Is it Postpartum Depression…or Postpartum Drowning? (How to Know, and What to Do)

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New babies can bring the biggest thrills and blessings of our lives…as well as the most stressful periods we’ve ever faced. Here are my biggest blessings: Sam (2 1/2) and Seth (6 months)

Last February I gave birth twice: I delivered my second son, Seth, and I published a memoir on “overcoming depression.” This double blessing felt awesome…until four months later when I found myself drowning—in babies, book messages, babysitting jobs, and ministry engagements—hiding from the kids in my bedroom and texting my husband, “I can’t do it anymore! It’s just too much! I need to escape from life!”

Do I have postpartum depression? I wondered, aghast at the thought. What would my readers say? I didn’t really think it was depression, because unlike in my former, suicidal state, I didn’t want to escape life itself as much as I just wanted to escape my messy house. But if it wasn’t PPD, what was I to make of my regular exhaustion, tears, and adult tantrums? For the sake of myself, my family, and my readers (who wanted to know overcoming depression was possible), I knew I had better figure out what was going on, and fast.

When We Can’t See What’s in Front of Us…We Might Be Drowning

I didn’t figure it out right away.

My good intentions to pray into my problems got buried in a busy summer of business trips with the hubby and daycare for four kids—my baby and toddler, plus a 7- and 11-year-old from our church. Added to these disruptions in sleep schedules and household routines, I was fielding new questions and calls from sincere book readers who deserved sincere responses, as well as returning to the time-intensive prayer ministry I’d facilitated pre babies.

I didn’t realize it, but little by little, the demands of my beautiful life, lively kids (plus two), and lovely readers had been drowning me. To the point where I was tired all the time. Drinking too much coffee. Unable to get literal rest, or the spiritual rest of prayer and Bible study that had once brought healing from my decade of pre-partum depression.

After a few too many blowups at my husband, one July night I took said hubby’s advice and made a thorough inventory of my bursting life—and I finally realized my problem. It wasn’t postpartum depression. It was postpartum drowning. (“I could’ve told you that,” Hubby said. “I did tell you that.” Oops.)

So now I knew what my problem was. And I was on the road to fixing it. But if you’re not sure, maybe you can do what I did to figure out if you’re depressed…or drowning.

 Do You Have Postpartum Depression…or Postpartum Drowning?

First, I took a hard look at what was going on in my life, and what moods or emotions I was experiencing. Next, I did some research on the symptoms of PPD. Finally, I asked myself: Is what I’m experiencing in the realm of normal for a new mom, or is it in the extreme? Once I’d asked and answered these questions, I knew how to proceed, and you can too.

According to mayoclinic.com, if you have PPD, you have a depressed mood or severe mood swings, excessive crying, fatigue, energy loss, intense irritability, and anger. You also find it difficult to bond with your baby, you withdraw from family and friends, and you eat too little (or too much). You aren’t interested in, or don’t enjoy, activities you used to enjoy; you have severe anxiety or panic attacks; and you have recurring thoughts of harming your baby or yourself.

If I had looked at these symptoms in isolation, I might have falsely concluded I had PPD, because some of them described what I was going through. But because I looked at these symptoms along with my situation, it seemed pretty clear that my problems were tied to normal mom stuff, not necessarily PPD.

While my fatigue, irritability, and anger were common to PPD, they were also natural results of being a mom of littles: namely, I had choppy sleep due to baby wakings, and I had poor nutrition because I didn’t have time to cook very good meals, or helping hands to allow me to eat what I cooked.

In contrast to the various “losses” the medical description gave (loss of appetite, loss of interest, loss of friends), I realized I just wanted to be able to enjoy those things I already enjoyed even more. Instead of losing my appetite, I wanted to find time to eat. Instead of inability to sleep or sleeping too much, I just wanted to sleep a normal 8 hours, for crying out loud. Instead of difficulty bonding with my baby, I wished I had some extra hands around so that I could bond (instead of hurtling like a crazy woman between my toddler and my baby). Instead of reduced interest in activities I used to enjoy, I just wished—for the love of God—that I could get away and do my pleasurable activities (visit a coffee shop, write, exercise).

As for the more severe symptoms, I didn’t want to kill myself or my kids, I wanted to live my best life and help them lives theirs. Admittedly, I wanted to live life a little more the way I remembered it before babies, but the important thing here is that I had desire for life, a passion for my kids, and a passionate desire to live my life and raise my kids well.

So I concluded I did not suffer from postpartum depression, but rather postpartum drowning. I wasn’t depressed in the giving up sense; I was simply unhappy because taking care of my baby, toddler, and two more kids—plus the handful of women I was mentoring through prayer ministry—left no room or energy on my plate to do those things that had previously saved me and made life enjoyable. (It’s worth noting that I felt the negative feelings dissipate whenever I could get a babysitter for an hour or two to write, bathe, or eat a full meal.)

The crux of my postpartum problem, then, was this: I didn’t have enough hands. I didn’t have enough hands to both carry (care for) my kids and also tread the waters of my own (perfectly normal) postpartum emotions. At this point, it was obvious that I was drowning, and it finally became obvious what I needed to do.

What to Do if You’re Drowning (or Depressed)

Whether you are a depressed or drowning postpartum mom, first and foremost you need to Get Help. And I don’t mean mental help. I mean physical help. You need someone who can hold and feed your babies for a few hours, or clean your house, or cook, or do whatever, so you can do what you need to do to get healthy.

For me, getting healthy entails writing. As I learned during my pre-mom depression recovery, writing not only helped me cope with life, but it also gave me deeper life satisfaction, because I was good at it…and I realized God was calling me to bless others with it. And I bet you have something you do that helps you cope, brings deep satisfaction, and possibly helps others, too. But if we don’t have time to write, or do whatever it is that gets us “healthy” (as we usually don’t during the crazy postpartum period), then it’s no use.

First, we must get help.

So, as my summer babysitting job wound to a close, I searched for a part-time nanny to hold down the fort so I could go write for a few hours a week. And (cringe), while I’m being honest, I also hired a cleaning lady twice a month.

Before you slam down your computer in disgust—because who can afford to hire a cleaning lady? much less a part-time nanny?—hear me out.

First, I know. I know I am extremely lucky to be able to afford this. Many moms can’t. Which is where I say use the resources you have. Some of us have family nearby who can babysit, or friends with whom we can trade services for babysitting. I don’t. My closest family members are 500 odd miles away, and I’m still new to this area and meeting other moms.

What I do have is a husband with a good career, a little mad money from babysitting, and some modest earnings from a book. So I have chosen to use my resources to get the help I need. And I’m trying not to feel bad about it. (Despite that friend on Facebook who pooh-poohed my “need” for help because I am a stay-at-home-mom.)

Second, if you face naysayers who say hiring help as a SAHM is too indulgent, or too much “pampering” of oneself (or if you feel that way, yourself), consider two things:

One: Are you sure you really can’t afford it? As my new nanny, Paula (how I love her), says, “A lot of people who think they can’t afford this actually could afford it…if they made it a priority. The question is: what else are you willing to give up?” A good point.

And two: Is hiring help actually spoiling yourself, or is it just helping you take care of yourself in a necessary way? After deferring my mental and emotional needs in my pre-mom life…to the point of attempted suicide and bulimia, I’m choosing to take myself, and my self-care, pretty seriously. If you have a history of depression, are depression prone, or more sensitive than the average woman, you should too.

If you identify more with the depressed version of myself I just relayed, I can certainly give you the advice that helped me in my pre-partum depression days, and which I wrote about in my memoir:

  • Form new and better habits.
  • Read and memorize Scripture.
  • Pray to Jesus, who understands everything we’ve gone through.
  • Spend quiet time in prayer and ask God to show you his blessings—then ask him what your barriers are.*

But if you are depressed and also a postpartum mom—which I was not when I took all that good advice—then you still need to get help…because no matter whether we have depression or not, all postpartum moms are drowning—drowning in armloads of babies, dishes, and laundry (and other stuff) that we need someone to take care of before we can take care of ourselves.

Which brings me to my final point…

If You Only Read One Section in this Article, Read This:

If hiring help is what it takes to get you the relief you need—to keep you sane and functional—It’s not indulgent. It’s necessary.

So, go forth, Gentle Mom…

(Drowning Mom),

(Depressed Mom),

(Angry…Weepy…Raging Mom):

Be kind to yourself.

Take my advice.

And Get Help!!!

 

*Read my memoir Ending the Pain: A True Story of Overcoming Depression for more details.

 

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Four Good Memoirs for Moms (or Anyone Who Has a Mom)

One thing I seem to always make time for, even with new babies, is reading memoirs. For moms who are postpartum, or who get little adult interaction, reading true tales from other moms doesn’t just offer recreation; it provides a lifeline. Here are four memoirs by moms that I’ve recently read and recommend, not just for moms, but for anyone who has a mom:

White WallsWhite Walls: A Memoir About Motherhood, Daughterhood, and the Mess in Between. I read this pretty thick memoir in the last months of my recent pregnancy. Not only did I relate to the writer’s story of reluctant motherhood in her adult life, but I also resonated with her parallel tale of growing up with a mother’s mental illness (in this case, hoarding). If you are at all interested in the psychology of hoarding, or the complex scars it leaves on kids, give this a read.

glitter and glueGlitter and Glue. I read this one in the week after I brought Seth home from the hospital, during my one and only week of breastfeeding. An easy, breezy read about the author’s summer as a nanny, this book had me crying at the last page–when she finally tied together her story of nannying in a home where the mom had died with what her own mother meant to her, so many years later. (You have to read the whole book to get the poignancy of the ending.)


the year my son and I...The Year my Son and I Were Born: A Story of Down Syndrome, Motherhood, and Self-Discovery.
I am currently charging through this one as quickly as my sons’ sleep schedules will allow, and having an emotional time comparing my three-month-old Seth to sweet little Thomas, who was born with Down Syndrome. This book is a record of the author’s first year navigating the exhaustion, disbelief, and other conflicting emotions that her disabled baby brings her. Beginning with a heart-stopping scene of premature labor, this one grabbed me right out of the gate and hasn’t let go since. Read this to understand the challenges of having a disabled child, and to feel grateful for what you have.

Ending the Pain Book CoverEnding the Pain: A True Story of Overcoming Depression. Yes, my book. While my tale ends before I officially become a mother (I am pregnant with Sam by the end), mother-daughter relationships play a big part in my story. My parents always had a troubled marriage, and when I am fourteen, it finally blows up with an affair and illegitimate child (my half-brother) whom we hide in our home until he is eight months old and my mom leaves. After that, my relationships with both my mom and my dad become complicated, and I carry my new resentment for happy families into my new marriage and new, happy (husband’s) family. Read my story to learn not only how I healed from suicidal depression, but also how I learned to make peace with my parents (and parents-in-law).

When you have limited time to read, make sure you choose well. Happy reading!

It’s Here! Announcing Ending the Pain, My Memoir!

IMG_3373What a month! After three years of blogging and writing about God’s intervention in my messy life, the uncut version of my story is out there for the world to read. And I’m at home, four weeks postpartum, wearing sweatpants and trying to keep up with dishes. Somehow, I thought this moment would feel more climactic. But hey, I’m four weeks postpartum and not depressed, even after a history of life-threatening depression (the topic of my book), so I’ll go ahead and say life is great!

If there’s one malady I’m suffering from, it’s postpartum brain failure, or what I’m calling “Mommy brain.” I’m not sure what the technical term is, I just know my mind is scattered these days–I’m forgetful, absentminded, and spacey–and I don’t like how that feels. I think I read in some pregnancy book that this is normal; and I suppose it’s probably worse because I’m currently preoccupied with not only my new son, but also with the release of my new book. So it’s not a tragic condition, just annoying. As long as I can keep my kids, my husband, and myself cared for in this season, I suppose we’re good.

Needless to say, I don’t have much time, energy, or brain capacity to promote my book. And at first this distressed me. (Because doesn’t everything written about book publishing stress “promotion, promotion, promotion”?). But then I decided maybe the timing of this book release was for the best. If I had more available brain matter right now, I think I’d be stressing over book promotion a lot. And I’d be tempted to forget one of the main lessons I wrote about in my memoir: learning that God’s strength is made perfect in my weakness.

So here I am, bedecked in stretchy pants, hands full of babies, sink full of dishes…just stealing a moment away from momming to tell you my book has been published, and I’m leaving the rest up to God (and you, dear reader!).

And with that book announcement made (a week late, nonetheless), I’m getting back to my two tiny tots–they will never be this little again–to try to embrace a life that continues to be messy…but now, messy in a wonderful sort of way.

*You can purchase my book at adventistbookcenter.com or Amazon.com.

The Second Baby Difference

First family pic out of the hospital–taken February 13th, the day Seth and I came home.

I held two-week-old Sam in my arms, and he wailed and wailed.

“What is it, baby boy?” I wailed too, rocking him, bouncing him, doing anything I could think of to quiet him.

It was 9 a.m. on Buc’s first day back to work, and I was already at my wit’s end. Sam would not stop crying.

“Are you hungry? Tired? Cold? Mad?” I swooshed Sam in big circles in the air, dipped down low, stood on one leg. I rocked and walked from one end of the living room to the other and back again. Sam was now screaming in short, staccato shrieks, his face candy-apple red, his mouth wide open and his tongue trembling like screaming babies’ tongues do.

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Fussy Sam

Suddenly, I saw a CD my mom had sent: Baby Lullabies.

“Maybe you want to listen to some music?” I grabbed at the CD desperately and jammed it into my CD player.

“Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” I bounced Sam in time with the music, trying bravely to sing through my tears (but inevitably failing). “Little ones to him belong, they are weak but he is strong.”

Little ones are weak? I thought. How about their mothers? Oh Lord, help me! I prayed. But Sam wouldn’t stop crying. I looked at the clock. Barely an hour had passed since Sam’s last feeding. “You shouldn’t be hungry yet, Sam!” I cried. My boobs ached from all the recent feedings. But after several more moments, I took him to his room and I fed him. I knew it was the only way he would quiet.

This is a memory from my early postpartum days with my firstborn, Sam—days I remember like a dark cloud. They were desperate days. Dark days. During those days, I didn’t sleep for more than two-hour increments. I didn’t get regular showers. I didn’t get to finish entire meals. Buc and I wondered if we’d ever eat a meal in peace (and quiet) again. Because all Sam did, it seemed, was nurse…or cry.

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More fussy Sam

Truthfully, I feel bad about how bad those first weeks with Sam felt—and how bad those days still feel in my memory. I think we probably had plenty of delightful moments, moments of oohing and aahing over our new, beautiful baby. But all I remember is the desperation. Which is why I was never too excited for a second baby.In fact, I was preparing myself for the worst. I was expecting my life to be thrown into turmoil—and actually preparing to hate my life for awhile (before the baby/mama attachment and sustained sleep kicked in).

But you know what? That line that every parent of more-than-one-kid says—“Every child is different”—is so true!

At three weeks old, Seth is so much calmer than I remember Sam being; and at three weeks postpartum, my overall experience is so much nicer than it was the first time around. Thank you, Thank you, Jesus!

I think it’s possible that the difference I’m seeing between my two babies is tied to different personalities. Sam seems sanguine, while Seth seems phlegmatic—and that would account for Seth’s more laid-back, content disposition. (Would you believe he doesn’t really cry, except for when he’s hungry or poopy? Thank you, thank you, Jesus!).

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Sam
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Seth

But if there’s more to the difference than differing personalities, it is adequate nutrition. Unlike Sam, whom I breastfed exclusively for the first three weeks–until his pediatrician sounded alarm bells on his weight and told me to start supplementing with formula—Seth has had the benefit of enough food for his entire life.

Thank prior experience for that.

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I vividly remember this moment with Sam at three weeks old: We had just come from another weight check at the pediatrician’s–the one where she told me to start formula–and this picture captures a finally-calm Sam after having two ounces of Similac. We later settled on Enfamil Soy, six formula tries later.

I tried again—put Seth to breast every few hours in the hospital and again at home. But after hour-long nursing sessions when Seth was still fussy, still wanting to nurse (and this after my milk had “come in”), I knew what to do. Because of prior experience, I knew it wasn’t normal for babies to be fussy after eating…unless they were still hungry. So I gave him formula. By day 11 I stopped nursing to formula feed and “supplement” with what breast milk I could pump. And now I am down to pumping a few times a day. But given the small return I was getting for hours of nursing, I’m okay with this. Unlike the first time around, this was an easy decision to make.

Thank prior experience also for that—for my own more laid-back approach.

Seth and me
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Sam and me

Frankly, it’s just plain great to have prior experience—to not be navigating parenthood for the first time around. Even if I had a tough second baby, I think I’d be doing better, simply because I could see light at the end of the fussy, sleepless tunnel. I look at two-year-old Sam and can’t believe all the milestones he’s leapt through in such a short a time—and the amazing little guy that he has become.

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Sam still is, and always will be, “my baby,” too.

While I don’t remember Sam’s beginnings happily, I am happy to say that today I absolutely delight in his personality, his growing communication skills, his laughter, his life. Thank you, Jesus, for the passage of time, and for difficult babies growing up and maturing and developing. And thank you, Jesus, for the gift of easy babies—and the fact that I HAVE ONE THIS TIME!

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Seth is so easy on us, in fact, that that’s why I started this post with a memory of Sam. I have stronger emotions, memories, reactions, to Sam than I am having with Seth…because Seth doesn’t do much. He likes to be held, but he also likes to be put down; and he likes to sleep! (Right now, in addition to sleeping a ton during the day, he sleeps in three- and four- hour stretches at night, and after feeding, he goes right back to bed.) What I’m saying is that he’s not as interesting to write about as Sam. But his different personality has sure spurred comparisons with Sam! And in this case, even though they say you’re not supposed to compare your kids, I am really gratified to do so! Thank you, Jesus, for different personalities!

As a coda, how is Sanguine Sam handling his new brother? (I didn’t realize that that’s the most frequent question I’d get after baby #2. Kid conversations will always be about comparisons from now on, won’t they?)

So far, he’s doing well. Since I came home from my three-night hospital leave, Sam has been more difficult to put down at night, worried I won’t be there in the morning. But otherwise, he’s been holding his own and maintaining a healthy play life. He keeps his distance from the new baby, but gradually he’s mentioning him more and more, and I think he might even be starting to like him.

Now. One caveat.

The other HUGE blessing in this period is that I’ve had my eighteen-year-old niece, Megan, here with me through it all. She came mainly to care for Sam while we went to the hospital, but she was also here for the last two weeks of my pregnancy, bonding with Sam, and she has been here for the three weeks since Seth’s birth. And Sam really likes Megan. I hope I’m not just fooling myself, thinking life is easier with baby #2, when, really, it’s just been Megan here that’s made the difference. Because, really, when littles are afoot, extra hands make such a difference.

(On that note, Thanks so much, Megan, for sacrificing your social life and your family for these crucial weeks to make our load so much lighter. How would you like to be a full-time nanny? Just kidding. [Not really.])

Megan and Sam

But seriously, Megan has been a huge blessing. Seth has been a huge blessing. And so has Sam. And no matter how life plays out after Megan leaves next week-ish, I hope I will remember how happy I was for these first postpartum weeks—and realize how blessed I’m sure I’ll still be after they’re over—even if I’m a little more frazzled for watching two kids on my own. One thing I’ve learned from prior parenting experience: when the going gets rough, just wait it out…kids change all the time, and if you give them time, they will get easier. (If they don’t, I can still rejoice that one day they’ll graduate and move out, right? [Just kidding…maybe.]) For now, I’m loving the second baby difference, and I will try to enjoy every moment. Stay tuned!

Something of a “Second Baby Strategy”

“Life is gonna go crazy!” “I’ll get no sleep!” “I’m gonna go crazy!” These are some of my thoughts lately. No matter how excited I am for my second son to make his appearance, I’m also anxious. I’m not deeply worried about any longterm disasters–because I survived the infant stage with my first son and because God is on my side–I’m just anxious. At the end of a pregnancy, when you can’t sleep well, when your hormones are running wild, and when your body tells you “things they are a changin’,”  it’s hard not to be a bit on edge.

But it’s kind of cool, too, to see how God has designed mothers to go into this preparation stage. I’ve been doing things lately that I never do–all because of an instinct I believe God planted in us women.

Not only have I been scouring thrift stores for baby things, buying non-perishable groceries in bulk, and deep cleaning my house–making physical preparations–but I have also been laying plans to help me cope emotionally. Namely, I am enlisting as much support as I can.

Enlisting support in a new state, Missouri, is not as easy as it would be in Texas or Minnesota. Here I don’t have any family nearby, which is a bummer. But I do have resources. And I’m trying to learn from my past fails of going it alone that I need to use what I have.

The Strategy

  • Keep up Parents’ Day Out. A couple months ago Sam started a twice weekly Parents’ Day Out program. I thought of discontinuing this when the baby comes (because it will be harder to get three of us out the door, and will it really be worth the three hours’ break once I drive across town and drive back home and drive back to get him?), but then I thought better of it. It’s not just good for Sam to get out and about, it’s also good for me. When Sam was an infant, I was afraid to take him places because I never knew how he would act. I was unsure in my mothering and my ability to handle him. But I am vowing not to be so scared with Seth. It’s better for us to get out and about sometimes, and for Sam to interact with other kids and adults, and we will.
  • Join MOPS. I inquired on a MOPS group near my home several months ago, only to be told it was full. But two weeks ago they emailed and said several mothers had dropped out, and they invited me to join. Again, I considered skipping this extra hassle (too much work to get the kids out the door, and who knows how they will act when we get there?), but then wisdom convinced me otherwise. If I shunned this group, I would be shunning just exactly the kind of support I’ll need at just exactly the right time–I know, from my first baby, that I’ll need other mothers to talk to. And without family or many friends nearby, how else will I get this if not from a group like MOPS?
  • Lower Expectations at Home. This is a constant project in my life. I’ve always been an overachiever in my life’s pursuits, and once I became a full-time homemaker, it was no different: I wanted to have a clean house, healthy home-cooked meals, and an orderly schedule for my family. And after the first year of Sam’s life, I was starting to learn how to achieve these things (though not always simultaneously). But once #2 comes, I know all of these things won’t be possible, not right away. Maybe not even for a couple years. So I am praying for God to relax my perfectionism, and I am practicing being okay with some convenience meals and messy counters and laundry that waits until the weekend.
  • Make the Most of Weekends. With less ability to get house things done by myself, I plan to make the most of my weekends. Buc has been a great help while I’ve been pregnant–he’s helped with laundry, watching Sam, and random nesting projects when I’ve asked him–and I intend to keep enlisting his help when life gets even crazier. That will mean saving projects I can’t get to for nights and weekends. At the same time, I don’t want to put undue demands on my husband, who works hard at his job to support us. So, after I have prayerfully decided what expectations I can lower or drop, I will calmly and nicely ask Buc to help with what remains.
  • Bottle Feed as Soon as I Need to. I don’t want to even attempt describing the emotional roller coaster that breastfeeding Sam (or trying to breastfeed Sam) sent me into two years ago. It’s something I’ll write more about in my second memoir. But I learned this: I’m going to save my family the stress and struggle this time around. Yes, I will give breastfeeding a try while I have extra help at the house. But when my sweet niece leaves to go back to Texas, and when Buc goes back to work, if I don’t have enough milk, I won’t hesitate to introduce formula. God has blessed us with the money to afford this, and I will do what is best for all of us.

For now, those are the big strategy items. Oh yes, and prayer. I will be relying on lots of prayer for strength, energy, and wisdom. If you believe in the power of prayer, I wouldn’t mind if you sent up some extra prayers for me. Beyond that, I’ll also take your second-baby tips in the comments! Thanks in advance; and thanks, as always, for reading.

Living Large: Awaiting a Book and Baby!

Somewhere between 34 and 35 weeks. I keep losing count.

Two big and awesome things are happening in my life right now: I am expecting my second son and my second published book sometime next month. Currently I don’t have many words available to describe my feelings–what with prego brain and book revisions squeezing me dry–but I can say this: “Thank you, Jesus.”

I am thankful that two of the best parts of my life are converging right now.

I am thankful that a publisher, Pacific Press, picked up my book so that I don’t have to keep lugging around an unfinished dream…and so I can now concentrate more fully on my kids.

And I am thankful that God continues to surprise me with this life I once thought I didn’t want to live.

This past week as I reread my manuscript in a breathless four days, scouring it for last-minute corrections, I had fun remembering all the  delightful surprises God had laid in store for me years ago.

The manuscript, now entitled Ending the Pain: A True Story About Overcoming Depression, begins with me, a depressed college student, giving up on God and giving up on life. The first chapter ends with me writing my suicide note. Then we jump chronology back to age seven so I can explain how I got to this point.

Once back to the suicide scene, the manuscript chronicles my failed attempt and then moves through the tough year after–a year in which I emerge from the mental hospital disgusted with my new start. It’s a new start I don’t want, with a clean slate that is “blank, but not in a good way.” I have no goals, no plans, no dreams. The one goal I had, to end the pain, has been taken from me by doctors, nurses, and family members who say I cannot kill myself. But there’s absolutely no one who can give me to will to live…no one but God.

After some futile attempts to numb my pain (sleazy guys, bulimia), things start happening in my life that can only be attributed to the Divine: I meet a great Christian guy from Texas, doors literally start closing in Minnesota (I go to work one day to find my restaurant has closed), and I am compelled to pack up my rusty Cavalier and move my sorry life 1,000 miles from home to start over again. One year to the day after my discharge from the mental hospital, at a measly twenty years old, I find myself in the “Gendke Love Chapel” (my now-in-laws’ living room) getting married to a man I’ve only known six months.

Lest you think the story ends there–because so many stories end with a wedding–know that we are only one-third into the book…and I am still w-a-a-a-y depressed beneath a good-churchy-girl-looking exterior.

What follows is the rest of the story of how I got un-depressed–a story that is often simplified or glossed over in Christian literature. We’re supposed to accept Christ and have a new life instantly, promise so many preachers and Bible teachers. But real-life recovery from depression (and crappy childhoods, I’ll just add) is slow and hard; often it seems unattainable. My goal with the last two-thirds of my book was to explain just what it looked like to find God and gain a new life in Christ when, for so many years, I felt him doing nothing.

It’s too much to describe in this blog post, but if you suffer from depression or just need a new start in Christ, I hope you’ll stay tuned for more details on my book’s release.

Until then, if you want a preview of what’s in my book, check out my seven-part “Ugly, Messy Rebirth” series–or, if you just want to get to the heart of matter, read this post for some practical tips on what most helped me turn a corner in my battle with depression and in my relationship with God.

Here’s to a God who “makes all things new” when we let him (Rev. 21:5), a God who has prepared a future for me–and for you–that we haven’t even imagined (1 Cor. 2:9).

At the End of the Year, a Look Back…

missouri welcomes youAnother year is coming to a close, and as I can’t help doing, I’m already making plans for 2016. Namely, with baby #2 on the way, I’m looking at down-sizing my goals, and maybe hiring a quarter-time nanny with my book advance.

But what happened to my 2015 goals/resolutions? I did think about them some over the year, and I even wrote the germ of this post in May to check my progress…but my goals got somewhat swallowed up in our baby news, move, and continuous travel.

So before I leave this ambitious stage of life to enter another round of infant craziness, here’s a look back at how my 2015 resolutions played out.

(See my original New Year’s Resolutions post here, and its sister “plan” post here):

Resolution 1: Focus on my Family

 Oh, putting my family first this year was a paradigm shift! I realized that I had often made writing my primary focus, to the point of making it an idol (yikes). But with the resolutions I made, The Love Dare, and God’s help, I no doubt grew in this area.

Family Photo 2015

Here are some family and motherhood gains I made over the year:

  • I learned to be mostly nice (or at least not say anything mean) to my husband in the mornings—AKA the time of day when things are at their craziest and I at my most stressed.
  • Buc and I started implementing more date nights to preserve our marriage in this busy time of toddlerhood. While we don’t always achieve a weekly date night, we both recognize the importance of sitting and talking on a regular basis. It’s encouraging how you can stave off marital stresses with a little focused, face-to-face communication.
  • I learned to make singing with Sam a regular part of our day. If you will recall, singing with Sam did not come naturally to me at first, even though I am a musical person (I still have early childhood/teen roots to write through on my issues with music). But now singing comes easily.
  • At first I listed out one song a week, because I was not in the habit of singing with Sam AT ALL—like, not a note all day long. But having the list helped initially to remind me to sing. So did playing some kids’ CDS we got for Sam’s baby shower. I listened to 100 different Bible songs over and over, until I could sing most of them, and now singing comes pretty naturally. I am not writing down a song each week anymore, because I don’t need to. Singing has, happily, become a habit (and this is a great depression fighter).
  • We don’t yet have family devotions every night with Daddy—can you believe the day gets away from us before we can even sometimes sing songs with Sam? But we do have a family prayer, and Daddy has told me he is taking more responsibility for including this in our day.
  • I am happy to say I made some photo memories and mementos in 2015: I filled several photo albums with prints I already had, and then I transitioned into the world of electronic photo albums. I made an album for Sam on Shutterfly documenting his second six months.IMG_2106
  • I also made a family wall of pictures and decorated our living area with group shots of family and friends. These little touches made it so nice to come home from TX and MN visits; I had a living space that surrounded me with loved ones even though they were far away.

Resolution 2: Make Healthy Choices for My Family and Myself

 So, to sum this one up, I didn’t stick perfectly with my plan to eat healthy (here’s a second post about this, too)—I think I began to derail when chocolate Easter bunnies hit the shelves—but overall, our diet is pretty darn good…and I finally lost all my (first) baby weight at fourteen months postpartum. At thirty-ish weeks pregnant with #2, I am keeping to a healthier weight gain, and I don’t expect to put on the 50 pounds I did last time.

I must report that at Sam’s fifteen-month appointment, his pediatrician raised concerns about his slow growth and encouraged me to give him juice and more sweets (“he’ll use the sugar for extra calories” he said)—so I started to. It didn’t happen right away, but in the second half of this year, Sam’s and my diet got a little “junkier,” although still not bad—and now Sam is in a picky eating phase, which I am told is “normal,” and which I am trying to patiently wait out.

Here is Sam, pictured with adorable cousin Kendall, stuffing his face with Fruit Loops (he calls them ABCs) on Thanksgiving.

A distant goal is to diversify our diet a little more, only because I like variety, but this will come slowly, because Buc does NOT like variety. So I am not killing myself to crack the cookbooks right now. I did join our potluck team at church so I can have an excuse to try new recipes from time to time…

Resolution 3: Get pregnant in 2015 with my second, and final, child

 This goal was unquestionably met, and it didn’t take too long. It was in June, after a few failed home pregnancy tests, that I got the news from my new OB that I was, surprise, expecting! It was a funny way to find out, because this was exactly how I found out with Sam: I was just going to a new OB’s office for a meet-and-greet to discuss getting pregnant…and lo and behold, at the end of both appointments, I found out I was!

Resolution 4: Write When I Can, and When It Doesn’t Interfere with Family Time

Writing time definitely went down this year, but with the recent book acceptance, I feel God really blessed the time I was able put in. I made some of the most important revisions and added some of the most important scenes to my memoir in 2015—or the ones that sold the book.

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At the beginning of the year, I also proudly maintained weekly blog posts and I ambitiously set a goal of writing and submitting five magazine articles this year. After the first article was written and rejected, and the second one unraveled, I put that goal aside, along with my blog for a time, because it was clear my priorities needed recalibrating. I did have this article published online in March.

Currently, I am aiming to stay “active” on my blog (not quite sure what that will mean with baby #2), trying to refrain from making any time-bound writing goals, and striving to let God show me when more projects will be ready to come together. I am heartened to remember that my memoir, and previous magazine articles I published, sat in various states of undone for years before God gave me their conclusions, or their unifying themes. I trust him to make clear when it’s time to take on more projects.

As You Make Goals for 2016…

For those of you working on new habits, goals, or resolutions, here’s a little wisdom I’ve learned: Goals and resolutions are good for us; they give us purpose and direction and by all means should be pursued. But once a goal is no longer helpful, or your needs change, or you accomplish your goal, feel free to drop it or change it. Resolutions should be guidelines for life, not ironclad rules. As life changes, we need to change with it.