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Monday, December 15, 2014

Lately...

 HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL(S)

I was one of the biggest skeptics when we decided to do Sweeney Todd.  I'll admit it.  But it turned out to be a really fun experience! The music of Steven Sondheim is absolutely crazy and brilliant all at the same time.  Changes in key signature and time signature abound, but incredibly beautiful melodies (such as, "I Feel You Joanna") are heart melting.  

We felt so cool in our Sweeney gear...plus, it was the most AMAZING excuse to wears sweats to school!

Nathan is my hero!

Best accompanist out there.

Mikell, our fearless director, and Erin, our amazing choreographer


This is Hughes, the musical mascot.

I wanted to sit in the pit during the last performance, so Emily got me an instrument to "play" and I pretended to play during some of the numbers.  I felt slightly guilty and rebellious but it was really amusing to those of us in the pit. At least one person thought I could really play the trumpet!


Here we are modeling our "red mufflers," a thank you gift from Mikell

Closing night!

Here is John, our technical director. Love him and his students!


I had the chance to drive down with Celestial and delightful baby Beau to Duchesne, close to her home town, to see my cousin Emmy play Ms. Dorothy in "Thoroughly Modern Millie."  She was darling! Her voice is phenomenal! #soproud



NEW HOUSE
Michelle and I moved and we now have a ginormous kitchen!!!

I bought couches from a consignment shop.  We now have carpet in our living room, which we are both stoked about.  This picture features the music wreath Christina made me!

HOLIDAY PERFORMANCE SEASON


Michelle is my biggest supporter- she comes to EVERY SINGLE choir concert I give at Highland and to every Temple Square performance.  I don't know how she does it! It really means so much to me to always have at least one person there to lean on.  We always go out afterwards and "debrief." What an amazing friend and roommate! I am so lucky. 

Our caroling social put on by the choir council was a smashing success! There were probably 80-90 kids there and TONS of food and hot chocolate.  There were several students who aren't even choir, which makes this annual activity is a great recruiting tool for us!



We sang at the City Creek mall in front of the giant Christmas tree.  I didn't make Christmas cards to send out, but this is my Christmas card picture. So Merry Christmas, everyone!

Love this kid with all my heart!

I had an amazing experience at our holiday concert at Highland this year (notice our amazing new shell!).  This is what I wrote on my Facebook after the event: "Time to get sentimental. The holidays can be a lonely time when you live far from your loved ones and you do not yet have a little family of your own. Today, as I looked at my choir students singing Candlelight Carol together (including at least 6 dear alumni), I felt overwhelmed with gratitude for every sweet face. I felt like the richest woman in the world to know each kid by name and to associate with them daily. They bring me such joy and because of them, I will never be alone."

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Thanksgiving Break Part 2

On our last day together, we decided last minute to take a family picture. Anna has a friend who does photography at BYU who came over and took a couple shots.  We decided not to worry about color scheme and just dress up in church clothes.  We took the pictures right outside the condo.  This picture taking experience was fantastic- totally low stress. The whole picture taking part took maybe 10-15 minutes. 

Ready for pictures! (There was no way we would ask Ella to part with the cat ears Aunt Anna gave her the night before!)
Photo cred to Anna who took this so I could have a new Facebook profile picture. Ah, Facebook.
I was obsessed with Anna's outift. SO CUTE! She is such a doll!

After the pictures, we all crammed in the elevator to head back up to the condo. This is one of my favorite pictures from the whole trip!
Look at these lovelies- I am so lucky to call them mine!

Sweet Ella got the chance to visit her Great Grandma Carolyn before going back to Texas.


Grandma illustrated "Twas the Night Before Christmas" to read to all her grandchildren as a very special Christmas gift. 

This is one of my favorite pictures of Ella! I wonder what Mommy was saying to make her laugh so hard! :-)

Four generations!

My dad took Ella and her parents to play in the snow in the mountains (as there was none to be found around town!).

We ended the evening seeing the unparalleled lights on temple square!



Aunt Shana with her only nephew!

I realize I'm biased, but I am so blessed to have the best family in the universe. I love them and can't wait to be all be together again!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Doing homework from an OCD perspective

I've been doing hours of ELL homework tonight, as I am two classes away from being ELL certified and have to finish the courses before the first ones I took expire.  Our district requires a certain number of these classes completed within a set period of time. This is all happening right in the middle of trying to finish grad school.  The timing is beautiful.  And after the 2015 calendar year, I will never take a university class ever again.  You can quote me on that.   

As I do my homework tonight, I fight little OCD battles continuously.  They are so much easier to combat, however, now that I know the character of the enemy I fight.  As I'm reading my assigned chapter of the text, there is a chart that is not part of the main body of the reading. I start to read every word of it, as I feel like I won't have honestly read the chapter if I don't read every word on each page.  I stop myself.  I decide to get the main points of the chart and skim the rest.  I have achieved a small victory!

Next are the video clips.  We have to take notes on 27 different clips online of a teacher and his/her classroom. Some clips are 6 minutes long.  I feel like I am going to pull my eyeballs out of their sockets.  I think to myself, "I've filled in the entire box of notes for this six clip and there are still two minutes left.  Haven't I gotten the gist of this clip by now?  Isn't it okay to move on?" But it isn't.  Not for me tonight  I have to watch until the time runs out on each and every one.  This is a fight I can't win this time around.

Last is the survey.  A big nightmare for people suffering from OCD, especially scrupulosity, are self-evaluations like these:


Trying to give an honest indication of how I am doing in countless, detailed categories is a nightmare. How can I accurately and honestly judge everything I do? I feel much better and more honest giving myself a low score on everything. That way, I can be sure I didn't dishonestly overestimate what kind of teacher I am.  For some reason, underestimation doesn't bother me.  It doesn't feel like dishonesty. This goes to show how distorted one's obsessive compulsive thinking becomes when left to its own devices.  Luckily, we who have been down this road over and over again have collected coping mechanisms through therapy, medication, and life experience to maintain equilibrium.

But it's a war we never stop fighting.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Scrupulosity

Since I began sharing my story about OCD, I have gotten sweet emails, phone calls, comments, and Facebook messages from people who have played roles in many different parts of my life.  It is the personal stories they share that keep me motivated to continue offering whatever insight I can from my own experience. A former mission companion submitted a post on depression that I have not yet published because I have to translate it from Portuguese to English first. Stay tuned!

One friend surprised me after my first mental illness blog post by identifying my anxiety as scrupulosity, which I had not yet revealed to readers. He knew because he had identical experiences and was a fellow sufferer of this particular form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  In light of this new connection, we decided to get together to share experiences and offer support.  It was amazing.  I can't describe what it feels like to talk to someone who really "gets it" because they have been down the same road.  It's a different experience than talking with a therapist.  For example, I would say to him, "Did you ever do [insert irrational behavior here]" and he would throw back his head and laugh because he knew exactly what I was talking about.   

Sometimes, I would reveal something I obsessed over and he would look at me with wide eyes because he couldn't believe how irrational it was.  The next minute, he would share one of his own obsessions, and I would say, "That's so weird!" We recognized easily that the other had nothing to worry about regarding that particular issue; yet, we both spent an inordinate amount of time suffering over it.

As we shared experiences back and forth, I was reminded of some funny things I did on my mission in order to relieve my guilty conscience. 

When I was a young girl, I knew my church taught us to avoid coffee and tea because of the addictive nature of caffeine.  On my own, I took it a step further: I never drank caffeinated soda. To clarify, nowhere in our church doctrine does it restrict Dr. Pepper or Coke; this was a rule I imposed on myself based on rumors I heard.  The guilt I knew I would feel drinking it outweighed any desire on my part to go near it.  One day, my companion and I were served tall cups of Coke in someone's home in Brazil.  I knew there was absolutely no way I could drink that soda and have a clean conscience. Not wanting to be rude, I subtly went to the bathroom and poured it down the sink and returned with the empty cup.  Then the guilt set in.  I had been dishonest.  I not only wasted their drink, but I led them to believe I drank it.  What started out as one obsession (not drinking caffeine) turned in to a different obsession (being honest).  Whenever I look back on that experience, I kick myself.  If I could go back, I would down that Coke in a heartbeat. They were sharing what they had with me.  There was no scripture that said I could not drink it.  Why was I so rigid to a standard imposed on me by only myself? Why couldn't I understand the spirit of the law. I now know why I couldn't bring myself to drink it. And I'm grateful that my ability to discern right from wrong is much keener now that I've recognized the way my brain works and found ways to cope.

Another time, my companion and I were in the home of a less active member of the church.  She was extremely nervous about having us over for lunch because she hadn't fed the missionaries in quite some time.  We noticed her pouring what looked like wine over the salad.  Being obsessively paranoid, I asked her about it.  She said, "Well, since we don't drink wine, I use it on salad instead."  I knew saying something or refusing to eat the food she prepared would hurt her feelings deeply.  My companion had already eaten her salad before we found out about the wine for dressing.  I, however, panicked about the uneaten salad on my plate.  When the woman went in to the kitchen, I picked up the remaining salad with my hand it shoved it in to my coat pocket.  My companion and I struggled with all our might to hold it together for the rest of the meal.  This was another situation where two obsessive desires battled each other.  I absolutely did not want to hurt this sweet sister's feelings; yet, I could not eat the salad without feeling like I gravely sinned.  So, I found a "resolution" to my guilt that wasn't actually a reasonable solution. 

This leads me to another thing my friend and I discussed tonight.  When someone has OCD, he/she feels a compulsive need to resolve his/her obsessions. Someone who is worried about germs might compulsively brush his/her teeth or hands to relieve the obsession of feeling dirty.  With scrupulosity, one's obsessions are most always centered around guilt.  One common way to relieve the guilt is to ask someone for validation.  For example, when I was in high school and college (before I knew anything about OCD or scrupulosity), I constantly called my mom and recounted scenarios similar to the following: "Mom, on my test today, I forgot to do the back and got a bad grade. When I showed my teacher, she let me re-do it with no questions asked.  Is that cheating because normally teachers shouldn't let me do that?" I couldn't allow my mind to rest until my mom assured me that what I did was not dishonest.  After my mission, however, my therapist advised me to tell those who I was used to calling for reassurance that they were no longer allowed to validate my irrational fears.  I had to learn how to validate myself.  A couple friends tried to hold me to that rule. It was difficult because I had not yet trained myself to do it. 

My friend swears by the book Brain Lock by Jeffrey M. Schwartz I am looking forward to reading it because the title is a perfect description of what happens to those of us who cannot let go of an irrational fear.  Has anyone else out there read it?



Monday, December 1, 2014

Let's Talk About What is Commonly Known as Mental Illness: Part 6

Tonight is my first performance of the holiday season with my HHS Madrigals. I am so excited! I have an incredible bunch of kids and we have lots of cool gigs lined up for the month of December.  Tonight, we get to sing for US Veterans who are now in a nursing home.  It is one of my favorite performances we give each year.

As I sit in my (a bit too snug) dress and heels, I can't help but remember this time last year.  I was in graduate school approaching finals week, I was working a six hour shift at the temple on Saturdays, I had just begun a new calling in the stake, and I was starting another very busy music season with my choirs. 

Right in the middle of this blizzard of early mornings and long days, I got it in my head that I wasn't serving enough.  I feel richly blessed, and I felt like I was being totally ungrateful by not doing something nice for every single person I knew. I started to to obsess over it.  I would make treats and deliver them to a group of people, only to remember an entirely different group of people I forgot. I couldn't let it go.  Rather than seeing the contributions I made, I only saw what I was missing.   It was no longer about serving people or spreading love. It was about me reaching an unattainable quota I imposed on myself so I wouldn't feel guilty anymore. I tried to give back in three weeks what my friends, family, and co-workers gave me gradually over an entire year.  I wanted to repay all my debts and say all my thank yous.

Needless to say, I got to a breaking point.  I had to change my attitude or else complete and utter misery was going to be my constant companion.  I had a heart-to-heart with my parents about what I was feeling.  I needed someone's permission to let go of the guilt and worry. Their assurances and love are the most powerful tools to help me overcome intense anxiety.  Of course, I know I can't lean entirely on them for support; I have to do my part through counseling and medication when necessary.  But knowing they are there makes everything seem bearable. 

I am grateful for that experience, because I refuse to make the same mistake this year.  I am going to keep my focus on the spirit of the season and not make it about me.  I will try to show my love through my words and smiles when I'm too busy to do anything else. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Let's Talk About "Mental Illness": Part 5

The other day, I was chatting with my sister-in-law about this series.  I addressed the stigma that mental illness is often viewed as something controllable by the individual.  Many think it's "all in one's head."  She said, "Yes, just look at what people call it...mental illness" [emphasis added]. I always knew something sounded off with that designation.  Do any readers have better suggestions? What can it be called to illustrate what it really is?

One of the biggest battles I fight as a sufferer of OCD is learning to love and accept myself.  I constantly dwell on all the areas where I am falling short, and they are magnified in my mind. I couldn't understand why this was something so difficult for me to overcome. I had parents and siblings who loved and supported me endlessly. They constantly told me they were proud of me and loved me. But it was never enough to satisfy my need for perfection.  Good wasn't good enough. People often say, "Do your best. That's all anyone can ask of you." But I always rebutted this idea in my mind.  I thought, "If I am really trying my best, I wouldn't make mistakes. I know how I am supposed to act; therefore, when I don't do it, I am not trying my best." 

When I was in the music ed program in college, I was required to participate in  master classes with all the other vocal emphasis majors. They were horrifying.  We had to prepare a song to sing in front of the group and wait while our professor gave us public feedback.  I was particularly self-conscious because I was an education major and not a vocal performance major.  My voice, therefore, was not at the same level as some of my vocal performance peers.  The first time I had to perform in this group setting, I fasted and prayed for at least a week beforehand so I could conquer my fear.

During one particular master class, I was in a group with a professor in the vocal performance department who I didn't know well because he was not one of my class instructors or my voice teacher.  I sang my piece and waited for his response.  He looked at me and said, "Katie, you are very hard on yourself."  I nodded, as this is something I was accustomed to hearing.  He then uttered words that bore in to my soul:  "But because you're hard on yourself, you're also hard on other people." I was stunned and, quite frankly, mortified.  Never before had I considered that I imposed my own struggle to accept myself on other people.  He was telling me I held myself and everyone else to an impossible standard.  I don't really remember what he said after that, but it doesn't matter. I got the message.

Later, my professor apologized to me for saying something so personal in front of my peers, especially when he didn't know me very well.  But I think it was an inspired message.  I don't know how he hit the nail on the head when he barely knew my name.  No one else in that class will ever remember what he said.  I doubt he remembers. But I will never, ever forget. I reflect on that evening often. He was right. I spent a good deal of time judging others.  That's how my mind was programmed because I was judging myself the rest of the time. 

I have changed a lot since that class nearly ten years ago.  Medication has definitely helped; however, a huge part of OCD is stepping away from one's own mind and recognizing irrational thoughts.  These are techniques I learned in therapy.  I can now accept my own imperfections much more readily as I see them for what they really are: Human.  Normal. Acceptable.  Opportunities to grow.  I also accept the weaknesses of others. Before, everything seemed black and white. Follow the rules and you are good.  Break the rules and you are bad.  There was only one way to reach the end goal: do everything right all the time  Now, I recognize there are millions of journeys to eternal happiness, and none of them are bad.  In fact, what I before recognized as the one and only route I now see as laden with misunderstanding.  There are better ways to get there. 

A friend recently asked me about my favorite scriptures.  Ether 12 is one of my favorite chapters in the Book of Mormon because I connect it in many ways to my struggles with anxiety.  Here are a few of my favorite parts with notes on why they resonate with me.  I hope they can bring comfort to someone else.

Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.

It is my faith in God that is my anchor when I lose faith in myself. I pray to Him and he never fails to show me his boundless love for me in His own way.  

 For it was by faith that Christ showed himself unto our fathers, after he had risen from the dead; and he showed not himself unto them until after they had faith in him; wherefore, it must needs be that some had faith in him, for he showed himself not unto the world.

 12 For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith.

I remind myself of this often when it feels like the Lord hasn't heard my prayers for relief.  I must first exercise my faith in Him.  It is only after that He blesses me with a miracle.  But He is always there. This verse reminds me to hold on for the miracle.  It will come.  

 27 And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

I have read this verse many times. It was one we studied in seminary when I was in high school.  But as I reflected on it last night, I saw the last phrase in an entirely new light.  Through faith, my weaknesses can be made strong; this doesn't mean, however, that they will go away.  It means that I will draw strength from them.  My weaknesses will also strengthen me as a person.  They will give me courage.  For me, sharing my story with others who may be similarly struggling is part of the journey of finding strength in my weakness.

 29 And I, Moroni, having heard these words, was comforted, and said: O Lord, thy righteous will be done, for I know that thou workest unto the children of men according to their faith;

The gospel brings me so much comfort and joy. God is real. His love is constant.  

 41 And now, I would commend you to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace of God the Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of them, may be and abide in you forever. Amen.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Thanksgiving Break


 I am taking a small break from my mental illness series to record my most wonderful weekend with the family of my dreams :-).

We spend Christmas together every other year. Sometimes, on the off year, we are fortunate enough to get together for Thanksgiving.  When we do, we do, "Thanksmas" and have a mini celebration to exchange our Christmas gifts.

To kick off the long weekend, Anna made this absolutely TDF gluten free muffins. Because my sister-in-law and niece are both gluten-free as well, my family does a lot of GF cooking when we are all together and it's heavenly.

Thursday





Our appetizer, made by ALH

We introduced Shana to "White Christmas!" Love, love, love this movie.


We began a tally of how many times Anna gets called Christina and vise versa.  Right now, it's about 16 for Anna and 4 for Tina. Poor Annie Buddah. I'm one of the WORST offenders.

It's the family joke (except it's rue) that I am in charge of setting the table whenever we all get together.  I used to hate cooking and would rather do anything else. I actually like it much better now, but setting the table is still my special job.

Ella helped me make place-cards.



Scotty borrowed cousin Keiana's rain boots.
Just missing Daddat!
One of the best parts of the meal was gravy made from the turkey drippings and thickened with corn starch to keep it GF.
They had one job...
It was so fun that Keiana could join us! Don't she and Anna look alike?


The two that made it all possible...
Aw...
I know you probably think I'm biased, but there isn't a sweeter brother in the world...

We opened our traditional holiday crackers with crowns, jokes, and prizes inside. We Houstons just love those crowns.


Sweet photo bomb, cuz.

Cutie Mommy!

Watching this masterpiece is our yearly holiday tradition. I can basically guarantee we are the only family in the world with this tradition, as there are few people who even know this movie exists. But we can all quote most of it.  "I love you Snowball. I love you very, very much!"
I love this sweet little girl so much.
Still lovebirds :-).
Anna got in touch with the Julia Child within this vacation, as per usual. 

One of Ella's favorite thing to do is play animal.  So far, she has been a puppy, horsey, kitty, frog...and I probably missed several.  It is the cutest thing. I don't think I've ever met a child that loves animals as much as she does!


Love!
Friday:

We took the kids to my grandfather's farm to visit the animals.  As you may have guessed, this was especially a treat for Miss. Ella!
 
Too bright!









Anna, Joe and I spent a good part of the day making this Christmas craft out of scrapbook paper, thanks to American Crafts where my brother-in-law works.  We are going to use them to hold holiday treats!

We were particularly moved by the outfit Christina wore home that night. Short cowgirl boots, oversized purple workout pants, an orange sweater, green scarf, and a leather jacket.  That's what happens when you borrow PJ pants and don't want to change, but only have the shoes for your other outfit.  Work it. 

Saturday:

We started a new tradition out of an old tradition.  When we were little, my parents would take us to the mall for Family Home Evening so we could all buy our Christmas presents for each other. We would go off in pairs or trios and then meet back at a designated time and place to switch groups until all the presents were purchased.  I got a little intense this year and made instructions, along with gift ideas, for each person to have as they went shopping. It was a lot of fun!
We had a family meeting on my parents' bed before the swap to explain the rules.  Okay, so it's glaringly obvious that I'm a teacher.



Rather than going to the mall, we decided the best spot was the area my sister calls the "trifecta."  Old Navy, TJ Maxx, and Ross. It was perfect. We had many options for every person.
Scotty was a doll during our shopping adventures.  His latest thing is to have full blown conversations in baby talk.  It is the funniest thing! His little personality is coming out in full force.
Before the gift swap, we enjoyed enchiladas made by--you guessed it--the lovely Anna.
After dinner, we all wrote things we were grateful for on little pieces of paper and took turns reading them out loud.



For our gift swap, we decided not to draw names. Instead, we had a $5 limit per person. If we wanted to go in on something together, we could pool our $5 together.  This did not include grandkids, who received all kinds of presents, all outside of the budget :-).  Needless to say, we had a ton of presents to open that evening!
This little one was excited to get started!







Stud earrings!

These baseball slippers from Aunt Shana and Uncle Joe were a RIOT.

Ella looked at herself with a smile in her new outfit and boots and said, "Why do I look like that?!"


Three of us went in on Jer's $15 basketball :-).


Ella was STOKED about her advent calendar from Granna!

At the risk of "tooting our own horn", Jer and I nailed it with the present we went in on together for my brother.
When he was a teenager, my brother learned how to do all kinds of amazing things with his yo-yo.  He started playing with the one we gave him and he hadn't lost his touch!




Mini grinder salt and paper shakers for Shana...


Butter dish for Granna!


We all went in on new slippers for my dad (the kind you can wear both inside and out!). The ones I got him from Brazil wore completely out this month.  They had a good 7 1/2 year run!
All my siblings and in-laws pooled their $5 together to get me tights and boots, both things I desperately wanted!


A lovely candle from her husband!

Aunt Anna knows exactly what kind of gifts to get her niece! Check out the cat ears and the bow!  Every time Ella opened a new present, she either put it on or carried it around with her.  It was darling.  By the end, of the evening, she ran out of hands!
Papa found an old kids saddle online as a surprise for Ella.  They will take it back to the farm to ride the horse!  She enjoyed riding it on Papa's knee for quite awhile :-).

Luckily, we all have one more day together!

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