National Pet Day

In honor of yesterday as National Pet Day, I wanted to write a post that shared the furry friends who have been part of our life over the years.

We started with a stray cat we found under our car in our first apartment. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any pictures of Jenny before she was reclaimed by the local drug dealer in our complex!

Next came Maggie, who we had before we had children. She was our first baby, and I think she thought she was human. She was with us for 16 years.

Then we had Alex – a kitten who hid in Chris’ underwear drawer, and who was an awesome companion to Maggie.

Next came Allie.

We found Bob when he’d been hit by a car. “Bob bites” might have been our daughter’s first sentence.

Then Arthur. The opposite of Bob. Our son learned to stand by pushing off of Arthur’s belly. He was so tolerant!

Then we got Abbie and Archie, who we had for 15 years.

Next came Ella, a hound dog who stopped listening whenever she caught a great scent.

Finally, we acquired Annabelle and now Henry. They have bonded well, and keep us company all day – and night – long!

We love our fur-babies!

Am I Supposed To Write A Book?

In my last post, I mentioned writing a book. And I decided that I don’t need initials after my name to be an expert – particularly since it’s my story. Who knows it better than me, besides God? (“You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” Psalms‬ ‭139:16‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

Ted first suggested it, many years ago. He said it during several of our therapy sessions. He thinks “I have a book in me.”

While living in Florida, my then-therapist Elizabeth told me that she, too, thinks I should write a book. She said it almost every time she saw me – that I should write it all down. And she’d buy it!

Carol and Anne and Stacy have been encouraging. So has Jane. Even Dad a little. I have support from several friends who think I could do it.

From where will I get my story? I began journaling consistently in March 2008 – right at the beginning of my depression journey. And I wrote lots! Some days I wrote several times throughout the hours, especially when I was in the depths of the darkness. How do I even begin to sort through them? I’ve developed a color-coding system with 3M sticky arrows, to highlight different entries I wrote that might be significant to outlining the book. Now to read through all 17 journals and flag them appropriately!

I also began to write email summaries of my appointments with Ted, often with questions for clarification, and I kept a copy of most of them. I wrote in Docs at work when I didn’t have my journal, so I have those notes. And finally, I joined WordPress to try blogging. Maybe I should print out these things and flag them as well.

I can add to this what I learned when I facilitated the depression support group at my old church. My friend advised when I shared with the attendees, I should simply start with my current situation. “Start with where you are.”

So, is that what I do if I want to write a book? Start with where I am now? Or start with the beginning of the journey? How will it be different from blogging? How do I know to whom I’m writing – who is my audience?

I’d like to write a memoir or devotional of the time of my life when I first experienced depression, up to present-day struggles. To explain to Christian women with depression (there’s my audience) that it’s possible to have hope in Christ in spite of having a mental illness. That I am not my depression – I’m a beloved daughter of the King, and so are they. I want to offer them this hope, as I found it in my journey through the desert of depression.

There are many tools and organizations available to me to help me write this book. A friend of mine just recently published his first book, and he recommended a writing program. Perhaps I’ll use one of those to keep me organized and on-task, and to give me regular feedback in the process. I took a one day writing workshop a few months ago – I need to get the workbook out and finish those exercises. They’ll help me be disciplined, too. Perhaps these tools can give me an idea of the order in which I tell my story.

No matter what, I think I know what my next adventure is. Let the writing begin!

What makes an expert?

I’ve been pondering the word “expert.” What makes someone an expert in an area? Could I be one? Do I need initials after my name to be considered particularly knowledgeable?

Merriam-Webster defines expert as: “having, involving, or displaying special skill or knowledge derived from training or experience.”

If experience is enough, then maybe I’m an expert in depression. I’ve lived with it for 10+ years. I’ve blogged about it for several years; indeed, the focus of my blog is being a Christ-follower who has depression. And I’ve read a lot about the subject, from textbooks to memoirs. I’ve started writing down my own story in a book draft.

Probably because this is an area of struggle for me, I find the topic of depression intriguing. I’m slowly building my personal library of books on the subject. My list of authors on my Book Buddy app who I’ve yet to read is 20+ titles. I regularly read several mental health blogs.

At my most recent appointment, my therapist asked me why I wasn’t a counselor. Funny thing… I’ve thought a lot about that. Way back in my early college years, I thought I wanted to be a psychologist. Then as I got tired of school, I decided getting a PhD was too much work, so I nixed the idea. But I’ve come back around, and am intrigued by her suggestion. I’ve spent the last couple of days researching online Master’s counseling programs.

I want to help people through mental health challenges. I love my role as a facilitator in the Fresh Hope support group. Tuesday night is the highlight of my week, as we meet and talk about what it means to live with a mental illness. I love navigating the discussions and leading the group. As I’ve said before, I feel like this support group is a way for me to give back, from all the help and encouragement I’ve received as I’ve journeyed with depression. It’s an answer to prayer, from when I begged God to not waste my experience in the darkness.

I love families, and family dynamics. I find them fascinating. I’d like to help people build healthy family and marriage relationships.

I’d also like to be an expert in the field of counseling. Of mental health. To have those initials behind my name. So that when I write my book, I’ll be taken seriously.

But returning to the dictionary’s definition, I don’t need those letters. My experience, my research and reading, may be enough.

Maybe I do know what I’m talking about.

On the mend

I met with my psych doc this morning – a follow-up to last month’s med increase. I scored a 4 on the PHQ-9, which is still mild depression, but better than last time I saw him.

I told him that I could tell I was on the up-swing. I’m not feeling hopelessness anymore. My husband and I are dealing with a major life event, and it didn’t send me plummeting; I’m handling this stressful situation without succumbing to great distress.

I’m able to track a whole Netflix show – that’s improvement. I’m reaching out to relationships again instead of wanting to isolate – I joined a women’s Bible Study. I haven’t gone back to volunteering, but I hope to soon. I’m sleeping through the night again, instead of the 2-hour-middle-of-the-night insomnia.

I’m still struggling to concentrate when reading. I’m trying to follow Noom, but can’t seem to stay in my calorie allowance, so I’m a bit discouraged at my lack of self-discipline. That’s an improvement, though; before, I didn’t care.

I’ve mentioned my new therapist and our difficulties in timeliness. But I’ve decided that I really like talking to her, so I’m just going to build in some extra time around our appointments, knowing there will probably be some delays. It feels good to have that decided.

My husband and I have some major changes coming up in our near future, and I need to manage those with gentleness. I’ve asked friends to pray, and we’re following God’s direction for our next steps. I know that if I’m seeking His will, He will direct our path. Today’s blog post from Fresh Hope was very timely – about managing a mental health diagnosis in the midst of change. Just what I needed to hear. Thank You, Lord, for those reminders.

“Year 2 ! It’s a tradition!”

I met my only cousin on my dad’s side last night for an event and dinner. It’s the second time in two years. Before that, it had probably been 10 years since we’d seen each other.

We didn’t grow up together with lots of cousin visits. I have a few pictures of us as kids – she’s a little older than me, and her family lived far away, so we just didn’t see each other much.

We reconnected via WordPress University – a blogging class that WordPress offered several years ago. We both blog – she about her family genealogies, and me about depression as a Christ follower. We were excited to share comments back and forth as we read each other’s blogs. She has done quite a bit of research on our grandfather, and it’s been so fun to read about our grandparents and their families.

A year ago, she told me she was coming to the area for the Virginia Festival of the Book. So I found a presentation on mental health books, and we met there. We enjoyed the panel, but had even more fun at dinner and a wine bar. I spent the night in her hotel room – she showed me love letters from our Papa Joe to his wife Kitty. We really had a great time reconnecting.

This year’s Festival of the Book rolled around, and we met for a panel last night, then went to a local pub. It was fun again to connect and catch up. And we made plans for June when my folks visit, to take a trip to Washington D.C. and see places of our dads’ and grandparents history! She’ll be the guide, as she knows the places. But we’re expecting “the trip down memory lane” to spark some stories from my dad. I’m excited!

And I’m so happy to have renewed a relationship. The older I get, the more important family is to me. So I’m thrilled that “cuz” and I have a new tradition. Two years and counting!