My ultra-boring life

Monday, January 31, 2011

Finding blessings

I am unable to have children.  I had problems with my body from the time I was young and the hysterectomy I had four years ago kind of sealed the deal.  On top of that, adoption is very difficult and expensive, and with depression at the level I suffer it, impossible. 

When I was younger, I imagined that I would grow up, get married, and have kids.  I always thought getting married would be the hard part.  It was hard...but at least it's possible.  Now I have a great husband, and I'm getting used to not having kids.  It's...interesting.

The LDS church is a very family-oriented church.  After Christ, family is the number one focus.  I have heard many people complain that because they are single or because they can't have kids, that they don't fit in or feel welcome.  I find that not to be true.  While it is true that there have been hard times and even a few misunderstandings (especially in the early days when people didn't understand why I was childless), I have found my faith invaluable to coping with loneliness and childlessness.  Any offense that was felt was because I took it -- not because it was given.  

There is a parable about a young man who went to God and asked him to make him strong.  God told him to go to a certain large boulder and push it up a hill.  Excited that he would be strong, the young man went to the boulder and pushed and pushed, but was unable to budge it.  Discouraged, he went back the next day to God, who told him to try it again.  Again he tried, but again he failed.  Over and over again the young man was told to push the boulder up the hill, and over and over again he could not do it.  Finally, in despair, he went to God.  "I guess I will never be strong," he said.  "Go look in the mirror," said God.  When the young man did, he found that he was bulging with muscles.  Pushing that rock every day had made him strong, though he had never been able to move it. 

So it is with life.  I have realized that the Lord gives us exactly what we need.  If we are bad, He often lets bad consequences happen to help us learn to stop.  If we are weak, He often gives us hard exercises to help us to become strong.  If we continue in faith, obedient and true to the course, we will be blessed, though often not in ways that we originally anticipated or wanted. 

I know that many people struggle with depression while having children.  But for me, that wasn't what was best.  Whether I am too weak to deal with both challenges or whether I have other roles to fulfill, or both, I don't know.  All I know is that there are blessings in this life, with or without children, with or without spouses, with or without many blessings we once thought of as necessary.  If we are faithful, we shall have everything good in the eternities.  Does the Lord know best, or doesn't He?  I believe that He does. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Kid History - Episode 3

Kid History - Episode 2

Kid History - Episode 1

Memory and plug for myfamily.com

Isn't it funny the things we remember?  For instance, I don't remember a heck of a lot from most of my classes the first time I went to college.  Certain things stick out, certainly, but I doubt I could do a differential equation to save my life.  But I remember that one of my friends had total and complete eyebrow control.  Because that was cool, I guess.  Useless, but cool.  Why can't I remember more of the useFUL things? 

BTW, any of you readers of my blog to which I am related -- please please please go and join the Pack myfamily.com site at http://www.myfamily.com/group/12011276 so I can excuse paying for the site!  Besides, aunt Janet posted some important but kind of private stuff on there that you need to read.  It's actually a pretty cool site.  Anyway, see you there!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Birds





Here's a picture Jake took of some owls in our next-door-neighbor's tree.  We hear them all the time.  I think they are Great Horned Owls.  Cool, eh?  We also went today to the Birds of Prey sanctuary place in Boise, that was awesome.  Got to see hawks and eagles and condors and all sorts of birds.  Learned lots of stuff.

Friday, January 14, 2011

From the Darkness

1st essay from Non-fiction writing

                The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.  – Henry David Thoreau, Walden

                According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the preeminent authority on psychiatric diagnoses, major depressive disorder is characterized by the following symptoms: either a depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities consistently for over two weeks, marked functional impairment, morbid preoccupation with worthlessness, suicidal ideation, psychotic symptoms (i.e., perceiving things not as they really are), psychomotor retardation, hypersomnia nearly every day, or fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
                Check. 
                Check.
                Check.  Check.  Check.
                Before I was born, symptoms of depression would sometimes rear their ugly heads in my family.  I have a great aunt who committed suicide, as did her daughter.  I have closer relatives with many symptoms of depression, often left untreated.   Some of my earliest memories include staying up all night terrified of an otherwise uneventful day at school, throwing up because I forgot to return a nickel to a classmate, or becoming feverish and hallucinating after being exposed to swimming pools or lakes, of which I was somewhat phobic.  I grew up with fear and trepidation and a generally negative view of the world, despite a loving home environment and the best of parents.
                Over time, my illness became more subtle and more pernicious.  Less vomiting, more perfectionism, fewer hallucinations, more internally negative thoughts.  Going to college in the late eighties taught me much more than pure academia, including positive ways of thinking, and the fact that I was loved by others beyond my family.  I still remember the day it happened.  A friend took me to his parents’ house on the way to an activity, and they couldn’t stop talking about how neat I was because he had been talking about me.  For someone with depression, this was amazing – that people thought about me, positively, when I wasn’t there.  They even talked about me!  At times like this I actually felt joy.  But the stress to perform was tremendous.  It wasn’t good enough to simply pass a class, I needed to make at least a B.  I needed to have more than acquaintances; I needed a legion of best friends.  It wasn’t enough to simply be involved in activities outside of school, I had to be involved with everything.  It wasn’t long before I, like Shakespeare’s Danish prince, wondered,
To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life
Those thoughts were a profound warning sign.  Friends and church leaders persuaded me to be evaluated, and the questionnaire testing came back positive for depression.  But I didn’t have the money or the foresight to seek help beyond the evaluation yet. 
It’s hard to seek help for depression.  It takes admitting that you can’t function well on your own.  It takes a humility and meekness I did not yet have.   It takes good insurance, since not all insurance covers psychiatric care.  And it generally takes a support system that sees the problem for what it is – an illness, like cancer, the flu or MS -- rather than as a personal failing. 
Still, I fought the illness, the dark thoughts.  I surrounded myself with positive things and worked hard to stay on top of events – work, school, social life, service.   In fighting, I grew stronger, at least I thought.  However, the dopamine and serotonin receptors in my brain were determined to malfunction.  See, in depression the brain doesn’t function normally.  Generally there are problems with certain neurotransmitters, like dopamine or serotonin (things which I like to call “happy juice”), where either the brain doesn’t produce enough of them or receptors reabsorb them too quickly, before they can take proper effect.  There are many reasons why these receptors malfunction, some temporary, some permanent.  There are also many effects from the malfunction – the negative or psychotic thoughts, hypersomnia, all the symptoms I listed before.  The brain is a still a mysterious thing. 
After I moved to Idaho, my ability to cope grew progressively worse until I lost my job and found myself as though dead, a cipher scarcely able to function, unable to create.  I was unable to function in the areas I considered necessary, and I found myself withdrawing socially, failing to do service as I had, unable to read or write or enjoy or even do the daily maintenance around the house that had once seemed so simple and basic.  I had reached the point where I felt I had nothing.  In truth, by then I still had a loving husband and friends and family, a nice home, and many blessings, but I was seeing through the glass, darkly.
                Depression is like drowning.  You’re in the middle of the ocean with nothing in sight but water and more water.  You’ve been treading water for so long that every muscle aches and fatigue is swamping you.  Sometimes you feel like you can keep your head above water, but other times you can’t.  You just can’t.  It affects every aspect of your life.  A typical day consists of sleeping, eating, and more sleeping when it’s at its worst.  Even television is overwhelming and unsatisfying to the depressed, leading my sister to state, “Depression is when even TV isn’t fun anymore.”  Dishes go unwashed because they are just too overwhelming.   You don’t talk to people because what’s the point, or even worse, you feel stupid and useless and unloved.  There were times when I would come home from a social event in tears, sure that I didn’t fit in and that everyone hated me.  Every setback is a deal-breaker and every good thing is swallowed up in the sea of despair.  Even your closest relationships suffer as you feel too ugly and stupid to be loved; every show of love to you seems like a lie or a trick.  Everything is irritating, you are snappish and sullen.  And no matter how often logic and evidence tells you that things can’t possibly be this bad, your brain just isn’t working right and warps everything to fit its dark manifesto, like a twisted lens.
                There is a scripture passage in the Book of Mormon that states that there must be opposition in all things.  If not, we couldn’t tell the difference between good and bad, happiness and misery.   I had known the misery.  I had lived that cold, empty side and I had had enough of it.  I had known, briefly in college, happiness.  I had known what it was like to hope, to love, to enjoy.  I knew there was something besides that which I was feeling.  I knew it existed.  I needed to find it again.  Find it and grab a hold of it and run with it.
I began to realize that I had to make choices.  I believe it was Corrie Ten Boom, a holocaust survivor, who told us that happiness is a choice.  Horrible things happening to you are not usually a choice.  Depression was not a choice.  But how I dealt with it was a choice.  I was miserable.  But there had to be things I could do about it.  If there were no cure, then at least something must exist to take the edge off.  Would it be worth it?  Was it possible to be happy even while depressed?  I had to formulate a hypothesis and test it, the hypothesis being that there was a way to fight the depression.  If this hypothesis was correct, I could find a way to fight the depression and feel better.  But depression is a fickle master.  Under the delusions it fills your mind with, there is no way to fight it.  No hope.  Again I found myself turning to scripture, this time the eleventh chapter of Hebrews in the New Testament.  “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.”  I didn’t hope – I didn’t dare – but I wanted to.  Whether that desire could be enough I didn’t know, but I had to try it.  I had to have faith that something really could help me, and act on that faith.
There is an old adage that says “good help is hard to find,” and nowhere is that more evident than in seeking competent mental help.  I tried half a dozen counselors, one of whom told me I was sinning because I was feeling bad about myself, and half as many psychiatrists.  Even with good people helping me, psychiatry is an inexact science.  There is a lot of trial and error with the medications, some doing nothing, others making it worse, each trial being plagued with questions: is it helping?  Is it helping enough?  Is it worth the side effects?  Is there something better out there than this?  But as John Lubbock (one of a line of Barons in England) says, “Happiness is a thing to be practiced, like the violin.”  Now there are things that help me.  After years of trials, I now have medication that’s suddenly like a life preserver in that sea of despair.  No longer is every eye focused on me and every person in the room thinking how stupid I am.  No longer do I snap at everything my husband has to say.   Counseling helps as well, if for nothing else than an authority figure telling me the dark thinking is wrong.  Not bad, just not true.
The people around me, my friends and family, have to make adjustments as well.  They have to recognize the symptoms that are a call for help.   They have to help encourage me, at just the right non-threatening level, to do more.  They have to put up with someone who doesn’t function up to the abilities of a “normal” person.   But what is “normal” anyway?  What does “functioning” mean?  Holding a job?  Raising good kids?  Not blowing up at people?  The dictionary simply says that it is “conforming to the usual standard, type or custom” or “physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy.”  There isn’t a real definition of “normal” that can be applied consistently to behavior, is there?  I mean, for every culture it is going to change, including subcultures, down to individual families.  Everything that makes us different, or “abnormal,” isn’t necessarily bad.  Every tiny failure in functioning doesn’t make me unhealthy.   When it comes to depression even the definition of depression is warped by the illness.  I may therefore be better than I think I am. 
Bad things happen.  They happen to everyone.  Just because I’m depressed and I see bad things where they don’t exist doesn’t mean that I am somehow exempt from having bad things really happen.  The trick is knowing how to deal with them.  I lost jobs – I had to tell myself there were other jobs out there.  My husband lost jobs – I had to remind myself that there were things to help us even then and not to panic.  We moved, and I had to ask for help, swallow my pride, and ask for more help than I wanted to.  We have had to take care of a nephew because his drug-addled mother couldn’t.  The depression and inexperience with raising teenagers makes this difficult and I’m not doing as good of a job as I would like, but I have to remind myself that it has to be better than what he had before.  It’s really not that much different, dealing with the real problems and the depression-warped ones.  So in an odd twist of fate, perhaps according to the will of God, I am becoming stronger than some others in dealing with hardships.   I have depression every day, but perhaps this makes the bumps in the road less perceptible to me.  Depression, a blessing in disguise?  Perhaps.   To someone with my religious background and faith, it is. 
Every day I have to make choices.  What do I believe?  I believe I can fight this.  What can I do?  I can get up; I can function, however minimally.   Picking up ten things in the living room isn’t cleaning the house, but it’s better than what the depression tells me I want to do – sleep, sleep, and more sleep.  I get up.  And I get up in the morning.  I exercise.  I go out when the depression is bad and I need positive feedback.  I find commiseration in with others who suffer as I do.  I am going back to school in an effort to revive the creative part of me that was lost.  What can I be?  I can be happy.  No matter how much practice it takes.    

On going back to school


Sorry for the formatting.  I cut and pasted from Word which is simply not pretty, and I'm too lazy to go through the whole dang thing and figure out the formatting.  This is the 2nd essay I did for Non-fiction writing.  Nothing fancy in cites, but I hope you like it.

On the first day of classes, I was pretty nervous.  Would there be other older students in my classes?  How well would my aging body cope with the physical and mental strain of going back to school?  Would I stick out like a sore thumb?  What about my backpack?  Back when I went to school the first time, how you wore your backpack seemed to be pretty important with how you were observed by other students.  I didn’t want to get it wrong. 
I am a non-traditional student.
                As a former “traditional” college student, I find this difficult to admit.   There always seemed to be some sort of stigma to the non-traditional student – like they didn’t do things right in the first place.  This may be simply a product of my upbringing, but it seems in our society that we are told that life moves in a constantly improving continuum – grade school, high school, college, career and family, retirement.  Anything deviating from this line is not “normal” and should be avoided – though very, very few Americans actually follow this pattern in the first place.  Non-traditional students are only one of many roles that deviate from this false norm.
                The term “non-traditional student” isn’t that easy to define.  According to Wikipedia, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) says that most of the time it involves age and part-time status – in other words, if you are older than “just out of high school” and/or are going part-time, you’re considered non-traditional, which means that I qualify in spades, as do most students attending institutions of higher learning. 
                But what does this mean?  Nothing, in many ways.  A student is a student, right?  Non-traditional students pay their fees and go to class like every other student, right? 
                For me the differences were varied in both scope and intensity.  It was a very personal thing, going back to school 20 years later.  When I was 18, college was expected of me.  Promoted, adored, encouraged and blessed by parents and the powers that be with money, gear, and lifestyle choices.  This made it easy.  Natural.  Now I go back purely of my own devices, very aware of the idea – whether factual or not -- that I am doing this because I failed at something.  Either I don’t make enough money, or I don’t feel fulfilled, or I’m going back to finish something I was unable to complete in the first place, or I lack some social standing that comes from being “educated enough.”  For me, I wasn’t using or feeling fulfilled by my original degree, so, in combination with therapy for depression, I decided to go back to school.  It’s a slightly different reason than many have for going back.  But then, going back is always different from one person to the next.  For some, it could be the simple joy of being able to intellectualize with others with similar interests; to be able to talk to people about something more than the inanities of daily life. 
                My fears are not simply mine alone.  I have a nephew living with us, nearly the age that I was when I first went off to university, who reflects and magnifies all of my shortcomings.  “You’d better get a good job with that degree or it’s not worth it,” he tells me.  “You’ll just be wasting all of your husband’s money for nothing.”  He doesn’t understand study, work, personal responsibility, or the desire for good grades and makes me self-conscious of everything I am doing wrong. 
On top of this, there are my own fears that I just won’t be able to make it in school these days, at my age.  “Make it” is a purposefully vague term.  Straight As have never been necessary for my well-being, but As and Bs are.  On top of this, a sense of being accepted and liked by authority figures is important to me.  Will I be “good enough” by these criteria to feel fulfilled, thus making the endeavor “worth it?”  Am I even up to the task anymore?  I used to be a National Merit Scholar – one of the best and brightest; I excelled at school.  But now, is it fair to use old grades and test scores to let me in when they don’t represent what I know now?  How will school be different now that the internet is such a big part of our lives?  How will I fare against all of the whippersnappers in a school designed for whippersnappers? 
And yet, I keep telling myself, school is always good -- no matter how hard, no matter how expensive, no matter how time-consuming.  It always makes the people who make the effort to attend, better – though I have no source for that.  I receive nothing but congratulations and “good for yous” when I tell people what I am doing.  So what I am doing is good.   Then why does it feel so scary?
By the standards and determination of the NCES, 73 percent of all undergraduates in 1999-2000 could be considered non-traditional, so we certainly aren’t in the minority.  Many schools have programs specifically geared to the non-traditional student and some schools are geared only to the non-traditional student, such as the University of Phoenix, a popular national program.   Yet many universities are still geared towards the traditional, just-out-of-high-school, full-time student.   The culture is as I remember it being when I was a traditional student 20 years ago – all-encompassing in scope, almost parental in care and detail.  Are you eating?  Here’s a meal plan.  Are you broke?  Here’s financial aid counselors.  Are you ill?  Here’s a health plan.  Are you bored?  Here are activities.  I don’t need these things anymore, but I feel as if I am missing something by refusing them. 
Twenty years can do a lot to a person.  It can teach and edify them with a legion of experiences; it can dull and inure with repetition and hardship.  It can add skills; it can take them away.  Basically, 20 years can make you a different person than who you were, and can totally change your college skill set.  I’ve found that as I’ve come back to school, I’m a little slower and I don’t have nearly as much energy as I had the first time around, which is a special challenge since I now have a household to maintain and a child in my care, as well as having to commute 20 miles.  Having so many of class resources on the internet is a new thing for me as well, and I’m not as sharp as I would like to be.  But some of my skills, I am surprised to learn, have sweetened with time and my experience has taught me things that most of the whippersnappers just don’t know.  I have the experience to tell me that one way is an interesting way to write something, and another way is not.  I can walk up to a situation that requires experience that I have, and I can know it – times where my ten years at a single job make understanding something, like how to write a professional document, easy while whippersnappers in the class are scratching their heads.  It’s a nice feeling.  A rare feeling, but nice.  Different than the bright-eyed, naive schoolgirl I was 20 years ago. 
                As a non-traditional student, though, I am apparently not par for the course.  According to NCES, most non-traditional students attend two-year institutions, work, and drop out after the first year.  Most, apparently, aren’t going for a second undergraduate degree, either, which I am doing.   
                Another aspect of the non-traditional student is simply the factor of being an adult learner – which, according to Wikipedia and the great expert on learning Malcolm Knowles, is any person socially accepted as an adult who is in a learning process, whether formal education, informal learning, or corporate-sponsored learning.   Adults learn – through andragogy -- slightly differently than children and young adults learn through pedagogy (though pedagogy most often refers to learning in general, its original root means “child instruction” and that distinction is what I’m going by here).  Adult learners do best when the learning is purposeful, they are involved with other adult learners, they build upon past knowledge, skills, and experience, they share past learning with each other, and they are learning in an environment of respect.  Physical aspects of aging can impact the learner as well – for instance, I have less energy and more weight than I did the first time I went to school, as many of us older students do.  I need hearing aids and I’m on various medications that slow me down.   Quite a difference from the invincible nineteen-year-old that attended college in Oklahoma so many years ago! 
                What does this mean to higher education models?   According to www.worldwidelearn.com, the old idea of a well-rounded education is giving way to a career-oriented work training model: fewer core courses, more work-specific classes.  More courses and degree programs are offered online, and at a faster pace than traditional degrees, allowing more flexibility for non-traditional students who are working full-time jobs at the same time as going back to school.   Most universities offer night classes to accommodate working or child-rearing adult learners, and the anecdotal demographics reflect this – in other words, I hear there are far more students my age in the night classes than I see in my day classes.
                For me, as well as many other students, online courses aren’t a good option.  The lack of face-to-face interactions and feedback make learning difficult.  But because I am not working at the same time, it’s easier for me to take traditional, daytime classes.  So I am a non-traditional student taking the traditional courses, putting myself in an awkward situation.  For the non-traditional students who choose to follow this course, we will probably still find ourselves a fish out of water.  Is it worth it?  Undoubtedly.   It’s just that while sitting in a classroom filled with nineteen and twenty-year-olds, it doesn’t always feel that way.
                In an interview with BSU instructor Karen Uehling, she brought up the important point that young students and older students each bring something unique and important to the learning environment that they can share with one another.  Youth brings creativity and spontaneity, while maturity brings organizational skills and responsibility.   She wouldn’t exclude either group.
                One thing that I struggle with as I go back to school is fear.  The world out there is harsh, and I’ve learned that I rarely have a handle on what’s going on.  According to Professor Uehling, this is rather common.  In the adult student, she finds too much dependence on the instructor and authority; an irrational fear of failure.  As I speculate on this from my own perspective, I am not surprised.  Having worked for more than one authoritarian boss, we have come to sometimes doubt our own credibility against the authority figure.   
                All of this life experience leads to different motivations for adults and learning, according to Ron and Susan Zemke in the article “30 Things We Know for Sure About Adult Learning.”  Adults don’t usually seek out learning for the sake of learning, but rather in order to cope with specific life-changing events.  And since “the people who most frequently seek out learning opportunities are people who have the most years of education, it is reasonable to guess that for many of us learning is a coping response to significant change.”  The learning experiences adults seek out are usually directly related to the life-change events that triggered the seeking – so if most of the change being encountered is work-related, then most of the learning experiences sought should be work-related. 
                Not all learning is business, however.  For myself, I am not seeking so much a career as a purpose that builds me up, which also jibes with the Zemkes’ research.  “Increasing or maintaining one’s sense of self-esteem and pleasure are strong secondary motivators for engaging in learning experiences.”
                The culture shock is something I hadn’t considered when going back to school.  Finishing school the first time and trying to find my way in the working world was hard.  The “real world,” as people call it, is much harsher than college in many, many ways.  But once I was used to that, it made coming back to school again another culture shock.  But I must remind myself, the important thing is that I am here and that I am trying.  I don’t need to make straight A’s to succeed.  Remember, college is always a good thing.
                What are some things that can help with the transition of going back to school?  According to Professor Uehling in her book Starting Out or Starting Over: A Guide for Writing, there are many thought patterns we can do well to avoid:
1.        The “Last Chance” Syndrome.  This isn’t your last chance.  If you mess up or don’t finish or find you need different skills, you can go back to school again later.  Remember, school is always a good thing!
2.       The “I Have to Prove Myself” Syndrome.  Don’t be obsessed with grades.  Your focus should be learning and growing, not just doing well.
3.       Don’t belittle the skills you already possess.  Capitalize on them.
                The same difficulties exist for me as for any other student: time, money, resources, and difficulty of classes.  There are some difficulties I didn’t have when I was a traditional student.  Some difficulties I had then have gone away – the biggest of which is that I am not in a position where I need to learn how to be an adult (at least not completely).   As to the backpack question posed at the beginning of this essay – I’ve found it doesn’t matter and I don’t really care.  I’m back for my own reasons now, not part of the lifestyle or culture that is traditional schooling.  Besides, as www.worldwidelearn.com asks, how old will you be in a few years if you don’t get a degree? 

Musing

I'm listening to music that I stole from my sister-in-law Joanne to put on my playlist below and deciding that I'd better update my blog.  Music tends to tickle my writing instinct, I don't know why, but I'll use any excuse I can get. 
School starts on Tuesday and so I'm starting to think more academically again, and thinking about writing.  Getting an A in my nonfiction writing class makes me think that really what I need, more than inspiration (which is still nice, but scarce) is just to WORK on writing something.  Anything.  I keep seeing books out there that make me think, "oh someone has already written a book about that idea," but when it comes down to it there are almost NO new ideas, just new angles, and I'm as capable of thinking of them as anyone.  So first thing I'm going to do is post the essays that I wrote for that class last semester here.  Then I'm going to go think of something to write.  And I'm going to write it.