basically had date-induced spastic colon? HA! Big NOPE. I DID go on a few dates with close guy friends I trusted and was very comfortable with, and each time was hard, and I ended up with stomach aches, and many bathroom trips (super embarrassing!) but I DID go. Which was kind of a miracle. (Oh, I still feel mortified about some of the dates I DID go on.)

So, I finally got the guts to speak to a counselor on campus and learned that I had anxiety. This was a revelation to me, cause I had always thought I was just a weirdo who couldn't handle stuff. I realized there was a REASON that other girls ran back to their apartment and screamed in delight with their roommates when they got asked out by the right guy--but I would immediately feel a surge of nausea/panic whenever any poor guy asked me out. Then, I'd immediately start planning how I could get out of it. I'm so sorry to any guys who asked me out, and I canceled because I was "sick". Maybe they thought I was lying and just flaking out-- or that I was a jerk! But, I really WAS "sick"...at least I FELT like I was about to puke, curled up in the fetal position on my bed, my heart racing, feeling like the room was spinning and I couldn't breathe. I'd fight this, unable to focus on classes or schoolwork, till I put myself out of the agony and cancelled the date. Mostly I just acted prickly if any guy showed interest in me so they wouldn't ask me out. ESPECIALLY if I liked them! Then I REALLY tried to show no interest, cause getting asked out by a guy who I liked would make me a thousand times more nervous!

When I learned more about anxiety, I realized that it had been part of my life during High school as well. This was interesting though, since I was a very outgoing, energetic, and happy person--as long as I wasn't in one of my feared situations. I wrongly had thought that people who dealt with anxiety would be withdrawn and anti-social--and I was neither of those. (Just ask my poor teachers! haha!) I often remember being grateful that I wasn't prone to depression...that seemed much harder than anxiety, since anxiety for me was connected to certain situations, that I could avoid if I needed to. Depression seemed so much heavier and pervasive to a persons' life.

Then, as a brand new mom, I learned first-hand what it felt like to live with depression.


The first few months of my baby Hayden's life were ROUUUUGH. He had a weak suck, so feeding was hard, I made hardly any milk, so breastfeeding was an impossible task that I kept desperately trying to make work... AND he had acid reflux, (though we didn't know it yet) which made him NOT a happy camper. (Like--the crankiest camper in the campground.)

Even before we left the hospital--the time when infants are supposed to "be sooo sleepy"--he was already crying a lot. I knew this wasn't a good sign.

The morning my husband arrived to pick us up, I had been trying all morning to figure out how to breast-feed this baby and to keep him from crying. Multiple nurses and a lactation consultant had tried to help me figure out how to latch and nurse my baby, without much success. And, now I was supposed to go home and try to feed this baby by myself?! The panic was rising. And...I wasn't at all packed at the time that my husband and I had agreed on. At this time, Patrick was working full-time, managing a restaurant, sick with a bad cold, AND in the middles of finals week right before his graduation! So, he was pretty dang stressed, and only had a limited time in between finals to come pick us up and get us settled at home. I remember I was so anxious and couldn't think clearly...I just paced around, alternating between trying to calm our wailing baby and helping my husband as he hurriedly gathered up my things. We left the hospital, frustrated and tense, no cute, baby-in-the-car seat "first car ride!" picture. On the drive, as our baby cried in the back seat, I tried to hold back the tears. I just kept thinking how I was soo not ready to embark on motherhood away from the sanctuary of the medical professionals.

And it stayed hard. For the next few weeks, I often wished I could put him back in my belly...where it had been sooo easy to feed him, keep him the right temperature, and--if he was wailing for hours--I couldn't hear it! Haha! He was miserable and bawling all the time, which made me feel like a horrible failure of a new mom--therefore, I too was miserable and bawling all of the time. I pumped full-time, because he still couldn't nurse, and I watched my supply get lower and lower. And, again, I felt like a failure of a mom, who couldn't take care of my baby.

Patrick was a great help when he was at home, and spent many hours bouncing our baby on the exercise ball--the only thing that calmed baby Hayden when he was really screaming is head off--but Patrick was truly SO busy with his demanding job, just trying to support our family the best he could.

A few weeks after Hayden was born, we moved to a friend's apartment for our last few weeks in town--she was working out of state, so we happily helped her out by paying her rent, which was cheaper than ours had been. So, we were in a new place. I didn't know any neighbors, and I didn't feel able to get out with my bawling baby to meet people, so I was alone with my baby most of the time.

I realized that I wasn't doing too well when I kept fantasizing over and over about falling down the tall apartment stairs and breaking both legs, or becoming very sick so that I could be admitted into the hospital to SLEEP for a week--while someone more capable took care of my infant. Looking back, it's easy to see that I was dealing with postpartum depression. I know it's an overdone metaphor, but I really did feel like I was sinking, desperately struggling to get my head above water.

Thankfully, as the months passed, I started to feel more like myself again. And, once we realized that Hayden had acid reflux and we were able to get medication for him, he did SO much better! And-- I know I'm not supposed to admit this--but quitting full-time pumping helped immensely, since my low milk supply (and how bad I hated pumping) was a major contributor to my stress and feelings of failure. Moving on from the nightmare of nursing and finally transitioning to formula full-time brought a huge sense of relief, even if I felt judged by some people. But, having to ignore some comments or pushing aside my fear of being judged, was WAY worth my relief at seeing my baby thrive and gain weight, as well as ending my daily anguish and struggle with my stupid milk supply. I could finally feel my emotional state improving!

We moved into my in-laws basement for the summer before my husband went to grad school for Physical Therapy. I know that being a basement squatter sounds not so cool, haha, but it was SO good for me! I was around people again! My inlaws supported me and loved baby Hayden--they would walk around with him and just laugh at him when he had epic baby melt-downs. This helped me soo much to not to take his unhappiness so seriously--and personally. It turns out, I wasn't a failure! HE was just a cranky baby!! (Basically: Dude, It's you, not me. ha!) Plus, Hayden was finally feeling better with the meds, and we got to enjoy him more and more! He was actually HAPPY!! He still woke up MANY times a night, so I was still exhausted, but the days were much better!

THis is when we lived with my in-laws, when the reflux meds helped our cranky baby become happier! Hallelujah!!

I would go entire days--then a whole week!--without crying! I actually wanted to be social again! I laughed again! I started getting outside and going for walks with Hayden in the stroller. I felt like I was finally able to come up for air. I was breathing without struggling! I was finally able to enjoy this little babe and being a mom! Looking back, I feel sad that for so much of Hayden's first months, I was in a sad daze--I feel like I missed much of the joy and wonder of becoming a mom.

When my 2nd, Miles, was born 2 1/2 years later, for some reason--it was AWESOME!!

I felt depressed and anxious for only like three days. THAT'S IT! I breastfed and formula-fed my baby when he was still hungry (like every feed, haha...he was a big eater!) but I didn't let it stress me out this go-around. I just fed my baby. :) He was pretty chill, and Hayden was old enough to be gentle, and just loved "his baby!" We lived in the center of town, with many friends in our city neighborhood, close to parks, stores, and the church we attended, and I pushed my baby and toddler in a junky, garage-sale double stroller all over the place. There were so many amazing and fun ladies around me, who I loved being with. Patrick was usually home by 4 every afternoon from school, so we got plenty of time together. We were super poor students, but we didn't care and life was good with our two little cute boys!

To my surprise, when Miles was only 6 months old, I kept feeling like we needed to try for our next baby. *YIKES* (If you want to read about that rollercoaster, click here) And since I had always wanted to have two or more years between each child, (because of my tendency to get overwhelmed when there's too much to keep track of)...I knew these thoughts and feelings were NOT coming from me,

I couldn't deny how strong these feelings were, especially since Patrick was telling me he felt the same way. I figured that if God was sending us a message to have our next baby soon, then I was going to trust that He had good reasons for that, and--even though it would probably be absolutely bonkers to have three kids, three and under--He would help me.

Soon enough I found out I was pregnant with my third. We stayed with my parents in their basement for a few months while Patrick finished his last clinical, and then he got a job 15 minutes away, and we found a wonderful home! Pregnancy was a doozy--I was bone-weary exhausted with zero energy, and I could barely keep from falling asleep all day long, even with a long mid-day nap, so it was CHALLENGING to care for my two little boys. But, we got through. :)

When Theo, our third baby, was born, Miles was 17 months, and Hayden was 3. Annnnnd, that's when the proverbial crap hit the fan.

The first thing that I noticed was that my old nemesis--anxiety--was back.

I realized this on that sob-filled night when we first brought baby Theo home. I now had three little kids needing my attention! Yes, my husband and mom would be able to help, but ultimately I was THE MOM to three little kids under the age of four.

3 kids ages 3 and under!

Now that I look back, there wasn’t anything particularly crazy that happened that first night home. My mom was there to help for several days, and my mother-in-law was able to come for a few days to help too! My baby was successfully breastfeeding, I hadn't needed stitches, so I wasn't in pain...but, my hormones were just whacked out. I found out that becoming pregnant again so quickly before my body and hormones had gotten back to normal, was making my recovery pretty difficult.

My body was kind of a wreck. And I'm not just referring to the stretched-out pillsbury dough boy tummy. (...Which I did surely have, haha!)

My thyroid wasn't functioning well, (which started when my third tri-mester began) and I was taking medication for that. For the second time, I ended up with a painful uterine infection that started a few days after delivery, and just increased till I was doubled over in pain about a week later--which finally cleared up when I was able to get strong antibiotics. My skin (which is utterly, blissfully perfect while I'm pregnant, and ONLY while I'm pregnant) was SO broken out.  I still had to take the blood thinner shots which I'd taken twice a day (I got a massive blood-clot during my 2nd pregnancy) through-out my 2nd and third pregnancies for 6 weeks after Theo was born. Oh--and my gallbladder was totally giving out on me, after giving me problems throughout my last two pregnancies. I was having frequent pain, including gallbladder attacks that sent me to my knees, crying and rocking in pain. The worst of these attacks left me sobbing and writhing on the floor, trying to hold a bottle in my baby's mouth as he bawled, while my terrified toddler and little boy kept shoving their stuffed animals and favorite blankets at me. I could only gasp out "NO, not right now! Not right now!" Which made them cry even harder. No position eased the pain, and this felt worse than any labor I've experienced. I felt like I was splitting open inside. It finally subsided, of COURSE right before my husband--who'd I frantically called at work--raced in the door. *eye roll* I was SOO glad to get that sick, chock-full of stones, functioning at less than 10%, nuisance of a gallbladder out of me when I had surgery a few months after Theo was born.

Those physical challenges were discouraging, but, the hardest part during this time was my mental/emotional health. My emotional state was not good--caused by a mix of hormones still trying to regulate, extreme overwhelm from trying to care for two little kids and an infant, and trying to cope with the physical discomfort and discouragement that came along from the other health issues. My ability to cope with stress was pretty much non-existent--which was not cool since I had a lot of things that caused me stress! It took very little for me to crash into despair and burst into tears. This happened MANY times a day. My eyes were permanently red from all the crying, and I always felt emotionally on the edge. I knew I wasn't acting or feeling normal, I just didn't know how to fix it.

It didn't take me near as long to realize that I was having round two of some pretty hefty postpartum anxiety and depression, even worse than I'd had with my first. I cried to my mom many times, how scared and overwhelmed I felt taking care of my three little, very dependent kids. I obsessively wrote out schedules trying to juggle when to feed, nap, and care for each child, just so I could feel less like I was drowning. Every day, I felt hopelessly out of control and perpetually behind. Sometimes I'd be trying to catch up on dishes or load some laundry, and my normally calm baby (thank Goodness for that!!) would go from a little fussing to full-on wailing, and I'd wonder, "Woah! What's his deal?" Then, I'd realize that it had been 4 hours since I'd fed my 3-week-old, and he was HUNGRY! *facepalm.* Other times I would be trying to feed my baby, and my older two would be fighting, whining, bawling, etc, and I'd realize that it was 1 o’clock, and I hadn’t fed them lunch yet! Of course they were cranky!

Frankly, if I didn't adhere to strict schedules, very quickly I'd be accidentally neglecting one of my children's needs cause I was too foggy and overwhelmed to remember and keep track of who needed what and when without my written-out schedule to follow! My anxiety level was totally impairing my ability to concentrate and think clearly.

Besides all the feeding, there were constant diaper changes cause my two younger boys are both super poopers. (Oh my gosh, I changed SO much pooooop!) And, I tried (mostly failed) to take care of the house and meals and keep the laundry (somewhat) going, since my husband worked long hours at the hospital and often got home late and exhausted, with hours of documenting to do. He would pitch in at home, but I tried to do as much as I could. Which didn't seem like much, since just taking care of my kids was BUSY!

Add in the constant, looming task of making sure my oldest, who was a big challenge to potty train, was making it to the bathroom frequently enough that I didn’t have to clean up an accident. All this never-ending multi-tasking made my brain felt constantly overwhelmed and unable to focus and finish any task, since there were a million other needs distracting me at any given moment.

Grocery shopping was the hardest thing ever!!

This time is another hazy fog in my memory. I do remember that my stress level was on high alert most of the time.

I was trying to do all this and be a happy, kind mom. But, I was emotionally exhausted and spent to the core! Often, when everything got loud and chaotic (so, like 847 times a day) I would yell or burst into tears out of sheer frustration. I could feel myself about to boil over--I couldn't handle one more second of the whines, needs, screaming and tattling, all directed at me. I usually yelled and/or cried before hauling my older two off to time-out. (I know, I am supposed to put myself into "mommy time-out", and not them...but, honestly if I hid in my room, they would be killing each other or breaking things in a matter of seconds!) I was so worn out and emotionally DONE by the time the kids went to bed, that I wasn't a very engaged, fun, or happy wife with my husband when we had time to ourselves. I felt like a shell, perpetually living in survival mode, just trying to get each day over with.

Feeling like a failure in every way, as a mom, as a wife, as a person, brought on intense bouts of self-loathing. I felt like crap, and I looked like crap-- and I definitely didn't shower often enough. I was deeply disappointed in myself, and every time I couldn't handle things, it drove home again to me how deficient I was, and that everyone else kept their crap together better I did. I often looked up and exclaimed towards heaven, "Why did you think I could do this?? How was three this close together a good idea?" I wasn't trying to speak disrespectfully to God, I just honestly wanted to know! I was sure that He didn't want me to be a bad mom, and He knows my tendency for overwhelm, since He made me, so why did it seem like He set me up for failure? But, I still clung to the trust that there were reasons why I had been guided so strongly to have my third this quickly.

After about 6 months, I was better able to handle taking care of my kids. Theo didn't need to eat so often and I was just formula feeding. Also, he was sleeping for 6 -7 hour stretches at night. *praise hands!* Hayden wasn't having accidents very often, just once or twice a week. I should have been feeling good! But the anxiety didn’t go away. Much of that had to do with my older two fighting so much. Over the same toy, over who smacked who, ....over who called who a booty-butt. (I'm serious...isn't that the most ridiculous burn ever! haha!) The days were generally filled with crying and fighting. I, a peaceful, non-confrontational person, was marinating in conflict and aggression all day. And it was totally getting to me. (And, every time someone says, "Oh you're lucky to have boys, cause you don't have to deal with drama!" I'm like, "....?" Um, I do deal with drama. VIOLENT DRAMA. ALL DAY LONG. Haha.)

Though I was no longer bursting into tears at the drop of a hat, I was having strange, unprovoked moments of panic. I'd just be standing in my kitchen, and suddenly I felt like I was about to step up to a podium in front of a crowd of 2000 people and give a speech…when really--I was just standing in my kitchen. My heart would race, I'd break into a cold sweat, my stomach would churn, and I'd get super light-headed. I'd have to concentrate on breathing so I wouldn't hyperventilate. It finally dawned on me one day that these were panic-attacks!

Around this time, my parents left to be full-time service missionaries in Armenia for a year and a half. While I was so excited for them (and so proud!) I was so nervous about them leaving, especially since my mom had been such an emotional support to me in the six months after my baby was born, and usually came for a couple of hours to help out at my home once or twice a week. Of course, I tried to hide my nervousness, and just show excitement for them, since they were doing such an awesome thing!!

I truly think that a large part of the reason why I needed to have Theo so quickly--aside from the fact that my health was really struggling, and I needed to have a baby and get that gallbladder out--was God's way of helping me get through the first 6 months! I don't honestly know how I would have done it without my mom, especially with my husband's demanding work schedule. If I would have waited to have Theo for when I was planning on having my next baby, he would have come in the middle of their 18 months mission!

I’m sure I’ll continue to see as time goes on why I needed to have these two closer together, but if it was only for the reason of my mom helping me during a time when I was emotionally pretty unstable, then I’ll take it!


So my parents were gone, and my husband was supportive, but so busy working long hours as a Physical Therapist on the Neuro-Rehab floor of the hospital, often working 8-10 days in a row. (How women with husbands overseas or working out-of-state, or single moms survive, I'll never know! Seriously, you women amaze me!!)

And, here I was, an adult with three kids--and my anxiety, which I had thought was behind me, was getting worse. It became increasingly centered around--I know, this sounds super dumb--having to go to the bathroom. My IBS was still very problematic, and, since I had recently gotten my gallbladder taken out, (which helps break down foods) my digestion was eve more volatile. I never really knew what to expect. Some days were smooth sailing, and other days were literal shiz shows. Haha!! I'd be running to the bathroom all day long because of something I ate. (Maybe someday I’ll write "The Chronicles of an IBS Girl". Wouldn’t that be fun and trendy! πŸ˜‰ haha! I don’t think the world is ready for that kind of real.)

My worries about being able to get to a bathroom when I needed to were keeping me from doing many things I wanted and needed to do. Long road trips. Sitting far into a long row of people. Religious services where you listen for long periods of time and it's hard to leave for a bathroom. Teaching an art class or a class in church. Hiking, which is my FAVORITE outdoor activity, became so anxiety-inducing. (WHo wants to have to squat 5 times in one day in the forest??) Ugh. So many things. I often had panic attacks in these settings. And, sometimes, just the thought of, "Oh no, what if I have to go to the bathroom?" or "Oh freaking heck, am I about to have a panic attack now?" would set my stomach to churning, and I'd get the sweats and dizziness, and--if I couldn't calm myself--I'd have to leave.

This went on for months, till I finally just got so sick of it all. I wasn't myself and I knew my hormones were wacked out. When my oldest was about a year old, I made an appointment at my OB's office desperately seeking help. After describing all the anxiety and skin issues, as well as a few other hormonal issues I was dealing with, I was shocked to hear these words: "My dear, it sounds you are dealing with Postpartum depression, as well as anxiety. And I think you have been since your third was born."

I was incredulous. I thought, "You can't still have postpartum depression a year after your baby is born!" and, "My first couple months were bad, but I'm ok now, just a little anxious. No. Surely not. I've never been depressed."

But, in the weeks that followed, I reluctantly researched symptoms of depression, then honestly evaluated myself day-to-day. To my surprise, I slowly came to see that she was right. I checked off almost every symptom on every list. I wasn't just anxious--I was depressed.

I felt generally subdued and flat and weary--like I couldn't feel the normal joy, passion, and excitement that are a big part of my personality! When I was around other people, I started to feel back to normal and pretty happy, since being social brings me up! Honestly, my church responsibilities (working with the young women in my local congregation, then after that working with the adult women) were HUGE blessings to me. I feel like this saved me. God knew I needed both of these callings. Every week, it forced me to leave our home and be around people, and get a break from being momma for a little while!! I was always so uplifted by every activity, and to spend this time of reaching out, serving, and just talking with the young girls and ladies! (Girls are in short supply in my home, haha!)

But, by the next day, back at home, surrounded by kids and chaos, I usually slipped back in that low-energy, overwhelmed weariness.

Though I struggled to feel joy much of the time, unfortunately I could strongly feel negative emotions. I snapped so easy, and felt rage with others and myself. Often, after yelling at my kids, I'd started bawling out of complete frustration with my kids and my weakness for yelling at them again. I was so deeply disappointed at myself for losing my temper at my beautiful, precious little kids so often. On bad weeks, that cycle happened several times a day.

One of the most baffling and discouraging sides of depression for me, was that I struggled to feel my normal joy and motivation for spiritual things. This broke my heart, because my faith has been the foundation of my life, ever since I was a senior in High School and developed a relationship with God of my own. I normally loved going to church and learning about the gospel. And, now--I still made myself read my scriptures and pray daily out of habit and because I wanted to do the right thing, but I didn't FEEL it like I usually did. When hearing gospel teachings, I often felt skeptical and uninterested--it was hard for spiritual things to penetrate my heart. This bothered me so much!! :(

I battled a complete and utter lack of motivation and desire to do the things that I was previously sooo passionate about and had worked hard at a year earlier. (Like teaching art, making art, facepainting, and blogging.)

My sleep patterns were ridiculous--I had an addiction to taking a daily nap (for an emotional break) and staying up insanely late every night as a desperate attempt to have time alone and postpone the stress of facing a new day. Which made me more tired and wanting a nap.

Let's just say, I was not coping well. Yes, I was taking care of my family. I didn't stay in bed all day. But I was so, so weary and dragging myself through every day.

Learning more about depression helped me see that I had already gone through a couple periods of depression in my life, without realizing it. The first was when I was a new missionary. Serving a mission was amazing and life-changing, but full of many daily challenges--like a rigorous, extremely structured schedule, and emotionally difficult situations and conversations everyday, like feeling constantly rejected.  The second time, was when Patrick and I were first married and I was student teaching. Again, like the mission, I was constantly being shoved out of my comfort zone. I was nutso busy with developing my own curriculum for two different Jr High subjects. I was teaching in a challenging school, where only the tough teachers survived. As a newbie in this tough school, though I was able to be warm with my students, I mostly had to be over-the-top assertive to command authority. Otherwise they would walk right over me. Being tough was emotionally taxing for me everyday. I never felt relief from the high level of anxiety,  especially with all the other changes and adjustments in my own life with living in a new place, being newly married and living with a BOY (haha).

I recognized that in the past years, I had been depressed during any time that I could remember my thoughts frequently dwelling on wishing I could somehow get hurt or even be in an accident and die and be delivered from the hard things I was drowning in. The pattern that emerged, was that when my anxiety stayed at high levels for long periods of time, I started slipping into depression.

So, now I knew that I was depressed. And this actually gave me some relief to know that there was a REASON I was struggling with motherhood so much. I wasn't a horrible selfish person who didn't appreciate my children--I just was suffering from depression and anxiety. My hormones and brain chemicals were imbalanced, and my natural tendency for anxiety had pushed me into depression.

I talked to a several close friends and family members who had been open before about their journey with depression and/or anxiety. These are strong, rockstar women (and a guy or two! haha!) who I trust--talking to them helped immensely!! How grateful I was to learn from their wisdom and feel not so alone!! Because they had been open about their own mental health journey, I knew exactly who I could confide in when I was given my own (surprising) diagnosis. I told these trusted friends/family members a little bit about my own struggle, but I kept it vague and brief, since I was still fighting a lot of shame around the whole thing. So, even though I didn't tell them much, these angel friends/family members still offered me love and encouragement--which was so meaningful to me! Several checked in with me often to see how I was doing, if I'd made any treatment decisions, etc. But, I still didn't know what I wanted to do for treatment, so I always kind of told them I wasn't sure. Still their love lifted me!!

Unfortunately, knowing that I was depressed didn't make it go away. And, I didn't feel very equipped to do anything about it, because thinking about making the right decision for treatment was so overwhelming. I'd try to do research, then become paralyzed by all the information and opinions, then I couldn't make ANY decisions. So, though I had started out well with talking to my doctor, opening up a bit to people I trusted, and researching treatment options, I made no decisions, therefore I made no progress...and eventually got worse.

Truthfully, and this is scary to admit, but I think it's important to tell the truth about this because I know many others deal with this--there were a few weeks here and there where I felt like I just couldn't keep living. I literally would fixate on thoughts of wanting to go back to God, where I could rest and just be at peace. I'd think, "Can I just come and be with you, Jesus? I'm so weary." It scared me during those low times, that many, many times a day, from the moment I woke up to the time I wearily crawled into bed, my thoughts constantly returned to how I couldn't go on anymore. On these few bad days, it was literally hard to speak and move. I felt like I didn't have air in my lungs. I spoke quietly and had to force myself to talk louder so I would seem ok to others. Daily life was such a struggle.

Two different times, I had a few days where persistent suicidal thoughts kept coming into my head. That is so hard to believe now that I am so far out of that frame of mind!! Those thoughts would come completely without me wanting them there. I would be utterly horrified every time one of the thoughts came. I'd forcibly scold myself, "Stop thinking like that!!! What's wrong with you! Thinking like that is sooo wrong! Would you abandon your family?!?" And I'd force those thoughts out by getting busy and making myself think of something else. Annnd, soon the thoughts would come back to my head. Thoughts like, "Your husband and kids would be better with someone else anyway. You are constantly overwhelmed with your kids, you aren't fun or sexy with your husband, they deserve better. They'd be better off if you were gone." And, I would tell myself again, "Stop it!! You can't think this way!"

It's hard to express how unwanted these thoughts were. I wasn't dwelling or wallowing in them, I was trying SO hard to NOT think them, to push them out, and not even let them into my brain...but they came anyway. It was exhausting, mentally and emotionally to be battling my own thoughts all day. This exhaustion made it even harder to be a good mom. Which made me feel even more like a failure and deeply disappointed in myself...which cycled back to more thoughts of how "I can't do this. I am so bad at this. They'd be better off with a different mom and a different wife."

I didn't want to tell anyone about these thoughts--I didn't want anyone to know! I felt so ashamed that I could ever think these (what I perceived as) cowardly and selfish thoughts. My life is so blessed!! My family, my faith, my home, financial security, a functioning body...how could I admit that my thoughts were telling me to give up on this life to save myself from the hard things? No. No one could know. I definitely never wanted to tell Patrick about these thoughts, because I was so deeply ashamed. How could I be fixating on leaving the life that we had built together? And, my depression was not caused by him at all, so I didn't want him to think that he was to blame in any way!!! It was quite the opposite--He was my rock that got me through--though I didn't talk about my depression to him much--he lifted me up just by loving me and picking up the slack when he could tell I was having a really rough day. He did so much to try to lighten my load, and held me in the hard times.

I prayed for help--but in this time when I needed to feel God's comfort and peace the most, I was still struggling to feel and focus on anything spiritual. It was like my usually open heart was blocked. My thoughts just circled back to how I couldn't go on.

Obviously, I wasn't thinking logically or in a clear state of mind. And I definitely wasn't thinking like myself! The real me loves fiercely and would fight like mad for my life and to be there for my family! The real me would do ANYTHING to keep my spouse, my children, my parents, and my siblings from being hurt--not obsess over something that would hurt them so much.

I have gone through a few pretty hard things in my life: the loss of my niece when I was a freshman in high school, as well losing a good friend my senior year, and losing one of my grandmas and my grandpa after watching their physical and mental health deteriorate. I've also overcome huge challenges, like getting a college degree, serving a year-and-a-half mission surrounded by strangers and away from my family, and learning how to live (and even harder, date!) with anxiety. I've moved pipe, hauled hay, and picked spuds from dawn to well after dark. I'm a hard worker, I persevere through trials, and I'm typically quite optimistic! But, during this time, where were these qualities!? This is how strong depression can be, and how mind-altering it can become. I didn't recognize or like myself, and didn't feel like I deserved to be loved.

During one of these times when I struggled with suicidal thoughts, I was praying--begging God for help--and I miraculously felt Him lift me in a pretty cool way.

I had been having a VERY discouraging time mothering my kids for a few weeks, and was really struggling with dark thoughts of wanting to give up on this life for my family's sake.

A few months earlier, I had been scheduled for an interview with one of my local church leaders. I always look forward to these--it's gives me a chance to talk one-on-one with someone I look up to about my spiritual well-being. It's also a chance to ask questions and be mentored and encouraged in my walk with the Lord. But, this time, I was so low, I didn't want to leave the house, let alone muster the strength to talk about my feelings to someone I didn't know terribly well. Plus, I think in the back of my mind was the fear that if I told someone how bad I was doing, I'd have to get help, but...I just didn't have time for that! I mean, I had three little kids, my husband had a demanding job which was supporting our family, and my parents were on the other side of the world! In my mind, it just wasn't a possibility. I needed to continue functioning for my children--and I needed people to think I was fine.

But, I didn't cancel the interview--I felt compelled to go. (Thank you Heavenly Father!) The man who I ended up interviewing with, was someone I knew a little...he was actually my kid's dentist! He is kind and welcoming, so I immediately felt comfortable. We talked for a while and he asked me questions about how I felt I was doing with my spirituality and relationship with God. We had a good discussion, but I didn't disclose anything about my depression. As we were wrapping up, I had the strongest feeling that I should ask him for a blessing. (In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints those that hold the priesthood power are able to give blessings, like the ones Jesus gave in the New Testament--see Mark 6:13 and James 5:14 &15 for examples. They pray over you, and the priesthood holder speaks words that he's inspired to say, through the Spirit. Blessings are so special--I love them!) I felt hesitant to ask, since I could have just asked my husband, but I felt so strongly to ask this man, right now! So, I got the courage to ask him, and of course he willingly agreed. He asked if there were any specific things he should know about before he gave the blessing, and I just told him with a choked voice that parenting my three boys had been really hard lately. That's all I could really get out.

He began with the blessing. I don't even remember many of the specifics now, but I felt God's love through those words. He talked about things he could not have known about me--I knew these words were inspiration from my Heavenly Father. He also talked about how I should continue on and not give up. The significance of these words, thought they were simple, sunk deep in this moment and the tears poured down my face. The words that meant the most came when he told me that God loved me and that He was pleased with my efforts as a mother. I honestly was shocked that God felt that way. For months, I'd been convinced that I was an utter failure of a mom--especially during my most depressed times when my fuse was short and I struggled to find any joy in parenting, which I knew my sweet boys didn't deserve! But, the Spirit brought these healing words in to my heart, and I had to believe Him--I knew God meant it! I mean, He doesn't lie! And, He actually knew better than anyone else how bad some of my mothering days had been, but He also understood better than anyone else the battle I was waging with myself--that my daily efforts were actually pretty monumental, considering what I was struggling with! He was seeing me for the good and the effort I was putting in and that I had chosen not to give up, and seeing my failures with compassion. OH how I needed to hear that. The blessing also counseled me to remember to rely on my Savior, that Christ had already suffered for me, and that He was always there for me.

After the blessing, this kind man and I talked about parenting, and he shared some funny stories of his own parenting discouragements and fails from when his kids were young. (...which I loved! He actually had me laughing, and before I'd gotten there, I could barely smile!) I left that meeting feeling 100 times lighter.

This experience helped me so much, and for about a month or two, I did really well! BUT, as time went on, I started to get bogged down again. It always happened when I had too much on my plate and my anxiety was too high for too long.

The second time I spent a couple weeks stuck in dark thoughts, once again, it was the Lord who lifted me through another person.

As I described earlier, I had been struggling to feel the spirit during church meetings for a while. (...and not just because of my kids squaking and fighting over fruit snacks and crayons the whole time, haha.) One sunday, I sat on a pew with my family, feeling an empty despair. I had been battling the suicidal thoughts for about a week and I was sooo soul-weary. The whole congregation was listening to our speaker tell about his daughter. He spoke about when his beautiful little girl had been a fragile, premature infant lying in the niccu, barely hanging on to life--but she was a fighter! She wasn't giving up on this life. He felt that this was because she had important things to do in this life. He talked about how how grateful he was that she had fought for her life, though her body was so frail and had many obstacles ahead of her. And he was also so grateful that it had been in God's plan for her life to survive!

Suddenly, blessedly, like a ray of light penetrating a dark fog, his words struck me right to my soul! In that instant I KNEW that darkness was trying to keep me from my life, my purpose, and the good I could do! I knew that God was giving me a miracle at that moment...He was lifting the haze that depression was causing to surround my heart, so that I could hear--but more importantly, FEEL--this message! And it washed over me with a spiritual intensity I hadn't felt in a long time.

I felt like that little baby--I needed to fight! My life was worth fighting for!!! I FELT this conviction bloom up inside of me! And, I WAS going to fight. Just like it wasn't this tiny baby's fault that she was born premature and struggling for her life, I too was being affected by the human frailties of mind and body--things that I definitely hadn't asked for--but I was NOT going to give in and surrender!

It was like the way I'd always known that I'd do anything in my power to protect someone I loved--that I would give my own life--I suddenly felt that kind of intense protectiveness and fierceness for my own life! Once again, I could see that God had never abandoned me, and I had never abandoned Him--depression had just blocked Him from my view.

God perfectly understands the psychology of our brains--He made us after all!! He knows how depression, loss, trauma, grief, anxiety, etc affect our mortal minds and can hinder our ability to think and feel clearly. Since these are the ways that He normally communicates and connects with us-- through our mind and heart--He is so patient with us when we are struggling with mental illness. He knows that our communication "channels" are messed up, jammed, and full of static! This is why I had a hard time feeling the Spirit! But, again--He is patient and loving and finds ways to reach us through other people, since we have such a hard time in that state to reach Him.

This day, for whatever reason, through the words of another person, I was finally able to hear His message to me loud and clear, with no interference. In that full room of people, with my kids milling around me, my heart burned and tears poured down my face.

This experience turned a corner for me.

The fire was lit, and I went on a quest to reclaim my life and my mental health. The determination that burned in me was finally stronger than the apathy from depression. I still felt heavy anxiety and some depression, but now I felt strengthened. The waves were still crashing against me, causing me to sputter and cough at times, but I was staying above water, and swimming with determined strokes toward safety.

I decided I was going to do things that felt impossible to do. Of course I didn't FEEL like doing hard things--I was depressed and had no motivation! But, dang it--I was finally in the right state of mind to fight for my life! (Sounds dramatic, but this is exactly how it felt!) So I decided to choose baby steps, and--a little at a time--MAKE myself do stuff, though I didn't want to do them! Haha! I could finally now do the work to heal my life since I was now completely convinced to my core that my life is absolutely worth living and fighting for. (And, hearing the words to the chorus of Rachel Patten's "Fight Song" during this time made me full on weep!)

It felt so good to be on the offensive, and taking control of my mental health struggles, not just being a victim of them. The path ahead of me was going to be hard, but I was excited!

As I moved forward, I knew that I hadn't tried many things that were in MY power to change to lessen my anxiety/depression--so I decided I wanted to try those strategies first! I set forward with a goal to lower my cortisol and raise my endorphins.

I started talking to people and opening up. I especially began to talk to my husband about how I had been struggling. I worked at getting more sleep, since--as he pointed out--I was chronically sleep depriving myself. He was so right. I knew that my mental/emotional health had to come with improving my physical health. I got a gym membership, (with childcare!) and began working out in earnest and eating better. I started planning a few get-togethers with family and friends! I cut back on goals and obligations that were stressing me too much, and started giving myself boundaries. I prayed. I listened to God's word. I started doing things I missed, like singing more and taking a few dance classes! Patrick and I made going on dates a priority. I got FUN back into my life! This list only scratches the surface of the work and effort I put in for about a year, often making myself do things I didn't "feel" like doing, all with the goal of being mentally/emotionally, physically, and spiritually healthy and happy! And, it was working! The fog was lifting. Slowly but surely, my bad days were happening less and less, and I was starting feeling back to my normal self!

And, now that my mind is clearer, and I am better at making decisions, I was able to prayerfully choose a counselor, and I called and talked to insurance! I made those intimidating phone calls after putting them off for 9 months--thanks to the encouragement of my brave cousin, Brittany, who is on the recovery side of some horrible depression, and shared her story on Facebook. I've had such a good experience with the counselor! I went a few weeks in a row to work through some issues, and now, I've gone to once a month appointments to check in and work on my strategies and tools for managing anxiety.

So that's my story. In my final post of this series, I'll go into a bit more of the practical ways of HOW I was able to get back to a good place emotionally and mentally. I know I had wanted to read REAL ways that other people (especially moms of young kids) were working to overcome anxiety/depression as I was starting out on this path of healing. So hopefully you might find it helpful to hear what worked for me. :) If there is another person out there struggling with feeling depressed or like they are drowning and can't come up for air, then maybe my story will help them recognize that they needs to talk to others and get help!

This story for me continues. I am still seeking help and resources for my mental health. If the time comes that I find myself crashing down again and I can't come up, then I will look at other options, including medication. I know that everyone who deals with depression and anxiety will have a different treatment plan that works best for them, and that sometimes we have to adjust and take a change strategy if what we were doing isn't working anymore.

But, for now, I am just so glad to be doing so much better, and have been for probably half of a year. It feels GOOOD to enjoy my life!! :)

Though the past few years have been rough on my body and mind, I do NOT regret having my three beautiful boys. They are worth every sacrifice. When I look at the light in their eyes and see their goodness and joy and think about all the good they will have and be in this world, everything else falls away. They are a part of my soul and a huge part of God's purpose for my life. They have made the world, and my life, a better, more joyful place! And now that I've been working to heal my mental health, I can FEEL that joy again and better cope with the tough parts of motherhood.

Sometimes I feel guilty that I'm so ok with being done having babies. (which was a decision that my husband and I made a huge matter of prayer, and we felt VERY divinely guided in!) And other times, I don't even feel guilty, I'm just glad! Haha! I was told by my Heavenly Father to not run faster than I have strength. I just want to do all that I can to care for the children that I have, and keep myself healthy for them, for my hubby, and for me. EVERY soul is important to God, and has infinite worth--And that includes our own! Yes--we sacrifice much to bare and raise children, but we are people too!!! We MUST take care of our physical, mental, and emotional health too. God gave us our body, our mind, and our life as gifts to love and care for. We need to be our own advocates--don't wait for someone to give you permission to figure out how to improve your mental or physical health and act upon that. Just do it!! It will be hard work, but SO FREAKING worth it. Do it because you deserve it. God doesn't ask us to be a parent at the expense of all joy. He wants us to have joy in our life AND with our families! And, if we can't feel that joy anymore, it is up to us to advocate for ourselves, to seek help, and to FIGHT for this life.

Thankfully, we don't have to do this alone. There are so many who love YOU--please believe that even if depression is feeding you lies, and you can't see how anyone could love you...know that those thoughts are not true. The truth is that YOU are so worth loving and worthwhile and that your life is meant to be! You have gifts and a perspective that nobody else does, cause you're the only you in the world. And we need you. Please never forget that.

Thank you SO much for reading and caring about my story. This is SUPER SCARY for me. Like I feel sick to my stomach, cause I'm too scared to push publish! Ya'll heard some RAW, REAL-LIFE from me! BUT, I know this is important, and we can do hard things!!!

Please share this if you know of anyone who could use some encouragement and might benefit from my experience. :)

Love, you friends!

PS. I'd LOVE to hear your own thoughts and experiences with depression/anxiety. This is something that most of us will deal with sometime in our lives, so I feel like we should be open about it! How else can we help each other, if we never know that someone needs help?? And how can we reach out for help ourselves if it feels like a subject that is not ok to talk about?? I love to feel and give understanding, support, and connection with other mental health warriors!! :)

December 19, 2018

Say NOPE to Holiday Stress and Spend Time with Jesus Instead!


December is festive! and merry! and bright!... and freakin crazy.

I mean, as a person who battles anxiety (which often, for me, leads to depression) this season that I've always loved, can quickly become an avalanche of to-do lists, shopping, parties, and weeks that are WAY too packed! All this stuff is sooo fun! BUT--there's just SO much happening in 25 days, and suddenly I'm drowning. In stress. And sugar. And Eggnog. (Just kidding, I hate eggnog. #Sorrynotsorry.)

Since becoming a mom, I remember the holiday season when it dawned on me: "Ohhhhh... If I want ALL the MAGICAL HOLIDAY THINGS to happen, I am the one who has to do it! Not my mom. Cause, I AM the mom!" *insert my horrified face.*

I realize more and more every year how much my mom did to make our December's "the most wonderful time of the year!" I mean, I love that song too, but who is handling the stress and arrangements for all of those wonderful events? Who's cleaning the house for guests, and who's going to the grocery store, and who's schedule-juggling and ride-coordinating for the "parties for hosting" and "marshmallows for toasting" and "caroling out in the snow?" It all takes a lot o' work, on top of all the regular caring for kids/home/work--which can leave us moms mentally and physically exhausted!

Don't get the wrong idea...I am NOT saying that my husband doesn't help me with any holiday stuff--Patrick is amazing, and I'm lucky and grateful to have him! He is working so hard to provide for our family, and because of his hard work, we have the luxury of being able to buy Christmas gifts for our kids and each other, as well as help a few other families in need! He actually does the majority of the food on holiday occasions (and I am SO grateful!!) cause he is a much better cook than I! He hung the lights on the outside of our house--which would not have happened if it was my responsibility! He is at home with the kiddos when I go out to holiday shop or help set up for a church Christmas party. He wrapped some presents with our oldest boy. AND, best of all, he performed a dance with a few other brave souls to the Sugar Plumb Fairy (in footy pjs) at our church Christmas party, just because I was on the committee and I asked him to! So you can see that he is the best. :)

What I AM saying is, for most of the festivities of the season, if I want that stuff to happen, it's up to me as the mom to plan it and make it happen.

Like Christmas cards. I'm the one who needs to make that happen. (Or not happen...which is what has now happened for the third year in a row. *sigh*) And, I am the one who got the decorations up and the tree decorated while my children "helped." Haha. My husband and I plan out what to buy for our boys and other family members, then I stress endlessly about if we made the right decision for each person, and if we're buying them the PERFECT PRESENT, then I finally just get fed up and start buying gifts with a reckless abandon that I will probably regret while they are unwrapping them.


Hahaha! This may have happened to me a few times this year...

But, there's more!! There's planning get-togethers with friends to make Christmas cookies and gingerbread houses, and making sure we find ways to serve and give during this season. We can't forget to watch Christmas movies, plan when to take the boys to pick gifts for their dad and each other, and what to make (or buy, haha) for treats to deliver treats to our neighbors. We gotta figure out when to go see Santa, when to go to a Christmas concert, when to go to the Library Christmas story time, or the gingerbread house display at the museum, or see the live nativity, or go to the Messiah sing-along, hear the carolers at the Temple Visitor Center and go see the lights, etc. Plus, a million other things...

In December, I'm also usually helping with a Christmas party or two at church, musical numbers, and keeping track of kids' school Christmas activities. Also, being entrepreneur makes this season tricky, since this is the season of people buying gifts--therefore the best time to focus on getting my products out there. (I make art and teach art classes!) However, it's the worst time to be pushing myself in my business, cause I'm so busy with family, church, and Christmas stuff. So, I just sigh and put my business goals on the very back burner. (The one that ain't even turned on. ha.)

The funny thing is, it's not like I don't want to do any of these things--that would make them easy to chuck out the window. I WANT to make all these fun traditions happen, and I want to serve and donate and give, and I want to help with the parties, and I want to be super productive in my business! But, when it all converges at once, it makes for a month that leaves me crazy in the head. Haha! (But, for real. In the past few years, I like major spiraled into depression/anxiety during the  Chrsitmas and post-Christmas seasons.)

Basically, in the busy-ness of being a mom at Christmas, sometimes it's hard to feel the "joy" and "peace" of the season. Instead, we can end up feeling frazzled, overwhelmed, a little resentful, and like we haven't made it good enough and "magical enough" for our family. And, none of those feelings add to a season of "peace" and "joy" for us.

I couldn't handle feeling like that for another year. So, I knew this year had to be different. 

I have reallly tried to simplify this year. And, many of the holiday things didn't happen. Which PAINS a person like me who wants to PARTY AND DO EVERYTHING FESTIVE AND FUN!! But, making it all happen drains me. (I am not good at being in charge or keeping track of details.) So, I cut back. And, it's been SO good!! I am enjoying this December, even though I've opted out of fun things!

I would love to host an adult holiday party with ugly sweaters and fun games (cause, PARTIESSSS!) or a ladies Christmas movie night with treats. (cause, LADIES' NIGHT PARTIESSSS!!!) But, there are tooooo many things happening and I no longer can handle a stressed-to-the-max-for-the-entire-month of December.

I've tried to remember that many of the extra traditions are just that: EXTRA. I talked with the boys in November and we wrote down the main things we wanted to make sure we did this month, and those few things were what I focused on.

For example: we did Christmas cookies! But, we didn't make it to the Light Parade or many other fun community events that we just had to chose to skip. So, I basically became a selective hermit. haha! (Though we did go see the lights downtown in Salt Lake!) And, of course, we decorated our tree! And, we even le the kids decorate a 2nd tree on their in in our family room downstairs! But, I didn't worry about finding or buying a real tree that I'd have to keep alive. And, I generally took the decorations down a notch in our house. I helped with my church Christmas party--which we all went to as a family. But, I chose not to host my own in my home as well. I made sure we had an evening or two each week with NOTHING going on. Hopefully I will get some treats out to my neighbors, but...it might not happen. haha. (Sorry neighbors!! I still love you all--I'm just a slacker!) And, I let go of the Christmas cards. I am kind of sad about that one, though. I was hoping this was our year to finally get them out!!

I'm also trying to manage my expectations for Christmas day. Cause, last Christmas was ROUGHHHH. We wrapped up a stressful, busy Christmas season with a hard Christmas day.

I did a ton of custom artwork, (which I no longer do, haha) barely getting it all done and shipped in time, and limped over the finish line before Christmas Eve. We didn't have much family around, since my parents were serving as missionaries on the other side of the world, and my mother-in-law was out-of-state, visiting Patrick's sister, who'd just had a new baby. We got my brother and our father-in-law for a little while, which we were grateful for!

But, the hardest part was my three darling boys: they started the day being adorable and excited for a 1/2 an hour of opening presents, then followed that with an 12-hour, 3 way, knock-down-drag-out fight over all their brand-new toys. And I spent the whole day putting kids in time-outs, taking toys away, pulling the little raging wild-cats off of each other, and crying in frustration. This is the struggle with having three kids of the same gender, close to the same age, who all like basically the same thing. (This Christmas, their toys are almost all the same, or they're getting things to share, like building sets. Hopefully it goes better. haha) I am excited that we get to be around lots of family this year, before and after Christmas, so that will make it more special. :)

This was sooo me by the end of Christmas day last year, haha! It didn't help that I was struggling with depression that I wasn't getting help for yet.
After I learned my sad lesson last year, I'm so happy I've made myself PICK and CHOOSE to maintain a happy/sane/mentally healthy December!

BUT. Even though it can be stressful, I still believe in Christmas. I believe in the magic and joy of December! And, most of all, I believe in taking time to remember/celebrate the birth of our Savior. If done right, the Christmas season is a time to have fun with our families, a time to give and serve, and to feel closer to Jesus!

I love this depiction of Mary and little baby Jesus--the first worn-out mom of Christmas! Haha! I love that she doesn't look glamorous and put together. She's exhausted, but relieved and joyful and full of love--a feeling which anyone who has been through childbirth can understand! It's beautiful that the Savior of us all started as a helpless infant, like us all!
In all the crazy, it can be easy to forget about the greatest gift ever given to any of us: God gave the world his son Jesus Christ and sent Him to the earth as little baby. And, Jesus gave us the gift of the perfect example of how to live, and in the perfect act of love gave his life and died for US!

But how do we make the gift of the Savior our focus during the busy, to-do list holiday season?

Here's one tradition that I've loved. Every year, I make sure that on Christmas Eve evening, we take time to focus on our Savior. We read the story of Jesus' birth from Luke. (This is what my family always did every Christmas eve.) While we read (or summarize, since my kids get antsy half-way through, haha) the boys bring out each nativity piece as the story unfolds. When our nativity is complete, we sing Christmas songs and talk about Jesus and why we're grateful for Him and that He was born. That evening is a non-negotiable to me--we can't miss a chance to slow down and focus on the reason WHY we have Christmas! I love making sure we have this reverent time before our fun Christmas morning and day of gifts, playing, eating, and partying. :)

One way that I am trying to personally connect with Jesus this entire Christmas season, is to spend time every day reading His word. When I am making an effort to have time in the scriptures every day (even if it's just a little!) then I feel so much closer to Him in my life--His teachings are more part of how I think and live. And, believe you me, I NEED Jesus in my life EVERY DAY! I can't function without His help and the direction from His teachings. My gospel habits of prayer, scripture study, and weekly church are the foundation of my life. They keep me steady and give me strength!

Since I am making an effort to make this season "peaceful" and more of a time to connect with the Savior, I started a scripture reading challenge. For the past two months, many people who belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints are doing a challenge that our prophet invited us to do: finish the Book of Mormon by the New Year’s. This has been perfect timing for me, as I have wanted a kick in the pants to focus on my faith this season.

>>For those who aren't familiar with it: The Book of Mormon is a collection of records kept by the ancient prophets who lived in the Americas (Mormon was the name of one of these prophets), just like the Bible is a collection of records kept by the prophets and apostles who lived in Jerusalem and the surroundings areas. The Book of Mormon teaches about Jesus Christ and his gospel,--it's an important second witness, that testifies alongside the Bible that Jesus Christ really lived and that He truly atoned for our sins, died for us, and rose again! The Book of Mormon further shows God's love, because He was guiding his children through prophets, not just in Jerusalem, but on the other side of the world as well!<<

This challenge has been awesome to encourage me to be more consistent in my gospel study. I think we all need a little help in that department, right?? I've been listening to the Book of Mormon from my scripture tool ap every time I get ready for the day or get ready for bed, and sometimes when I drive. I need to catch up, or I'll be reading the entire day of December 31st (haha!) but I do plan on finishing on time! :) It's been cool to know I'm working on this goal with many others.

My sister Julie, came up with the awesome idea of making a hashtag so people can share how they are making their own personal scripture study meaningful! I thought this was a genius way to encourage each other!

If we’re not making our gospel study our own and reading/marking/journaling in a way that helps us to apply our study to our own life, then it’s basically just a academic study that doesn't make much of an impact at all on who we are. We have to put in some effort to make our study meaningful to us!

SO. We’re starting the #MyGospelStudy movement. 

We want anyone and everyone to share on Instagram and/or Facebook how they are remembering Jesus in their daily life by learning of Him from the Scriptures. This way, we can support and encourage each other in our daily gospel study, especially in this busy time of year!

So, please share your gospel study and what that looks like for YOU! If you are studying in the New Testament or Old testament, great! If you're studying from the Book of Mormon and trying to finish the challenge by the end of the year, awesome! Studying the scriptures looks different for everyone, and should. We all learn in different ways--but the important thing is taking that daily time to be with the Savior and his teachings. For me, I love to take notes in a little notebook, and mark my favorite scriptures so I can find them again. I try to find at least 1 lesson or take-away that I can use in my life every time I read. It totally keeps me engaged in what I’m learning, since I'm searching for my take-away. Right now, I am listening since I am focusing on reading as much as I can, but in the new year, I am starting with the New Testament with my family, and I'll keep a journal of my studies.

I'm so excited to share my study with you, and see what YOUR gospel study is like! (Check out my first post here...spoiler: I have wet mascara mess around my eyes, but I'm not crying. haha!)

After you share your own #MyGospelStudy pic, please invite others to share their study as well! :)

I want to show you a picture from Julie's gospel study. She is a phenomenal artist (seriously, she's so good!) and she loves to connect with her study through artwork. She adds copies of sacred artwork to her scriptures, and includes her own art! Here is a drawing she made for her Book of Mormon.

Recently, they started selling copies of The Book of Mormon that have quite a few blank pages in the back. These would be perfect for taking notes, writing a letter to someone you give it to, drawing pictures, writing quotes or favorite verses, or any other thing that helps us to study better. Julie included coloring pages for her kids in their new copies.

(I'll have to share her process of making these perfectly-sized coloring pages for her kids' scriptures in another post! It's so cool! I am totally doing this for my kids!)

But really, you should go get a new copy of the Book of Mormon so you can use some of those blank pages as part of your meaningful study! If you want a free one, you can request one online here! :) I love the Book of Mormon. It brings me closer to my Savior every time I read it. :)

I hope that even with all the hustle and bustle and of the season, we can feel a little more peace as we simplify and keep Christ in our Christmas. We can share our light by sharing the joy the Gospel and the scriptures bring to us!! After all--the light that we hold up is the light of the Savior! So let's light the world by sharing our gospel study! 

Love to you friends! And, happy, un-stressful Christmas! :)

November 5, 2018

10 Strategies For Rising Above Postpartum Anxiety/Depression (Part 3 of a 3 Part Mental Health Series)

This post is mostly told from the perspective of a momma dealing with postpartum depression and anxiety, but anyone can benefit from these tools and strategies, men, women, kids or no kids, teens, etc! This is a long post, but it’s a complex issue, and I couldn't leave out any of these strategies, in case that's the one that YOU need to hear! 😊 And, thank you soo much for all the amazing responses on my other two posts!  You guys really made me feel supported and safe talking about some hard things. It just reafirms to me that this is a very common issue that hits close to home for many ladies-- this is a topic we NEED to talk about! Also, that we are not alone in our stuggle. πŸ’—

Also, as in the last post, I talk about my faith. It's a large part of my journey. But, I totally respect that it might not be part of yours, and that's ok! We can all believe differently and have mutual respect and understanding for our different perspectives! :) Thanks!


Hey. I'm Amy. I am a momma of three phsyco little boys (I kid, I kid...they aren't psychos...they just act like it. πŸ˜‰ ) And, for the past three years I felt like I was going psycho right along with them. Not in like a funny, "Oh my heck, life is so crazy! πŸ˜„πŸ˜‚" kind of way. More like Britteny-Spears-shaving-her-head" kind of way. πŸ˜‚πŸ˜¬

Since those rough times, I've been on a mission to improve my mental, emotional, and physical health. Mostly I want to be able to live a happy, productive life, take care of my family, and feel JOY in living!

I spilled my guts in two previous posts, "10 Reasons Why I Don't Want to Talk About Post Partum Anxiety/Depression" and "My Journey with Post Partum Anxiety/Depression". And, NOW, is the happy post where I get to talk about overcoming and making progress in my mental health! These are my own experiences--I am no doctor or a mental health therapist. I'm just a person who has lived with anxiety since I was a teenager, and have experienced depression off and on, in varying degrees for the past 10 years, and I have come a LONG way! I want to share what I wish I had known when I first found out I had postpartum depression.

So. How can we rise above anxiety/depression? Well, no two people will have the same journey.

Medication and therapy are hugely important tools for healing and moving forward, but that's between you and your doctor to figure out! :) So, if you are struggling and you think it could be anxiety/depression, TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR ABOUT IT!! Look at your options! Get get some professional opinions, and PLEASE--don't wait for years!!

I haven't tried medication yet, though I was written a prescription, as I wanted to see what I could do without it first, but I am not ruling it out. If my doctor and I decide that I still need some help to keep myself mentally in a good place, then I'll fill that prescription. It's a decision I'll make carefully, with prayer.

I have been going to counseling with an amazing therapist for the past couple months and it has been an awesome help, since I am really someone who needs to process things verbally with someone else. (Aka, I've always been a TALKER! haha...) Also, she has been helping me to identify some unhealthy and unhelpful patterns of thinking that I get stuck in (and we all have these!) that are keeping me stuck. We are what we think! So, I am working at changing how I think and figuring out better ways to think instead. :) I have been grateful for a professional to help with this process, who can objectively point out what's wrong and help me to know how to fix it!! And, I'm grateful that's she's ok with me bawling my face off, asking realllly weird questions, and arriving 5 minutes late every session. (Time management is NOT my strength. haha)

So, yeah, medication and/or therapy are so important and helpful and lifesaving (that's not an exaggeration!) for many!


There's also A LOT that WE can do to proactively improve our mental wellness!!! 

These proactive strategies have made a HUGE difference in my life, and helped me to prevent and lessen the impact of my moderate anxiety and depression. (I specify "moderate" because there are people who deal with major depression and anxiety and it is crippling to their life! "Going for a walk" is NOT going to solve that!! Along with professional help, these people need compassion and support--they are going through a hard, hard struggle!)

None of these strategies are a cure, but used together, they can be pretty powerful! They make me feel like I CAN do something about my mental health, like I DO have some control!!! Which feels amazing, since I spent so much time feeling beat-down and overwhelmed! Now I am fighting the good fight, instead of curling up in fetal postition while I'm getting kicked. Heck no, I'm standing with my dukes up, ready to protect myself and my life and the people in it. I no longer feel like a victim.

Think of these strategies as becoming purposeful caretakers of our mental health.

Like, in the garden of our minds, (haha, I'm going hippie on ya!) everybody gets weeds.

(PS, I am overly fond of metaphors!! They just work for my brain. :))

Usually, you just pull a weed out, NBD. Like getting over a bad day. But, I am talking about taking steps to prevent the take-over of weeds, especially the NASTY, pervasive kind that can overtake a whole garden and choke out any other healthy plant. (I mapped noxious weeds for a summer job during college, so I know how damaging those noxious weeds can be, and how hard/expensive to get rid of once they've infested a crop or wildlife area!)

Sometimes we need some strong weed-kill spray to get an out-of-hand situation back on track. Just like intensive therapy and medication are needed in some cases of mental health crisis!

These less extreme proactive, preventative steps we can take are like laying down weed barrier, fabric putting down bark, watering and strengthening your good plants so that they are as healthy and strong as they can be, enriching the soil with good nutrients, and keeping on top of the weeding every day so it doesn't get out of hand.

I think of counseling as learning about gardening and getting educated on the weeds (aka negative and hurtful thought patterns we get stuck in), how to recognize them, and how to pull them before they get big and gnarly. So we can fight the weeds SMARTER.

Yeah, it's all about taking care of the garden of our mind. (I think Mr Rogers made up that comparison! He is one of my favorite people in this whole world! :))

OK. I'm done with gardening analogies. For now. haha. (PS, I'm an awful garderner, so....there's that.)

These ideas may (and by that I mean definitely will) overlap. Sorry.


For those who just want the basic list:
1. Recognize your triggers.
2. Be kind to yourself when you struggle. Do the small things that help you feel less anxious or depressed.
3. Take some time to focus on your strengths, instead of only focusing on your big weaknesses.
4. Now that you've given yourself some grace and kindness, as well as identified your strengths and triggers, it's time to get tough with yourself and set some baby-step goals--then get to work!!
5. Recognize your "Feel-Goods".
6. Hold on to "bigger than yourself" stuff.
7. Work on your complete wellness by caring for your physical health as well.
8. Talk about it when you're struggling.
9. Work on seeing the good in your life.
10. Protect and manage your mental/emotional energy.


Ok, let's get into it!

1. Recognize your Triggers. 

Simple enough right? But, pretty eye-opening. Really take notice about what brings you down, makes you feel panicked and anxious, etc. Write them down. Talk to a friend about them. FIGURE THAT STUFF OUT. Then you are prepared, and you can anticipate/make plans for when a triggering time is coming!

2. BE KIND to yourself when you struggle! Do the small things that help you feel less anxious or depressed.

These are ways that you can directly address and help the situations where you feel anxiety or depression.

You can reassure yourself like crazy that everything is going to be ok in a certain anxious situation...for someone with true anxiety, that usually doesn't work. But, if you just take some simple steps to help yourself before a hard situation, then you don't even have to talk yourself out of the worry, you might be able to eliminate it beforehand!

Because I struggle with Anxiety and IBS, not having easy access to a bathroom can really trigger a panic attack. TMI alert: I mean, when I have to go to the bathroom, it's usually like: I need to go NOW, like in the next 3 seconds kind of a thing. It's awful and very panic-inducing. Soooo...Before I go into a situation where I'm going to worry about being able to quickly get to a bathroom, like teaching a class, or going on a hike, or going on a road trip, etc, I take immodium a few hours before, and sometimes one the night before as well. This is a simple precaution that can instantly calm my anxiety!

Also, I get anxiety when I'm stressed out with too much to accomplish, remember, and keep track of. Making a to-do list and having a thorough planning session every Sunday evening before the school week starts, and starring all the priorities, helps me to know what to do first, so I don't have to focus on ALL of it at once. Once I've done that, I'm no longer this huge ball of nerves, freaked out by the unknown of everything I have to accomplish and not knowing how and when I am going to accomplish it. I can BREATHE and calm down and actually know what to do. (Here's a perfect illustration of me when I have a ton of stuff I have to do. hahaha!)

So, you gotta take time to figure out what helps YOU in an anxious situation or on a day when you're feeling depressed!

Maybe taking a friend helps you feel brave enough to go into a new social setting. Maybe writing down your questions or main points would instantly help you feel WAY less anxious about an intimidating phone call or doctor appointment. Maybe setting out your clothes and figuring out how to get where you need to go can make you feel prepped and calm about getting to a new place on time. Maybe you need to look at menus online before you go restaurantraunt if you have food issues.

For some people, time of year, a place, or a certain day on the calendar can bring up a traumatic time or event, and bring on anxiety. Or a underlying greif can resurface and hit hard around the anniversary of a loved-ones death or their birthday. It's OK to feel pain and sadness when these hard days come!! We are allowed to feel those emotions! When you know one of those hard times are coming, talk to people around you and make a plan for the hard day or week! Get your loved ones involved. You could ask them to call you to check in that day, or help you plan something good to do--people cannot read minds, but most want to help, so LET THEM KNOW what they could do! Maybe you need space, or hugs, or a cheesecake on that day! Whatever you need to do to prepare, do it--and let others help you!!!

I have a sister who lost her first little baby. Every year, her family honors and remembers her by visiting the grave of their big sister, letting go of balloons, and looking through photos of her. Though the pain of losing a loved one will always be there, it can be so comforting to have positive things to do on that day, to honor and celebrate the life of that person, no matter how long or short!

Some people just need some time to be present with the pain, and care for themselves. They say no to doing other things, they take extra time to sleep, cry, and think. They're having a low day and they need some time. Trying to just SNAP out of it, often backfires and makes for a bad week, vs one day of resting and being gentle and kind with themselves.

Other people throw themselves into work to feel better. Some just need to talk about it to a good friend/family member to get out of a depressed slump. As long as it doesn't harm others or yourself, (like drinking yourself into oblivion) do what works for YOU!!!

For me, a day of relaxing is not really an option (cause my hub just can't take off work and I have little kids!) but, sometimes I'll spend a few hours in the evening by myself. I also find other ways to take a break when I'm having a really down time. A nap in the afternoon works wonders! I am probably borderline addicted to naps. haha! BUT! If I take a nap, I get enough of a mental/emotional break that I can recharge and restart with my kiddos. For a long time I felt super guilty and pathetic that I needed a nap. And, I am still trying to get to the point where I don't crave them so bad, especially since some days it just doesn't work schedule-wise--AND, my 3-year-old really doesn't need to nap anymore. 😩 BUT, for a long time, when I was struggling badly, just taking a nap while my younger two napped and my oldest did an hour of quiet-time was literally what got me through each day. And, I finally realized that naps are pretty harmless, especially since they were enabling me to be ok in daily life! When you're dealing with depression, there are much worse coping mechanisms, haha! I used to binge on treats pretty often (Freaking full packages of Keebler cookies and Cookie Place sugar cookies, I'm looking at you!!!) but with IBS I get soooo sick from that. Plus, adding weight gain to depression is just more...depressing.

Luckily, I've never gotten into any of the other common "escapes" that many get sucked into when they are struggling with emotional/mental health, which can be vey harmful--like drinking too much, smoking crack, getting addicted to porn, going out and blowing loads of money, online gambling, binge eating, or plain driving away and never coming back. So, yeah a healthy alternative is a good thing!

Ok, so those were just a few examples of how to be kind to yourself. People can have all different kinds of things that trigger their anxiety/depression, but once you know when to expect an issue (as much as possible) or what helps you once you're in it, you can take those steps to care for yourself before and during a hard time to ease your stress and pain!

3. Take some time to focus on your STRENGTHS, instead of only focusing on your big weaknesses. 

Sometimes, you just gotta allow yourself to take a break from dwelling on the issues that are hard for you, cause sometimes we get too stuck in them. And, that is not enjoyable!

I was big-time stuck in the fact that I had anxiety when I was first diagnosed in college. Now, don't get me wrong, I am so grateful for that diagnosis and that I was able to become educated and understand what was happening to me, but after dwelling on it for a while, I started having anxiety about having anxiety, haha! I couldn't stop worrying and obsessing about it.

I was an ambitious girl! I totally wanted to live a full live, be an artist, a writer, a teacher, a singer, travel the world, hike to the top of mountains....BUT, I also dearly wanted to get married and have a family. I was a closet-romantic--I scoffed at all things sappy in public, but at home, I lived for Jane Austen books/movies! I died from joy at the end of Jane Eyre, and I cried and re-read the end to the Anne of Avonlea like 20 times. I was secretly boy-crazy, (haha!!) and I wanted to love someone best who also loved ME best! But, after I was diagnosed with anxiety, I felt sooo hopeless, since my panic attacks were almost always triggered by dating situations. How the heck could I ever find a wonderful guy to marry and live my life with, if I couldn't go on dates or even talk to guys I liked? And, what guy would be patient enough to wait around for me in all of my weirdness and insecurities? (Spoiler alert: Patrick Graham would be. Yay!) The hopelessness hung over me and followed me wherever I went.

A few days after that first appointment when I learned I had anxiety, I was really feeling low. I drove back home (45 minutes from my college town) to get away and have a relaxing weekend. I mean, I LOVED college, but sometimes, you just need the comforts of home, ya know? I went with my parents to church on Sunday, and heard a talk that pretty much blew my mind and brought me incredible comfort. The talk was given by a smart, very-educated, articulate woman in our congregation, and I looked up to her so much. She spoke about using our God-given gifts and talents for good, and that when we only focus on our weaknesses, we are ignoring and neglecting the vast amount of good in us! We aren't seeing ourselves realistically--we're seeing our faults as the biggest part of us, and we're selling ourselves very short! This mentality keeps us from LIVING our best life and rising to the potential that God sees in us.

Um, woooooah. (Are there mic drops at church? haha!)

Her words drove straight home to my heart (which happens by the Spirit!) and I was filled with hope!! I knew that I needed to just move forward and do the best I could in all other parts of my life, instead of living under a cloud of gloom about this dating anxiety. And, when the time was right, God would help me to face this issue! Till then, I could focus on all the good in my life and in me!! There were many ways that I WAS brave and strong!! I could make wonderful friends and connections with so many people and accomplish so much in my schooling--I didn't need to focus on dating right now! This brought me so much peace. And, a few years later, when the time was right, (and the guy was right!) I was able to work through those fears! (Though it WAS hard and pretty awkward, haha!) :)

It can be transformative to start focusing on the good--on YOUR good! YOU are SO much more than just your mental health struggle. SO, make yourself focus on that. Seriously, I want you to WRITE A LIST. An actual, factual list. You can type it and print it out or write it in a notebook, but I want you to REALLY do this, NOT take a "mental inventory".

What are your strengths?? EVERYONE HAS STRENGTHS, so don't be shy! Think good and hard. What makes you special? What do you like about being you? And it can be anything! Make yourself a long list. You are allowed to see good in yourself, I promise! It's not conceited. Being conceited is when you think you are better than others! But, seeing good in yourself, the way you would point out the good in a friend, is a form of love that YOU deserve too!!!! Sometimes it can be hard to recognize our own strengths. Ask a friend, a spouse, or a parent to add their input to your list! I am so serious! You can tell them it's an assignment you have to do. (It is, cause I just assigned it to you, haha!) And, you can tell them their strengths too! It's so fun to point out the good in others.

Keep this list. READ it when you feel like you are no good. Refer to this list when making goals and life decisions about what you could offer the world. Remember above all that YOU have worth!!! YOU have gifts and talents that make you special and the world needs them and you!!!

4. Now that you've given yourself some grace and kindness, as well as identified your strengths and triggers, it's time to get tough with yourself and set some baby-step goals--then get to work!!

Ok, here's the part where you have to step out of your comfort zone...Get honest with yourself and make some goals to help you work on your weaknesses and triggers. Then DO IT!! Face those fears, one at a time, a little at a time. :)

What do YOU know you need to face and overcome to live a happier, more full life? How could you face that issue? This will be different for everyone. Like, some people who are terrified of sharks need to go dive into a cage, and be surrounded by sharks so they can face/overcome that fear and move on with life. (haha, an extreme example!) Others who fear sharkes can just stay away from the ocean and still have a happy, full life, ya know? So, not every fear has to be eradicated 100%. I mean we're human. But, DO challenge yourself! And pray for strength and courage! If something is paralysing you and your progress, it needs to be overcome, at least enough that it's not a huge stumbling block! Otherwise, you aren't living the full life you could!

Don't let fear rob you of joy and progress.

And, you don't need to be force yourself to face something huge all in one go--just take a step. Be GUTSY and move one foot forward! ANY progress is AWESOME! You'll gain momentum as you keep moving forward!

For me, I knew that my dating fear was keeping me from a huge desire for my life--to be married and have a family. SO--painful though it was (I know, this seems so silly!)--After I got home from my 18-month-long church mission, I forced myself to start talking to boys. It involved a lot of baby-steps, like, daring myself to talk to a cute guy after class, looking a guy in the eyes and smiling as I walked past him, pumping myself up to go on a date, etc. ("Ok Amy...It's just a date. It's just a freaking date! You're not going to die. Seriously, it's like 2 hours. And you'll get free food!") haha! I was always giving myself these little challenges! It was pretty dang hard at times. Like, if I got asked out on a date, but I just knew I couldn't do it, I'd invite him to some kind of get-together with my roomates ("Oh, we are having a party that night, sorry...but you should totally come!") instead of just saying no. That way I wasn't completely just avoiding the situation, but I was making it happen in a safe environment for me. (I had to quickly scramble to drum up some parties a couple times, but ya know, it worked, haha!)

When I started dating Patrick, I was scared out of my mind every second. (If you want to read our AWKWARD love story, haha, click Here.) I MADE myself do hard things, cause I knew if I didn't give him any encouragement, I'd lose him! And, I realllly liked this guy! My first baby step was when I vaguely, and weirdly told him that I liked him. And when I let him hold my hand (honestly, the first time we "held hands", he actually just held my clenched fist, while I covered my face and freaked out next to him, no joke! haha! BUT--I didn't run away, so, kudos to me! hah!) and then, I FINALLY let him kiss me after we'd been a couple for months, but it took an hour of him waiting--and I totally possumed. Like played dead. And he kissed my cold, dead lips. hahaha, poor guy!!! BUT--I was the one who said I love you first! (...with a beanie pulled down over my entire head, past my chin. OH--I was such an anxious weirdo!! I'm so lucky he was patient with me!!) I liked him SO much, and I wasn't about to let my stupid anxiety mess this up--so I kept forcing myself to take baby steps. It was so gut-wrenching to be facing some very long-held fears, and I felt nauseated much of the first couple weeks from the intense anxiety. I lost like 8 pounds in a month without trying, cause I had no appetite! Haha! Like, the only time in my life I haven't had an appetite!! πŸ˜‚

More recently, I had to use baby steps to overcome anxiety when my brother-in-law was going to the temple for the first time. (An important spiritual step that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints can chose to take when they reach adulthood. It's a reverent time where you meet together to learn and make commitments to follow Jesus Christ. These are covenants, like baptism.) I hadn't been to a full temple service in a while, since the last time I'd had crazy stomach issues, and I had to leave during the service to go to the bathroom---everyone saw me leave and I was so embarrassed (I'm sure it was much worse in my mind--probably nobody else gave it a second thought, but that's how anxiety makes you think: everyone is watching and judging me!) and I ended up having a panic attack during the service. Even after I came back to sit down, I was still panicking and felt woozy, puky, and short of breath the whole time. I usually LOVE being at the temple, but this time was agonizing because of my stupid panic.

After than experience, I had only done shorter temple services since then, because I was so scared of having another panic attack. BUT, when my husband's youngest brother was going, I knew I wanted to do this full service with him and the rest of our family, to support him on his important day. I was sick with worry, so, I decided I needed to face the fear on my own terms. I made myself go alone to a session a few days before his. I was in control of the circumstances--Nobody there knew me--if I have to leave to go to the bathroom, then who cares? These people didn't know me from Adam, so I had no need to be embarrassed. haha. I also went in the morning when my digestion is typically better, and I immodiumed up the night before. It went so well--I was so uplifted! And I was proud of myself for just facing the fear! This success helped me feel confident to be there with our family when my brother-in-law went through his first session a few days later--a wonderful experience which I would have been so disappointed to miss if I'd just given in to the fear and chosen to avoid it.

So, we gotta challenge ourselves, gently.

When it comes to setting goals, don't just make goals that are related to your anxiety and depression--set and make MANAGEABLE goals about things in your life that you are passionate about and want to achieve. Having something to work for can give you new excitement and drive in your life, which can keep you going when you're feeling down!! Write these goals down and look at them often!

Sometimes when you're feeling very low, it's hard to find motivation at all. So, take a break for a while, but then, try again. Make the tiniest of steps, and when you do that, take another. You'll gather some momentum and confidence if you keep trying! Even if it's small progress, that's just Freaking Fine!! This is NO RACE. Any progress is good progress.

Let's say you're trying to start exercising. Even taking a 10 minute walk is great when you're first starting out!! It's a heck of a lot better than no walk! So, instead of shaming yourself, "Ughhh, I should have done an hour of P90X. I am lame." NOPE. Instead, force yourself to say, "I got some exercise today! I am a freaking champion!!" I'm not even kidding! Consciously choose to stop that negative self-talk and replace it! You can even say it out loud! haha! When I am in an exercise class (which is the most motivating way for me to get my sweat on) it's easy for me to start comparing my strength or my endurance or my body with the other ladies in the class. BUT, that is super discouraging!! So, when I catch my thoughts going there, I started the cheesy act of switching it with thinking positive things about my body, the more outlandish, the better! "I am a strong and swift like a gazelle!" (Nacho Libre quote...ha) or "DZANG GIRRRL, you are rocking it today!" or "I am a glorious, magnificent beast!!" haha! If those are a little too much, then try a simple. "I love my body. I am getting healthier and stronger every day!" or "I am awesome!!" Cause you are. πŸ˜„

Full disclaimer, this is embarrassing, but I coached my kids to say, "Good job, momma!" and "You're so strong!" when I exercise! haha! So, make your own cheerleading section! πŸ˜‚ Better yet, BE your own cheerleading section!

Accomplishing something hard is a HUGE self-esteem boost! You'll feel proud and excited--success always renews my passion! So, chose 1-3 goals (not too many!) and baby step forward. You'll feel like a freaking rock star when you accomplish a goal!!

Is this not hilariously symbolic? I wrote down all these lofty goals...and my toddler got ahold of my planner and made his own statement.

About 6 months ago, I finally achieved a goal I'd wanted to do for YEARS--I got set up to sell my watercolor artwork!! I went and got them printed then sold them at a craft fair. It was a crapload of work, but I felt sooo accomplished doing that for the first time!

This is at the print shop!

Here I am selling my art prints at a craft fair!! A HUGE step out of my comfort zone, and I didn't even sell a ton (it was a low-attended fair) but I was still happy with the experience because I pushed myself and made this happen! I've got a few more events set up, so hopefully they go well. :) I'm setting up an Etsy, so let me know if you want to hear about it when I get that done! ;) 

5. Recognize your Feel-Goods.

Now that you know what makes you feel bad (aka triggers), now you gotta figure out what makes you feel good! What lights you up and makes you feel joy and energized? What did you enjoy as a child that you don't do as much anymore, and really miss? THESE are the things that you gotta do to make life more joyful, and--especially when you're in a low time--you have to purposefully seek these out!!!

Write down your Feel-Goods. Work on getting ones that you can feel not-guilty about afterward, ya know? Cause binging on Keebler Elves and Hawaiian Pizza was my feel-good in college, and...the result is nooo bueno. (Like 10 pounds in one semester. haha. And, major stomach aches.)

So, what are Feel-Goods that brings you joy? Now, I'm not crossing food off my list, but I'm just saying enjoying a night out eating great food at a restaurant with friends is much better than binging on an obscene amount of treats while I watch shows all by myself. haha. (Though you take out the "obsene amounts" from the previous sentence, and that sounds pretty awesome too, ha!)

For me, natural light is a must!!! I need curtains and blinds open! I need to spend time outside. Even in the cold winters in Idaho, there's usually sun shining. When it rains for a few days, that's when I seriously feel like I start to hibernate--I feel unmotivated, dreary, and depressed. When the weather shifted to fall this year, and it was drizzly and windy, I felt a gloomy sense of dread that I couldn't shake. The weather is affecting me more as I get older. SO, I just have to amp up my "feel-goods" when the weather is dreary for a few days, otherwise I'm just crawling under the covers every time it rains.

Taking a shower is a really important feel-good! I feel like a new person after taking a shower when I haven't in a few days. When I finally wash the layers of dry shampoo out of my hair, it's HEAVENLY! (though I'm not knocking dry shampoo....cause it does me good!) I love not feeling like a greasy weasel! And, showering is hard, cause all heck breaks loose in my home when I'm showering, and soon boys are pounding on the door, bawling about who punched who and who found a sharpie, etc. (Now, that'll get you out of the shower in a hurry! Ha!) But, feeling clean is amazing and good hygiene is just necessary!

Another feel-good for me is creating! I am an artist, so that's been a source of joy for me since I was a young girl. I got back into making art about two years ago, and that's been wonderful! Designing my home is one of my favorite things in the world! And, I love designing/assembling/glue-gunning costumes (I don't sew, haha!) and face painting as well!

Drax and Gamora!

Baby Groot! This took WAYYY too long to make. And, he hated wearing it. haha.

The Guardians of the Galaxy! Drax, Groot, Gamora, Rocket the Racoon, and a little StarLord! 


Having clean surroundings is a total Feel-Good for me. When my house is messy, it totally affects my mood. I feel overwhelmed and frustrated--I hate being in my home when it looks like a dang bomb went off. So I say stuff like, "Let's have a dance party! But--before we do, we're cleaning up! Quick, let's see how fast we can go!" and they usually ignore me and whine, but I keep being a drill sergeant till they eventually do it, or end up in time out, and then they come out and have to do it. haha! I try to keep my home mostly clean. (Though I suck at deep cleaning! I literally have NEVER washed my windows in the three years I've lived in my home, haha!) And, I feel SOOO much happier in my life when I don't live in a huge mess.

Music makes a HUGE difference on our mood! Play fun music that lifts you up! Movement is also soo important!! What kind of moving do you love? If you love to dance, and miss it, find a freaking dance class!! Dancing is one of my greatest joys, so I try to do it as much as I can, even if it's just in my house.

Patrick and I took a swing class for a couple weeks, then went to a swing dance together!! It was soooo fun to dance again, especially with my hub!!!
Do you want to travel? Save up money for a trip! If a big trip isn't in the cards, figure out how you could do a close weekend trip. Do a girls' trip or go with your hubby! Figure out who could watch your kiddos. If you can't pay, make a trade with friends, so you take a turn to watch their kids when they go on an overnight trip. (Please don't ask your friend to watch your kids for free more than 2 days!) Or even just go on a day trip! Just make it happen!

We finally went on a BIG trip! (Even our honeymoon was in-state, haha!) We spent 5 days in Playa Del Carmen Mexico and it was HEAVENLY...A much needed break!

Plan DATES. Schedule it in! Once a week, if possible! Even if it's just a walk at the park, followed by some treats from a tasty bakery.

Isolation is a trigger for me, so I have to make sure to get out of the house and see/talk to people! Being social is a HUGE need for me, but this may not be such a need or priority for you. And that's totally ok!! We all have different levels of introversion vs extroversion! We all need people, friendship, love, etc--it's not healthy to be a complete hermit--BUT, some need way less interaction than others. I need A LOT. haha. I love social media for this, cause I can connect with people and that totally brings me joy. Others find social media more draining, and don't love it--You just figure out what works best for you when it comes to how much "people time" you need and want. :)

If you need more people time, MAKE IT HAPPEN! Go to activities at your church or neighborhood or community! Be brave and meet people! You can't just cry about how people don't invite you to do stuff, YOU invite THEM! Plan something, anything! You don't have to jump all the way to hosting a huge party--it can be simple, like having a neighbor or two go get treats with you some evening. Your husband will be ok for an evening, I promise. haha. Or have a friend come watch a movie with you after your kids are in bed! Some people love playdates! Some go to exercise classes with friends, or make friends in their exercise classes! Compliment and start a conversation with a lady at the Library's storytime! There are so many awesome people out there in the world--we just have to get the guts to meet them.

When I realized how badly I missed fun social things after a few years of infants and postpartum depression, I started planning stuff: Girls' night, cousin get-togethers, a birthday movie night with friends, a couples party, having friends over for a barbeque or roasting mallows in the firepit, going for a hike with neighbors, going out to eat with family for a birthday, etc. It was awesome! We had sooo many wonderful times with friends! People are almost always happy to get together, but they just don't take the initiative to plan anything, so I often was the one who instigated--and that's ok!! I try to keep things simple, cause when I made it too elaborate, or did too many social things too close together, I'd get stressed. SO, do potluck when you host friends, and don't get crazy. You can use paper plates, ya know? haha! Simple stuff is awesome!

My neighbor and I have lunch together with our kiddos once a week, and it's so wonderful!! It's easy, we just switch back and forth between houses, and one picks up (or makes) food for the adults, and the other picks up food for the kids. We usually get some nuggets and fries, and put that out with some carrots and little cutie oranges. And we adults eat our delicious Cafe Rio. haha. We get to have mental health time, and talk about anything and everything, while the kids play outside in the summer or destroy the house in the winter. haha! #worthit.

So, start small, but make the fun stuff happen that you wish would happen in your life! Schedule it! Write a bucket list! Be realistic, set goals, and get awesome things on the calendar to look forward to. :) Here are few fun things I've gotten to do with people I love in the past two years. Keep in mind, this is a highlight reel of the good times. I don't usually take pictures when I'm crying out of frustration in my room or yelling at my kids or holding their door closed to keep them in their time-out. Just know that those days are happening far more often than the party days. πŸ˜¬πŸ˜† (Keepin it real.)

Girls' night with my amazing sisters!! :)

Barbeque and s'more night with my BF from all through childhood and our fams!

Two of my college roommates and their fams!!! (We have ALL LITTLE BOYS!)

Visiting Patrick's aunt and uncle and their kiddos in Arizona!

Theo's 2nd birthday party with Patrick's younger bro and wife and my big bro! We are literally in the dining area of a grocery store in town. He loves Cupbop. (Spicy Korean barbaque. Weird kid!) This is keeping it simple, folks. haha!

The fair with my mom and bro! (My dad was there, but he wanders off...haha) Miles got so much honey butter on Patrick's head! ahaha!

Visiting Star Valley for my husband's youngest bro's graduation! It was so fun to be there with the fam!!

A Yellowstone trip with one of my oldest friends/college roomates and her fam and my big bro!

Dinner and hanging out with Patrick's two best childhood friends and their ladies! We only get to see them once a year, during our annual Washington road trip, but it's always SOO fun!

A gorgeous/tough hike (my fav kind!) with Patrick's fam! I think his dad is taking the pic...

A baby shower for Alyssa, Patrick's sister, with all of the awesome Graham ladies!

Art party with awesome friends from my neighborhood and my mom! 

Art party with some of the amazing ladies I got to know when we lived in Pocatello! We are missing some friends, dang it! I still love getting together with these ladies for book club...an hour drive each way is SO worth hanging out with them!

Feel-Goods don't have to be planned out or elaborate.

One of the best Feel-Goods that is simple, yet VITAL, is taking a little time every day to really CONNECT with each of your kids and your spouse. Put down any electronic device. Look them in the eye. Tell them that you love them. Have a conversation, give a hug, or tickle, listen to them tell about their day, or give a 5 minute backscratch (my hubby's fav!), etc--have REAL connection with the people closest to you!!! Giving love will help you feel happy, and they will give love in return! This helps foster more contentment and joy in our family life--which is so important, especially if you are struggling as a mom. Find and MAKE the meaningful, joyful moments that make it all worth it. :)

Ok. You've got a Feel-Good list, right? Now, when you feel yourself draggin, getting low, or just in a bored funk, USE your list!! This is YOUR life, so you have to take care of it! Pick which one(s) you can make happen, and do them!

When I am having a low time, I often ask my husband when we can go on a date. Then, I make a plan, line-up a babysitter, and we have a great time! (Ladies, don't wait for your husband on this if he isn't much of a date planner. It's better to have dates happen and you plan them, then not at all!!) I'll also figure out when I'm really down, how to spend time with a close friend or family member. I'll get a break from my kiddos, even if it's just going to Target by myself for an hour after they go to bed.

My vandalizing on a late evening Target sanity trip. Haha!

I'll get OUTSIDE!!! I'll listen to uplifting music. I'll pray. I'll listen to uplifting podcasts or talks. I'll watch a funny move and eat some treats! Whatever it is, I try to GET ON IT. That is sooo much better than my old pattern of watching myself slip deeper and deeper for a couple days, before I tried to do anything about it.

6. Hold on to "Bigger than Yourself" stuff.

Sometimes I get stuck dwelling on my sadness or worry. Like, I'm knee deep in a muck of mud. Reaching out to something bigger than myself is an important part of getting out of the muck.

Faith practices have been life-saving to me!! Which is interesting because, like I've said in my past posts, it's actually very hard for me to FEEL anything spiritual when I'm struggling with depression. BUT, I've seen this pattern several times now and know to expect it. When it happens, I recognize that it isn't the REAL me...the real me cares deeply about spiritual things, and always has. So, I try to ignore the apathy and just keep doing those little habits in my life that I know would normally be very strengthening to my day. Even if I can only make a little effort, I still read one verse or pray a simple heart-felt prayer. And, on the hardest days, I pour out my heart to God. Sometimes, I don't feel any kind of response, but I trust that He's hearing since I remember the times I HAVE felt him there. I choose to still do these things, because, even if I'm not "feeling" it yet, I know that, because I'm keeping these habits, as time passes, I WILL again! I'll have a breakthrough or I'll start to gain insights again from my scripture study and praying. It makes me so happy to know that I'M coming back, and that He was there, patiently waiting with me all the time!

I love Matthew 11:28-30, where it says Christ will help us carry our burdens. And, He is pretty dang strong when it comes to lifting burdens! Jesus felt every hard thing that any of us have felt when He suffered for us (It perfectly describe this in Alma 7:11-13). So He understands and has compassion and patience for us when we're in pain. We CAN ask for help from Him! When I plead for Him to lift me, often God sends someone or something to help me, or gives me the courage to reach out to someone to ask for help.

Both times I've struggled with suicidal thoughts, it was in a spiritual setting that the Savior reached down and pulled me up to safety. How grateful I am that both times I was still choosing to put myself in a spiritual environment, though it was hard time. In these moments, it felt like he was literally rescuing me--saving my life.

I've always loved the story of Peter walking on the water to Jesus. It's the perfect analogy for our trials in life. When Peter started focusing on the waves and his fear, instead of keeping his eyes on the Savior, he began to sink. But, the Lord firmly grasped Him and pulled him back up to safety, reminding him to have faith!!

The first time I saw the painting below, I gasped in shock. Not only is it beautiful, but it shows exactly how it feels when you are struggling and sinking in your trials, grief, overwhelm, or mental anguish. You are underwater, about to drown. And, yet, up above, surrounded by light, you can see Jesus! When we call out and reach for Him, He will pull us up!

Painting by Christian artist, Yongsung Kim
Jesus' love is real. I've felt it many times in my life! Often, it takes a good deal of consistency and patience, because a large part of our purpose in life is to gain experience by going through hard things. Plus, much of our trials are just part of being mortal--dealing with the frailties of our precious, but human bodies and minds. They get sick, hurt, injured, tired, heart-broken, etc. There is so much we can't bear--without the Lord's help! Since He is always letting us learn and grow, He doesn't immediately deliver us out of our problems--just like any parent who lets a child struggle to learn something new. BUT, He will be there to hold us up in our trials! He pleads for us to turn TO Him, instead of turning AWAY in anger when things are hard. And, when your mind and heart are struggling, and you can't feel him like you used to, rely on your faith, keep trying, and give it time. Don't give up on Him! He will often send other people in these times who will be our angels on earth, to lift and support us, till we are able to feel Him again.

Another amazing way that we can reach beyond ourselves, is to serve someone else! Service can be incredible for our soul! Helping others in need brings joy, plain and simple. I struggled with this for a long time, because I was barely surviving life and taking care of my home and family--how was I supposed to make dinner for someone else?? The thought honestly made me want to cry! I couldn't add one more thing to my plate, I was so overwhelmed. But, I came to realize that I could serve in little ways. God sees every effort! Even little services can mean a lot to someone! I totally could send a loving message to a friend or give some groceries to a homeless man as I drove out of the Walmart parking lot, even if watching someone's kids or making dinner for someone was not something I could do at that time. We always have something to give, even if it's small.

During the holiday season last year, I wanted to do some elaborate service of providing secret Christmas gifts to a family in need. But, time and funds were tight, and I was already overwhelmed, so, I just took a couple tags off a tree for local people in need, and also found a donation box at the grocery store for kids who'd lost their belongings in a huge fire. My boys and I donated several toys and lots of art supplies (hey, I had it on hand! Plus, art always makes me feel better!) and my boys were thrilled! They felt the joy of service and were able to help someone else--and that's what's most important, not doing the most elaborate, secret 12-day service project! haha!

Here we are, about to drop off the art supplies to the donation box. :)

I just do what I can. And, when things are a bit calmer, I DO volunteer to take that dinner to someone who just had a baby! We shouldn't run faster than we have strength.

Serve your family. I know, I know--we serve them all day long!! Dishes, laundry, driving to practice, making food, etc...And, give yourself a freaking pat on the back for that!! (Seriously, those tasks are monotonous and never-ending, but they are accomplishing an amazing work: shaping and caring for other human beings!!! So, a pretty huge deal! You are amazing!) But, besides the daily "tasks", are we remembering to have loving connection with our kids and spouse? And, I know already talked about this, but it's just so important. And, it can come in different ways. How are you personally good at connecting as a mom? What speaks to your kid(s)? My kids love dance parties, and me too! So, we do that daily! I also love reading with my kids! I love singing, joking, and talking with them. These things bring me joy as a mom, so I try to do them as much as I can! But, I think I've baked/cooked with my kids like 5 times ever and each time ended up in tears by all. I don't like to play hide and seek or wrestle with my kids. Honestly, I rarely craft or paint with my kids, because its such a huge, messy ordeal! But, I do color and draw with them. :) Some people love throwing cool parties for their kids! Some love to decorate and make cool birthday cakes! That's awesome! Some love to play sports with their kids. That's awesome too! Some like to garden and serve their family by feeding them yummy produce! Just find ways to serve and love your family, spend the time and do it! Do what YOU can do to serve and have joy in mothering.

If you don't have kids, how can you serve and give attention to kids in your family or neighborhood? What about connecting with an elderly neighbor or family member who is lonely? Or any neighbors, friends, or people in your life? Deliberately find ways to feel joy in serving, loving, and nurturing others. It will make life happy!

For a long time, I thought serving others when we were struggling ourselves, was just to make ourselves see that "See? Others have it so much worse than me." But, that is pretty negative--it's shaming ourselves that we are selfish and have no right to be struggling. But, really, EVERYONE has hard in their life!

When I hear of someone losing a child, or dealing with infertility, my heart goes out to them so much! That would be utterly devastating. And I hug my babies tight! I try to make it a moment of gratitude and love, rather than doing what I used to: sitting there and shaming/berating myself for struggling with the daily tasks of being a mom, when--how dare I? Aren't I grateful for my kids? Don't I love them? Now, I just try to sit in the love and gratitude, and not heap guilt on my head.

And, honestly, like 10 minutes later, when one smacks the other one in the face, or they sneak all the s'more stuff out of the cupboard and later I find messy marshmallows and chocolate in their bed, 😳 (true story) spoiler alert: I still get frustrated. I'm not taking that moment to "hold my baby tight" haha. I'm taking that moment to enforce some time-outs! But that's ok. Life with kids will be far from perfect, even if we're insanely grateful that they are part of our life.

I realized that the counsel to serve others when we ourselves are struggling, is more about feeling the joy that comes from serving others and seeing their joy in being loved and helped. Now THAT feels awesome!! Also, it CAN bring perspective and help us to appreciate what we do have, as long as we try to think of it in a positive way.

There are so many ways to lift our souls to something higher!

Reach out to God. (Even if you've never tried, praying is easy! It's just a conversation with a creator who knows and loves you! You should try it! :))

Even if you choose not to have religious beliefs, you can still reach higher! Listen to an inspiring podcast, read an uplifting story, watch a video about people who've overcome hard things, etc! Get some big, heart-nourishing things that lift and excite you!

I got to go to a big event with friends to hear faith-based speakers share their stories--it was so filling to my soul!!

7. Work on your complete WELLNESS by caring for your physical health as well!

Make positive changes to take good care of your physical health. Having poor physical health and fitness can greatly impact your mental/emotional wellness. Now, I'm not saying that working out will cure depression. BUT! It can be pretty powerful! We all know exercise releases natural feel-good endorphins in our body. I mean, it's freaking hard WHILE we're doing it, but it does get easier with time and it can give us such a proud, accomplished feeling afterward! Plus, feeling strong and healthy sure puts me in a good mood! When I eat tons of sugar, I swear I've noticed it tanking my mood. Nutrition plays a big role in how all of your body functions, which--of course-- includes your brain. So, we've gotta make nutrition more important in our lives, ESPECIALLY if we are struggling mentally! When we care for our body and give it love and quality fuel (food) and give it the exercise it deserves, then we will feel better about ourselves! It's not about having a perfect-looking body, it's about learning to LOVE and CARE for our body!! It is the vessel we have to live in and spend our life. We can't ignore it's needs and feel mentally and emotionally good.

I finally decided that I needed to get a gym membership, because working out at home with my little kids was SOO stressful. It was such a fight, and the worst part of my day. My husband and I decided that we could budget in a gym membership for me, and I take my younger two kiddos while my oldest is in school. They love to get out of the house (and I've always phrased it positively like, "Yay!!! We get to go to the gym!!! Momma is getting stronger!!!" and "Oh, let's go see friends at the gym!!" and helped him learn the names of all the ladies who work there, so they feel comfortable and happy there. Don't act like you're abandoning them, or like you're asking some hard thing of them, work to make it positive! And my kids always get a snack while we drive home afterward, so that helps, haha.) It has been INCREDIBLE. Every time I go, I get a break, I'm around other people, I go to classes, (which totally pushes me!) and I seriously love it!!! I LOVE the feeling of getting STRONGER. I feel like I can do hard things--my body can do it!! And, I've never been an athlete or a gym rat. But, heck, now I go 3 or 4 times a week!

Here I am after an exercise class!! I work out, then hide out in the empty spin room for a while. haha.
Working on better nutrition. But, moderation in all things...so, french fries. :)

I love being motivated by a health challenge!

Hit a MAJOR goal by competing in an obstacle 5k! I hate running, but this was soo fun and awesome!!! And I really pushed myself to prepare! I'm pumped to do another one next summer. :) That's my amazing sister-in-law next to me! 

Patrick and I afterwards! You can't tell in this pic, but my shoulders got HORRIBLY burned. Sun screen next time!

Another important part of our physical/mental health is getting enough SLEEP. And, I am the WORST at this. It's a hugely neglected area for lots of people, but sleep-deprivation DIRECTLY affects our mental/emotional health. This one is SOOOOO hard for me. I've always been a night owl. I adore staying up late, and every day I pay for it. I am tired and can fall asleep at any time---till 9:00 at night, then I'm like "So not tired any more!" haha! *sigh* My goal is to get 7 hours of sleep a night, EVERY NIGHT!! If my kids wake me up, that's not my fault, but if I'M causing myself to get less than 7 hours? Then that's just so dumb. 8 would be ideal.

8. Talk about it when you're struggling!

Just spit it out. Has it been a rough day? A rough week? A rough year?

Find those you feel safe with, and open up! This is totally a natural need, and therapeutic. If you're struggling with your mental health, don't hide it and keep it all to yourself! I did this for too long! Get those around you in the know and on board. Team effort works miracles!! There are so many who are willing--and wanting!--to be there for you, but people can't read minds, and if you just hide your mental/emotional struggle, then you'll keep struggling alone. Make an appointment with a counselor! Look into resources for support groups in your area! Just TALK about it. Sometimes, all I need to do is just express what is bothering me, and immediately I feel like a burden is lifted! Silence and bottling stuff up rarely helps us heal.

Try to do this in a healthy way--don't rant and rave and dump a load of frustration on your husband the second he walks through the door every single day...yeesh! If I were him, I'd never want to come home, haha! But, when there's a quiet moment ask if you can have a few minutes to vent and for a hug. (I'd recommend doing this, rather than pouting around and waiting for him to ask what's wrong, haha.) Or call a friend who can listen and encourage you!

Yeah, that's sharpie. Every time I take a shower, bad things happen. :(

Another rough one...I put the wrong son's name on the picture order sheet. This is Miles, not Hayden. Ughhh. He totally cried when he saw this. Talk about mom fail! :(

9. Work on Seeing the Good in Your Life! 

Ok, now that you've had a chance to talk through and get-out your frustrations, it's time to let it simmer a bit, and cool down. Now, what good can you see?

In general, pretty much all of us have room to improve our thought patterns. There are lots of strategies for this, so you have to find what works for you to help you focus on the good, rather than constantly dwelling on the bad things in your life. You could write positive mantras to repeat in your head when you're struggling. You could keep a gratitude journal. List the good things that happened in that day or tell them to God in prayer at night.

At dinner with our kiddos, we've started doing "Highs and Lows". We each take a turn to tell what was awesome and what was hard for us that day. I love this peek into our kids' hearts! And, I love thinking back on all of my highs for the day! It helps me focus on the good.

Figure out what works for you and DO IT. I am still learning how to focus on the good. I try to really love and enjoy those small beautiful moments with my boys. (Like when we're reading a book together on the couch and no one is fighting for a better spot, and everyone is listening. Or like when my middle boy prays before bed, "Thank you that momma is my cutie!" Haha, I love it!) I've gotta just savor the heck out of those moments, cause I always really FEEL the negative moments, so I want to equally FEEL the good ones and not brush past them! I NEED those heavenly, sweet, adorable, hilarious moments to keep me going! :) I try to tell those good moments to my hubby when he gets home, so I'm not just venting all the bad stuff from the day.

10. Protect and manage your Mental/Emotional energy.

This one is HUGE for me!! Try to honestly look at the things in your life that sap your joy and attention. What is causing you stress? Are there things you can cut back on or give the boot? Obviously, not your children, haha, but...look for what is stressing you that CAN be eliminated or lessened. Then get tough and fiercely protect your life and time.

I am a people-pleaser--but I've had to learn to say no to babysitting. I'm barely keeping up with taking care of my own three kids everyday without losing it! (I still babysit occasionally for friends, but usually just for an hour or two.) And, I've said no to commission art projects. I love to earn money, but I am getting smarter about what I do with my art and teaching. I have felt a tremendous increase in my peace since I stopped taking on commission art work. These projects made me super anxious, and always hung over my head. Also, I felt bad charging enough so that I felt like the effort was worth it to me. It was the most stressful, and lowest-paying way for me to earn money--And I was spending all my time doing it! haha! Don't get me wrong, I was really happy for the projects I was able to do, especially when I knew how much it would mean to a friend or family member! It just had gotten to be too much for me. I needed to find a better way to continue my art career.

So I started teaching and face painting again! But, I knew that I needed a flexible way to teach so I wouldn't burn out. So I am teaching in two month sessions, rather than going the whole year without any breaks. I am building in recovery times into my commitments and life. And, when I have some other big commitments, with family or my church, then I schedule less art workshops and face painting parties. I am very lucky, because I have a flexible way to earn money and slowly build a career. But, we all have ways we can make adjustments. Maybe you can go to part-time if you are currently working full-time. Or, maybe you can cut out a certain sport or group that is taking too much time/energy. Set boundaries and learn to say "Thanks, but not this time" to friends and families on days when you feel the need to REST. It's OK!!

Every week, I try to plan for one evening with nothing going on. Even fun commitments still require being "on" and we need down time. This is a hard one for single moms, (MAJOR RESPECT TO YOU!) especially if their ex doesn't share the responsibility of taking care of the kids part of the time. If they work all day, then have to take care of home and kids in the evening till late, without a break, they will get so frazzled and burnt-out! They need to find ways to get help!!! Offer those women help when you can!

My art party bag! :) It was fun to start teaching again! I especially love teaching adult watercolor workshops.

Mommy and me watercolor class!

I am getting better at delegating in my church responsibilities. I'm learning to set boundaries. Like, I am so happy to go on visits once a week and have a meeting afterward--I love giving that service! But, I can't do twice a week. I just need the other nights open for other responsibilities and family time. Also, I don't volunteer to help if I can't. And, that's ok.

There are sooo many good things you and your family can be doing, but you can't do it all!! Not if you want a manageable life. You can't and shouldn't sign up your kid(s) to do EVERY extra-curricular activity. Your life will be too stressful, and it can negatively impact your kids. It's becoming more and more common for YOUNG kids to experience anxiety/behavior problems, and it can often be caused by a stressful, over-programmed and over-scheduled life!! They developmentally need down-time in their days. They aren't short adults! Let them have some time to be kids and have fun and be bored and have to get creative. Make sure they have time to do chores and help around the house instead of having every second scheduled out--especially if you're doing their chores for them, cause they're too busy and tired. Shoot, I'd MUCH rather have kids that learned how to work, than have kids who did every single extra-curricular activity ever!

They need family time too, like dinner together as often as possible, reading time, snuggles, bike rides and walks in the neighborhood, and family movie nights. If you are a super doer kind of person, and you thrive in busy, high stress environments, then you can have a much higher level of busy in your day and still feel ok. But, if you feel frazzled, rushed, and stressed, you need to reevaluate. Plus, YOU might thrive in a fast-paced life, but one of your kids struggles with it and hates the busyness and the pressure.

You just have to protect your time and energy! I, being a people-pleaser would always think, "Oh I could help with that!" and put in 100% effort. But, I only have so much to give! I'm now asking myself, "But, SHOULD I help with that?" Giving 100% in one area, means all the other areas are suffering. Every time I have become over-booked and stressed to the max, with too many things to take care of and be in charge of, after it's all done and the adrenaline has worn off, I totally crash into depression afterward for several days. Which is a crappy ending to any holiday season. So now, I give WAY less effort, and keep things more simple. And, I've learned to say, "I'm sorry, but I can't do ______. I'm choosing to not take on too much in my life at a time. It makes everything happier for me and for my family. Thank you for understanding!"

Teach your kids and model how to make these decisions in our life; When they aren't getting enough down time or family time, have a discussion and help them decide what they chose to cut out of their life, or at least take a break from. Be a good example by doing this yourself in your own life, instead of running yourself into the ground.

This is one of my biggest lessons I've learned in the past few years: Do what you need to do to manage your emotional energy, because you need it for parenting! It takes the best of you, not your meager left-over patience and energy. Our family is worth that! Your peace and joy is worth that!

Here are some ways I've helped my daily emotional energy. Like I admitted earlier, I literally started going to the gym for the childcare. The mornings lasted so long and it was such a struggle with my three little boys going bonkers and killing each othe, especially through the winter when they couldn't play in he yard for very long, and I was at my wit's end! So, I got a gym membership. And, several times a week, I started taking them to the gym. They would play and run around in the childcare room, and I would exercise then relax. And, life suddenly became doable!

Sometimes, when my little boys are fighting/crying/screaming, and I feel like I’m about to LOOSE MA DANG MIND😫, I buckle them in the van and drive to the hills. The hills are my happy place—I grew up against the foothills, and spent plenty of time there, hiking, four-wheeling, hauling hay, and moving pipe. As a teenager, my cousin Nicole and I would blast music and take off down the dirt roads snaking though the hills. 😊 A while back, during a particularly crappy day, with lots of tantrums/screaming/fighting from them—and crying out of sheer frustration from me—without planning it, I dropped Hayden off at afternoon Kindergarten, and drove straight for the hills. I turned on a movie for the little boys and just zoned out as I drove. And the hills worked their magic on me again. I came out of my miserable haze while gazing down at the valley. I’m sure God sent me to the hills that day. ❤️ Now we go often; the boys beg to go “ride in the hills.” 😊 It's always so lovely. (Except that one time I got the van stuck in the snow and we had to call Patrick...he drove 30 minutes to get us and missed a work meeting. 😬) But, usually our drives are awesome!

Now and then I let them get out of the van, haha. 

I go probably every other week to Fred Meyer for grocery shopping, cause they have a childcare room. If my husband has to work late, and it's a nice day, I buy some food from a deli or drive-through and take it to the park for an easy picnic, and after we eat, they run around while I chill.

You like how I made my younger two sit buckled in a stroller till they ate a sufficient amount of food? haha! I am not chasing them around the park, trying to get them to eat!

You gotta do what you gotta do to get through and break up the day, and build in some helps for you. These little breaks for me add up to a lot of saving my sanity!

OK. Those are my TEN strategies. 

I've learned so much from this journey. Like:

Having days when you struggle with being a mom, does NOT mean that you don't love your kids. And it doesn't mean you are an ungrateful jerk. It's ok--it's a hard role. Don't make it harder by heaping guilt on yourself. Just keep trying. That's good enough!!!

Also, this life, our joy, and our families are absolutely worth fighting for!

When you feel yourself slipping to a low place, or crashing down, stop and use some of your tools. Already have your plan in place! What are you going to do to slow or stop the descent? I'm not talking about ignoring or stuffing down feelings of depression...you should feel and talk about your emotions, that is a great thing! I'm talking about letting yourself get so low that you can't even lift yourself to climb back up. Reach up for help before you get to that point!

Remember that silly gardening analogy? Well...don't give up on your garden!!! It takes work, but it (YOU!) will bring so much beauty and goodness to this world! You are precious. Cultivate your mind, your soul, your "YOU" because the world, and your family, needs YOU. You have infinite worth! You have precious things to offer those around you. Never doubt that. And, our paths will all be unique, but we all have basic needs, to love and be loved, valued, productive, noticed, appreciated. To feel connection. To feel joy! So, keep fighting and don't give up. Put in the work, get the help, do whatever it takes to be able to THRIVE and love your life!!!

Thank you so much for reading this massive list!!! I hope some things stood out to you that can help you in your life!!

I'd LOVE to hear your input....which of these strategies have you tried? What are you excited to implement? What strategies would you add? (I might have to add the best suggestions to the bottom of this post, cause I'm sure I missed stuff! haha!)

It would mean so much to hear what has helped you when you've dealt with depression or anxiety, or just had a hard time finding joy in motherhood and life.

Also, please share this so that those who are struggling, and people who have battled anxiety/depression can read this and share what helped them!! I love you guys so much! I'm immensely grateful for the support and love that you've given me from sharing my own journey with my mental health. I seriously wish the best for all of you and your journey with having joy and peace in this life!

Love you friends!

PS. Who would be interested in doing a mental health challenge facebook group kind of thing? Where we each work through each of these steps at the same time, then come together to discuss our progress on that step? Cause accountability is huge for making things happen! Let me know! *hugs!*