Saturday, April 30, 2016

Chonda Pierce and Clinical Depression

My very pregnant friend and I have been walking to try to help her go into labor.  Seriously, she was due on Sunday with her fourth child, and she just wants that baby to GET OUT.  So, we walk.

On a recent walk, she brought up a clip that she had heard of Chonda Pierce, a successful Christian comedian, talking about Spanx, which she thought was hilarious.  And it was then that I remembered that Chonda Pierce struggles with depression.  Clinical depression, it turns out.

Friday, April 29, 2016

An Imperfect Analogy

Front yard - lots of dandelions

The is a picture of our front yard.  Dandelions.  Everywhere.  They keep popping up because we let them go and allowed them to spread instead of taking care of that first one that popped up not long ago.  Had we done that, our yard would look more like our neighbor's (see the picture below of the calm and green and dandelion-free yard).

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Can Ignorance Be Bliss?

The Unknown
Why is the unknown so scary?  And why does it seem even scarier to those of us with OCD?  We question all sorts of things:

  • What if I did something that will hurt someone?
  • What if I made God angry?
  • What if I'm not clean enough to feed the baby and she gets sick?
  • What if I didn't lock the front door and someone breaks in during the night?
  • What if, what if, what if???

"In Defense of Ignorance"
Coloring page when I was anxiousI had a high-anxiety morning, so I spent part of the afternoon relaxing as a way to cope.  During the kids' naps, I got out one of my adult coloring books and turned on an episode of "This American Life" from NPR.  The most recent episode was titled "In Defense of Ignorance."  Defending the thought that sometimes ignorance really is bliss.  That not knowing something could be better for a person.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Living Under Grace

I'm feeling anxious.  Not the debilitating anxiety where every second feels hard and I feel frozen and have to force myself to function.  No, this is the background-music-of-my-life anxiety that has been present for years.  The kind where I can still function well, hold a meaningful conversation, take care of myself and my family, fulfill my responsibilities...the kind that is just...there.

Today is a normal day.  Nothing planned except taking care of the kids, getting caught up around the house, solid activities on the schedule except for meals and naps (as requested by my 5-year-old).  After a crazy wedding weekend, we needed a day just to catch up.

The Pattern
My heightened anxiety today follows a pattern of mine.  Even when I feel well overall, it is very

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Sleep? What's that?!

Getting babies to sleep when you want them to can be nearly impossible.  In fact, TONS of advice exists on the topic, which can be completely confusing for new (and veteran) parents.  (See "I Read All the Baby Sleep Books," a hilarious illustration of this conflicting advice.)

It is with this understanding that I broach the topic of sleep training.  According to What to Expect (admittedly probably not the most accurate source) and my own past experience, healthy babies are able to sleep through the night well before they are 8 months old, which is the age of my daughter.  Unfortunately, she is most definitely not sleeping through the night.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Managing OCD instead of it managing me

Mental illness can be worse in times of stress.  This weekend, when my son was the ring bearer in my cousin's out-of-state wedding, it was very likely that the OCD wolf would start howling,  We sufferers need to remember that the OCD could spike during times of potential stress, and we need to do things to keep that from happening to the best of our abilities (I wish we could be 100% successful at this).

This weekend, through God's grace, I managed the illness instead of it managing me.

4 ways that I managed OCD:
Lilac flower from my walk tonight
I did Exposure Response Prevention (ERP).  The obsessive thoughts still came, but I was able (for the most part) to resist the compulsions.  When I did give in, I just started to feel worse (which always happens).  I struggled with the time issue a bit in the car on the way there. And I struggled with scrupulosity ("I must read the Bible right now."  "I need to ask God for forgiveness again.").  That kind of stuff.  But it really wasn't too long before I was able to refocus on something else and stop doing the compulsions, which made the rest of the weekend WAY easier.  When the obsessions and compulsions aren't clouding my brain, I'm able to be more successful in the other things I know I need to do in order to manage the OCD.

I planned ahead, which brought minimal stress.  Yes, there was still stress, and yes, I could have planned ahead more.  But the important things were planned out, which meant that I didn't get overwhelmed.  I had a lot of help from family, my husband is a rock star, and the kids didn't do too shabbily either.

We gave ourselves the whole day to make the 5 1/2 hour trip, which was good because it took us over 7 hours (long stops, and, oh yeah, running out of gas..,).  Our first scheduled activity was the rehearsal which was at noon the next day.

Also, all ring bearer duties were accomplished without incident.  We remembered his entire outfit.  He didn't have any bathroom accidents.  He made it down the aisle.  He didn't lose the real rings (no symbolic rings here!).  He was quiet through the rest of the ceremony.  He loved playing with the flower girl.  ALL WENT AS PLANNED, which helped keep the stress level minimal!  :)

I rolled with it.  I haven't always been the best with my plans changing.  In fact, "haven't always been the best" is generous.  My tendency is to get cranky and stressed when things don't work out exactly the way I think they should.  But somehow I was able to roll with it when my kids got rowdy in the hotel and restaurant after being stuck in the car for most of the day.  Or when the hotel pool was closed when we had packed everyone's (even the baby's) bathing suits, and this was how I had planned to spend free time with the kids with the dual purpose of having fun and wearing them out.  Or when the baby woke up 2-3 times each night and I immediately fed her to keep her quiet so the other hotel guests would be able to sleep (time to do some serious sleep training, but more on that later).

I spent time relating to others.  It was so wonderful to stay in the same hotel as extended family.  We got to chat, but best of all, they got to love on my kids (which all parties seemed to equally enjoy!).  OCD has the potential to ruin relationships, and I'm so grateful that this has not happened in my case.  We are created to be in relationship - both with God and with each other.  There is freedom in authentic relationships, and I was able to experience that this weekend.

As I've posted previously, I believe that as long as I am on this earth, I will struggle with OCD.  It's a result of living in a sinful world with pain and suffering.  I do, however, look forward with HOPE to being free from this mental illness when I am with Jesus in heaven.  Even though there is trouble in this world, Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33).

My goal is not to be free of the OCD, although that would be absolutely wonderful.  No, my goal is to live with the OCD and to manage it in a way that is glorifying to God.  

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Working on Fixing Comments

problem with commenting on BloggerMy apologies!  I'm having difficulty figuring out the commenting issue on the blog...

If you try to post a comment and are unable to do so, please email me ( and let me know.

And if you have any suggestions on how to fix the problem, let me know that, too!  :)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

What's your story? A call for comments

My friend Kaitlin over at A Journey with God and OCD let me know this afternoon that the comments on my blog may not be working correctly (thank you, Kaitlin!).

I'm hoping that the problem is now fixed, so in an effort to test that out, would you share a bit of your journey with us?

What is your experience with mental illness?  Do you struggle with it?  Does a loved one struggle?  Has your relationship with God factored in to your struggles/recovery at all?

Feel free to make your post as long or as short as you'd like.  Thanks!

Update: If you try to post a comment and it doesn't work, please email me ( and let me know.  Thanks so much!


I saw this hashtag on Twitter today regarding mental illness: #invisibleillness.

If someone has a broken leg, the injury is pretty obvious.  You can physically see that something isn't right with their body.

But it's not so easy with mental illness.  Sure, you can see some things - like when I check the stove over and over to make sure it's off, or when I'm overly scrupulous in the way I try not to lie (it can be a little obvious).  But mostly, my suffering is done in silence.

But just because it's invisible doesn't mean it's not real.

I recently revealed my struggles to a friend, and her response was that she never would have guessed that I struggle with OCD, anxiety, and depression.  And my mom has made similar comments - that I am able to hide it well.

You've got it backwards actually - I'm faking being WELL!My response?  "I've had a lot of practice."  And that's true.  I've learned how to cope well enough that people honestly can't tell that I'm struggling (which isn't always a good thing).

Similarly, Rachel Griffin, founder of #iamnotashamed, comes across as a "normal" person.  In this Washington Post article, the author observed:  "To talk to Griffin, a spunky, fast-talking singer-songwriter, no one would suspect the dark, cyclical thoughts that sometimes permeate her mind."

The phrase "fake it til' you make it" can be pretty applicable to my situation, and sometimes that is exactly what I have to do.  Get through the dark days, even if it means pretending that everything is fine.  Keep marching forward and living my life.

Because what other option is there?  To lay down and let this internal chronic pain, this silent suffering, this #invisibleillness consume me?  No.  Absolutely not.

As Josh Wilson sings in "I Refuse"I could choose not to move, but I refuse.

(If you haven't heard this song, it's worth a listen.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Avoiding Stress

Stress.  Literally anything can be stressful, especially to those of us who struggle with mental health.  We can find things stressful that "normal" people may find relaxing.  And if something actually is stressful for most people, sometimes we feel it much more intensely which can make our mental suffering worse.

This weekend, my oldest son is a ring bearer in an out-of-state wedding, and we are leaving tomorrow morning.  We get to spend a couple of nights in a hotel (with a pool!), eat out, and be together as a family.  A mini-vacation, which I'm really looking forward to.

What is there to be stressed about?

A stressful shopping trip with preschoolers.  Since I'm not part of the professional world much anymore, I don't have a lot of dressy clothes.  I went in search of a dress this morning to wear to the wedding.  Even with another adult for backup, the trip was still stressful.  That three-year-old of mine...let's just say it was an experience.  Not a good one.  He continued to run and be very - VERY - loud after being asked to stop, and, frankly, I had to parent him.  He did NOT like me ruining his fun.  There were many tears (his), lots of loud "put me down!"s, and several minutes spent with him sitting on the floor (contamination really isn't an obsession of mine either - at least for now; we all know how those can change).

Side note: We went to the Salvation Army (good stuff cheap!), and I was able to find three dresses.

Dresses bought at the Salvation Army to wear to a wedding

All that it takes to leave for a few days.  Packing can be quite the task.  Plus cleaning the house so there are no weird smells when we get home (ugh, those dirty dishes).  A several-hour-long road trip with three young kids.

A five-year-old in a wedding.  What if he throws a fit and doesn't make it down the aisle?  What if something happens to his suit before the wedding?  What if he refuses to do what he is supposed to do?

A very short amount of alone time this afternoon.  Instead of getting my alone time during naps today (a necessity for my introverted self), I cleaned out the minivan because it SO needed it.  If you have little kids, you understand why it seemed to take FOREVER.  Those unidentifiable little pieces of food, dog hair from the previous owner's pet (seriously?!), milk spots which somehow spilled out of cups with lids...clearly my OCD has not yet attacked keeping things clean.  :)

My to-do list for the rest of the day.  Laundry, pack for everyone but my husband, take a shower, figure out what shoes I'm going to wear, look up things to do in the location we'll be visiting, fill up the van with gas, get all of the dishes done and put away, find a gift for my nephew's birthday party which is the morning after we return home, get my 3-year-old's thank you notes from his birthday together for the relatives we will see at the wedding, catch up on our finances so I know how much we can spend while we're gone, figure out what to do with the dog...yeah, I should have planned ahead better.

Didn't you think ahead at all?

Yes, of course.  On some things.

I booked a hotel room weeks ago for two nights.  Originally we were going to only stay one night in a hotel due to finances, but things were going to be super rushed, and what five-year-old would do well in a wedding after being stuck in a car for five-and-a-half hours earlier that day?  We decided to stay two nights.

My mom is riding with us.  Three kids to three adults.

My son's ring bearer outfit is totally ready.  This may sound like a no-brainer...of course you would have the ring bearer's outfit figured out ahead of time, right?  Well, as an OCD struggler, sometimes I have the tendency to not think through things well because of all the other activity in my brain...but not this time!

Ring bearer outfit for wedding this weekend

I'm doing my best not to let the stress get to me.  Because I would really love to ENJOY this weekend with my family and not be stressed or trapped in the clutch of OCD.

Related resources on stress and mental health:

Fact Sheet on Stress - National Institute of Mental Health

"How Stress Affects Your Mental Health" - Forbes

How Stress Affects Your Health - American Psychological Association

How do you avoid stress?  Any tips to share?

Renewing the Mentally Ill Mind

Scripture can be scary for those of us who struggle with scrupulosity.  What if I didn't read that verse correctly?  What if I was distracted while I was reading my Bible?  What if I'm misinterpreting Scripture?  What if I have this totally wrong?  What if I was interrupted while reading the Bible?

As part of coping with my OCD, I'm in the process of reading the entire New Testament 1-2 chapters at a time.  Today I read Romans 12 and came across verse 2:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind

How do I, as someone who struggles with mental illness, renew my mind?  My mind that can spiral downward so fast.  My mind that is highly anxious and also prone to deep depression.  My mind that struggles with internal chronic pain that others cannot see.  My mind that suffers in silence.

Some parts of my mental illness, like my obsessions, I cannot control.  Awful thoughts enter my mind, and I hate it.  The anxiety skyrockets and the urge to perform a compulsion comes on very, very strongly.  

But the truth is that I do have some level of control over my mental illness, even if it seems impossible or insignificant.  I can choose to use Exposure Response Prevention or not.  I can choose to take my medication or not.  I can choose to give in to my compulsions or not. 

Even though my mind is ill, I can renew it by refusing to give in.  By trusting that God will bring me through this.  By believing that He will bring good from my suffering.  By choosing to live in hope. 

Because when I do these things, I no longer suffer so intensely.  I have hope.  And hope is truly transforming.

What are some ways that you renew your mind?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Scratching the Itch

Aren't hives awful?  So itchy and uncomfortable!  I must be having an allergic reaction to something I walked through yesterday on our hike, because I've got some kind of VERY itchy rash from my knees to my ankles.

Woman scratching an itchIt is so very tempting to scratch the itch because of the high amount of discomfort.  And while scratching does bring temporary relief, that relief only lasts a very short time.  The itchiness comes back amplified by what feels like 100 times.  And continuing to scratch only amplifies the itchiness more.

Isn't this also true of OCD?  An obsessive thought enters the brain and creates anxiety which causes discomfort.  And here is where the decision lies.  Do I scratch the OCD itch and give in to compulsions, or do I use Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) and resist the compulsive behaviors?

I've found through personal experience that scratching the itch makes the OCD that much worse.  Take what happened during church this weekend.  I started obsessing that I had sung the wrong word about God during a worship song, and I scratched the itch.  I prayed for forgiveness.  But then I prayed again just in case I hadn't really prayed the first time.  And what if I'd said the prayer wrong?  Better pray again...and so the compulsive cycle goes.  I scratched the itch and the anxiety went up.  The momentary relief of giving in to the compulsion was not worth the heightened anxiety that came afterwards.

How do you practice ERP?  Have you found it's gotten easier the more you do it?

Monday, April 18, 2016

Moms Don't Get Sick Days

We've had so many illnesses run through our house since mid-February.  The stomach flu (three times).  Pink eye.  Hand foot and mouth disease (how did the baby get that?!).  A crazy long super-cold.

And before today, I hadn't caught much of anything.  But then that dreaded flu hit me this morning.

Meme - I'm Sick.  I'll sleep and rest all day.  Oh wait, I'm a mom.
It happened just at the right time, about two hours before my husband had to leave for work.  He was able to get the kids up and ready for the day (including breakfast) and make lunch ahead of time for them so I wouldn't have to think about it.  I was able to get some much needed sleep and a shower.

Since I can't hardly stand not being outside when it's so nice out (in the 80's today!), we spent some more time outdoors this morning (see post from yesterday).  NOTE: Had I felt way worse, I totally would have put the kids in front of the TV while I laid on the couch.

Sunday, April 17, 2016


Isn't it nice when we can enjoy life despite struggling with mental illness?  As I've mentioned in previous posts, there are specific things I do to help combat my OCD, anxiety, and depression.  This afternoon, our family hiked and picnicked at a local nature preserve which hit several of my coping techniques.

I spent time outside in the sun.
I feel SO MUCH BETTER when I get regular time outside, especially if the sun is shining.  Since it was such a mild winter, I was still able to get outside almost every day, but I can't be the only one who's excited that it's finally sunny and in the 70's.  I even got some color (red is a color, right?!).  :)

Beauty in Frustration

Sometimes things don't feel beautiful.  

Like right now (after midnight) when the 8-month-old is crying again and not learning this whole self soothing trick like I want her to.

Or when a kid vomits in the van for the second time in three days.

Or when someone falls out of bed and hits his head on a piece of furniture.  The immediate goose egg, frantic call to the pediatrician, and checking him through the night do not feel beautiful.

Or when I wake up in the morning counting the hours until nap time because I'm so exhausted from being up with the baby.

Or when a preschooler pulls the stopper in the sink drain, turns the water on, and floods the bathroom.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Scrupulosity and Scripture


Ah, scrupulosity.  Religious OCD.  Scrupulosity has been part of my journey for a LONG time (you can read about my experiences with scrupulosity here).  But it definitely did not start with me.  In fact, the OCD Workbook (which I highly recommend for learning about the illness) suggests that Martin Luther and John Bunyan, giants in the Christian faith, also most likely suffered from scrupulosity.

Among other obsessions and compulsions, the Bible and sharing it with others has been a focus of my OCD.  Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) is the key to changing our OCD brains, so here goes.

Baby Kisses and Joy

Baby girl is at my favorite stage of babyhood - almost 8 months old.  She (mostly) sleeps through the night, isn't quite crawling, is very expressive and loves to interact with people.  She's trying to figure things out - words, eating solid foods (she barely tolerates them), and grasping things with her chubby little hands.  But one of the best things that she has started doing is doling out sweet mouth-wide-open kisses that leave all manner of slobber on my cheek.  Sometimes, when I'm in the midst of difficulty, this simple, best little gesture in the world can bring me so much joy.

Baby Kisses - best little gesture in the world

What have you found brings you joy in the midst of suffering?  

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Sharing Authentically

A conversation happened this week that surprised me.  An acquaintance that I hardly know bared her soul.  I mean, bared her soul.  Betrayal in her marriage, infertility, addiction, counseling...and her "crazy high anxiety."

Sometimes I get so deep inside my own head that I don't remember that others are also suffering.  Some with mental illness like me, and some in other ways.  (You can see my story in the post My Mental Health Story: A Timeline or on The OCD Stories website.)

Whenever I have been in the suffering valley, God has always rescued me and comforted me throughout the season of suffering.  And even though mental illness is still a daily struggle for me, I am not without hope.

The purpose of this blog is to candidly share my struggles and victories with mental illness as a Christ-follower.  I want blogging to help me grow personally and to help fellow sufferers along their own journeys.  In order to accomplish this, I am blogging under the pen name "A.J. Michaels."  The only other person who knows the true identity of A.J. Michaels is my husband.  Writing under a pen name allows me to write more honestly about my mental illness than if I used my real name.  I'm not quite ready to share these thoughts with people in my every day life - maybe eventually, but not yet.

I do look forward to walking this journey together with you.

God bless,
The God of all comfort comforts us

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Time and Tide Wait for No Man

coloring helps with my ocd, anxiety, and depressionI colored in public today.  In a coloring book.  The only people I've actually seen coloring in public are preschoolers, but I didn’t really care.  My fellow patients in the very busy dentist's office waiting room may have given me weird looks, but I was too busy coloring in those flower petals to notice.

Because today has been a rough day.  Not super, super rough or debilitating…just kind of rough where the intrusive thoughts enter my brain and just linger there for awhile.  I really want to make them go away, but they just hang out.  

One of my weird obsessions is time.  Obsessions and compulsions can be about absolutely anything, and time and I have a complicated relationship.  I almost don’t want to even write about this because I’m afraid it might make it worse, but here goes.

Monday, April 11, 2016

A Letter to my Mental Illness

Dear Mental Illness,

You don't own me.  I don't belong to you, and I don't really like you all that much.  I know I'm supposed to start a letter with something positive, but with all the turmoil you've caused in my brain and my life, I don't really feel like being nice to you.

You color everything I love, and even the things I don't.  You make my brain so ACTIVE; it's like a radar just circling around and around searching for something to obsess over.  That's the tricky thing about you.  Your paintbrush can swipe over any part of my life at any time.  Sometimes you keep me from focusing on my responsibilities, or you make it extremely difficult for me to feel calm.  You strike fear in me over anything - my relationship with God, my kids, my husband, myself.  Where did you even come from?  I have a great life!  No severe trauma.  A great family.  A strong education.  Healthy kids.  A house.  A dog.  A wonderful husband.  A relationship with Jesus.  So, seriously.  Why did you feel the need to make yourself at home in my brain?!  Couldn't you have just stayed out?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Mountaintops and Valleys

When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joyOCD is unique.  It tends to ebb and flow, and depending on the success of treatment - usually medication and cognitive behavioral therapy/exposure response prevention - sufferers can spend a lot of time either in the valley or on the mountaintop.  I've spent seasons in both places (you can see a timeline of my mental health story here), and I most definitely prefer the mountaintop!

The Valley
Because that OCD valley is deep.  I mean, really, really deep.  So deep that it's hard to even see the mountaintop anymore.  Every second is hard, and is that mountaintop even real?  All I can focus on are those obsessive thoughts and how I'll never be able to beat this huge wolf of OCD.  I know that I need to eat to keep up my strength (especially with breastfeeding the baby), but I'm just not hungry.  The diarrhea isn't helping, and neither is the fact that I'm waking up way too early every morning with racing thoughts and physical side effects of the anxiety.  Will it always be like this?  I can't even remember what joy and hope feel like.

The Mountaintop
But that glorious mountaintop!  Life is so, so good, and I'm finally living like everybody else!  Those pesky intrusive thoughts still come, but overall I'm able to resist the really bad compulsions (I just give in a little bit!).  I can see and enjoy and thank God for the blessings that He has given me.  There's so much to focus on and get done - My writing!  My physical health!  My kids!  My friendships!  My house!  My finances!  My marriage!  My spiritual life!  I love feeling accomplished and being with people - these things make me feel alive!  Valley?  What valley?  Oh, that valley!  Yeah, I was down there for a little bit, but I can hardly remember what that felt like.  I know it was hard, but I have so much to do now, and I don't really want to think about it.  My OCD is okay.  I'm just giving in a little bit, so it's manageable.

My Pattern
  • MOUNTAINTOP: The mental illness is very manageable.  Thankfully, this is most of the time.
  • VALLEY: 
    • Giving in to the compulsions brings more intrusive trigger thoughts which bring more compulsions which bring more anxiety which brings more trigger get the idea.  What was manageable is no longer manageable and becomes almost unbearable.  What if this time my thoughts AREN'T a result of the mental illness?  What if this is something I actually need to think/worry about?
    • I desperately seek help from my support system (husband, mom, counselor, friends).
    • We increase medication (if necessary), and I work HARD on the cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure response prevention.  It's amazing how many intrusive thoughts bombard my brain during this time.  I'm sure it's the same amount as before I start the CBT and ERP, but when I am able to actually identify them?  There are so, so many.
    • I start feeling better and am able to see the illness as an illness instead of wondering if these intrusive thoughts are what I actually think.
    • Good days and bad days.  At first I feel good for only snippets at a time.  And then it becomes almost full days.  (This is where I am right now.)
  • MOUNTAINTOP: Back to normal - enjoying life!

Bottom Line
Every time I've been in the valley, God has rescued me and brought me back to the mountaintop.  This gives me hope!

Friday, April 8, 2016

But I'm a teacher - why is homeschooling my kids so hard?!

homeschooling successfully with mental illness
Teaching is my passion.  I love relating to students and facilitating their learning.  I earned two degrees in education, successfully taught middle school for six years, and founded a popular after-school girls' character education program.  I've presented at teaching professional development sessions and directed a professional development program for teachers.  I currently teach at the college level.

With all that passion and experience, teaching my own kids should be a breeze, right?  Yeah, not so much.

I started preschool with my oldest son a couple of years ago, and the mistakes were numerous:
  1. Turns out there is a BIG difference between teaching one subject five times a day to 7th graders and teaching my own three-year-old how to read.  Classroom management is way easier than home/kid-raising/homeschool management.
  2. I looked in all the wrong places for a short list of academic standards for preschoolers.  I eventually found the Typical Course of Study standards from World Book that were much more useful.  
  3. I looked at Pinterest.  So many awesome (and overwhelming and overcomplicating) activities to do with him!
And then there is the mental illness.  There is no way I can possibly educate my three children at home well when I struggle with OCD, anxiety, and depression (says my brain).  Wouldn't it be better for them to go to school and learn from someone else?  Wouldn't it be healthier for them to learn from someone who doesn't struggle with mental illness?  Am I doing them a disservice by selfishly wanting to keep them home with me for school?

The short answer, I believe, is no.  I (and they) will be okay.  By the grace of God, we will all be okay.  And on days that I'm not okay, I have support.  My husband.  My parents.  My in-laws.  My friends.  And maybe even a Classical Conversations (CC) community.

After attending a CC open house this morning, I think it could be part of the answer to successful homeschooling for our family.  The rigorous classical curriculum is written on a three year cycle with each age group learning the same content in different ways.  Kids learn terms (really well!) in their younger years, and by the time they are older and go through the content cycle again, they are equipped to learn more deeply.  Communities meet one morning a week throughout the school year with parents serving as tutors.  Kids socialize, experience a school setting, and are accountable to someone other than their parent.  Parents attend with their children, experience community, and collaborate with other parents.  I have more research to do, but this is the way I'm leaning at the moment.

I'm very interested to hear your thoughts on both homeschooling with mental illness and Classical Conversations!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

If We're Honest

I heard Francesca Battistelli's song "If We're Honest" yesterday for the first time.  And it really spoke to the theme of what I'm trying to get across on this blog - authenticity.  We all certainly have our issues, and one of my very big ones happens to be mental illness.  I love the truth that this song proclaims.  If you haven't heard it yet (and even if you have), please take a quick listen:

In an interview with Reel Gospel, Francesca discussed this song:

"If We're Honest is the title track, and the theme of that song which ties in with the record is that God has called us to live lives of authenticity.  I think that means that in a culture that says 'Crop the perfect picture of yourself, put a nice filter on it, send it out to the world and let people think that's who you are,' God has called us to be raw and be real.  We should be able to come to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ and say: 'This is what I'm going through.  This is what I'm struggling with.  This is what I need prayer for, or help with.'  It's so hard for us to do that in this culture, and I think God is really calling us to go back to that basic...He created us to live in community with each other.  He created us to need each other.  To be His hands and feet on this earth."

"If We're Honest"

Truth is harder than a lie
The dark sees safer than the light
And everyone has a heart that loves to hide
I'm a mess and so are you
We've built walls nobody can get through
Yeah, it may be hard, but the best thing we could ever do, ever do

Bring your brokenness, and I'll bring mine
'Cause love can heal what hurt divides
And mercy's waiting on the other side
If we're honest
If we're honest

Don't pretend to be something that you're not
Living life afraid of getting caught
There is freedom found when we lay
our secrets down at the cross, at the cross


It would change our lives
It would set us free
It's what we need to be


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Starving the OCD Wolf: Exposure Response Prevention

While OCD can be overwhelming (to say the least), there is hope.  Many people have led joyful and productive lives through a combination of medication and Exposure Response Prevention.  It is possible to starve the wolf!

The Wolf

Consuming.  Intense.  Debilitating.  Disabling.  OCD is a ravenous, howling wolf roaming around just searching for something to eat - an obsession to be anxious over or a compulsion to perform for some measure of relief.  When it gets really bad, it feels like that wolf's howl is all we can hear.  If he's that hungry, maybe it would just be easier to give in to the compulsions and feed him already.  At least it will quiet him down, even if just for a second or two.

He's not always noisy though.  In times of relative mental peace, he can even sound a little friendly.  Like a cute little puppy sweetly begging for something to eat.  And so, because he isn't really bothering us that much,  we give in and feed him just a little bit.  Just a tiny compulsion before moving on to something else.

But feeding that wolf even just a little bit always keeps him coming back for more.  And more.  And more again.  Each time he comes back, his howl is just a little (or a lot) louder.

What if, instead of feeding the wolf by giving in to the compulsions, we starved him instead?

Starving the Wolf

Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) is described by The International OCD Foundation as follows:

"The Exposure in ERP refers to exposing yourself to the thoughts, images, objects and situations that make you anxious and/or start your obsessions.  While the Response Prevention part of ERP, refers to making a choice not to do a compulsive behavior once the anxiety or obsessions have been 'triggered.'"

ERP is, essentially, starving the OCD.  Exposing yourself to the intrusive thoughts and then forcing yourself not to give in to the compulsions that the wolf is howling in your ear MUST BE DONE.

Personal Experience

I hope it doesn't sound like I have this all figured out, because I most definitely do NOT.  But I do have personal experience.

I've mentioned in recent posts that I lapsed in November after having over 3 really good years (!).  There were hard days here and there, but overall I totally felt like myself.  I was working 20-30 hours per week (mostly from home), taking care of my (then) two little ones with my husband, and maintaining an active church and social life.  Living well!  Even though the wolf was quieter, however, I still fed him.
  • I wrote down prayers asking for forgiveness to make sure I said the right thing.  
  • I went through my nightly before-bedtime routine of checking and re-checking (multiple times) the door locks, stove burners, candle, wall outlet, and kids.  
  • I checked and re-checked (multiple times) the baby's collar after I put her in the crib to make sure it wasn't too tight and that she could breathe, in addition to checking that nothing except she and her pacifier were in the crib.
Then, on the morning of Monday, October 26, I started praying compulsively (again) for God's forgiveness, and what had been manageable not long before quickly became unmanageable and spiraled into many other obsessions and compulsions.  I was terrified of so many things.  I returned to an intrusive obsession from several years before about the existential meaning of time and how it works.  It sounds so weird as I write that, but it truly became paralyzing.  And unfortunately, it's still a struggle (even within the last week).

My treatment included increasing my medication and starving the wolf through ERP.  I stopped writing down prayers.  I strove to replace false thoughts with true ones.  I determined that trying to figure out time was not focusing on what was lovely and admirable (Philippians 4:8-9), so I forced my brain to refocus on something else.  Eventually the howling started to fade, but not without lots of discomfort on my part.  In fact, it felt like the howling got louder before it got quieter.  But it did get quieter after I pushed through the noise without giving in to the overwhelming anxiety.  And those times when I gave in and fed him?  He got louder.  And louder, and louder, and louder, until the howling became unbearable once again.

Eventually, I had the first time in weeks where more of the day was positive than negative.  And I was able to climb back out of the hole.

Bottom Line

We can have hope even in the midst of mental illness, OCD, anxiety, and depressionStarving the wolf is a daily - and I do mean daily - battle for me.  Intrusive thoughts pop in to my head all the time, and I'd love to say that I always resist every compulsion.  But that's not realistic.

Let me be clear: I believe that the wolf will probably always be a part of my life here on earth, but he will not be a part of my life in heaven.  God's sustaining grace pulls me through those days when the wolf is howling so loudly that I can't hear much of anything else.

My prayer is to be fully delivered by God in this life.  But even if He chooses not to do that, He is still good.  And sovereign.  And loving.  And, I believe, He is helping me starve the wolf.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

My Mental Health Story: A Timeline

Freedom comes with authentic openness, and it is with that mindset that I share with you part of my story.  As I've recently experienced, sharing our stories has the potential to help us in all of our journeys!
  • As a kid: 
    • What if a burglar breaks in to our house?  
    • What if a person close to me hurts me in some way?  This is the first true intrusive thought that I can remember.  I knew that the people in my life would NEVER do  the horrible deeds that I was afraid of, and that led to lots of guilt, even as a young kid. 
  • 10 years old: I had my first bout with depression and didn't like myself much at all.  My mom, who has been a huge support to me through my journey, noticed that I was down and asked if I wanted to make sure that I was a Christian.  I did, and even though I'd said the sinner's prayer as a preschooler, this was a significant part of my journey as a Christ-follower. 
  • 6th grade: I washed my hands to get rid of germs - over and over and over - which led to them becoming very chapped and dry, even to the point of bleeding.
  • Middle School: Checking compulsively became a big problem.
    • What if someone is hiding under my bed or in my closet?  
    • What if I turn the light switch off with wet hands and start a fire?  Better turn it off with my dry elbow.  And then on again.  And off again.  And on again...
    • What if I sinned and didn't ask God for forgiveness?  
    • What if the stove is on?
    • What if the door isn't locked?
    • What if the curling iron was left on?
    • What if something got on the toothbrush that will make someone sick?
  • Age 15: I became obsessed with not eating much fat.  I ate only about 15 grams each day, and I was very thin.  It got very close to being an eating disorder.
  • Age 16: I went on a trip with a friend I didn't know very well to her dad and stepmom's house in a different state.  The environment in this house was very different than what I was used to (alcohol, her stepbrother was a partier who they later found out was gay, we were stuck at the house without a vehicle, etc.).  This stressful trip triggered a lot of OCD.  
  • High school: 
    • I played conversations I'd had with people over and over in my head to make sure I hadn't said anything wrong.  
    • I was also very afraid of free time (with no good reason), so I would fill my days to the brim with activity - compulsively.  
  • College:  
    • I had a season of intense OCD which caused me to move home (I lived on campus at a local Christian college) for three weeks.  It was during this time that my mom took me to our family doctor who was a friend.  He prescribed medication for me, and he also prayed for me with tears in his eyes.  
    • It was soon after this that I met my husband at a Bible study.  We started dating very soon after we met, and I remember wondering before I met him if I would ever meet anyone who would want to untangle the mess that I was on the inside.  When I told him that I was taking medication for depression and anxiety, his response was to tell me something that he was struggling with as well.  What a relief it was that he wasn't repulsed by me!  
  • 24th Birthday: My 24th birthday was a low point.  Again, my mom helped me, this time by helping me get in to a Christian counselor.  This is the same one that I'm still currently seeing this many years later.  He encouraged me to adjust my medication, and we eventually found that Zoloft (which I'm still on) works very, very well for me.
  • Mid-twenties: I became a middle school teacher after college (and I LOVED it!).  There were some really difficult, foggy days, but I still went through all of the motions to get the job done.  Not easy, but I made it.  
  • 2011: After my first son was born, I had a very difficult time postpartum.  He was born 3 1/2 weeks early and aspirated during birth.  This put him in the NICU for 10 days, and that time was extremely stressful.  I took a 14-week maternity leave from teaching in which I felt very lost.  The shock of going from no kids to suddenly having a son was a big one.  I was completely responsible (at least while my husband was at work) for this new little life.  It was overwhelming.  No longer could I fill all of my time up with activity, because I never knew when the baby might need me.  We got through it, but the first 8 months or so of his life were difficult for me.  
  • 2012-2015: I went off of medication while trying to get pregnant with baby #2, but I had a very, very difficult time.  I was in lots of distress but still managed to get pregnant.  This son was also born prematurely at 34 weeks.  Surprisingly I did okay after that kid.  He was in the NICU for 8 days, and soon after we left the hospital I felt my thoughts starting to slide toward depression and anxiety.  We immediately upped my medication, and that seemed to do the trick.  I felt pretty much completely fine until this past November after my daughter was born in August.  
  • 2015-2016: Body/hormone changes + lack of sleep +caring for a newborn, toddler, and preschooler = lots of OCD triggers!  The past five months have been a bit of a mental roller coaster with existential obsessions (How does time work?  I must figure it out!) and scrupulosity (Do I really believe that Jesus is the Son of God?  What if I'm misinterpreting Scripture?  Have I made God mad?).  I've tried to make changes in my life to better manage my mental illness after my counselor told me in no uncertain terms that if our family was going to be healthy, we were going to have to make some major changes.  At the end of the year, I pulled way, way back from my work.  Even though I was working mostly from home, the stress of trying to get everything done and take care of the kids took its toll.  Since cutting back, I've been able to better take care of myself and my family, even though it's still very hard at times.
I'd love to hear your story if you're willing!

All things work together for the good of those who love God - even mental health

Monday, April 4, 2016

"Acceptance is the Enemy of OCD"

"Acceptance is the Enemy of OCD."

At least, that's what my counselor once told me.  I take copious notes at all of my sessions, and I recently found this phrase in some of those notes from a few years ago.  What does "acceptance" mean, exactly?  How do I "accept" that I have OCD?  And anxiety?  And depression?

After a very high-anxiety day on Saturday, I woke up with it again yesterday.  I tried to resist it, ignore it, do all of the things I'm supposed to do, but it just wouldn't leave.  Finally, after feeding everyone lunch, I started to cry and shut myself in my room so that the boys wouldn't be aware that I was upset.  

The depressive thoughts that often accompany anxiety started in:
  • This just won't leave!  
  • Why am I STILL dealing with this in my 30's after it started when I was so young?
  • I just want this struggle to go away.
  • This is so huge and all-encompassing.
  • I'm so overwhelmed.
  • This is more than I can bear.
  • Something is really wrong with me.
  • My heart, my mind, my life....just feels so heavy.
  • Why can't I make this go away?
  • My kids deserve better than this.
  • My husband deserves better than this.
  • This is affecting everything I so very badly don't want it to affect.
  • I can't possibly be a good parent when I'm feeling this bad.
After taking a few minutes to cry and pray (not compulsively), I composed myself to get everyone down for naps.  And then I was able to talk my feelings out with my husband, who has been a wonderful support to me throughout the almost-eleven years we've been together.  He reminded me that beating myself up for having the intrusive thoughts that I honestly can't help only worsens the depression.  It makes a manageable problem (OCD) way less manageable because of all of the emotion that comes from the depression.  I need to accept that this is something that I deal with.  And when I can do that - "there's that anxiety again" - things become a little bit more bearable.   

So, I'm trying to accept it, but I'm not really sure how.  Suggestions?

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Mental Illness and the Church - Christianity Today article

Interesting Christianity Today article by Ed Stetzer,  See below for some relevant portions from A New Approach to Mental Illness in the Church:

  • "...there is a unique challenge created for Christians, who believe God heals people. He heals our hearts of an all-encompassing sin condition, and he heals physical illness. But when we experience situations...where clear healing did not take place, we are often overcome with unanswered questions."
  • "I was unprepared to deal with mental illness, and by my actions, I almost denied that it is even real. Of course, I would have been prepared for any number of other forms of illness. If someone had come to my church with a broken leg, I would have recommend they go see a doctor. For virtually any other illness, I would have said the same."
  • "The fact is that mental illness and spiritual struggle can be (and are) related. We are not separate things, we are complex people—remarkable connected in spirit, soul, body, mind, etc. But, let me be direct here: if we immediately dismiss the possibility of mental illness and automatically assume spiritual deficiency, our actions amount to spiritual abuse.
  • "The reality is that regardless of the situation—even in the most prepared church—mental illness can be deep, traumatic, and life-changing. Even if our churches talk about the issue and have a plan to address it with our own people, it tends to be a long road to healing or discerning how to manage the disease. Ministering to those struggling with mental illness, and the family members of those struggling, requires a tremendous amount of grace, but God’s people should be first in line to offer it."
  • "Mental illness, mental disease, is a reality."
  • "To ignore the reality of mental illness hampers our ability as the church to have robust, intelligent, helpful conversations to find ways to come alongside those who are suffering and offer hope. Churches and leaders, we must offer hope."

Friday, April 1, 2016

Flowers from Rain

I remember the first time I heard the phrase "April showers bring May flowers."  For some reason, it's one of those random memories from childhood that sticks out.  The phrase came back to my mind today as I was driving in the rain.  I'm sure I'm not the first one to make this connection, but flowers, things of beauty, need rain.  These beautiful flowers are not possible without the rain.  Maybe we personally experience greater joy from going through the struggle and heartache of mental illness.

As I referenced in yesterday's post, the past five months have been somewhat of a thunderstorm of OCD/anxiety/depression.  But today and yesterday, I've experienced the flowers.  Even in the midst of the intrusive thoughts that continue to threaten me, my heart has overflowed with joy four times since yesterday afternoon, and all because of other people:

  • My sister told me of how her wonderful boyfriend sees and treats her as the treasure that she is.
  • I can't remember exactly what was said between my two boys in the car, but they were playing so well together and having the cutest preschooler conversation.  
  • The third time happened just a few minutes ago when my oldest son was interacting so, SO sweetly with his baby sister and making her laugh.  It was precious.  
  • And as I write this, I'm listening to my just-turned-three-year-old yell-singing from his bed when he should be napping.  He was just calling for help, and I went to see what he needed.  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  He was pretending to be Woody from Toy Story with his stuffed animals, and Woody was calling for help.  
Such simple things, but would I feel these joys so deeply had I not experienced such deep suffering?  Would these feelings of joy be the same regardless of my struggle?  Or do I feel them more deeply because I have intensely felt the opposite?

Laura Story has a song called "Blessings" that beautifully speaks to this.  Here is the chorus:

"'Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops?
What if your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near?
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?"

Thank God for the flowers!