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2022 was a good year for me and for my family. It was productive and meaningful, and I would like to briefly give a family update and share some of our accomplishments.
Before I do, though, I want to say that there’s been many years I looked back and didn’t see all that much success, or where I was so exhausted I didn’t feel I could really make any goals for the new year. If that’s you, that’s okay.
Like many people at the start of a new year, I had several physical goals. Having been unsuccessful in the past years to lose weight or have any sort of consistency in diet, I decided to take a different approach.
Cardio & Weight Loss: Celebrating the Baby Steps
I’ve been using Fitbit since the beginning of 2020. While I know these devices are not accurate, nor any measure of true fitness, I find statistics very helpful to me. Combine stats with a spreadsheet, and I can see progress and make goals based on stats. The M in SMART goals is measureable, right? My particular Fitbit device tracks my heartrate, and I realized as soon as I got it that my resting heart rate is on the high-to-unhealthily high side. Not only is my RHR high, I wasn’t really doing much about it, particularly cardio exercise.
Fitbit categorizes heart rate into the “zones” peak (85% to 100% of max hr), cardio (70% to 84% of max hr), and fat burn (50% to 69% of max hr). Basically, if I’m up and moving around doing my normal daily activities, I’m in the “fat burn” zone, a misnomer if there ever was one. But that cardio number for me was basically nil, and we won’t even talk about peak.
So, rather than focus on scale numbers, I set my sights on the cardio number – particularly the minutes of cardio per day. In 2020, I averaged a big fat whopping 1 minute of cardio per day. In 2021, I improved that average to the grand average number of 3 minutes per day. I wanted to see that change. So I set my goal as an average of 22 minutes of cardio per day, because it was 2022. Lame, I know, but easy to remember. When I went to the gym, I wouldn’t leave until I had hit that 22 minute number.
I was able to hit the 22 minute goal 97 days out of 365. Not exactly a smashing success, but my average number of cardio minutes bumped from 3 to 10.3.
I also checked in 74 times at Planet Fitness, and walked 142.57 miles, with an average pace of 20:55 per mile. (It helps that a new friend moved into my neighborhood, and we are able to walk together several evenings each week!)
As I suspected (and hoped) would happened, I did manage to lose weight, even though that wasn’t my main focus. I lost 15.4 lbs (from 196.6 to 181.2) and kept those off. (I did get a pound or two lower, but didn’t maintain that.)
Things like paying more attention to my heart rate and focusing on walking are tangible habits I hope to continue moving into 2023.
“…for so he giveth his beloved sleep.” (Psalm 172:2)
2021 ended our oldest son’s sleep issues, it seems, for good. We have finally found a good medication regimen for him – a mix of ADHD stimulant medication combined with a non-convulsant that works as a mood stabilizer AND helps him sleep. He started on that medication in May of 2021, and has been sleeping incredibly well ever since.
This means that 2022 was the first full year in at least 10 years (if not closer to 15 years if you consider all the middle-of-the-night IM sessions when Russ was in Afghanistan) that I have had consistent, solid sleep.
I track my sleep statistics just as obsessively as my heart rate statistics, and – on paper – the numbers don’t indicate that much of an improvement in my sleep, but I can definitely feel the difference. If not in sleep, then definitely in the area of sleep anxiety – how will I sleep tonight, will Ezra wake up in the middle of the night, etc.
A New Parenting Stage
I think part of the reason my sleep statistics didn’t necessarily improve in 2022 is that our boys are big boys now, which means later bedtimes (pushing 9:30 PM most nights). Thankfully, my average wake time in 2022 was 7:17 AM and got an average of 6 1/2 hours of sleep per night, indicating an improvement both in their sleep AND their abilities to get up and fend for themselves without my needing to wake up the moment that they do.
At the tail end of 2021, we started giving Ezra more responsibility for his medication. I fill up his medication container and set the day’s medication inside his door with a bottle of water, a post-it note to record what time he took it, and often a breakfast snack like a toaster pastry or a bagel.
Both boys are capable now of pouring themselves a bowl of cereal or making toast, then entertaining themselves (reading, playing together or in their rooms, or watching a show if they are allowed on that particular day).
This allows me much needed time to wake up slowly, drink coffee in bed, etc. Little Brother will often come in and have “Morning Cuddles” with me. He’s slow to wake up as well, and is calm and cuddly. Ezra is more like a vibrating bouncy ball, but once his meds kick in, sometimes he joins us for “Morning Cuddles” too. Often we will look at our Facebook memories. Homeschooling has given us such a gift of slow mornings, and this ritual is truly my favorite part of the day.
Mania, Mental Health, & Marriage
Ezra’s diagnosis of Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD) back in 2018 opened up a lot of doors in my understanding of my family. DMDD is a “new” disorder to the latest version of the DSM, “created” simply to name a group of symptoms that fell somewhere between oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and childhood bipolar. Often DMDD is comorbid with ADHD. DMDD sometimes leads to a later diagnosis of childhood bipolar, but not always. As I learned more about this particular diagnosis, I learned more about bipolar (previously known as manic depression) and mood cycling. I have a good portion of the following articles saved as screenshots in my resource folders
- Bipolar Disorder Symptoms in Children: Signs and Behaviors
- Pediatric Mania: The Controversy between Euphoria and Irritability
- Understanding Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD)
As I learned about mania and hypomania and their links to insomnia, irritability, and anger outburts – things started to really make sense about both Ezra and Russ.
As Ezra’s issues were already well on their way to improving with anticonvulsant medication (a protocol pioneered by a doctor in Texas), I wondered if we would see similar results in my husband.
I’m pretty vocal about the difficulties of special needs parenting, but I am much more guarded about the intersection of mental health concerns and marriage.
I love and respect my husband. I believe that my greatest role is to love, respect, honor, submit to, and understand him in all things to the best of my ability – as God intended when He created woman. But our world is broken and the curse is real. I am in a unique position of balancing the roles of both wife and caregiver.
Unfortunately, there is no guide for this, and I often don’t know what to do or how to handle certain situations. When to advocate, when to support my husband’s leadership and personal agency, when to seek help, when to be patient, when to beg for intervention, or when to demand a change.
As the years since my husband’s initial diagnosis of generalized anxiety (in 2014), I had grown increasingly concerned at how many of his symptoms were continuing to go unmanaged, in spite of being on four different psychiatric medications. Of great concern were his anxiety, depression, insomnia, and mood regulation.
Russ had been receiving care through the VA as a disabled veteran, which gave us free access to psychiatric care and medication. But Russ was not having any consistency in care due to high turnover of personel within the VA health system, which also caused disruption in the meds he received via mail. As a VA employee, he knows that those who choose out-of-VA care can run into issues down the road in regard to their disability designations. For good reason, Russ was highly resistent to any change in his care.
At the beginning of 2022, though, he went through a period of extreme exacerbation to his symptoms that were incredibly disconcerting to me and others who observed us. This led me to advocate for him, to him, in a more assertive way than I had in the past. I got him an appointment with the same psychiatrist that Ezra and I see and asked for a medication change.
Russ and I continue to debate the clinical terms and diagnoses that he faces, and I’ve come to accept that it’s okay. He has assented that he has (and probably will continue to have) struggles with depression, anxiety, insomnia, paranoia, and mood instability. He recognizes that these things impact his relationships, social life, spiritual wellbeing, and physical health. In 2022, he gave me a level control over his care and treatment that neither of us really wanted.
Russ weaned off two antianxiety medications. In March, he began the same anticonvulsant medication that Ezra takes. As the person closest to him, I saw a change almost immediately, very similar to the results we saw in Ezra. His insomnia – while not gone – is improved, and his moods are more stable. He is far more relaxed. He’s made huge improvements in his interactions with the boys, regularly initiating positive interactions with them. I knew we were seeing a change when people outside of our family started mentioning that they were seeing a difference too.
He’s less reactive in parenting and better at rectifying situations when he has been reactive. He is still quick to feel irritation, anger, anxiety, panic, and overwhelm – but now he’s also quick to love, forgive, and respond in gentleness.
He initiates 100% of our family game nights and has been reading through the Green Ember series with the boys (usually what they do while I’m out walking with my friend).
He’s dropped some unhealthy habits and activities and endeavored to make some real changes in his life. He also continues to be plagued by loneliness and depression when he feels unsupported or doesn’t see the results that he hopes to see.
We will reach our 15th anniversary in March, a milestone that I am incredibly proud of. There have been many times through the last 15 years when my love stores were depleted and I was running on empty. But God has multiplied what little I could pour out. I continued choosing the one beside me, giving all of myself when in the deepest recesses of my heart I thought about walking away. I stayed in the deep end treading water, but am approaching our 15th anniversary still standing beside him.
I’ve made so many mistakes as I’ve fumbled through our challenging marriage. I’ve been passive when I should have been assertive, and assertive when I should have been passive. I’ve grown weary and lost hope. I’ve allowed others to come between us. I’ve stayed silent when I needed help and support, and I have gone about getting help and support the wrong way. I have misunderstood my husband, not realizing until 10 years in how he verbally processes all of his thoughts. I’ve hurt him by trying to help him, and kept from helping him because I didn’t want to hurt. him. It’s complicated.
As we went through the 2022 holiday season (our 16th Christmas as a couple), I was constantly reminded of all we have been through and the life we have spent years building together. The way we function as a couple and as a family, isn’t always the ideal I dreamed of; and it’s definitely not the way other people do things or think we should do things. But I’m thankful for us, as we are, and I still daily pursue hope in a future in which our relationship grows more healthy and more whole with God’s strength and wisdom.
Also, this summer I was able to be part of a discussion forum at our church called Mental Health and the Church, speaking for approximately 20 minutes on the topic. You can watch it here on YouTube.
Exercise + More Sleep + Meds = PRODUCTIVITY
I reduced my dosage of Zoloft at the end of 2021 and started on Wellbutrin. It has been such a good fit for me in giving me energy and helping me manage my depression and anxiety.
I’ve been using a new system of goal-setting and task completion in homeschooling the boys, focusing on 6 tasks or categories of work for a 6-week to 2-month period. At the beginning of 2022, I adopted this system for myself. Goals on my charts included everything from watching figure skating to painting my husband’s office. Here’s a little bit of what I was able to accomplish in 2022:
- I read 14 books (11 Audio, 2 ebook, 1 paper); 4 more I have started, but not finished.
- I listened to a bunch of different podcast episodes.
- I painted Russell’s office, the foyer, the upstairs hallway, and the school-room/livingroom.
- I took both boys to Colonial Williamsburg, by myself! For 3 days!
- I switched pharmacies from CVS to a local, Christian-owned family pharmacy. That might not sound like that big of a deal, but with the amount of prescription drugs we consume in this family, it was actually a bit of an ordeal to get everything switched over!
- We finished our 3rd year of homeschooling!
- I helped edit (in the early editing stages) my pastor’s book.
- I survived one summer season of being a swim team mom.
- Went to see fireworks on the 4th of July for the first time in several years.
- I took the boys to a daytime VBS program at another local church, where they both behaved!
- I helped my husband dig up a bunch of busted drainage pipe in our yard (in 1,000 degree heat and 500% humidity) so our garage would stop flooding everytime it rained.
- I transplated a few trees (possibly a peach, an apple, and a maple) from our now-abandoned-and-defunct compost pile. We shall see if they survive the winter!
- I helped co-launch a kids book club with Little Brother (some details here, with more details in an upcoming blog post), with four successful meetings held so far.
- I joined a Christian homeschooling co-op, which has been AMAZING for my boys! It’s a bit of a drive for us, but totally worth it. The boys have four hours of classes with peers / classmates their age and grade level, and I get four hours to myself each Monday!
- We went as a family to visit the final living place and resting place of Patrick Henry.
- We launched a hospitality ministry in our home, hosting 5 potluck dinners of a total of 40 adults and 20 kids.
- I was priviledged and blessed to do a lot of music arranging and adapting projects this year, including one full arrangement (for piano, voices, and flute) of the old hymn Here is Love Vast as the Ocean. I ended the year with an incredibly neat project of adding the Hallelujah Chorus to the existing piano accompaniment for the recently released song, The Lord Almighty Reigns.
I’m thankful for the gifts that God gave us in 2022, and am looking forward to what He has in store for us in 2023!