Rule #4 Buy a coloring book for yourself. No…seriously.

I’m not a good relaxer.  It’s a skill I’m still learning. My husband, Ted, is my teacher — the Obi Wan Kanobi to my Luke Skywalker.  I will sit down to watch a show and end up filing important papers.  My idea of a relaxing afternoon is to reorganize the pantry.  He will say, “Stop.  Just enjoy the day.”  And I will say, “I’m trying.”  The inevitable response is “There is no try.  Only do.”

So, it turns out that I need to find something that I can “do” to relax.  This is where the coloring book comes in.  Do you remember lazy afternoons sitting with your favorite coloring book, choosing precise colors and letting the scene fill in before you?  Those were the days when I knew how to relax.  The days when I was 7.  My favorite coloring book was of ocean scenes because I wanted to be a marine biologist.  Didn’t every little girl of my generation want to be a marine biologist after watching Free Willy and drooling over Jonathan Brandis in SeaQuest?

But as I grew older, I put the coloring books away.  They were for kids, or so I thought.  Well, not anymore.  I got the idea of coloring again from listening to a 9 Thumbs podcast where Rachel Held Evans mentioned that she colors adult coloring books (and no, it’s not what you’re thinking) to relax.  Well, I thought, “I’ll give it a go.”

And I love it.  I don’t get to do it very often (stay at home mom, remember), but when I do, my whole body becomes calm, all the tension from my shoulders passes down my arms and through my fingers pressing down just the right amount to create the perfect shade for that fold of dress.

Some of my handiwork

Other people sew or craft or scrapbook, but those activities are too adult for me.  When I color, I can relax like when I was seven, dreaming of swimming with dolphins and marrying science fiction TV geeks.


Rule #3 Liturgy

Common Prayer

This has been a trying week for the Howard household.  Ted got sick on Friday, the same day my father-in-law had a heart attack.  On Monday he had open-heart triple bypass surgery.  (He is doing just great now, by the way, way beyond how the average person recovers).  On Tuesday, Henry got sick and the roofers came to our house to bang on it for several hours to replace our roof that was severely damaged in a hail storm this summer.  Today, Friday, I am sick with whatever Henry had and a nice migraine on top of that.

Some weeks just suck.

But there is a way to see past that into the goodness and hope that belongs to a corner of every day.  That way is liturgy.  I don’t come from a high-church tradition, and frankly, was taught that we didn’t do liturgy because we want our words to come from the heart.  But there are days when I have no words.  Days like Monday when my husband was scared out of his mind that he might lose his father.  Days like Tuesday when I wasn’t sure how I would make it through the day.  All those days when depression takes my words away.  Days when I know the words are somewhere in my heart, but I can’t reach them.

I have come to love liturgy because it puts those words in my mouth again.  Sometimes, most times for me, when I don’t know what to say to God, I say what thousands of other Christians have said before me.  I say the words of hope and love and goodness that have been passed up from the centuries. I say simple prayers: “Help me,” “Forgive me,” “Have Mercy on Me.”   I say words from a book like Common Prayer (a version of The Book of Common Prayer that Ted and I like to use).

Or I say the prayer Jesus taught us to pray.  I say it over and over again until the shapes of the words in my mouth become my mouth, and the sounds they make become my sound.  I strive to let these be the words that rule my day, seeing the vision of hope that God whispers in my ear.

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever.


Rule #2 Say No

I think we hear this advice a lot.  Don’t overcommit.  Don’t hang around people who bring you down.  Don’t say yes just because you want to impress someone else.  Good advice, but not exactly what I’m talking about here.  If anything, my previous post is advice to yes to situations, even if you don’t feel like it.

When you are suffering through depression, many times what and who you need to say “no” to is yourself.  If I’m having a particularly horrible, no good, very bad day, my thought process might go something like this: “Henry is really fussy today.  I don’t think he’s teething, needs a diaper change, needs feeding, etc.  That must mean he hates me and I’m a horrible mother.  What could have possessed me to think that I could do this.  I’m too overwhelmed.  I’m worthless.  I should just go off and eat worms.”  And so on.

I have to say “no” to this kind of thinking.  It’s harder than you might think.  When you’re depressed, you get a little glimmer of satisfaction in thinking this way about yourself.  It makes you feel justified that you are having a bad day.  Depression makes you count all circumstances as if they were you’re own doing.  Some of them may be, but for the most part, I had to learn that I might have a crappy day and it has absolutely nothing to do with me.

This may seem like common sense, but as a new mom struggling with post-partum depression, and doubt, severe doubt as to if I really can do this thing for the rest of my life, it’s something I have to force myself to do.  In a way, it’s easier to fall back into the old line of thinking, easier to feel those same horrid feelings.  They are comfortable even if they are horrid.  And sometimes it feels good to think that maybe I could just go off the deep end and not have to worry about any of this anymore.  But if I am able to stop myself, if I am able to say no, I can see that the day is full of possibilities, good and bad, and I can interpret them however I choose.

Today, I choose to say no to horrible, no good, very bad days and replace them with merely crappy ones.  Some days I can hope for more.  I hope for days of joy.  Days of seeing Henry’s smiling face and not feeling like I’m failing him.  Days of listening to Henry’s cries and knowing that I am simply his mom and that is good enough.

What do you do to conquer the depression?

Smiling Henry filling me with joy

Rule #1 Make Yourself Go

I am an introvert.  I like being alone with my thoughts, inside of books, resting my voice.  I like being alone — except when I’m depressed.  When I was deep into the depression, I couldn’t stand being at home alone. The silence of our creaking house was too much.  The space for dark thoughts grew wider.  Of course, Henry was with me, but he’s not the greatest conversationalist.

He sure is cute though!

At first, other people came to me.  My friends visited for play dates.  My mom frequently lunched with me.  My sister came to hang out every Friday.  Friends my parents age came over to talk.  I welcomed it all.  But then it stopped, and I was alone again.  I realized that I had to venture out, which was difficult to do.  I couldn’t stand being alone, but I also did not want to be in social situations (how’s that for a catch-22!).  But I did it anyway.  Even when going out seemed like more of a hassle than staying in.  I set up play dates with friends.  I started to visit others who couldn’t leave their homes.  I joined the Y.  I’m starting with a MOPS group next week.  I’m volunteering.  It has gotten to the point where I’m out more than in.

But that’s what I need now.  Being around people makes my alone time more precious, so precious that I don’t want to fill it with anxiety about the future or thoughts of how messed up this world is (even though I know that will always be the case).  I also love seeing Henry interact with other people and objects.  It’s good for us both, even though I don’t always feel like it.  Sometimes, you just have to make yourself go.

How adorable is this kid!