Depression trigger incidents

About a week ago, Ellis plopped herself next to me on the couch and asked what I was writing on my blog. When she says something funny, she always asks me to put it on my blog and to say that she said it. She’ll take silly selfies or blurry pictures of our pet fish and ask me to post them. She probably thought it was a post like that.

Turning my face to hers, I quickly closed my computer and said “nothing.”

She’s learning how to read, so I can imagine her sounding out “depression.” Too young to talk about it with her. But this incident made me reflect on the unintended consequences of what I’m sharing.

This mental health issue started before Ellis’ heart journey. I wanted to clarify that, because I have been writing sporadically about it in my blog. In each of those posts, I reference it back to my current life circumstance of raising a heart child. However, it’s been a long-standing issue.

Last night a new thought occurred to me: what if in the future Ellis blames herself for my problem? In no way do I want that. This problem is mine.

It started years before having children and came to a full meltdown in 2009. Years of pent-up stress, meeting familial expectations, exhaustion, feeling lonely, no job prospect after graduation, student loans, and fears of failing at the last step overwhelmed me the day before defending my dissertation.

I never knew my knees could shake and buckle like that in public and wanting to just shut myself into a room. I went down to the subway station to take the train to Korean town for comfort food. Well, the place started spinning and I began to sweat while short of breath. I put one foot into the subway, thought I would collapse once the doors closed, and jumped out right before the doors closed.

Claustrophobia and panic attack: in the middle of rush hour in Midtown NYC.

I’ve had previous episodes, but the 2009 one was the most blatantly painful one that showed me what a meltdown looked like. In that phase of my life, I coped by avoiding uncomfortable situations that triggered panic, worry for days if I had to go to a new place, or gritting my teeth with a smile when the panic set in.

The first time I sought professional help was with postpartum depression. I dreaded going to the doctor assuming they’d put me in the ward. When I left for the doctor’s office, I asked Chris not to be surprised if I didn’t come home for a few days. I shared the same concern with the doctor, only to be told that many new moms suffer from postpartum depression.The depression saga continues with ups and downs. This is the first time seeking help for medication management outside of a general practitioner’s prescription, which is an unfamiliar thing for me. I want to step away from the the cloud constantly hanging over my head.

My ambivalence with seeing a psychiatrist keeps me from seeking God. He has compassion on me. Like a friend said, the mind is part of our body and it needs medical attention too. There’s no shame for a cancer patient who takes medication or seeks treatment.

However, there’s an unhealthy perception that I haven’t prayed harder or my faith is weak. Is it bad to want to be happy? And what happens afterwards when I am no longer sad and anxious? Lots of soul searching and feeling torn in wanting to get better but scared to go there as well. I know…it’s a dilemma.

ahhhh, to look at the ocean and feel its breeze

The depression funk

Feeling depressed is not a new thing for me since I’ve been dealing with it for many years. But when the intense feelings of sadness and hopelessness surge, it’s more than I can handle on my own. For years friends and Ellis’ doctors have urged me to seek psychological help. Parents of chronically ill children develop psychological symptoms similar to combat soldiers in war, like PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Every time we come home from one of Ellis’ appointments or any health-related scares, I’m emotionally spent and pretty much useless for the rest of the day. I run on adrenaline and stress; don’t have time to tend to myself. Once it’s over, I’m a basket case. Those fear emotions don’t stop there. The vigilance continues, as well as the pressure to provide a good growing up experience for both kids.

Rather than giving myself grace that this is a difficult experience, I tend to berate myself for being weak and unproductive. It’s a vicious cycle.

But you get used to certain things, even negative ones. I am so familiar with the depression pain hanging over me that I just accept it as a part of my life. Frequent nightmares are scary but you get used to that too.

This time I am slowly reaching out for extra help. I realize it involves work and perseverance; instead of just calling off the day as “done” or “bad,” I push myself to go outside with the kids. I finally talked with a psychiatrist. *gulp* *gulp* I just said it. Why does it have to be so hard? Why do I give the stigma more power by trying to hide it?!

I know that dealing with these mental health issues does not make me a bad Christian, yet so much shame is associated with it. This is old-school thinking I grew up with. I should be able to pray it out or have more faith. Yep, all that old, unhelpful stuff. It’s hard to talk about it because it takes too much time and words.

Just as much as the body hurts, so does the mind. I don’t doubt God loves me and helps me in my tough times. He’s done it plenty of times before and is still working. It takes time to heal and God is doing something new in me. What that new thing is is ambiguous.

eeek, this has become a vulnerable post. I’m working things out in the midst of life’s stresses and this unprecedented pandemic. I was conflicted about publishing a post so personal, but if I omitted this issue, this blog would not represent my life trekk.

This is a messy and painful journey, but I’m glad to be able to share it with you!

Insomnia: a good time to pray

I’m going through the mundane motions of everyday life and thought I was doing okay. Then, I started to feel the side effects of days-long insomnia, which I didn’t even know I had.

Falling asleep at 4 a.m. from sheer exhaustion and a mind feeling wobbly were just not normal. This kind of explained the daytime restlessness, fatigue, and irritability.

My mind and body sometimes don’t act as a team. Painful emotions show up through psychosomatic symptoms, and bursts of sadness that make me cry when I’m driving or walking to the mailbox tells me something is not right.

This insomnia was that psychosomatic response. This COVID-19 is unprecedented profoundly affecting people’s lives. Big unanswerable questions linger; you realize people are suffering. When this danger diminishes, how will life change? When we emerge from our homes and resume activities, what will stay the same? different? Do I need to seriously consider growing my own vegetables? How long will the recovery take? Will this virus keep us home for many more months? Ack!! Only speculations and little to no answers.

During meal-time prayer with the kids, we thank God for provisions and we pray for peace, healing, and health. I end by asking God for a miracle in this situation. I don’t know what that miracle would involve or if God will do it. But after a conversation with my mother-in-law (which begins with concerned lecturing about how we are to wear and sanitize our masks, did we finally buy those bottles of Vitamin C, are we gargling day and night with lukewarm salt water, etc.), I realized that my view of a miracle is shortsighted.

She then asked how the kids were handling this situation. I told her that kids have been asking questions and they’ve been praying for a miracle. I mentioned that specifically, because I could imagine her nodding with approval.

After a pause though, she said miracles are not always the big and earth-shattering things. We have to trust God’s plans. I forget exactly what she said, but it had something to do with miracles happen in small sizes too.

Even though she disagreed with my view, I was grateful for this perspective shift.

It must’ve been my night of clearing up webs in my heart: a quick text message to a good friend turned into a long conversation about how my life is going. My friend D., who is my buddy and second line of contact after Chris, shows me how a friend sympathizes but also challenges you to go farther in your faith. She’s seen me at my worst: when I’m in the throes of hospital emergencies for Ellis, or the most recent incident of being stranded in a dark parking lot after flinging my keys into the metal donation bin. In all those times, she reminds me to pray. It’s not what I want to hear but it’s so true. This was in connection to my recent insomnia. Why didn’t I bring it to God first?

I know…I don’t want to admit that I waste a lot of time scrolling through social media and entertaining myself with the unfolding drama of the royal family. I thought God would call me a fool for being a bad steward of time and tell me I deserve having sleep troubles…time and time again.

In desperation last night, I prayed in bed waiting for sleep and just talking to God finally thanking him for Easter and saying sorry for ignoring him. It wasn’t a miraculous falling asleep, like conking out at “Dear God,” but it was a restful sleep without nightmares. Again, he doesn’t withdraw but draws closer in my weaknesses.

God is good. Instead of a thunder bolt each time I sin, he gives me peace and grace. He loves me, us, so much that we have Good Friday as a reminder of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice for sinners.

With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26

For I am the Lord, who heals you.” Exodus 15:26

Some rambles in quarantine

* this post has been through many edits. I keep seeing holes here and there, thus the rewording and reorganization. Just letting you know. And of course, thank you dear readers for reading and for being here!!

Our family is made up of homebodies. We spend a lot of time at home, but this sheltering-in-place and social distancing are taking it to the extreme. All the news inform that staying home is the best solution: it’ll flatten the curve and hopefully prevent further spreading of this super contagious COVID-19. But even if you wanted to go out, it’s a scary prospect. You could catch it from non-symptomatic individuals or we could be carriers and unknowingly spread it. Too risky!

So we feel grateful to be home and for our health. We are extra vigilant to protect Ellis too: her underlying medical condition makes her more vulnerable. Though many people are stuck at home riding out this pandemic, there’s mounting fear concerning the present situation for ourselves and family, health issues, job situation, economy, and what the future holds. Click on a new’s story and be prepared for a meltdown; death toll keeps climbing, new cases mounting, protective gear in low supply for medical workers, and surgeon general’s warning that this upcoming week will be the “hardest, saddest.” Unreal. Cue…panic attack.

A lesson I’m learning through all this is that plans are only plans. I’m not a planner at all: the word itself gives me a migraine. But I still have broad ideas of what we would be doing the next couple of months, in terms of homeschooling, appointments, summer activities, goals to achieve etc. Then, when the first quarantine happened, my very vague plans suddenly became nothing but a past concern. Now, it’s a day-to-day thing.

For the past 2 weeks, I feel my mind sorting through this deadly reality. It’s all a confused, incoherent jumble at present. So much to digest as life turns inward and reality flipped upside down. But my plan (eeek, I said it!) Is to use this solid block of time to make memories with my family and dig up old things to do again. I aim to do that in bits, because this making memory thing is a laborious process testing my patience when kids get into everything and simple activities become elaborate disasters. Will we have stories to share when this is behind us.

Through it all, I’m working on strengthening my affirmation that God is in the business of performing miracles and bringing goodness out of awful situations. He’s done them before in amazing ways. However, the walk was and is not easy…so many perils, questions, unknowns, losses, and paralyzing fears. Reassurance is that a powerful God who raised Jesus from the dead walks with us through the darkest valleys. He’s that kind of powerful. I’m sticking with him.

Praying that you stay safe and healthy. And here’s an empowering thought from pastor Jud Wilhite’s sermon yesterday:

“You can make yourself miserable or you can make today memorable.”

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” – Philippians 4:6

7 years in a nutshell

Seven years ago tonight, I arrived at the hospital to get induced for labor at 36 weeks. It was a fearful night full of unknowns and insecurity. The birth plan was for the baby to be born the next afternoon, so she could be taken to the NICU for care before the shift change for the medical team.

I didn’t know if the next day was going to be the worst day of my life: would we see our newborn and begin the medical care to bring her home soon, or were we going to leave the hospital with news that every parent dreads?

For 16 weeks, our family prepared for the best and the worst. When we first found out that our 20 week fetus had a congenital heart defect called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS), we were terrified from the news and prospect of how we would be able to navigate the future. Doctors sat us down telling us the hardships ahead: surgeries, emergencies, hospitalizations, oxygen saturation, weight and eating issues, feeding tubes, etc. We were lucky to have found out early on, because she could get timely intervention after birth. In some unfortunate cases, the condition is discovered after birth and doctors can lose valuable time to give appropriate care. If no surgical intervention is involved, the condition is fatal.

After the first surgery, the most precarious time would be the first year with survival rates of 20-60%.

Our faces turned white and breathing short. After the doctors explained the diagnosis of this condition, we were counseled with the option to terminate. Feeling like I was in a dream, I had to ask the doctor how much time I had to decide. Chris and I said nothing to each other on the drive home. We picked up lunch, ate at home, and took a nap. Elliot, 1 1/2 year old at the time, was mad that we had the audacity to nap and not give him attention: he came over and bonked us on the head with an empty plastic milk carton. That was his nonverbal cue for ‘I want milk.’

It took us a few days to process the news. We didn’t talk about it, and when we finally discussed it, we both agreed this baby was God’s special gift and he had good plans for us: difficult but good. And the rest is history. It’s been indescribably difficult with lots of unexpected hospital trips, constant nightmares, depression, and a heart held in fear of the worst.

Yet in the storm, God has blessed us so much through her. We call her the ‘game changer,’ because our lives turned upside down when she arrived. What we foresaw for the future stayed in the plan phase. I couldn’t have imagined this kind of life or have wanted it, but now I can’t imagine something different. In difficult times God never lets us down. This is weird to say yet some of my fondest memories are these hospital stays, which made me realize that memorable moments do not only mean happy experiences but hard ones too. We talk about those times with tenderness, disbelief, and humor in recalling what happened. On occasion, Elliot still talks about the day I cried and had to drop him off at our neighbor’s house when I had to drive Ellis to the E.R. He says the chips he had with our neighbor that day was the best ever.

These experiences try our spirits and stretches our faith. We kick and scream, metaphorically, when we think Ellis is getting sick again casting a dark gloom over me. Chris knows that I get super sensitive and start yelling. Don’t ask: I just do because he asks questions, that seem non-common sense about what to do. We know this is my coping mechanism, so he’s aware it’s not a personal attack.

But I love my little girl with her funny laughs, wild hair, and spunkiness. The best is when she hugs me and loves on me at random times. One time I had a nightmare and cried in my sleep. It was late at night but she woke up, turned over, and patted me on my back saying, “Mommy, it’s okay. You’re just tired.” The she fell back asleep. It’s like she was the comforter that night.

We’ve been through a lot together and have seen each other at rock bottom. We’ve cried holding each other for different reasons, but fear was the underlying motivation. But when I feel her warm arms around me, I’m reminded how God has made her stronger and bigger all these years. A miracle.

God had different plans for us; plans we wanted to refuse at first. Still, we don’t know what the future holds but we trust God by looking at how he has brought us through the sudden storms. Moments when my heart drop from terror of the worst outcome, I can do nothing but sigh and give it to God. I don’t do this because I’m super holy or have great faith. The weight of the issue drowns me and it’s so deep that I can only give it to God for keeping my heart safe.