Girl School for Grownups

Like having a big sister, but better because I can't boss you around!

Codependency hurts

For a very long time I hated the word “codependent.” To me it sounded like therapy speak and ranked right up there with other words I don’t like such as “inner child” and “issues.” The words made it seem like you weren’t taking responsibility for yourself somehow. But in the last year or so I’ve been working on my codependency issues (I can’t believe I typed those words!), and I’m finding a lot of emotional freedom as a result.

So what is codependency? Here’s an excellent essay from Mental Health America (MHA) that discusses it. According to this essay, codependency develops in families where any of the following are present:

  • An addiction by a family member to drugs, alcohol, relationships, work, food, sex, or gambling.
  • The existence of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.
  • The presence of a family member suffering from a chronic mental or physical illness.

Ding ding ding! Growing up with a mother who was bipolar and had OCD definitely came with some issues. Again, from MHA:

Dysfunctional families do not acknowledge that problems exist. They don’t talk about them or confront them. As a result, family members learn to repress emotions and disregard their own needs. They become “survivors.” They develop behaviors that help them deny, ignore, or avoid difficult emotions. They detach themselves. They don’t talk. They don’t confront. They don’t trust. The identity and emotional development of the members of a dysfunctional family are often inhibited.

Attention and energy focus on the family member who is ill or addicted. The co-dependent person typically sacrifices his or her needs to take care of a person who is sick. When co-dependents place other people’s health, welfare and safety before their own, they can lose contact with their own needs, desires, and sense of self.

I’m not sure what else to say, because it’s all fairly new to me. But I can say this: I’m finding a level of freedom and happiness that feels fantastic. And this: if you need more information about codependency and what to do about it, send me an email at gandy.leslie@gmail.com. I can point you in the direction of resources that are working for me.

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My depression story, part 3

I don’t really know how to wrap up my thoughts about depression. Before I started writing, I had an idea of writing 3 posts and I’m pretty sure I had some thoughts about what each post would cover. Now? I feel uncertain and very unqualified.

(inhale, hold, exhale, hold, repeat)

(breath retention is a technique I learned in yoga classes and it’s very calming and centering. yes, i did just stop and intentionally breathe. maybe it will help.)

Perhaps dealing with depression is something like what i just experienced. I didn’t know what to write, and the temptation to just step away and not write anything was huge. But then I remembered something that sometimes helps, and even though it didn’t seem like it would work, I tried it. That really is how it feels when I have my own personal rain cloud following me — as though it will never get better and nothing I do can change it. But that’s a lie. Here are some truths:

Everything changes. The good and the bad.

Everything matters. Even small actions can yield big results.

(just took a break to read my old weblog. i was hoping to find a free verse poem called “recovery in 5 parts” or something like that. instead started reading what i’d written. felt a lot of self-compassion, which is a very good thing. if you want to read from my previous blog, you can check it out here.)

Found the poem. Thanks Google. Will there be a part 4 to these posts? Dunno. For now I leave you with a thought and a poem.

The thought: My yoga teacher, Megan, says this at the end of her classes “Remember, if you are breathing in and out, there is more right with you than there is wrong with you.” Together, let’s say it: amen.

The poem:

Life in Five Short Chapters

CHAPTER 1

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost. I am helpless. It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

CHAPTER 2

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It takes a long time to get out.

CHAPTER 3

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it there, and still I fall in.
It’s a habit.
But my eyes are open and I know where I am.
It is my fault and I get out immediately.

CHAPTER 4

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

CHAPTER 5

I walk down a different street.

By Portia Nelson

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My depression story, part 2

images-2More of the rest of the story.

So I started taking an antidepressant and I started feeling better. Not maniacally-happy-all-the-time better, but better enough that I could function without feeling like it took every ounce of strength inside of me to do normal life stuff. As Tim saw the improvements, he realized that while antidepressants might not be the magic cure-all for everyone, they were making a difference for his wife.

I, however, was conflicted. Yes, I felt better, but I felt like I was cheating somehow by taking a pill instead of just muddling through. Because I’m me, I read a lot of books about the subject. People wrote that you wouldn’t be judgmental of a diabetic who takes insulin, so why would you feel judgement about taking something to restore your missing serotonin. Yeah, that sounded like bullshit for weak people to me. My other issue was financial. Maybe it was my internal cheapskate. Or lack of self-worth. Whatever. The medicine that worked wasn’t covered by my insurance and it was expensive. Tim didn’t care. He just was happy to have his wife back. But I cared because taking medicine daily made me feel broken, and then when it cost more than a nickel a day (I joke, but I seriously do have issues with spending money on taking care of myself), it was agonizing to take. So I played medication games. I took half of what I was prescribed — it was like finding a sale on medicine! Sometimes I quit altogether to show how strong I was. Neither of these games worked and I strongly do not recommend them to anyone who is taking an anti-depressant.

There are some things that I did “right” that helped ease my feelings of gloom:

  • I continued to run almost daily (staying physically active for decades because I can’t do life without exercise is one of the silver linings that’s come from depression)
  • Watching the news? Not for this girl. I couldn’t even watch the news as a kid, and as it continues to show graphic images of doom and hell, I continue to get the little news I do get from print media or the radio.
  • I read lots of books about being positive and mindful.

I continued to eat crappy foods (yeah, I’d read that a balanced diet with an emphasis on protein and fresh whole foods could enhance the effectiveness of medication, but I remained unwilling to take action) and stayed away from counseling, not wanting to spend the money on that, or to feel even more broken than I already did (because if I needed meds AND counseling, well … that just wasn’t going to happen!).

As I think back on this time, an image comes to mind of a flower trying to grow through a crack in the sidewalk. If everyone else got to be flowers in a greenhouse, somehow my biochemistry, when combined with my choices, meant that I still got to be a flower, but I was dealing with shitty dirt and whatever conditions sidewalks have to deal with. That’s not an easy way to live.

Thank you to everyone who has read what I’ve written, and who has taken the time to comment here on the blog or on Facebook.

To be continued…

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My depression story, part 1

images-1

Why do I write about depression so much? I think because I feel an urgency to put a face (my face, which is usually smiling) to this misunderstood disease. If this makes me the poster child (can a 50something be a child? I think not.), makes me the poster woman (ick), ok I’m going with poster chick. If this makes me the poster chick for depression, it’s a title I would be proud to claim.

Depression runs in my family. So does creativity, a wicked sense of humor, and no sense of direction. Not all tendencies are fully expressed in all of my relatives, although that sense of humor shows up more often than not.

It never occurred to me that I was depressed. As a teen I had the normal ups and downs that characterize adolescence. In my 20s my friends knew that at times I would disappear from their lives. (I still showed up to work, but couldn’t find the whatever-it-takes to return phone calls or go out with people.) But eventually I came back. I had kids in my early 30s and still didn’t know that the periods when I just couldn’t get them out of the house or the times when my husband would come home and take one look at my face and say “You are going out running!” (I was beyond grateful for the chance at some endorphins and some time alone) were anything but the normal challenges of having an infant and a two-year-old.

In my late 30s (deep breath) something happened that plummeted me into darkness I’ve never known. The specifics of what happened aren’t the point and that’s all I want to say about that. But I felt like I’d fallen and just couldn’t get up. I went to a counselor and she recommended an anti-depressant. I would have done anything at this time to find a way out of the dark. So I agreed to try it.

My husband was concerned about me taking medication and not at all sure it was a good idea. For one thing, he’s very sensitive to anything he takes so he does his best to avoid pills. And with our Biblically-based Christian faith, his question was “What if how you’re feeling is what God wants you to experience?” I understood his question as well as his concerns, but I also knew what it felt like to be me, and I was hanging on by my fingernails. And my mantra, my lifeline, became this thought:

I will do WHATEVER IT TAKES to be the wife and the mother that God created me to be.

Have a beautiful day, friends. To be continued…

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Depression hurts everyone

Yesterday a friend was telling me about his sister’s struggle with depression. And it took me back to when I was first diagnosed and the fight to come to acceptance with it. Robin William’s recent suicide has helped in bringing the issue to light, and even though there’s a lot more awareness now than ever before, there is still work to be done.

NOTE: What I’m writing in my own personal experience. I can’t presume to know what’s right for anyone else. If you are depressed please consider seeing your doctor or a counselor or just telling someone, anyone.

  1. You can’t reason with biochemistry. Depression is a hormonal, biochemical issue, not a lack of gratitude issue. Just as you can’t reason away having to pee, you can’t reason away the grey sadness that is depression. Some of my darkest times have been as I enumerate all the reasons I should be thrilled with my amazing life, and yet can’t climb out of the sad.
  2. Depression is not a moral issue. This goes hand in hand with #1 but it deserves its own number because it’s so pervasive. Thoughts that start with “if I was just stronger” or “if I just had more faith” or “if I was a better person” have no place with the depression conversation. The logic is flawed. My beloved niece was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in December of 2008. Her body does not make insulin. Without insulin she would not survive. And nobody would EVER dare utter those kinds of words about her condition.
  3. Find the smallest step you can take towards feeling better. Sometimes depression feels like I’m standing in a 12″ hole and everyone else is standing on level ground. If I jump and keep jumping, I can be at the same level, but it’s fucking exhausting. The exhaustion and malaise of depression can make even logical normal suggestions of how to feel better — Call a friend! Go out to lunch! Get to the gym! — impossible. But sometimes the key to feeling better is taking the teeny tiniest step towards hope, towards happiness, towards the light. Honestly, eating a salad and drinking some water can be the tiny fingerhold that’s needed to start moving towards life.
  4. Anything that makes you more yourself is good. So let’s talk medication. I’m on an anti-depressant and have been for over 10 years. At first I hated taking medicine. It made me feel defective and like a second-class citizen. But it worked, not as a happy pill but more like a safety net so that my lows didn’t feel terminal. So I’d start feeling better, and then I would think “I think I’ve got this!” and I would stop the medicine and things would be ok for a while and they they wouldn’t be ok and pretty soon I’d be right back where I started. I’ve repeated this many times, probably for the first 5 or 6 years. What I would tell myself from long ago is this: anything that makes you more alive and more yourself is a good thing. And there are no brownie points for making life harder than it has to be. Life is hard enough without making it harder in a way that can be changed. (I would also tell the me from back then that it would all be ok.)
  5. Depression hurts everyone. It can be easy to put off treatment for depression because you tell yourself that you’re not hurting anyone. And if you’re getting your work done and keeping showered and dressed and doing life, there’s evidence to support this thought. But we are all put into the world to be fully alive and fully ourselves. And being any less that who we were created to be robs those we love of our enthusiastic participation in life. I don’t say this as a criticism, because in the same breath I will tell you that at all points in my life I’ve been doing the very best I could do at that time. But hiding behind the thought that it’s not a big deal because it’s only me — well, that untrue and so very unnecessary.

What can I do to help someone who’s depressed? Hmmmmmm, that’s a tricky question. Because how do you help someone who in many cases is just wanting to be left alone? I can think of a few things that would have touched my oh-so-sad heart.

  • Saying “I know it’s hard right now, but trust me when I tell you it won’t stay this way forever.”
  • Saying “I love you just as you are.”
  • Considering the HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired) principle and offering food or suggesting a nap.
  • Saying, “I love you just as you are.”

Years ago I told Tim that I was going to tell people about my depression experience, but I didn’t want to become the poster child for depression. Today I would be honored to be just that (maybe with a photo from 10 years ago or so, or if photography invents a “younger and thinner” button). There is no shame in depression. The shame is if it never gets addressed.

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What gets in the way

So I guess I love my blog so much that I can’t bring myself to write in it. As I emerge from the clouds of grief, writing becomes more possible. But this morning as I was getting ready I found there are all sorts of thoughts that get in the way, such as:

  • I could write about the skincare line I love! (But it’s expensive and that would be wrong to write about something that’s expensive.)
  • I could write about being an empty-nester for four days now. (But what do I know?)
  • Perhaps I could write on the impact gaining 10 pounds has on me. (But nobody cares about that.)

A few months back I was listening to Rob Lowe on NPR. I’ve always assumed he was an idiot, because look at him! He can’t possible be smart AND that beautiful, right? Well, I was wrong about this. He was talking about writing a book and said this very important thought, “Everyone can write, because nobody else can tell your unique story.”

I started a blog in 2005 while training for the Women’s Tri Fitness competition, and wrote in it for 4 years. Then my parents life fell apart and I wrote less and less, mainly because I couldn’t care enough to write about fitness when there were BIG UNSOLVABLE PROBLEMS that I was dealing with. Today I’m gathering up the courage to return to writing once again. It’s been 8 months since my dad died and I can tell that the sadness is easing. Yesterday I went to the county office to get another death certificate, and doing that didn’t take me out emotionally. This is a very good thing.

With nervous butterflies in my tummy, I press Publish.

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From the heart

When I was growing up, I desperately wanted a big brother. The thought was that he could introduce me to his cute friends and I could date them! But do you know what I could have really used? A big sister. But maybe not an actual real big sister, because real people have their own real people issues. But an idealized big sister who could gently guide me through all the twists and turns of growing up, and could help me learn from her mistakes. Someone whose feedback I could trust and who would encourage me when life felt oh-so-tough, as it often does.

As a newly married girl, I would joke with my husband, saying “oh, they teach you this stuff in girl school and that’s why you don’t know it!” (Tim grew up in a household with no sisters, so there are lots of girl things that were new to him.) This line could come up when I was refolding napkins before having people over for dinner, or … oh, I can’t remember other instances, but it’s been part of our lexicon for years now.

This blog is a combination of these two ideas. My hope is that Girl School for Grownups will be a source of enlightenment and encouragement, where no topic is off limits. The subjects will range from serious (I’ve got some real life experience with depression and can share strategies that have worked for me) to silly (why having a collection is so much fun) and all points in between (let’s talk desert island beauty products!).

But here’s my big concern: what if this comes across like I’m a big know-it-all? So from the heart, please know that I want to share what I’ve learned so that your life can be better. And a valuable lesson that I keep re-learning is that what other people think of me is none of my business. So perhaps this will seem like shameless self-promotion to some. But that’s a risk I’m willing to take in order to reach those for whom this works.

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