they grow up…in spite of…

Having an only child, one who was born more than a decade after my husband and I were married, makes me extremely thankful that she came along at all. I believe in God, and I believe He sent her to us. I don’t usually ask Him for anything, but I might have prayed for her, or him. At 36 years of age, I wasn’t about to be finicky.

Mary and Jesus

Image via Wikipedia

It may sound corny, but I remember telling a close friend that I felt God had entrusted His child into my safekeeping…for a time. That like Mary, Jesus’ mother, I was just enlisted to care for my daughter’s earthly needs, while she was about God’s business…whatever that might be. Thankfully, my girlfriend didn’t laugh in my face.

As it turns out my daughter’s birth led me down the path to self discovery, self confidence and eventually…self esteem. Diverting attention from myself to her, meant investing most of my time and energy on being a really good mom to my daughter. That didn’t mean, however, that I was perfect. Far from it. I made mistakes. I got angry. I yelled. I cried. I reverted to childish ways. But I always returned to the job about which I’ve been the most passionate…being a mom…the best one I could be.

So when my 24-year-old daughter returned home to my husband and me in the Fall of 2010 because of depression, I felt helpless to fix her. We’d known she’d had bouts here and there, but nothing life-altering. And she thought it was pretty much because of her relationship with a former boyfriend, and some stresses with a former employer. While both tipped the scales, they alone weren’t to blame.

Because of my belief in Dr. Daniel Amen‘s work, we sought treatment for our daughter at his clinic. The psychiatrist with whom she worked discovered where her problem lay via a spect scan, a scan that tracks the blood flow throughout the brain. As a result he prescribed an assortment of natural supplements, including vitamin D, to correct her brain’s chemical imbalance. In addition, our daughter had a couple of sessions with a staff psychologist trained in life coaching. And for now, she remains on a low dosage of Cymbalta, prescribed earlier by another psychologist whom she’d seen.

My daughter returned to work in January of this year; her fellow dancers and the administrative staff welcoming her back with a tremendous display of love and support. A contributing factor towards my daughter’s getting better was the generous guarantee by the artistic director that her job would be waiting for her.

What I was surprised to learn from her treatment at Amen’s Clinic is that an accident our daughter had as a 7 or 8-year-old, might possibly have been the “seed” that sprouted her depression.

Twirling around as a last fare thee well to a fun birthday party for a good friend, my daughter fell flat on her face on a cement floor. This possibly resulted in a slight concussion which caused injury to her brain. At the time she showed no signs of needing emergency care. In the fall, one of her front teeth shifted. It was a fraction higher than the other. But visits to the dentist had both teeth eventually in sync again.

Cover of

Cover of First Time Parents

In hindsight, and after many family discussions, it seemed my daughter’s perception of life had altered after the accident. But as first time parents, with extended family living thousands of miles away, my husband and I were on our own in figuring things out. Unfortunately neither of us had a clue as to what our daughter was experiencing. However she soon became interested in dance, which seemed to turn her attention away from what seemed to “go bump in the night”…or at least in her mind.

My daughter has turned the corner in her depression with our help, and that of Amen Clinic‘s staff, and her friends and coworkers. That’s why she ‘s allowed me to speak of it now. She’s in control again, especially since she now knows that the problem is primarily a physical impairment. That it’s not all “in her mind”…but literally…in her brain.

Depression

Image by Hibr via Flickr

When I spoke to her about my writing this post, I suggested that it might help other parents who are dealing with depression in their own children. Studies seem to point to the fact that the disease affects more young people today, perhaps because of the world in which they find themselves…facebook, youtube, reality shows, bullying, unemployment, bad role models, immorality gone amok. How do parents counter this onslaught, short of encasing their children in a bubble?

I suggest that the answer is communication…an ongoing conversation…one that runs both ways…talking and listening, mostly listening. I tend to be verbose, no surprise to any of you who’ve followed hugmamma’s mind, body, and soul. But hey! That’s who I am. It often takes a lot of circular discussion, a lot, before I arrive at the conclusion that feels right in my gut, and makes sense to all involved. 

Cover of

Cover of Daughter

What I think I learned from my daughter’s experience with depression is that in parenting there’s another part to the equation. So busy trying to fix our children, parents often forget that children are also trying to fix themselves. We need to listen. We need to hit the “pause” button in our yada, yada, yada…and suck in our breaths while we allow our offspring to have their full say…as often…and for as long…as they need. Sometimes our years of experience is unneccessary baggage in a conversation about their lives. A hard pill to swallow…

but one we might add…to our daily intake of vitamins and supplements………hugmamma.       

cure for insomnia?, blogging

I knew that once my daughter recovered from her health issues, and I recovered from mine, my brain cells would be on the move once again. At least I hoped. You can imagine how elated I am to be at my keyboard, virtually nonstop within recent, very recent, days. A writer, even one who dabbles like me, never wants to experience “writer’s block,” or worse, come to a virtual standstill. But while my faith might have wavered, I’m certain my family never doubted that I’d be back as “hugmamma.” Correction, let’s just say they were praying for my speedy recovery.

When my daughter was younger, she and my husband teased me about the multi-tome collection of books which I could pen, entitled “Life According to Mom.” That hasn’t happened, YET, but it’s for sure they don’t want to return to the days when they were the sole beneficiaries of my diatribes on life.

But aaahhh, how glorious it is to have my “grey matter” back working at almost tip-top capacity! Words that have been bottled up for too long are happily tumbling over one another, excited to be free, exhilarated to find their voice once more. And I’m only too thrilled to get them out of my overstuffed pantry of a brain. I love the little buggers, but they can be a real pain in the butt when I’m trying to doze off at midnight, 1 a.m., 2 a.m., 3 a.m.

The last words I consciously will myself to think are “Thank you God for all your blessings.” And then I try a few “Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee”s, since I don’t count sheep. But chiseling away at the furthest corners of my mind, with stealth and unrelenting determination are words, words of all sizes and meanings, infiltrating, and ultimately undermining my attempts to sleep. The battle wages on for hours, until exhausted, my brain and body give in to some much-needed “zzzzzzzzzzzsss!”   

but not this morning,… i’ve already posted 4 pieces, this being the 5th…hugmamma. (WRITING AND BLOGGING EMPTIES MY BRAIN OF WORDS, SO I CAN SLEEP AT NIGHT!)

“change your brain, change your life”

I have to credit Dr. Daniel Amen’s book Change Your Brain Change Your Life with my “detour” towards a more positive attitude. It’s the path I’ll continue to travel, as I journey “home.” With the information gleaned from the book, I’m pretty certain I’ve suffered a form of depression all of my life, and I’m sure my mom did as well. We battled our “demons”, mustering up all the courage we could gather from deep within, and relying upon the  support  of loved ones. At best, our attempts to help ourselves was haphazard. Sometimes our efforts succeeded, other times we probably “blew it.” We muddled through, with growing negativity as a constant companion. To survive, we felt compelled to sever relationships along the way, that might destroy our fragile psyches. Looking back, we were just trying to live our best lives, given the hand life had dealt us. Without a doubt, there must be many who have led similar lives.

All kinds of help is available these days, from psychiatrists to clinics to alternative health practices. There’s no quick fix for depression, nor one right way. However I am a proponent of Dr. Amen’s philosophy, for it has helped me understand the workings of my brain. And just as I take care of my body with the help of exercise, diet, chiropractic manipulation and massage therapy, I am learning to look after my mental health, thanks to Dr. Amen’s message.

Your brain is the hardware of your soul. It is the hardware of your very essence as a human being. You cannot be who you really want to be unless your brain works right. How your brain works determines how happy you are, how effective you feel, and how well you interact with others. Your brain patterns help you (or hurt you) with your marriage, parenting skills, work, and religious beliefs, along with your experience of pleasure and pain.

If you are anxious, depressed, obsessive-compulsive, prone to anger, or easily distracted, you probably believe these problems are “all in your head.” In other words, you believe your problem is purely psychological. However, research that I and others have done shows that the problems are related to the physiology of the brain–and the good news is that we have proof that you can change that physiology. You can fix what’s wrong for many problems.

Depression is a physiological illness, just like diabetes or arthritis. Living in our high-tech, fractured society, I wouldn’t be surprised if many of us suffer some form of depression, ranging from moderate to bipolar.

According to Dr. Amen’s book, my difficulty may lie within my brain’s Cingulate System. Glancing through the following checklist, I  have probably exhibited several of the symptoms, especially during the early years of my marriage. Maturity and motherhood helped me overcome some, but more recently, suggestions from Change Your Brain Change Your Life helped me to combat other symptoms, namely “excessive or senseless worrying,” “tendency to have repetitive negative thoughts,” and “tendency to predict negative outcomes.” But just as there’s no cure for arthritis, there is none for depression. Both have to be managed, which is fine with me. It’s a fact I’ve come to accept. Exercise and a reduction in sugar intake has helped lessen the arthritic pain in my lower back. And practicing Dr. Amen’s recommendations, has greatly minimized my depression.

CINGULAR SYSTEM CHECKLIST

Please read this list of behaviors and rate yourself (or the person you are evaluating) on each behavior listed. Use the following scale and place the appropriate number next to the item. Five or more symptoms marked 3 or 4 indicate a high likelihood of cingulate problems. 0=never/1=rarely/2=occasionally/3=frequently/4=very frequently

  1. Excessive or senseless worrying
  2. Being upset when things are out-of-place
  3. Tendency to be oppositional or argumentative
  4. Tendency to have repetitive negative thoughts
  5. Tendency toward compulsive behaviors
  6. Intense dislike of change
  7. Tendency to hold grudges
  8. Trouble shifting attention from subject to subject
  9. Trouble shifting behavior from task to task
  10. Difficulties seeing options in situations
  11. Tendency to hold on to own opinion and not listen to others
  12. Tendency to get locked into a course of action, whether or not it is good
  13. Being very upset unless things are done a certain way
  14. Perception by others that you worry too much
  15. Tendency to say no without first thinking about question
  16. Tendency to predict negative outcomes

GETTING UNSTUCK

The cingulate system of the brain allows us to shift our attention from thing to thing, idea to idea, issue to issue. When it is dysfunctional, we have a tendency to get locked into negative thoughts or behaviors; we have trouble seeing the options in situations. Healing this part of the mind involves training the mind to see options and new ideas. …Whenever you find your thoughts cycling (going over and over), distract yourself from them. …Sing a favorite song…Listen to music that makes you feel positive…Take a walk…Do a chore…Play with a pet…Do structured meditation…Focus on a word and do not allow any other thoughts to enter your mind (imagine a broom that sweeps out all other thoughts).

(Keeping busy has been my “default” response to low spirits. Ironing clothes is a “favorite”, a chore my mom taught me with pride, since that’s what she did at the orphanage where she worked. When I’m outdoors walking Mocha, nature’s beauty intoxicates my senses, forcing me to disengage from life’s frenzy. Indoors I get the same “high” watching a favorite Michael Jackson DVD, which gets my body pulsating to the beat. Sitting for a few minutes with one of my cat’s purring in my lap, makes me pause, enjoying the moment. And when I lay my head on my pillow at night, I thank God for all our blessings, and pray that all may live their best lives. This prayer alone has helped me fall asleep, because it stops the “ants”- automatic negative thoughts, dead in their tracks.)

Many people with cingulate problems have an automatic tendency to say no. Fight the tendency. Before answering questions or responding to requests in a negative way, take a breath and think first whether or not it is best to say no. Often it is helpful to take a deep breath, hold it for three seconds, and then take five seconds to exhale, just to get extra time before responding.

When you are stuck on a thought, it is often helpful to write it down. Writing it down helps to get it out of your head. Seeing a thought on paper makes it easier to deal with in a rational way. When repetitive thoughts cause sleeping problems, keep a pen and paper near your bed to write them down. After you write out a thought that has “gotten stuck,” generate a list of things you can do about it and things you can’t do about it. Use this simple exercise to unlock the thoughts that keep you up nights feeling tense.

(Blogging has been a God-send. It’s been cathartic in that I’ve been able to exorcise “demons” that have probably been roiling around inside my gut for too long, not only personal ones, but thoughts about the world in which I live.)  

When all of your efforts to get rid of repetitive thoughts are unsuccessful, it is often helpful to seek the counsel of others. Finding someone to discuss your worries, fears, or repetitive behaviors which can be very helpful. Often just talking about feeling stuck will open new options.

(Coffee with friends has always been a great way to share problems and gain new insights, and perhaps discover helpful suggestions, and sometimes, even answers.)

Exercise can also be very helpful in calming worries and increasing cognitive flexibility. Exercise works by increasing brain levels of l-tryptophan. L-tryptophan is a relatively small amino acid and has trouble competing against the larger amino acids to enter the brain. During exercise, more of the large amino acids are utilized to replenish muscle strength, which causes a decrease in the availability of these larger amino acids in the bloodstream. When this happens, l-tryptophan can compete more effectively to enter the brain and raise brain serotonin levels. In addition, exercise increases your energy levels and may distract you from the bad thoughts that tend to loop. I often recommend exercise for oppositional children as a way to improve their l-tryptophan levels and increase cooperation.

(Kristina’s exercise class has been a life-saver. During these last 5 or 6 years, it has been a healthy addition to my routine, not only for my physical well-being, but for my mental and emotional well-being as well. I can feel the difference in my mood and my energy level, when I’ve been remiss in my exercise routine. The same can be said for my visits to the chiropractor and massage therapist. They’re not luxuries; they’re necessities.) 

Low serotonin levels and increased cingulate activity are often associated with worrying, moodiness, emotional rigidity, and irritability. There are two ways that food can increase serotonin levels.

Foods high in carbohydrates, such as pastas, potatoes, bread, pastries, pretzels, and popcorn, increase l-tryptophan levels (the natural amino acid building block for serotonin) in the blood, resulting in more l-tryptophan being available to enter the brain, where it is converted to serotonin. The calming effect of serotonin can often be felt in thirty minutes or less by eating these foods. Cerebral serotonin levels can also be raised by eating foods rich in tryptophan, such as chicken, turkey, salmon, beef, peanut butter, eggs, green peas, potatoes, and milk. Many people unknowingly trigger cognitive inflexibility or mood problems by eating diets that are low in l-tryptophan.

For example, the high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets that I recommend for low-dopamine states (related to prefrontal cortex underactivity) often make cingular problems worse. L-tryptophan is a relatively small amino acid. When you eat a high-protein diet, the larger amino acids compete more successfully to get into the brain, causing lower levels of brain serotonin and more negative emotional reactiveness.

(Diet remains an ongoing challenge, but at least I’ve eliminated as much sugar as possible, and replaced simple carbs with complex ones, and continue to ramp up my intake of fruits and veggies. But I’m no angel; every now and then I “sin.”)

Dr. Amen also prescribes reciting the Serenity Prayer, as a way to combat repetitive negative thoughts. “The Serenity Prayer is repeated by millions of people around the world, especially those in twelve-step programs. It is a beautiful reminder that there are limits to what we can do in life and we need to respect that. Many people find it helpful to repeat this prayer every time they are bothered by repetitive negative thoughts. I recommend that you memorize at least the first (three) lines of the prayer (change it as needed to fit your own beliefs).”

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, taking as Jesus did this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it, trusting that you will make all things right if I surrender to your will; so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with you in the next.

-Attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr

 As we age physically and mentally, our quality of life can suffer. Money certainly helps sustain a certain lifestyle, but is it substantive if we’re unable to reap the spiritual rewards as well? I’m trying to remain as agile as possible, mentally, physically and emotionally so that I can continue to write, and enjoy life’s small pleasantries, until I no longer can. Changing my brain, has helped change my life, for the better.

our best lives, hugs for…hugmamma.

   

creative passion, “fountain of youth”

I’m living proof of AARP’s recent article GENIUS! Not that I’m a genius, but I can vouch for the fact that “our creative horizons need not narrow with age” as the article states. Gay Hanna, head of the National Center for Creative Aging says “We never lose the potential to learn new things as we grow older…In fact, we can master new skills and be creative all our lives.” So the old adage IS true “You CAN teach an old dog new tricks.” Contributing to the discussion is David Shenk, author of The Genius in All of Us, “Genes impact our lives,…but our lives also impact our genes–the brain changes shape according to the experiences it has. …Most of us don’t understand that our true inner potential is quite extraordinary. Not just at age 20 or 40 but well into our elder years. The main reason people stagnate is that they limit themselves through their mind-set or habits. Or they simply set their sights too low.”

Sixty-five-year old Mack Orr had been a cotton picker in Mississippi in the 50’s, as well as a heavy-equipment operator when he moved to Memphis in 1965. Along the way he became a husband, father of 4, and the owner of Mack’s Auto Repair. At 45 he “…was listening to the radio in my auto-repair shop,…They were playing an Albert King song–‘Walkin’ the Back Streets and Cryin’–and it sounded real good. …I went down to the pawn shop, got me a guitar and amp, …And I carried that guitar everywhere I went. If I went to work, I carried it with me. If I went fishing, I carried it. I stayed on it day and night.” Within 3 years his hard work got him gigs as a blues guitarist around Memphis. Daddy Mack, as he is known to friends and fans, has since jammed with Keith Richards and Ron Wood of The Rolling Stones, performed at festivals across America and Europe, and recorded 4 CDs–including Bluesfinger, his latest. Daddy Mack confesses “I never dreamed I’d go to the places I’ve been…”

In the 60’s and 70’s, Judithe Hernandez was known in Los Angeles for her murals. Resettling in Chicago in 1984, marriage, motherhood and a position as a university art instructor sidelined her artwork. Her creative passion took a back seat but she continued to draw, though infrequently, she “…had all these ideas stored away in file drawers–and in my head. And I never let go of the dream that someday I’d come back to it.” At 62, with the end of her marriage and her only child off to college, Hernandez returned to L.A. and resumed her artistic career with renderings of symbol-rich pastel drawings. Evidently she made the right move for in January 2011, Chicago’s National Museum of Mexican Art will feature her as a solo artist. Hernandez compares herself to an artist years younger “It’s the difference between a sauce you make in five minutes and one that you reduce and reduce and the flavor gets more intense and deeper. You’re left with a smaller amount, but the flavor is amazing.”

Painting literally saved 54-year-old, abstract painter Audrey Phillips. Losing her mother to a brutal murder traumatized Phillips so that in the years that followed she lost her job, her faith, her second marriage. In 2000, a friend with whom she was visiting in New Mexico urged Phillips to start drawing, since she’d been a student of graphic design. “Abruptly, the pictures tumbled forth. The subject: the killer’s face–one version after another in wild, furious, almost brutal renditions. ‘I had been thinking about it a long time,…And it came out with such energy–I probably had 30 pieces of art when I was done. I was like, ‘Thank God that’s out on the page and not inside me anymore!’ ” Phillips, an award-winning abstract artist, living in New Smyrna Beach, Florida confirms that “Painting catapulted me through my final phase of grieving and loss…It basically saved my life.”

According to the article “Of all the qualities that distinguish older artists, perseverance may be the most vital.” In her 9th decade, author Eugenia Lovett West had her first novel, Without Warning, published in 2007 and its sequel, Overkill, came out in 2009. Two more books are in the works. West hopes her story “…inspires older writers to persevere. It’s a blessing to wake up in the morning with the urge to create.”

So here I sit at 12:31 a.m. still typing away at the keyboard, husband snoring in his favorite recliner, with the TV “watching” him, and pets slumbering comfortably nearby. Will I too be allowed to rest, or am I doomed to give voice to the “genius” of my old age without let up?

 “fountain of youth,” may be the death of me yet…hugmamma.

bump and grind

Returned to exercise class this morning after weeks of sporadic attendance. At 8:15 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, it’s a real challenge for me to get myself up and primed for moving. I’m an habitual night owl, never have been the early bird, at least not willingly. I’ve long since chucked the routine of rising at 4:30 to dress and breakfast before schlepping to the office to make a buck. I’ve tremendous respect for my husband who goes to work like the mailman, in rain, snow, hail and thunderstorm. Regardless of how he may feel, though I’ve never known him to be anything less than passionate about work, his mantra is “The show must go on!” I guess it’s true what they say. Introverts blossom on stage, and my husband’s job is definitely where he takes to the spotlight, and shines.

My shining moment is in the gym during exercise class. When the music starts, so do I. My surroundings are transformed into an imaginary club, and I become a dancing fool. When my daughter’s been home and accompanied me, she lovingly recaps my butterfly arm movements as I move from side to side. She’s just jealous, I think. Her career has already caused the beginnings of arthritis, so she can be as stiff as me sometimes. So she might be wishing she could move like her 61-year-old mom. Although I don’t think that’s really the case. She just thinks I’m goofy,loveable, but goofy.

Thank goodness our class is comprised of mostly seniors like me. Nobody competes; we just try to survive. The instructor, a Brit in her 50’s, is a dynamo. She’s a role model for all of us, but we could never be her equal. She’s been teaching classes for 20+ years, and was a student herself before that. She also subs for the senior center classes, and is a personal trainer as well. I believe she also works with a trainer, and attends refresher classes. Her life is exercising; mine is avoiding it whenever I can.

Thankfully, my mind has been dragging my body to exercise class for several years now. My body would rather remain on the memory foam mattress; my mind wants to harness the sun and be up and at ’em. Unless I’m suffering with allergies, a sore ankle, aching back, sleep deprivation, or the day is overcast or rain is threatening, you get the drift, I drag myself to the gym. Once there, I have a blast bumping and grinding with my fellow weight conscious friends.

There are 2 very important benefits to be reaped from sweating until it hurts, it counteracts the effects of Alzheimer’s and the camaraderie is priceless. Doing step on Wednesdays must stave off the disease that robs one’s memory. (Back from a time out. Sitka, my mixed-breed Maine Coone, wanted to give me hugs and kisses.)  My brain cannot wander for a second, otherwise I’m completely out of sync with everyonelse. And I have to bring my entire focus to bear to get back into moving with the group, for they, of course, continued without me. Fortunately no one laughs; they’re too busy making sure they keep up. However, I do chuckle at my own mistakes. It’s either laugh or cry. I’m way too old to cry over “spilled milk,” or a misstep. Besides it’d take up precious seconds which I desperately  need to get my groove back again.

Coffee with the ladies afterwards is always fun. Conversation runs the gamut from talking about deadbeat husbands or kids, to sagging body parts. We’re not brutal, just honest. Venting with others going through similar experiences helps us realize that we’re living in the same world. We’re all trying to get through the day, the week, the month, the year, and the rest of our lives with as much vim and vigor as possible. We all get a good dose of positive reinforcement while sipping a cup of flavored coffee, soy latte, or green tea. “Sisters” in exercise; “sisters” in life.

take a “step”, and sip some coffee…hugmamma