Sophia Scared…

At age six, I brought my daughter in to her Pediatrician for her yearly physical. This was not the first year that the doctors questioned me about her hysterics when they would get within two feet from her. I kept telling myself, that is normal child behavior, most kids are scared of the doctor. Age five’s physical went by with them questioning me about her and noting “White Coat Syndrome” in her file. We thought nothing of it until the following year.

The Physician’s Assistant who saw Sophia at age 6 was the same one who performed her physical the year before. There were many tears, screams and full on hysterics once Sophia and I arrived at the doctor. I was only hoping this year they put in that mini-bar I so needed. To my disappointment, no said mini-bar was there (but think about how much money they would make if there was one.) The tears started small scale as we sat in the waiting room. Once we were brought back into the examination room, Sophia’s fears were escalated and she was shaking, screaming, crying, saying “No, no doctor, no” over and over again. I feared the other children in the waiting area were hearing this and their poor parents would be blaming me for a new instilled fear in their children.

I sat and watched my child. What was making her like this? Did she actually remember the 4-5 shots she received at age 5 because she was going to start school? I tried calming her, rocking her shaking little torso in my own telling her that there would only be 1 shot this year, just the flu shot. This didn’t quell her fears. Her crying was to the point where she was about to vomit. When the PA came in, she remembered Sophia off the bat without even looking at her file first. She tried to comfort her in a voice that only Pediatricians, daycare and young school age teachers have. That sweet tenderness, comforting.

Through the screams, because Sophia was doing anything but calming down, the PA asked me several questions about her behavior. Did she do this often or only with doctors? Did she fear other things to this extreme? Did she complain of being sick? My child was the queen of stomach aches. Every day she told me she had a stomach ache. I just brushed it aside. Then she asked, “Is there a history of childhood Anxiety in the family?”

“Not childhood, but both my husband and myself have a history of Anxiety.”

And so the PA tentatively gave Sophia the diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and suggested therapy.
(Turns out, unbeknownst to me, both my mother and my husband were anxious children.)

What kind of therapy does a 6 year old have? Luckily this occurred around Parent/Teacher Conference and within one week, Sophia’s First Grade Teacher had recommended her for the ‘Special Friends’ Program. This program was heaven sent. It was once a week and Sophia was taken to a room with her ‘Special Friend’ (an adult aide) to color, play games and talk. That one time a week was exactly what she needed.

And then she aged out. Third Grade hit and with that her Anxiety grew. She now had intense fears of becoming sick. The first instance was told to me by the School Nurse. Sophia came to her after hearing a new kid with a lisp. She was hysterical and delusionally thought that she would get one too, that she would develop one instantaneously. The next day, her afternoon care person called my husband to pick her up because she couldn’t stop crying. A boy fell on the playground and had a bloody nose. Like a switch, the hysterics started and she had to be picked up because she was scaring the other kids thinking she would ‘catch’ the bloody nose.

We found a therapist that specialized with childhood Anxiety and brought her. Sophia took weeks to open up and things got worse until she did. It could be any moment, something so minuscule to the rest of us was a giant shit storm to her and you had mere seconds to calm her before the storm hit. She became Sophia Scared.

When Ebola was in the news, of course Sophia was old enough to read and comprehend what was being said on the radio, she was 8, she was so worried about catching it. I had planned to take her into NYC for a day during Spring Break to go to the American Girl Doll store. She wouldn’t go. Once she heard a doctor in NYC had Ebola, she would not budge from this decision and cried incessantly about it. Even after I showed her articles that the doctor was okay, it took a couple weeks of therapy before she started to change her mind. We did go in to NYC but I swear she kept looking over her shoulder often.

Her latest major episode occurred last August. We were on vacation on a campground and 2 dogs were roaming the land. One had a collar and tags and the other didn’t. We had to lasso these dogs while the campground owner called the dogs owner. Seems this happened quite often. Sophia let the dogs lick her and then someone had to bring up Rabies. Insert hysteria here. Sophia flipped out, shaking, crying, talking silly, as I tried to calm her.

“Sophia, the dogs don’t have Rabies. Their owners live next to the campground. They are coming to get them.”

Through sobs, “But I let them lick me, I have Rabies, I know it!”

My final attempt, “Sophia, did the dog bite you? Are you bleeding? No, then you don’t have Rabies.”

And we spent the next twenty minutes waiting for her episode to pass.

That was the thing with Sophia Scared, we never knew how long the episodes would last. It could be 5 minutes and it could be over and hour (yes, we had a couple that were over and hour). I admit, my initial responses were not the best solutions. I screamed at her pretty loudly so she could hear me over her screams. I ignored her. I tried to reason with her. I became frustrated with her and myself because nothing I did helped. Ultimately the best we could do was weekly therapy and waiting for her bout to pass before calmly speaking with her.

I will say, over the last few months Sophia Scared has been put on the back burner. She hasn’t had therapy in about a year and is doing really well. She has overcome her childhood Anxiety. She is now Sophia Survived.

Second Chances…

Last night I had a dream.

It started with myself interviewing for some new job in Manhattan.  I was dressed up in a flowy top with black dress pants and black shoes.  I was like a child who has come to NYC for the first time and in such awe with the size of the skyscrapers.  I was nervous, anxious and excited for this new opportunity.

My mind was flashing back to some time period before, a week, two weeks, when Jimmy and I were approached by DCF one night on our doorstep with Tyler.  His new foster family could not take care of him anymore and they were seeing if any of his former foster homes would.  Before I could think about anything, past, present or future, I jumped in and said, “Yes, most definitely.”  I was getting my boy back.  He had grown so much in the year we hadn’t seen him.  He was now communicating in broken sentences but answered questions and he was in he midst of finishing up potty training.  My mind quickly pulled up a recent memory of me locking him and I in the bathroom to try to clean up a #2 mess with brief glimpses of my mentality.

Never the less, I was beyond thrilled to have my foster son back.

During this weird job interview, I bonded with a father roughly my age who had a son the same age as Tyler.  The eerie thing I realized about all the contestants for this spot was we all had foster children.  This father and I talked and discussed the fun things little boys do (like smear poop on the bathroom walls).  It was very strange.  We became fighters and advocates for each other for whatever this job opening was.

It wasn’t until towards the end where I was sitting at a board room table with the rest of the potential employees that I started to think that our decision (or mine) to take Tyler back was made very hastily.  Any grasp at a typical mentality I had were now beginning to become that stubborn thread that you begin to pull on a sweater and quickly unwind.  Where would I be in a few weeks?  How did DCF come to us when we told them to revoke our foster/adopt license?  How much weight would I lose this time when anxiety riddled by body with nausea?  When would we lose him again because I’ve lost myself?

A second chance at having my little boy back.  I still remember the huge grin on my face at the beginning of the dream.  How happy I was when I offered him a kiss and he kissed back.  Now awake, I am content this was just a dream.  Putting him and my family through the hell that was me back a little over a year ago is not something I’d like to repeat.  But, I will hold on to this dream and hope that it makes another appearance in the abyss of my mind while asleep another night.

Hello God, It’s Me, Stephanie…

I am by no means a religious person.  I grew up in a very reformed Jewish household where we exchanged presents for Hanukkah but aside from that, there was very little else we did.  At one point, I did want to extend my Hebrew learning and attended 1 year of Hebrew School where I did exceptionally well.  Sadly, it ended there.  The option was presented to me on having either a Bat Mitzvah or a Sweet Sixteen.  I chose the latter, not knowing that we were moving nor that Sweet Sixteens were not a big deal outside of the NYC area.  Once we moved out of the melting pot of Brooklyn, NY, me being “Jewish” was something I shouldn’t tell people, like my Mental Illnesses, because of the stigma and prejudice surrounding it.  I also knew, as my parents did, that once out of NYC and in the WASP state of Connecticut, I was most likely never going to marry Jewish.  I met my husband at 16.  He grew up a “Chri-ster” attending Catholic Church only on Christmas and Easter.  His father was one of those people who attended Catholic School as a child and decided it wasn’t for him.  Needless to say, both Jimmy and I, are not religious people.  There was no debate on which religion our child(ren) would follow because we both didn’t follow any.  Respectively, I tend to acknowledge myself as an Agnostic while my husband says he’s an Atheist.  In fact, Sophia is more religious than we are, as she believes in God.

When 9/11 happened or 12/14 (Sandy Hook), while others found God, I digressed even further wondering how could a God kill these innocent children?  With that being said, I am extremely respective to all those who are devout in their religion.  In some ways I am jealous of them.  I hold Amendment 1 of the Constitution in high regards… Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, & Freedom of the Press.  Everyone should be allowed to believe what they want because honestly, if we all believed the same thing, this world would be terribly boring.

I know, I know, where am I going with this?

Last Saturday I went on a hike in my second backyard, a huge park with hiking trails literally down the street from my house.  Unless I am hiking with friends or family, I usually zone out, focusing on the sights, smells and sounds of nature.  On this such occasion, I was presented with something interesting.  I started up the hill to walk through the hay-fields and opposing me, coming down the hill, was a college aged female with a backpack and headphones on.  I thought nothing of it.  I pass so many people on the trails, especially on such a beautiful day as it was.  But, I do tend to observe people, whether it is because they are being loud or just for the sheer fact that they are wearing flip flops on a pebble and root filled trail (Really people, proper footwear, come on).  The gap between the woman and I was closing.  She looked at me, reached into her pocket, and pulled out a rectangular slip of paper.

As we passed, she handed me the slip of paper and said, “You look like you could use this.  Hope you have a great day.”

My initial inspection of the slip of paper was, “Holy cow, she handed me money!”  Of course I didn’t actually believe that.  I mean it was a $1,000,000 bill, how many of those are there in the world?  Do they even actually exist?  Do they actually have Ben Franklin on them?  Then I looked further at the words scrawled on the paper:

What made me stand out?  Could she really read my eyes from far away?  Could she see the inner turmoil I’ve been going through?  Did God tell her?  Oh my, does that mean there is a God or another higher being?  For some reason, she knew something was wrong and taking a small part out of her day, she brought a smile to my face.

A stranger cared enough to make me smile.

Now I am beginning to wonder, are there really spiritual signs?  Signs that show us there are other people looking out for us even when we can’t fathom the thought of looking after ourselves?  Do these signs come from messages from a God, from deceased family and friends?  Do we actually have Guardian Angels?  Or is it just the sheer fact that I looked sad, this coed picked up on it and thought that maybe if I attended church I would gain a great group of friends and a spirituality I certainly lacked…

Happy 4th Birthday My Little Boy!

Baby Boy,

Today you turn 4.  You have been out of our house for over a year now.  It’s been over a year since I saw your smile with your dimples.  It’s been over year since I heard your toddler voice say, “It’s a Mommy!” when you saw me come down the stairs in the morning.  It’s been over a year since I hugged you, and kissed your soft cheek, inhaling you.

I have thought of you daily.  Usually, I wake up with the image of your face on the last day I saw you.  It makes me think of you and what you are like now.  I wonder how much you’ve grown.  I wonder if you’ve made friends at school.  I wonder if you’re potty trained.  Then I begin to wonder how long I will blame myself for everything that happened.

Oh, my little boy… you are a big light in my life even if you are not with me anymore.  Just knowing you did not get lost in the DCF system, knowing that you are with a family that loves you and is advocating for you makes me smile.  It makes me know that the decision your Foster Father and I had to make was the right one.  I was in no condition to be your Mommy toward the end.  Honestly, I had to be parented myself, I was that forgone.  Just know, I NEVER stopped loving you and NEVER will.

Last year, Daddy, Sophia and I released balloons for you.  I have to believe that our messages reached you.  This year, we dedicated a star to you, one that shines bright:

“Tyler Rocco, Always With Us.”  And you always will be.  You are not without love, my little boy.  You are, in fact, loved by many that you don’t even know about.

So, tonight, as you blow out a candle on your cake with your new loving family, know that we will be doing the same.

Forever in my heart baby boy,
Your Former Foster Mother

The Break…

My breathing labored, I can see my fists clenched, the muscles so tense, it’s coming.  I knew it was coming the night before, but I had to go into work, I had important things that needed to be done, I had a deadline.  Yet, here I was, sitting in my cubicle, completely breaking down, shedding any costume of my former self exposing my true feelings for anyone to see.  I couldn’t hide them anymore.  I was broken.  The Mental Break I foresaw coming Sunday night showed it’s ugly face and conquered my self confidence.

Last Wednesday, I was asked to go down to a job site of mine in the state of Maryland.  I love going to Maryland because I still have so many college friends down there and this time I was going to meet some Warrior Moms.  The first added stress to this trip, was well, the time frame.  I was given two days notice.  I was to drive the 5 hour trip myself on Friday and return driving that same 5 hour trip on Saturday.  Did I mention I hate to drive?!  I spent the remainder of Wednesday and all day Thursday experiencing small anxiety attacks trying to pack for this trip.  Oh, I had therapy too on Wednesday night.  Adding to the chaos I was already experiencing, I then had to dive back in time to my Postpartum self and try to reprogram those memories into less self-loathing ones.  It didn’t quite happen.

The trip started out fine.  I hit barely any traffic.  Stopped at my usual rest areas on the New Jersey Turnpike.  I got to the store.  That’s when things changed.  There were so many issues with the cabinetry and forgotten items that I spent 3 hours putting up painters tape where things needed to be corrected.  Although not planned originally, I was going to have to stop back at the store on Saturday.  Sleep never comes easily when I am away and this time was no different.  It took me FOREVER to fall asleep.  Although in the comforts of my Ativan, Seroquel and Lunesta, Insomnia took over.  It was probably about 2am before my eyelids shut.  Everything felt rushed to me the following morning… breakfast with a great Warrior Mom, stopping at the store and even the 5 hour drive home.  I was in autopilot mode, losing control of my mind to the two friends who never leave me alone… Anxiety & Depression.

Sunday my lack of weekend continued with the return of the rental car.  At this point Anxiety had full on control of my body.  I couldn’t calm down if I tried, so I spent that energy on completing my PTO treasury tasks and working on some Climb Out Of The Darkness things.  Soon enough it was 5:30pm and my husband, daughter and I were sitting down to dinner.

I opened my mouth, “I am going to have a Mental Breakdown.  I can feel it.  It’s coming.”

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about myself and my Mental Illnesses and the one thing I knew and could see was the upcoming Mental Breaks, and yet, I still didn’t take them seriously, pushing myself to do my responsibilities I had for others and ignoring myself.

My husband requested I stay home on Monday to give myself a rest as he has witnessed my breaks several times before, but I had a Punch List deadline to meet.  I knew I was risking my health for work but my pride always comes first.  At our morning meeting, my project photos were belittled and although the comments were not toward anything that was my fault, my anxious self began to fight a battle in my brain.  The battle that would lead me to beat myself up immeasurably about everything that was wrong with my project.  A battle I would lose to massive amounts of self-loathing and failure.  It was a common battle throughout my Depressive episodes.  After the meeting, I returned to my cubicle…

… and started to uncontrollably rock back and forth, a coping mechanism my body created when under extreme anxiety.  Then I started to hyperventilate.  Then my fists clenched up.  Then I almost cried.  At this point, I hid in my cubicle because I didn’t want anyone to be able to read my emotions, to see the Mentally Ill woman in action.  I hid and rocked back and forth for 3-4 hours.  I texted my therapist canceling my appointment because I didn’t want to feel any worse than I did already.  Then my Depression kicked my Anxiety aside and instead of rocking back and forth, I became a zombie.  My brain was empty.  I was void of all emotion except the massive amount of failure I felt.  I hid until the work day was over and then I tried to mask my emotions with a happy face to go pick up my daughter from school.

The thing about masking your emotions, hiding behind a veil of happiness that is so fake, it only makes you feel worse.  So, if you can imagine a zombie of a person with a pseudo-smile walking into an elementary school to pick up their child, that was me.  The second we left the school I spoke to Sophia, “Mommy is not having a good day.”  She knew what that meant after witnessing my Mental Break in January of 2015.  I repeated the same words to my husband when I got home.  After forcing myself to eat dinner, I retired to my room for the next hour and a half binge watching Fuller House on Netflix.

I wish I could say it ended there, but this was only the beginning of Depression’s part of the Mental Breakdown.  As we put Sophia to bed, I was rocking my giant child on my lap (a child that is almost my height at 9) and the tears started to flow.  I honestly believed someone was going to take her away from me.  I mean look at me, I was a disgrace.   Whether it was my In-Laws or DCF, my daughter was going to be taken away from me.  My daughter hugged me and told me that she loved me and that I was a great Mommy.  In my mind, I failed at that too.  Another point for self-loathing.  I somehow managed to stop my tears, kiss her goodnight and let her go into her bedroom all while thinking about how much I wanted to grab her and hug her forever.

Things were somewhat stable as my husband and I got dessert and went downstairs to watch TV until it was time for me to sleep.  Tears and mucous flowed as I was still concerned Sophia would be taken from me.  I kept repeating that she couldn’t be taken, she was why I lived, she made me want to get better.  I told my husband that I thought about self-harming but stopped at the thought of him and Sophia.  I spilled tears for Tyler and his upcoming 4th birthday, wondering what he was like now.  This was it, the final stage of my Mental Break, at least I thought it was.  With all the crying and rocking back and forth I was exhausted and thought sleep would come easily, but once again my two best buddies, Anxiety and Depression, brought their friend Insomnia into the loop.

Once Tuesday morning came I knew I had to put myself first.  Taking my husband’s pleas to stay home from work to heart, I took a Mental Health Sick Day and hiked, rejuvenating my brain and resetting it back to “typical”.

The Summer Breeze…

This past weekend I attended a Mental Health First Aid course and am proud to say I am now certified.  We were deeply educated in the topic of Suicide and Self-Injury as that was one of the most cautious illnesses to deal with.  During the focus on suicide, several things started to swirl into my mind, mostly focused on when I held a case cutter to my wrist 18 years ago.

It is widely known that thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts are experienced by teens and young adults with many ideas first sparking in even the pre-teen era.  Teenagers, with their raging hormones are prone to Depression and Anxiety, the main precursor to suicidal thinking.  I was 14 when I was diagnosed with my first episode of Moderate Depression.  14… 14 was the same age that a young teen took her life when I was in high school.  This was the same year I held that case cutter.  I know everything that was swirling through my head at that age and I didn’t cut myself, what was going through her head?…

All of this got me thinking though, was 14 really my first experience with Depression? Was 18 my first experience with Suicidal Thoughts?

In Junior High (or as some know as Middle School) we had talents we were sorted into.  It was a school for the “Gifted & Talented”.  You actually needed to submit work proving you should be at this school.  I was wait listed and then received acceptance into their Creative Writing program.  Writing was my thing as a pre-teen.  I love writing stories and especially poetry.  Every year, at the end of the year, our Creative Writing talent put out these anthologies:

Yes, I still have them in my possession.

Any of my readers who went to Mark Twain will most likely remember these.  Note the date: June 1992.  I was 12 and puberty hadn’t graced me with its presence yet.  I learned in this Mental Health First Aid course that a warning sign of suicide is writing about, well, suicide and death.  It is listed in the handbook.  This worried me as I was reading my contribution to “The Third Eye” that year:

I was 12.  At 12 I was writing about death.  And I can tell you that this poem was modified from the original.  The line “Who has passed away” read more like “Who killed herself”.  Did I mention I was 12?  No one read this as a warning sign of anything back in 1992.  They read this poem and thought it was wonderfully written and chose this as my entry for the anthology.  Of course, in 1992, who wanted to discuss preteen/teen Depression?! Who spoke of preteen/teen Suicide?!  Mental Illness was still very taboo and honestly, how many preteens/teens were even thinking about it?!

I tried to think what would have caused me to write this at 12.  The only things I can remember is that I was starting a new school with new people as this was not my zoned Junior High, and the death of my grandfather.  As I re-read this poem though, now living through my Mental Illness history, I am skeptical to believe I wrote this because my grandfather died.  Although I was saddened by his death, he and I weren’t very close.  There was more, probably so much more but I cannot remember 24 years later.

Re-reading this again, I am looking at it with the eye of a mother of a preteen girl and I am worried.  I am worried for her.  Middle School is so much worse than it used to be (thank you technology & social media!).  What she will go through makes my heart ache now.  With my Depression diagnosis, I have an intuition on what signs to look for with her and am grateful for that.  I just don’t want to be reading a poem like this penned from her 12 year old hand.  A poem like this would worry me.  That last line echoes in my mind, “It should have been me!”…

“It should have been me!”

I was only 12.