I Died…

I started dying about a year ago today.  Driving up to a strange house.  Getting out of the car and walking up to the front door.  I rang the bell and was greeted by an older woman.  We made introductions and I entered the house.  There you were, sitting in a high chair with eyes darting from left to right, scanning each face, questioning the new one in the room, mine. You were playing with the Fisher-Price stackable color rings holding each one up to show all of us. As you picked one up you properly labeled them:

“Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue…”
I watched you in amazement. Such an adorable little boy and you were to be mine. I had such a wide grin, my eyes showing joy. I was so happy I must have been radiating love. I couldn’t believe how much you looked like me, especially when I was younger, with dark brown hair and dark brown eyes. You even had my oval face shape. It would just be natural for everyone to think you were my biological son.

Dazed at this situation, euphoric like at the birth of Sophia, I barely noticed you then holding a book in your hands.  Little chubby fingers turning pages, showing us a ball or a little boy.  As you closed the book you smiled, your dimple showing and said enthusiastically, “The end!”

A happy beginning… and unfortunately an unforeseen end.

I started dying that day.  My old self, one I labeled “Alaska Stephanie” even though Alaska was a few days later.  She knew who she was.  Physically strong, confident, mentally stable.  Off all medication for 4 straight years.  Slowly, like a cancer, her body devoured her internally.  It riddled her brain with extreme anxiety, nausea, panic, fear and eventually a death.  A death that came only a few months after meeting her boy, a death that came the day he left.  Upon that death, her body continued to eat away causing shame, blame, guilt, hopelessness, worthlessness, destruction, a desire to hurt heself.  A death putting this once healthy being into a spiraling hell.

And now, about 9 months later I will bury you.  I’ve mourned you several times over and over these past months.  Grieving for you.  Desiring to be you again.  Finally accepting that I could never be you again.  You were a remarkable woman, but a woman who did not have to suffer losing a child and losing one’s self and then learning how to rebuild yourself again.  I can never get you back.  I accept this. I accept that you, “Alaska Stephanie”, are gone forever, buried in a grave in my heart.  I will now work to become a stronger version of you.  I will take the suffering and the pain and the grief and turn it inward and grow.  I will appreciate the small things in life as your death has taught me… nothing lasts forever.  And in time “Alaska Stephanie 2.0” will be born, like a Phoenix, rising from the ashes!

Depression Feels Like…

This comes from a friend of mine who is also in the throws of Depression.  I think she described Depression perfectly.  This is how I feel right now and the last few days:

“Depression feels like a dementor is always following me around.”

For those that have not watched or read the Harry Potter Series, A dementor is (in the image above):

Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them… Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself… soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.
—Description of Dementors[src]

I Cried… Long, Hard, Delusional, Anxiety, Depression Cried…

I should be writing my book.  I had absolutely nothing planned for this weekend except for book writing.  It’s just awful that my brain had other plans…

My brain is acting out the Civil War in my head with the South being my Depression and Anxiety and the North being my old self.  The South won a battle last night.

A few days ago I posted a poem entitled “Cough, Cough, Cough…”  While some might of blown off reading this poem thinking it is about having a cold, it really is about way more than that.  It’s about being triggered, triggered into the nightmares of my recent past.

My daughter has had a cough for over a week.  I knew it was having an affect on me, slowly pulling me back down to the emotional pit I was in.  I had started to become irritated whenever I heard her cough which was plentiful at night as she would fall into slumber.  By the time I went to bed, the house was silent and all was well… until last night.  I could hear her coughing.  A dry hacking cough, no other symptoms.  I climbed the stairs, tripping on the last two, skinning my left shin.  I opened her door and all was silent.  My angelic child was sleeping.  Creeping silently, I kissed her forehead and returned downstairs.  I just wanted to make sure she was okay.

Well, through all this, I worked myself up.  Was the coughing ever going to stop?  Would it continue?  If it did, would I get worse?  Would I wind up deep in the dungeon of another Depression episode when I haven’t even gotten through this last one?  Would the anxiety cause me to become Anorexic like it did in January?

Catastrophic thoughts racing in my mind for something as simple as my daughter coughing.  That is my Anxiety talking.  What ifs… my Anxiety loves to feed off of them.

Coughing… why a trigger?  As I heard my daughter hacking last night, as the anxiety rose once again this week, it brought images in my brain from last December, the holidays, the hatred of weekends, of how I was, and of Tyler.  Once the last two images started playing like a DVD in my head there was no going back.  I would have to relive them and wait until the end to calm down.

I saw myself, emaciated, pale, nauseous, dizzy, crying, hyperventilating, pacing, dry heaving, panicky…

I saw Tyler, my former foster son, clueless, happy… and coughing.

He had quickly gotten a cough like any toddler who has been quarantined in a house since birth.  This cough kept me awake so many nights.  This cough lasted until he was removed from our house and probably hung out a bit longer.  This cough was my enemy.  This cough enhanced the film playing in my head.

As the scenes of the month of December and then ultimately January played out through my brain, I cried.  I cried… long, hard, delusional, anxiety, depression cried.  These memories stirred up bitter emotions I had quelled, or at least I thought I had.  I replayed the last day I saw Tyler, what his cheeks felt like when I held his face in my hands, his blank stare as he attempted to understand what was happening, the softness of his forehead as my lips touched it.  I remembered his dark hair being ruffled and exactly where we were in the house… Tyler standing, his back toward the dining room and me kneeling facing him.  I remember what I said to him, almost a whisper as I choked down tears, “Mommy’s sorry.  So sorry.  I love you.  I will always love you.”  I hugged him and walked out the door.

After that the picture changed.  I was crying in my psychiatrist’s office, “I don’t know what else to do.  I don’t know what will happen if I am alone.  I’m afraid to be alone.”  The hospital came into view, the wood doors entering me into the Behavioral Crisis Center… the screw on the lunch tray table I was planning on pushing deep into my head just to end the pain…

Twenty minutes had past.  My husband was standing watching me, asking me what he could do.  Myself, sitting on the sofa, crying, wiping tears from my eyes and mucous from my nose.  The delusional thoughts returning… Would her coughing stop?  What happens if I hear her coughing the next night?  What happens if I don’t sleep and my Anxiety Attacks worsen?  What if I stop eating because I just can’t fathom putting anything in my mouth?  What if I need to be hospitalized again?  What if I don’t survive this time?

My breathing had started to get shallow.  My heart began to beat slower.  My tears became less.  I spoke to my husband through what tears were left:

“I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry.  I miss him.  He should be here, he should be mine.  I don’t think I will survive another battle with Depression.  I think the next time will kill me.”

I was empty, empty of all emotion.  Drained.  In mental anguish.  Still feel that way now, just empty.

Anxiety has won this battle.  It is waving its confederate flag proudly.  It is laughing at me, laughing loud.  I am wounded, the scars internal, healing once again.  I know there will be another battle to be fought, and next time I want to be on the winning end.

“Cough, Cough, Cough…”

“Cough, Cough, Cough…”
by: Stephanie Paige

Cough, cough, cough…

Dirty blonde hair, oceanic blue eyes
My baby girl, almost a young lady,
Soft cheeks, kissing forehead,
Not letting you know what is on fuse in my mind…

Cough, cough, cough…

Face changing, suddenly smaller
One dimpled cheek, curious deep sienna eyes,
Soft cheeks, kissing forehead,
Remembering a failing time…

Cough, cough, cough…

Now pacing, rapid heartbeat
Pillow over head, earplugs in ears,
Long nights, spent awake listening
Irritability growing from within…

Cough, cough, cough…

Colder days, snow piling high
Holiday décor, twinkling lights,
“Penguin, penguin, Snowman!”
repeatedly said, haunting memories…

Cough, cough, cough…

Holding face, your blank stare
Tears dripping, body trembling,
Faint kiss on both cheeks
Knowing you will not be there…

Cough, cough, cough…

Dirty blonde hair, oceanic blue eyes
My baby girl, almost a young lady,
Soft cheeks, kissing forehead
Not letting you know what is on fuse in my mind.

Calming Down…

I feel the anxiety rising.  My shoulders are stuck in an upward position.  My lower back is aching.  My mind has constant thoughts ping-ponging from side-to-side.  My breathing becomes rapid with me needing to take several deep breaths to get enough air.  I become confused, puzzled, agitated.  What to do?  I always have my Ativan with me.  I could swallow that tiny round white pill even without water.  I would relax within the next 15 minutes.  Simple solution, right?  I’m an Alpha and my medication dependency annoys the crap out of me.  Alternative solutions?

Meditation… by Dictionary terms Meditation is “the act or practice of meditating” or “to think deeply or carefully about something”.  I’ve joined several Facebook Meditation groups reading article after article on how to properly practice the art of Meditation.  I signed up for a free 30-Day Meditation program in which we were sent several 4+ minute meditation verbiages.  I laid down, relaxed and focused on these meditations.  Some of them were wonderful, others I couldn’t focus on.  What I ultimately realized is that I am not a Meditator.

What next…

Mandala Coloring Sheets… I had a gift card to Barnes and Noble and thought this time I should spend the money on myself instead of indulging Sophia with another Dork Diaries or My Little Pony Comic Book.  There on the clearance shelving were several Mandala Coloring Books.  I bought one for $6.98 even though I had several free printouts.  There is always something about holding a real book that I enjoy.  I colored and found myself entranced with the designs and the choices of colored pencils I have.  Only problem… I hate to leave a picture unfinished.  It took me over an hour to finish the first page.

Am I ever going to find something that will take 15 minutes or less to calm me down that isn’t small, round and white?!

Rewind back to my childhood.  I don’t remember at what age I began but when I would find a word, circle it, and then cross it off, I had such a sense of achievement and happiness.  I would go through book after book of word searches.  Could this apply to me as an adult?!

When I was in the hospital this past winter getting help for my latest, and most likely, my worst bout of Depression, my father brought me a huge Penny Press book of word searches.  I am a picky word search person… I will only do Penny Press books that have specialty puzzles in them.  I would sit constantly with it when it was not time for therapy and circle word after word.  I blocked out all surrounding noises.  I was in my own little bubble.  Was this bubble linked to the word search book or the amount of medication I was receiving?

As I left the hospital and my dosages were lowered, I again found myself sitting with this book of word searches.  Instantly the bubble would engulf me.  Inside the bubble, I was calm, focused.  Focused on 1 thing, finding these words.  It provided my brain a way to tell every other thought in my mind to “Shut the F*ck Up!”.  My brain was too busy looking for words to care about anything else.  This was it, this was my way of meditating.  This was my way of calming down without the need of medication in 15 minutes or less.  I finally found a solution that worked for me!

I posed this question to several of my friends as everyone is different.  I got a few answers:

“I will listen to calming music, read a good book, or watch silly comedies or Tom and Jerry.  And I ask for hugs.”

“I meditate and write in a journal.”

“Exercise – when the body is tired, the brain can shut up and watch tv.”

All great answers!  There is no one answer on how to calm down.  Everyone is different.  I love to exercise but I am not a runner, I hike.  I do Zumba Fitness classes.  I mean I HATE to run.  I tried meditating and while it works for my friend, it doesn’t work for me.  I am just not a Zen person as much as I would like to be.  You need to pay attention to your mind.  Just like medication, it is trial and error when it comes to calming down. 

Now, what word was I looking for, ah yes… ACTIVITY!  Shh, my bubble is forming!

Questioning My Parenting…

This past week I was on vacation.  A nice time to sit back and relax and take in the fresh air of upstate New York.  I went hiking observing frogs and blue waters so clear it was like looking into my daughter’s eyes.  We went to Niagara Falls participating in both Cave of the Winds and Maid of the Mist.  We took the train/trolley into downtown Buffalo.  It was a great experience… until yesterday.

This trip was with my In-laws to visit that side of the family.  The original plan was to leave after breakfast on Saturday morning.  This plan quickly changed and by doing so caused me to question my parenting with my Mental Illness diagnosis.  Friday’s plan was to go to the Erie County Fair for a day of farm animals, food, rides and games.  Sophia was being extremely unbearable in the morning.  She was throwing several tantrums over bathing and not cleaning her hair well enough.  My husband and I both agreed that with the way she was acting she did not deserve to go to the fair which in turn meant we would not go either.

Enter my father-in-law… a man who believes he is an expert in everything including raising little girls although he only has a son, my husband.  Amazingly, I remained calm during all this.  My father-in-law was telling Sophia to get ready for the fair.  She was wailing, crying, screaming, “Mommy and Daddy said I can’t go!”  We explained that she was being horribly bad and did not deserve to be rewarded.  At this point my father-in-law is trying to go over our heads with parenting and telling Sophia to get ready and that it was vacation and that he said she could go.  Well… this didn’t sit well with my husband or myself.  There was much screaming and yelling between him and my husband.  Then my father-in-law started to yell at me to “Answer him!” about my thoughts on the topic.  Calmly, I said, “She was warned several times and continued to be bad, she doesn’t deserve to go.”

No one is a perfect parent.  In this case, Sophia should not have been rewarded and she wasn’t.  We wound up leaving a day early because my father-in-law did not get his way.  Because of him trying to over step my parenting the first thing that came to my mind was, “Oh my God, I’m being judged because I am Mentally Ill.  He probably views me as an unfit parent.  He probably thinks I should not be a parent at all.”

Logically, I know this is probably false but as someone who questions herself often if my diagnosis interferes with my parenting, it was the first thing that popped into my mind.  Because of what I experienced over 6 months ago with having to give back my foster son I constantly question myself as a parent.  Sometimes I wonder if Jimmy wasn’t with me would Sophia have been taken from me?  In my darkest days, I was more dependent on my husband than Sophia.  Would DCF have stepped in and put her in foster care?  Would I ever have gotten her back?

Why worry about something that will most likely never happen?  My anxiety diagnosis.  Anxiety causes a person to worry about things that most likely will never occur.  Anxiety is what calls my parenting into question.  I will always wonder if the decisions I make for Sophia are right or wrong… I will always fight myself internally on whether I am making a smart parenting decision or it is the Anxiety and Depression talking.

I spent most of yesterday in a depressive funk.  I laid down in bed after the argument not wanting to move… wanting to sleep but not able to.  My medication helps, but it isn’t a cure all.  One day, I hope that this feeling will leave me.  I hope to not question my decisions.  I hope to be able to defend my choices for Sophia rather than have to explain myself to people who are not my child’s parent.  One day…

What I Hope To Pass On To My Daughter…

When I was pregnant, I had all these visions in my head of what my future child would look like.  I wondered if my baby would be a boy or a girl.  I wondered if he or she would have dark hair like my husband and I, blue eyes or brown, my crooked nose or his…

I also dreamt of what my baby would be like in the personality department.  Shy and intelligent like my husband, outgoing and creative like myself?  I never thought about whether or not I would pass on my history of Depression to my child… not until after she was born.  When Postpartum Depression hit, I never imagined I would survive.  I didn’t think my marriage would survive.  Apathetic, alone, desperate and helpless, I yearned for the day that I would feel somewhat normal again and honestly never thought I would see it.  I cried.  I cried oceans of tears.  Then one day as I was sitting, sulking about how pathetic I was the thought came to my mind… what if I passed this on to my daughter?!  I didn’t want to live anymore.  You only want the best for your child(ren) and what happens if you passed on to them your worst! 

At first it was the Postpartum Depression I was worried of passing on to her.  Images flashed in my mind of her huddled in a corner with tears pouring down her face repeating, “I can’t!  I just want to die!” with my grandchild wailing in the background.  Where was I?  Right next to her on the floor crying.  Crying out of guilt and blame.  Crying out of another bout of Depression I surely would fall into.  I spoke about this with my therapist and his question to me was, “What can you do if this happens?”  Instead of worrying so much about a future that may or may not come true, what could I do now?

I applied this logic.  I got over the fear of passing on my Postpartum Depression to my daughter.  I was happy in thoughts with her until the next Depression episode hit in 2008.  It brought all those ugly thoughts and images back into my head… and new ones.  Now I worried incessantly about passing on Depression and Anxiety in general to her.  She would be screwed.  Seems like with each generation, the number of times one suffered from Depression increased (at least in my ill mind).  I now pictured her as a teenager with a knife to her wrist going back and forth in her head of whether or not to slice her flesh and end the pain and confusion.  So much guilt built up inside of me.  Years of therapy to come to terms that it may happen but I shouldn’t dwell on these thoughts.

Fast forward to this past winter, my latest and one of my most severe bouts of Depression.  Once again images flashed in my mind about passing on this horrid illness especially as my daughter is now almost 9… only 5 years younger than I was when first diagnosed.  At this time she has already been given an Anxiety diagnosis so my worry has already begun.  Therapy for her has been a little bit helpful but like her mother she is stubborn and doesn’t want to do the work she needs to do to develop her coping skills.  Yet another thing I passed to her that I wish I didn’t.  Pictures in my head flash from her teenaged self holding the knife to her wrist, to pacing her college dorm room with fingers tightly wound in her hair, to her huddled on the floor with a screaming baby with a pillow over her head trying to block out the screams.  All of it seems like it will be a reality for her.  I know that these images may never actually occur but I see so much of myself in my daughter.

I gave her so many personality traits… she’s stubborn, strong-willed, emotional, impatient, anxious, a worrier… all of these traits that have hindered and hurt me, has caused mass confusion in my brain… fireworks of thoughts, explosions, and eventually emptiness and exhaustion.  Over and over and over again.  Taking a positive approach to this, she has also inherited my qualities of being caring, loving, creative, sweet and silly.

If I apply the logic my Therapist has told me repeatedly, “What can I do about it know?”, I realize dwelling on what may be will just cause me to miss out on her life and my own.  So for now I watch her.  I watch her grow taller, smarter, more amazing.  I watch that her anxiety stays under control.  I research and watch for Depression traits in children.  I teach her about my illness and how it makes me think and act.  I ask her principal at school to place her with a teacher that could handle her Anxiety diagnosis.  She knows she has an open door policy with the School Psychologist.  She is more learned in the area of Depression and Anxiety then I ever was at her age.  There is more hope with her.  More hope that she will recognize her triggers long before her mother ever could.  Hope that she will go get help quicker because she has seen what can happen first hand.

I guess ultimately I hope I passed on the quality of hope to my daughter… to always feel hopeful and never to experience her mother’s helplessness.  My hope has conquered and won over my helplessness… a helplessness that has kicked down my door 6 times.  My hope is my Warrior.  I hope I passed my Warrior on to my daughter!