Monday, August 30, 2010

Preserving Mental Health

Yesterday, Sunday, was a glorious day! We attended church as an entire family! It's amazing how adversity can make the simple things in life so important and precious. William's energy level is up and he seems like a regular 8 year old boy (except at meal time). He gets a bit winded and tired after a while, but I do too! It's a bit like the calm before the storm. Round 5 of chemo starts Thursday.

I have a quote by Thoreau framed and hanging in my family room that says, "Simplify, Simplify, Simplify." In the past several years as I've weathered a home full of 5 little boys, I've often had to simplify. The span from oldest to youngest is just under 5 years with a set of twins tucked in there. So I've spent the past several years assessing my priorities and capacities. I no longer regularly attend such activities as book club, park days, girls night out. My boys don't participate in every available sport at the youngest allowable age, and I've learned that I can get by without a daily shower. And I'm happy. Really happy. Really tired, but still happy. I view the past few years, although exhausting, as a tender mercy from the Lord because of the preparation it afforded me in knowing how to simplify life and accept those changes cheerfully.

I also attribute this attitude to my parents. My mother has always been tied to the home because of my twin sister who has a severe form of cerebral palsy and is as dependent as an infant and the fact that 8 children were spread over 19 years! My parents have never had a social life like many friends and neighbors. Our vacations were never too extravagant, usually wheelchair accessible in nature. But the home was full of joy and sibling squabbles and children complaining of unfair treatment, and curfew negotiations.... The point is, I feel I grew up in a traditional and "simplified" home with parents who never express bitterness or resentment for the challenges they face. And I'm trying to have that same attitude.

I also married into a wonderful, tight-knit family. I have a loving, patient, calm, appreciative, intelligent husband who learned these qualities from the example of his parents. One of the interesting and helpful additions he brought into our marriage is a valued importance of mental health. Thankfully this is not due to former issues or years of instability, but rather his grandmother was a psychologist and his father is a psychiatrist.

I want to preface what I want to share by first sharing some of the purposes to this blog. Some are personal, but include: to have a personal record for our family, to update family and friends, personal therapy, and to help others facing similar challenges.

When we found out William had cancer, we received floods of information and advice from the medical staff. Most of it revolved around William's care and upcoming treatment. But some very important information was for me and Ryan, specifically. We were reminded that our physical and mental health would be equally important in this whole process. We were counseled to make our personal physicians aware of our family situation and make sure we had people in place to monitor our own physical and mental well-being. This also helps to insure the safety and proper care of our children. Our dear friends, Dan and Lisa, have taken on the monitoring roll and we've had some good laughs and some reality and stress checks along the way.

Ryan and I feel enormously stressed at times (and with good cause), but we feel we have solid coping mechanisms to deal with the stress appropriately. We're not perfect. We get upset with each other at times, but when we do, we try to respect the fact that we feel our own highs and lows and different points. We know we each have to be strong for one another, but that sometimes means carrying the other until they can get back up. And that's not easy either. We've had our separate meltdowns and shared a few too. We've also both visited our own doctors, separately.

We didn't sleep much the first two months. Even when we tried to sleep, we'd wake up before 5 AM or toss and turn all night. The anxiety at the beginning was suffocating at times. We still have sleepless nights when we worry. (We're barely 3 months into this journey). And many more await us. Regardless of our efforts, we are exhausted. When asked about our sleeping habits, the doctor explained that although we may think we are sleeping, due to our stress, it is not quality sleep.

We now both have prescription sleep aids we take when needed. For us, our lack of sleep was affecting our ability to maintain focus, process our stresses, stay mentally acute, and have physical strength. I put this out there because I've learned from Ryan's family that mental health is often misunderstood. Medications can do wonders, counseling and therapy are helpful, and no one should be ashamed of admitting they can't do it all on their own.

And that's why it takes villages.


  1. Julie, I love so much about this post. Thanks for taking the time to blog these thoughts and for doing it with such honesty and candor. I love that you've framed the changes in your life in recent years in terms of simplifying and not sacrificing. It's a reflection of where your heart is, and I just love that about you.
    Daily showers are overrated anyway! (Your advice on that made adjusting to four kids a bit easier on me--thanks.)
    Hope things go well at the hospital this week. We're praying for you all!

  2. Julie,
    I love your blog! Such good reminders. I'm so glad to be in your village. You and your family are amazing.

  3. Wishing you could help me simplify, simplify, simplify!!! Wishing I could be as strong as you in even the normal, everyday events that come up. And wishing you both sweet dreams a little more often. We love you guys!

  4. Julie,
    Thank you so much for being such a faithful daughter of God and also for showing the power and miracle of medication. Sometimes we misunderstand and think that if we need a little extra help that we are somehow not faithful enough. How wrong that is and what a blessing medicine can be when we need it. Your faith is so strong and your attitude is so positive. Hang in there and enjoy some good sleep. I'll be praying for a private room for you guys tomorrow.


  5. Ryan has always been such a stable, even-tempered guy, I don't know if we should take credit for his temperament or not. But that fact that we have loved being his parents, (and continue to do so, even as adults) love you as our daughter, and love the 5 grandsons will never be disputed. That's the crux of everything. What goes around comes around. Thanks for the love, and for expressing your love to Ryan and the boys. It makes me cry. It makes the awful details and the yucky days bearable--for everyone.