Monday, April 14, 2014

Feel All the Things

I've always been the type of person who doesn't just like things.  I kind of LOVE things.  I find something I like and I delve in deep until I know everything there is to know about that thing or until I get distracted by a new thing to love or until I get a little lazy.  In this way, my laziness actually keeps me sane.  It's all about balance.

I also have always been the type of person who doesn't just feel things.  I FEEL ALL THE THINGS. If you cry, I cry.  If you're happy, I'm happy.  I want everyone around me to be comfortable because that's what makes me comfortable.  I can't watch American Idol (or most other reality TV contests) because I become physically uncomfortable watching other people embarrass themselves.

Recently, thanks to some crazy good books and television, I've been worried about how involved I get with certain fictional people and situations.  I read something or watch something that is so good and so REAL and so intense that I spend more of my real life time than I should processing what happened and why it happened and whether or not the reactions of certain characters was plausible (I'm looking at you, Sherlock) and so on and so forth.  Really, I think a lot of this is because the creators and authors of these fictional worlds and characters have gotten so good at what they do that it can be difficult to separate the real world and the land of fiction.  But, a part of me was definitely thinking that my obsessiveness was due, in part, to my singledom.  I convinced myself that I have time to over-think all the fake stuff because I don't have enough real stuff to over-think (this post, if anything, proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am an over-thinker). 

All this changed after talking to my friend, Jamie, and having a spirited conversation about the merits of Logan Echolls and why Veronica and Logan are MFEO.

 Do you see that look?  That's true love, people.

We also talked a bit about this article. It talks about how fictional characters are unhealthy love interests.  I don't agree with all of it because I think it's casting a pretty wide net.  I don't think ALL women who obsess over Mr. Darcy or Edward Cullen or The Doctor are unable to develop stable relationships.  They are out there, but they are not me.  Also, this quote:

According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses Official Website, from statistics published by the Romance Writers of America, “the three primary traits that readers look for in heroes are muscles, handsomeness, and intelligence”.

"Muscles, handsomeness, and intelligence?" In that order?  I am intrigued by the study that produced such statistics, but I digress. There are those fictional characters, though, that are kind of irresistible, and as this article points out, most of the time they are dark, brooding men reformed by love (once again, I'm looking at you, Sherlock).  There may be nothing more exciting than that.  That isn't to say I want to meet a dark, brooding man (who is usually also egotistical, maniacal, or has some history of violence or the tendency to lose his temper) in real life and reform him.  That actually sounds like the worst thing and really difficult and kind of heart breaking just working through the drama that would be involved.  Living vicariously is part of the excitement.  Excitement once removed?  Sure.  That could be a thing.

The best part of this entire article and the conversation with Jamie, is that I realized I was not alone in my obsessions.  I no longer feel bad for over-caring about the lives of fake people.  Or for doing a tiny bit (hours) of follow-up research.  This is a real thing and it has nothing to do with what is happening in my real life, but more to do with my character.  I FEEL things and I care about people in real life, it only seems natural that those traits would lead to me feeling things and caring about people in fake life.  So, for those of you out there wondering why you can't stop thinking about the latest episode of amazing television or why you are still emotionally exhausted from reading your latest awesome book, you are not alone.  We are all a little crazy, but it's just because we care.

Friday, April 11, 2014

6 Books That Stuck With Me

I was looking through our archives the other day and realized that my most popular book post was almost entirely full of crazy books. And while I stand by those books, I don't want that to be the only thing you guys think about my book taste.

As I was trying to formulate a theme for this post, books were jumping out at me from my bookshelf as books that I just never forgot because they were beautifully written, compelling, and quietly wonderful. Enjoy!

Digging to America by Anne Tyler. If you've never read an Anne Tyler book, you are missing out. I think this has been my favorite so far, maybe because I read it when my baby was about six weeks old and I really identified with the young mothers in the book. The premise is that two families adopt little girls from Korea on the same day and meet each other in the airport - and they decide to remain in contact so the girls can be friends, even though they have basically nothing in common. One of the families is your typical crazy "all-American" family, the other are Iranian immigrants. Their parenting styles, values, manners, etc. are fascinating, and the idea of what it means to belong really comes out as the relationships grow and change and as the girls grow up.

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. This is one of those strange books that didn't have a particularly fast-paced storyline or dramatic characters, but it drew me along anyway because it was just so beautiful and real. It's a sprawling story of two couples who meet when they are young and just starting out and remain friends throughout their lives, and it's sad and happy and wonderful and awful and just feels very true to me. Wallace Stegner's writing style is exquisite.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. I read this book because I liked The Kite Runner and my brother picked up a really beautiful copy for me at a used book store in New York. The relationship between the two women in the novel is so beautiful, and the book is just heart-wrenching and wonderful. It's also an accessible way to get some perspective about a culture you may not understand very well (it's set in Afghanistan).

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. This is one of my most-recommended books when people just want a really compelling story with some good romance and some substance. All of Susanna Kearsley's books have a similar premise - the modern-day heroine develops some kind of link with someone from the past (sometimes she's channeling memories, sometimes she has visions when she touches things, but there's always some kind of weird psychic link in her books, and you get used to it). In this one, the heroine begins to have strange dreams about Jacobite sympathizers in the 1700s. She thinks it will make a great topic for her next novel, but as she starts writing, she discovers the things she was dreaming about were true - and she continues having more dreams. She becomes more and more wrapped up in a story that she becomes more and more convinced really happened - and she isn't sure she's going to like where it ends. It's a really fun way to do historical fiction (quite a few of the characters in the ancestral memories really WERE real people) and it's really captivating despite the kind of weird premise. (Side note: if you like it, I just discovered by accident  (12 chapters in) that Kearsley's The Firebird is a followup of sorts, which gave me closure where this book didn't.)

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. I'm still thinking about this one. Basically, it's a book about a girl who is hired to take care of a quadriplegic, thinking it will be an old man. Instead, she finds a young man who is bitter that his once full, active life has been taken from him, and who no longer wants to live. The relationship between the two main characters is just lovely, and although I still can't decide how I feel about the way it ended, overall I was just wowed.

So Brave, Young and Handsome by Leif Enger. This is a book about an author who wrote one wildly popular book and quit his job - and then lost his inspiration. Seven unfinished novels later, he leaves his family at home to follow an old train robber who is trying to settle his life - in the hopes of finding inspiration. (Meanwhile, they're being chased by a dogged lawman as they have one adventure after another - in the least cliche way possible.) It's a really lovely book, and I kind of love the main character's wife, even though she's not present for quite a bit of the book while he's chasing his story.  Lovely writing, lovely story. (I also love this author's Peace Like a River, but more people have heard of it. This one is really fun and not as widely circulated I think.)

Disclosure: This is an affiliate post. The opinions are my own.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Finding Peace with the Past

Last year, Lindsey wrote a post titled: Naming my Anxiety, in which she chronicled her recognition and acceptance of her own personal battle with anxiety. I remember reading it and thinking about how brave she was to come forward, and that I could never be that brave.

Then my little sister Megan started a blog for her senior project at BYU-Idaho called: Brave Hearts, which she confronts her own demons with depression and anxiety, and shares other women's stories as they deal with mental illness. Because of my sister's bravery, I decided to share my own story.

The period of my depression is almost completely blocked out in my mind. My memories are only fragments, and of the memories I’ve retained, I try to push them back as much as possible. I try to drown them out of my past. Even though I have very few memories, the feelings remain, and more than a decade later I feel haunted by my depression. In fact, one of my biggest fears is that my depression will return, and I’ll be unable to care for my small family.

It’s hard to really believe but, eleven and a half years ago, depression and mental illness were way more taboo than they are now. I remember when we were kids, my cousin Jeremy said to me once that he couldn't understand being in a wheelchair. He said that if he were ever paralyzed, he would somehow will himself to walk again. I think that's how some people view mental illness, as something that you can think your way out of, which is why it is so taboo. There is a divide between those who understand, and those who never will.

Who knows how long I was carrying my wounds, undiagnosed. It is my personal opinion that I was depressed for almost a year before even the idea of seeking professional help was even thought of. For almost a year the feelings of self-loathing, worthlessness, hopelessness, lethargy, and withdrawal were becoming bigger, and less manageable.

Because nobody knew what was going on, the effects of my depression wreaked havoc on my seventeen-year-old self. I lost all of my friends. Every one of them. I was having trouble at home with my parents. I was struggling in school to keep up. It felt like I was on a hamster wheel going nowhere while everyone passed me by.

I remember the feeling of wanting to scream, just so that I could be heard, and maybe someone would turn their head and look at me, to stave off the feeling of invisibility and utter loneliness I felt. The best way I can describe how I felt socially, is that, I was the only one aware of myself, and that made me feel certifiably insane.

Recovery for me is a blur. I remember seeing a counselor. I remember taking Zoloft, and then Wellbutrin before the medicine started taking effect. There are only a few things I remember:

            I remember a doctor explaining to me that I had a chemical imbalance in my brain that could be fixed using prescription drugs, much like medication could heal someone with a physical illness. For some reason, even though I’d just been told that I had an uncontrollable (by me) imbalance, It was superbly comforting.
             I remember right after I started the medication I opened up to a friend. While most of my memories are blurred and fragmented, this one is perfectly clear. We were sitting in a parking lot and I explained that I was taking medication and talking to a counselor. He was disgusted with me, and berated me for not having faith in Jesus Christ. He believed if my faith was strong enough, I wouldn’t have to resort to medication. He basically told me I should repent of my illness! Even now, the memory brings such pain it’s difficult to think about.
            I remember the few people who stood by me. My mom advised me not to tell anyone about the depression, because she wanted to protect me from the stigma of mental illness, but a few people knew.  My parents were always there for me. My dad has always been ready and willing to be a listening ear and provide priesthood blessings, but my mom was especially proactive and a huge source of stability. My school counselor Mr. Malcolm Johnson, who was like a professional friend. I went to him extremely frequently, and even after graduation I kept in touch for a few years. My grandparents Bea and Alan Marsden, who I confided in, and allowed me to spend a couple weekends at their house to be pampered and loved. They never tried to do anything, but just wrapped me in their love and support and I’ll never forget that.  The ONE friend I had in the world, Logan Benhard. She was a bright ray of sunshine in my life, and the only peer who wholly accepted me. She somehow understood me in a way that nobody else did, or cared to try, and was a constant listening ear and shoulder to cry on. 

The healing was slow and nearly imperceptible, even by me. One day, I was driving down the street with my mom and she noticed I was singing in the car, something that I used to do frequently but hadn’t done in more than two years. The rays of hope were slowly coming through, and though it would be a while before I would bathe in the warmth of the light, there was hope smiling brightly before me, and I knew that deliverance was nigh.

Over a year and a half after I was diagnosed, I was able to wean slowly off the medication. I remember my mom driving me up to BYU-Idaho to begin college. As we drove out of town I played for her my anthem, “I’m Moving On” by Rascal Flatts:

I've dealt with my ghosts and I've faced all my demons
Finally content with a past I regret
I've found you find strength in your moments of weakness
For once I'm at peace with myself
I've been burdened with blame, trapped in the past for too long
I'm movin' on

Though I’m STILL afraid that I will one day succumb to the anxieties and emotions that still so often beset me, and that I will not be able to cope with life once again, I know there is hope. 

My depression is always at the back of my mind, and I don’t know if there will ever be a time when it will go away and I’ll be completely free, but for now it serves as a reminder of unseen battles being waged inside those around me, and that I should never judge another person’s actions or reactions because I cannot know their heart. This is difficult at times, when other’s actions are hurtful to me or my family, but I try to remind myself that I am not the judge and that my patience is required.

Monday, April 7, 2014

7 Reasons to Love a Toddler

Toddlers often get a bad rap. It might be because of the tantrums, the biting, the kicking, the shoving crayons into body cavities, the public meltdowns, the unrolling of toilet paper, the spitting of food, the flushing large objects down the toilet... But toddlers also have wonderful beautiful qualities that no other age group possesses! So let's take a moment to revel in the wisdom of the tot.

1. They're terrible at hide and seek.
Nothing makes hide and seek and other games more fun than playing with someone who is adorably clueless. Sometimes my son is just standing in the middle of the room with his eyes closed giggling uncontrollably. Or if he's really bringing his A game he stands in the middle of the room with a dish towel over his face. Now tell me that's not better than playing with someone who actually understands how to hide.

2. They'll believe anything you tell them.
I tried for months to convince my toddler to stop trying to climb the stairs to the attic. Nothing worked, not baby gates, not positive reinforcement, not consequences. Finally one day I pried him off the stairs and told him he shouldn't climb those because Elmo lives up there. (Elmo is my son's nemesis.) It worked like a charm. It's been months and he still thinks an inanimate object is renting out our attic bedroom.

3. They think you're awesome.
Who in your life is going to be impressed with you when you burp? A toddler. End of list. Every time I burp my son gives me a high five. He boosts my self-esteem every day and makes me feel much cooler than I actually am.

4. They have the best physique.
There's nothing like a short little person with a giant bowling ball head and a protruding pot belly waddling around on some stubby legs with rolls and cankles. No one looks better in a swim suit than a toddler. Not even Kim Kardashian.

An example of their fine physique. Also of their work ethic.

5. They are easily entertained.
Can anyone else be entertained by garbage? Empty cardboard boxes? Watching cars drive by? You don't have to pack toys to entertain a toddler, just pull out a gum wrapper and you've bought yourself 20 minutes of play time.

An empty paper towel tube, one of the finest toys ever made.

6. They are brutally honest.
One time I bought a hideous yellow nail polish and the only person with the courage to tell me it was ugly was of course, a toddler.
Toddler: Why are your nails yellow?
Me: Because I painted them.
Toddler: Um didn't you have any other colors like red or pink?
Me: Yes but I just got this color and I wanted to try it.
Toddler: Oh. Well it's weird. Plus it's chipping so maybe you should take it off now.
We all need a toddler in our life to tell us the honest truth.

7. They make every day a surprise.
Some days you put on your shoes to find raisins in them. Some days you get to the store and realize your toddler stole your wallet and hid it somewhere. Some days someone will say hi to them and your toddler will utter for the first time, "you fat." Some days they will transfer every article of clothing they own from their dresser into the garbage can. Your life will never be dull again.

So let's all go out and kiss a toddler today. Don't mind the boogers, they're considered extra protein...

Friday, April 4, 2014

Not really a link post

Here are a few fun links anyway.

Check out HelloGiggles' 10 Female Celebrities Who Have Amazing Views on Body Image.  I think there are so many well known female figures for girls and women to look up to now.  I don't feel like I had that many choices when I was in high school and, really, that wasn't too long ago.  Maybe they just didn't speak out as often or maybe there were fewer places willing to give them the opportunity to do so, but it makes me feel better for the younger generations.  They will have a lot of hard stuff to deal with, hopefully hearing what some of these women have to say will help.

Another awesome quote from one of the ladies featured in the above 10, Kate Winslet, popped up on my newsfeed about a month ago.  I love what Kate Winslet and the author, Kacy Faulconer, had to say on the subject of motherhood and I think it extends to all women.  Here's my favorite part:

"And then Kate Winslet issued the most perfect statement about motherhood. She says, “There’s something really empowering about going, ‘Hell, I can do this! I can do this all!’ That’s the wonderful thing about mothers, you can because you must, and you just DO.”

I don’t have a star on the Walk of Fame, and it’s not just me being modest when I say my chances of winning an Oscar® are zero. But I have felt empowered through mothering. Going through it and just doing it (because, like Kate says, you must) is empowering. You gain confidence and learn that you can do it. I’m not an expert on motherhood, but I’m surviving it and that is a triumph."

This is not an awful thing to be reminded of after a day of battling children.  You do what you do because you must and you can. 

Finally, this article from the director of Frozen, Jennifer Lee. It reminds me a little of the question Joss Whedon has stated he gets from so many people about why he writes strong female characters.  Why are people still asking what it's like to be a female director?  The answer is obviously that it's just the same as being a male director.  It's literally the same job.  Jennifer points out that the differences come when they leave the story room and walk the red carpet.  It's an interesting insight.  Also, I'm really glad I don't have to ever walk a red carpet.