Therapeutic Thursday… The Week Leading Up To The Warrior Mom Conference

This past Monday, the article below came up in my Facebook newsfeed.  It sparked my interest a lot because those of us who have been through Postpartum Depression or have seen a wife, daughter, friend experiencing Postpartum Depression will ask, “What the heck could you love about Postpartum Depression?!”

7 Things I Love About Women With Postpartum Depression  

by: Karen Kleiman, MSW, LCSW

 
I hope my readers read this article.  While I do not agree with every “thing” the author loves, most them are inspiring.
 
Vulnerability…  I was highly vulnerable to everything under the spell of PPD.  I guess, looking back on this, the author, is right.  Since my emotions were so open to everything, eventually it did allow me to push back the guilt and shame and heal during therapy.  It allowed me to see all the emotions my brain and body could actually go through and handle.
Fear… Yes, 100%.  The fear is so intense.  Fear of not surviving.  Fear of your spouse actually taking your child away when you tell them to for the 5th time.  Fear that you will live like a hollow being forever.  It is there.  And from being so pained by it, you realize what it is really like to fear something.  When you have healed, you know what not to go back to.  You learn how the fear starts and therapeutic ways of coping to prevent it.
Laughing… seldom but easily.  This one is deeply hidden and very rare.  I remember laughing at my 6 week postpartum check-up with my OBGYN.  I was handed the Postpartum Depression Questionnaire.  Being that I had already been a patient in the psych ward for PPD these questions were pointless.  After reading each one, I just kept laughing.  It was so easy to do at that moment.  My mother looked at me as if I were crazy, and yes, yes I was.
Joy… Yes, we are craving happiness.  We do not understand why we don’t have it and other mothers do.  We want to know the exact date we will enjoy mothering our child.  We have no patience waiting for joy.  Everything the author of this article wrote.
Self-Aware…  Quoting the author, Karen Kleiman,… “It is this burden-blessing dichotomy that will spin things in a positive trajectory as she recovers”.  That about sums it up.
Angry Mama Bear… this one, is the one I do not fully agree with.  While I didn’t have such a disconnect from my child, I know many mothers who did.  With that the “Angry Mama Bear” would not have reared it’s ugly face.  I had a slight disconnect from my daughter but I did become the Angry Mama Bear with my PPD and PPA.  There came a point I was just angry.  I just wanted to be well again and enjoy my time with my newborn.
Ambivalent… Quoting Ms. Kleiman… “She does not want to feel this way for one minute longer. If we offer a glimpse into the option that she will not always feel this way, she is hopeful, she is grateful, she is desperately appreciative. She may be doubtful at the same time, but she so wants to believe. She so wants to just go home and be a mom. She doesn’t want help but she can’t stand the way she is feeling. She wants validation, reassurance and mostly, she wants relief from her symptoms. She is a beautiful paradox of defenselessness and power. Of nakedness and supreme focus. She is scared and she is determined. These contradictions can bewilder her at first, but can ultimately provide momentum toward healing.”  This is 100% true!
 
If we mothers can tap into these emotions and feelings, rather sooner than later, while suffering from PPD, we can attack Therapy dead on.  Feeling emotions are therapeutic.  Like many forms of Depression, there tends to be a lack of emotion.  We tend to live like robots until one day, one day when we are angry enough to fight back.

Wordy Wednesday… The Week Leading Up To The Warrior Mom Conference

Words…  words can hurt, heal, describe feelings, activities.  They are big, they are small.  Some carry intense emotion, while others are minute.  When we write, we use words to describe our characters in our stories.  What are they feeling?  What do they look like?  Where are they going?

What happens to that character, when that character is you?

What words can you use to describe what you are feeling as you sink into the depths of Postpartum Depression?

Unworthy, Hopeless, Helpless, Pained, Anxious, Nauseous, Angry, Unloved, Evil, Ugly, Tired, Hateful, Powerless, Emotional, Apathetic, Dead, Beaten, Failure, Stressed, Confused, Doubtful, Anxious, Depressed, Empty, Foggy, Somber, Shame, Blame, Guilt

Now, what words do you use to describe yourself after you have overcome the trauma of Postpartum Depression?

Empowered, Healthy, Loving, Worthy, Joyful, Happy, Strong, Survivor, Warrior, Successful, Deserving, Wholehearted, Inspiring, Lively, Rejuvenated, Refreshed, Alive, Beautiful, Good, Calm, Helpful, Hopeful

My lists are a only small grouping of words that describe the emotions and feelings I experienced while hurting from Postpartum Depression and after my recovery.  I implore my readers to tell me some more that they have felt if they are fellow sufferers and I ask others to think about how they would feel if they went through it and survived!

Teach & Tech Tuesday… The Week Leading Up To The Warrior Mom Conference

Teach and Tech Tuesday… I know, what the heck does that mean?!

Today I am going to provide information on Postpartum Depression, Anxiety, OCD, Psychosis, etc. and resources that can help.  I added the Tech into it because through the years, there has been a lot of resources that can be found and obtained through the great use of our world wide web, the lovely internet.

Please note, I am not a doctor or health care provider but rather a survivor and Warrior Mom of several of these illnesses.  Back when I had my daughter and went through the hell of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety, resources were very limited.  This was the end of 2006.  Facebook wasn’t what it is today, MySpace owned the web.  Online psychiatric or therapeutic help wasn’t really available.  There was not a way to connect easily with others that were feeling exactly how you were.  There were no Postpartum Professionals in my area, in fact there were none in the State of CT at the time.  My help came from my hospital’s short term psych ward with competent staff but they were not specialized in Postpartum Illnesses.  Fast forward 9 years and we have made so many advancements in the field of Perinatal Mood Disorders, including specialists in the state of CT where I am, but we still have a long way to go.

My first resource, founded in 2004 by the original Warrior Mom, Katherine Stone:

Postpartum Progress – A great resource to those suffering, their family and friends, and for mental health providers.  Every year for the last 3 years on the Saturday closest to the Summer Solstice (longest day of the year), thousands of women all over the globe participate in an event called Climb Out Of The Darkness to raise both funds and awareness.  Postpartum Progress also runs a blog where Warrior Moms share their stories at http://www.postpartumprogress.com/ .  Here women can read about others who are went through what they are currently going through.  Here they know they are not alone.  Here they can find private forums and talk one-on-one with others.  On this blog there are also links to find specialists, treatment programs, support groups, organizations, common questions, definitions and books.  It is a tremendous resource that I highly recommend and wish I knew about all those years ago.

Another good resource is:

Postpartum Support International – Like Postpartum Progress there are links to finding professionals, support in your area, support if in the military, etc.  You can chat online with an expert.  You can find training if you would like to become a volunteer coordinator… the list goes on and on.

A resource I hope you never need but very valuable to have:

National Suicide Prevention Hotline – Yes, it is highly possible to have suicidal thoughts while suffering from Postpartum Depression.  Postpartum Depression is a form of Clinical Depression and carries with it much of the symptoms of Clinical Depression.

Another resource I like is:

Psych Central – They have articles about every Mental Illness you can think of.  Some relate to studies, some are from those that suffer, some deal with doctors.

And of course there is Facebook.  Just search Postpartum anything and numerous Facebook groups will pop up where you can friend people who are in pain like yourself or help someone.

Lastly, please, if you or someone you know is suffering from a Perinatal Mental Illness such as Postpartum Depression, Anxiety, OCD, Psychosis, etc… get help!  The repercussion of not seeking help can be deadly, not only for mom, but possibly for her child.

Motivational Monday… The Week Leading Up To The Warrior Mom Conference

The 1st ever Warrior Mom Conference through Postpartum Progress is this weekend in Boston, MA and I’m so excited to go!  It will be a weekend of learning, laughing, crying and lots of hugs!!!  I’m so grateful to be going and can’t wait to be around so many people who have been “there“.  People who have experienced Postpartum Depression and Anxiety like myself.  People who “get it“.  People who won’t look at me weird.  People who have survived.  People who have come out stronger.   Fellow Warrior Moms!!! (Oh, and I’m so anxious to meet Postpartum Progress’ founder, Katherine Stone!)
 
In light of this conference I’m going to post daily blog posts concerning Perinatal Mood Disorders this week.  It may be part of my story, a poem, an article review, motivational sayings, and important information!
 
Today is Motivational Monday!
 
 
I’ve lost my way more than once, but it has helped me discover who I am including all my good qualities.  The first time I really lost my way was when I suffered from PPD and PPA.  I was a completely different person.  But I came back, and I came back stronger!

Should I Have Become A Mother?

There is much debate in the last few years on whether or not the Mentally Ill should be allowed to have children.  The following article appeared on my Facebook newsfeed yesterday:

Should People With Mental Illness Have Children?
http://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/parentingchildwithmentalillness/2012/03/should-people-with-mental-illness-have-children/

I find it ironic that this popped into my newsfeed as I started to write about whether or not I should have become a mother.  Keep in mind, I in no way ignore or hate my child (now), but knowing what I know now, should I have conceived and given birth to a child.

The article talks of people just like me but comes to the conclusion that the Mentally Ill have just as much of shot of having a “typical” child as a “typical” adult does.

Should I have had my daughter?  Here is my thinking process… this is just the beginning:

My greatest gift in this world is my daughter.  She exudes so much love, and yes quite a bit of whininess, but she is a wise and kind being.  And I probably never should have had her.  I look back on my life and see the pain, the craziness, the hurt that my brain has caused myself and my family that I wonder if I should have ever become a parent in the first place.  When recanting my life’s tale, my worst episodes of Depression and Anxiety surround my children… first with my daughter, and then with my former foster son.  It is a formidable sign that my body is telling me all these years later:

“Knock, knock, it is your brain calling… “  I listen now, but where would I be if I listened  at my third reoccurrence of Depression in college as a twenty year old?  Would I even be married?  Would  my husband have left me then if I said a big NO to having children?  I know, it is all a game of “What ifs?”.  It isn’t as if I could turn back time.
There are many people in this world where parenting seems almost easy when I look at them.  They never fell victim to Postpartum Depression, anxiety…  They never wished they could leave their spouse and child.  They never thought about how horrible they were.  Sure there were tears during diaper changes, moments they wanted to scream, but these women went on to have more children.  For me, each child had one cause and effect outcome on me:  Cause, Anxiety.  Effect, Major Depression.  Not a normal outcome by any means but one that I sit and think about often. 

I should have never become a parent…

How can I say this when I have this beautiful little girl in my life?  How she understands her mother’s illnesses and can still love me, how could I say I should not have had her? 

If I had known what would happen to me after her birth or after having my former foster son in the house, back then, would I still have desired so much to become pregnant? 

My daughter is a gift I should not have been given.  This is why I call her my greatest most precious gift.  She’s my most delicate gift.  And, she’s amazingly perfect to me.  Even with some of her minor difficulties, her Generalized Anxiety Disorder, her whininess, her emotions, she is perfect.  After watching her mother almost wither away, she didn’t get angry with me over losing her “little brother”.  Instead, she was overly worried about losing me.  She doesn’t want to lose her Mommy.  I am sure what she witnessed from me was extremely scary for her and with her Anxiety diagnosis, I am sure she is more worried than she should ever be.  It is not her responsibility to take care of me and I have expressed that to her. 

My greatest gift, and to think here I am pondering  if my life should have been without her?  Please note my past tense in verbiage.  Am I a bad mother for saying that? 

Put yourself in my shoes for a moment so maybe you can understand.  Now bend down and pretend you are tying the laces of my hiking boots.  This is just an analogy.  Let’s travel back in time, almost nine years ago.  You have just given birth to a beautiful and healthy baby girl.  Life seems euphoric.  You cuddle your baby in your arms giving her kisses at every opportunity.  You think to yourself, “This is why I carried you for 8 1/2 months, this is why I became a mother… to give and receive unconditional love.”  Now picture you are home with this infant and within the first week of her birth you become worried… overly worried.  Is she eating enough?  Is she sleeping too much?  This quickly intensifies to a point at which you are not eating or sleeping.  You are just existing as a shell of your former self and this shell is growing hatred toward this babe you so desired and toward yourself.  Think about wanting to run away because living seems unbearable.  Now envision yourself saying these words, “Yes, I would like to admit myself into the short term psych ward” one month after your baby was born.  Imagine the guilt you have for missing 12 days of her short life at the time.

Would you even think about mothering another child?

I did.  It wasn’t until many, many years later that I even considered adopting or getting pregnant realistically.  Adoption was always a thought swirling around in my head since Sophia was three and my husband was extremely against me giving birth again because he couldn’t relive the Postpartum Mental Illnesses I had.  So now, here I am, feeling the strongest I ever felt emotionally, mentally and physically.  I am off medication, once again, for the last four years.  Nothing can break me.  I am invincible.  Imagine getting that phone call after going through adoption classes and extreme amounts of paperwork, where someone tells you your family has been chosen.  Think about a wide grin with happy tears escaping your eyes.  You are living euphoria again.  You are finally going to mother another child.  You are going to provide them with a loving home.  The happiness just boils inside of you.  Imagine meeting this little boy you have been chosen for and looking into his eyes realizing he looks more like you than your biological child.  Imagine instantly falling in love with him, yearning for the weekends when you, your husband and your daughter would go pick him up and get to play with him.  Weeks pass and you start to get anxious about him moving in, about becoming a family unit of four, what you’ve always dreamt about.

Now, think of everything that comes with being a new full-time employee, wife, mother to a young daughter and now adding mother to a toddler with challenges into the mix.  Your perfect vision is slowly cracking as you grow with extreme anxiety and worry as this little boy will not eat or drink.  Then you get the phone call from the daycare telling you they are kicking him out claiming he is too much work because he doesn’t eat or nap like the other kids.  Growing tired and weary, you decide only you can solve this situation and find another daycare where they will “try” him out.  The worry continues… will they kick him out too?  At this point you have daily conversations at work with Birth to Three, and imagine during one of these days that you receive a phone call from your daughter’s school nurse at the same time concerning a couple of recent anxiety outbursts at school.  You now can’t think because your mind is being pulled in so many directions and you have no idea where to start and like the Alpha you are, you still haven’t asked for help.  Think about when this once sheltered toddler is being sent home because he is sick.  It has been so long, you have forgotten what it is like to have a sick toddler.  You are now not sleeping because you wake at the sound of him coughing which is often.  Since you are not sleeping, you are become angry and more anxious and now you are too nauseas to eat.  Within a few days of worrying who would stay home with him because you had no days since you are new to your job, you start to experience heavy breathing, heart palpitations, dizziness, an explosion of tears… your first real panic attack.  Your dream of a family of four is now ruined as you fall victim to Anxiety and a Major Depressive Episode once again leading you into the arms of the hospital’s short term psych ward.  Imagine the shame you have for yourself telling yourself it is all your fault you don’t have your son anymore, you don’t have your dream anymore.

Would you think about mothering another child? 

This time at the age of thirty-five and entering remission yet again for a 6th time for Depression my answer is a resounding… NO.  All that I told you to imagine, I lived.  Reliving it has some painful consequences.  One of those consequences is my recurring thought of, “Should I ever have been a mother in the first place?”
***********
I will go more in depth with this thought in my book.  In no way would I ever choose to give up my daughter now.  Anyone who knows me knows how much I love her.  She is the greatest gift I have ever been given and she knows that.  It is just when I reflect on my worst occurrences of Depression and Anxiety, which is part of my recuperation,  they surround children.  Ultimately, my thought goes to, if I knew how badly I would suffer with each child back before I had any, would I choose to never have a child? 
 

Depressed People May Choose To Be Sad… An Article Review

I am a part of many Facebook groups relating to Depression, Anxiety and Mental Illness overall.  I read a plethora of articles a day ranging from a new finding in Depression cures to how to calm yourself during a major panic attack.  Some articles are very intriguing and others are rather boring.  My personal favorites are when others stand up and tell their stories.

One of sites I read many articles on in PsychCentral.com.   They have an array of articles on every Mental Illness you could think of.  I can relate to most of their content.  One article title yesterday grabbed my attention… and NOT in a good way:

“Depressed People May Choose To Be Sad”
http://psychcentral.com/news/2015/06/24/depressed-people-may-choose-to-be-sad/86037.html

Say what?!

I clicked the link and read the article making sure not to skim it but actually read it and my initial reaction was:

Say what?!  Aren’t we trying to DE-stigmatize Depression?!

This article which I encourage all my readers to read follows a study done on women who ranged from no Depression, to mild Depression, to Major Depression.  It claims some of these women when faced with a “happy” opportunity chose to be sad instead.  Those words… chose, choose, choice… really are not part of a Depressed person’s vocabulary.

When I was recently deeply Depressed back in January of this year, I can tell you I had no choice in my emotions.  My brain, corrupt with crude thoughts, directed what I did and didn’t do on any given day.  My brain was sick.  I couldn’t choose to be happy or to be sad.  I couldn’t feel.  That’s the biggest thing with Depression… you don’t feel, you lack emotion, you don’t care.  Do Depressed people cry?  Isn’t that an emotion?  Yes, but, I cried because I couldn’t feel.  Because of that I was inhuman, undeserving, uncaring, worthless, helpless… hopeless.

To the doctors who performed this research, I ask:  Have you ever suffered from Depression?  If so, could you choose to be happy or sad?  Don’t you think if we could choose our emotions, we would choose happiness?  Do you realize that by saying we can choose our emotions you are erasing so much work that has been done to de-stigmatize Depression?  Do you realize your article feeds the myth that Depression is not a real illness?

To PsychCentral.com:  I realize you post all views about Mental Illness on your website and I respect that.  I do not blame your site for publishing this article, you were just making us aware that this study existed.

To my fellow Depression sufferers:  Please do not believe a word in the article.  We know Depression is real and that we have no choice in our thoughts or feelings.  If we did, we wouldn’t have been labeled with Clinical Depression (and for me, I wouldn’t have been label 6 times with it).

I Have “A Dark Secret”…

With the end of Climb Out Of The Darkness for Postpartum Progress my husband has started nagging me, “When are you going to finish your book?!”

That’s a very good question.  I had told him I would finish when the Climb was over but even though I am an Alpha and somewhat of a Perfectionist with some OCD tendencies, I am also a huge Procrastinator!  This is the main reason I do not write on my gardening blog anymore.  In addition to this procrastination I am still rather busy with the upcoming Warrior Mom Conference in Boston, MA next month where I will be a MotherWoman Peer Facilitator and get to hang out with all the cool Warrior Moms.  I also need to redo my CPR certification to renew my Personal Training Certification.  There seems to always be something.

The most important thing though is getting back to my writing.  I want to get my story out there.  I want to help eradicate the stigma against Mental Illness by disclosing my suffering from the last 2 decades.  I want my book to be perfect so when the opportunity came along to share part of my story, my Postpartum Depression and Anxiety story, I jumped at the opportunity (it also bought me more time to procrastinate on my book.)

I am one of 15+ women who are Contributing Authors for the upcoming book A Dark Secret: Real Women Share Their Trials And Triumphs Of Their Battle With Maternal Mental Health Illness.  We all have come together to help other mothers know they are not alone.  I am so elated to be doing this and officially become a book author.  Three months after publication, I can release my own book (if it is done 😉 )

Below I am sharing what info I have to promote A Dark Secret: Real Women Share Their Trials And Triumphs Of Their Battle With Maternal Mental Health Illness:

Book Cover as of now

Yesterday, I was the featured Contributing Author on both A Mothers Sanctuary facebook page and Lashonta Edwards’ facebook page:

Past featured Contributing Authors include:

Stay tuned for more featured Contributing Authors and more updates on the book.  This may include snippets from each of our chapters, press releases, and of course a publishing date.

Climb Out Of The Darkness 2015… A Recap

First off, Happy Father’s Day to all the great Daddys out there including my own and my husband.

Yesterday, on June 20th 2015, thousands of women, their spouses, their parents, their friends and their children participated in the 3rd Annual Climb Out Of The Darkness to raise awareness (and funds) for Postpartum Progress.  This amazing organization, founded by Katherine Stone back in 2004, started with 1 blog entry… a blog entry somewhat like the one I am writing now.  This blog entry was written by a mother struggling with Postpartum OCD, a mother who was thinking, “OMG, what is wrong with me?  Why am I feeling this way?”  From that one entry to this day, thousands of women have come forward with their Perinatal Mood Disorder stories to tell others you are not alone.  Us women are Warrior Moms and we are there to support each other, ourselves, struggling family members and friends, and all the moms who will fall victim to such illnesses as Postpartum Depression, Anxiety, OCD, Psychosis, etc.  We respect and earned our Warrior Mom title.

Yesterday, amongst the thousands of women, my co-leader, Mariah Warren, and I hiked the white trail at the Sal J. Prezioso Mountain Lakes Park (http://parks.westchestergov.com/sal-j-prezioso-mountain-lakes).  We weren’t one of the largest groups but we were a strong group:

Team Hudson Valley / Housatonic 2015

This group included spouses that were told to leave by us wives, children that were hated by their depressed mothers, and relatives that “just didn’t understand.”  Now we are much stronger women.  Our trail led us to an open clearing with views that were just magnificent:

Here us warrior moms stood, took deep breaths, and became thankful we were not where we were weeks, months, years ago.  Here we Climbed Out Of The Darkness:

5 Warrior Moms… Still Got A Lot Of Fight Left In Me

Joined together by illnesses we never wanted to suffer from, we are just a few in a huge family of Warrior Moms that was created by 1 blog post over a decade ago and although healthy now, we still struggle at times with other demons.

But “Like a small boat, On the ocean, Sending big waves, Into motion, Like how a single word
Can make a heart open, I might only have one match, But I can make an explosion.”


This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I’m alright song
My power’s turned on
Starting right now I’ll be strong
I’ll play my fight song
And I don’t really care if nobody else believes
‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me” – Rachel Platten

And of course, this post wouldn’t be possible with whom I fight for… myself and my daughter, Sophia:

My Fight Song… cliffside at Sal J. Prezioso Mountain Lakes Park

Myself and my greatest gift in the whole world, my daughter Sophia


#climbout #warriormom #myfightsong #postpartumprogress

*******
For further information on Postpartum Progress: http://postpartumprogress.org/
For further information on Climb Out Of The Darkness: http://postpartumprogress.org/climb-out-of-the-darkness/
There is still time to donate.  If you would like to: https://www.crowdrise.com/mariahwarren-COTD2015/fundraiser/stephanietrzyna

Aren’t All People With Mental Illness Violent?… Oy!…

I recently read the following article by Gabe Howard on psychcentral.com:

http://blogs.psychcentral.com/dont-call-me-crazy/2015/06/snarky-answers-to-common-questions-about-mental-illness/

I loved this article because it says everything that those of us who suffer from a Mental Illness feel when we get asked the following:

Are you like that person with mental illness I saw on TV?
I get you have mental illness, but when will you get over it?
Did you take your mental illness medication today?
Aren’t all people with mental illness violent?

I know I have thought exactly like Gabe when asked these questions.  I never respond snarky but in my mind I am looking at you like you are an idiot if you ask me any of the above.  If I were to respond with a snarky comment, then yes, I just solidified all those stereotypes of Mentally Ill people.

Here are my responses to the questions Mr. Howard looked at (and yes, these are my snarky responses followed but what I will actually say):

Are you like that person with mental illness I saw on TV?

Snarky: Why yes, doesn’t TV portray reality 100%?!  Of course, I am just like that person shown in a straight jacket in a Looney bin.  Because I live in a Mental Institution and I love to talk to myself.  I also see dead people.

In reality, my response goes more like this: “No.  TV is fictional.  Even reality shows play up the crazy with people with Mental Illnesses.  Please do not believe everything you see on TV.  This is why the stigmas exist.”

I get you have mental illness, but when will you get over it?

Snarky:  Believe me I wish I knew when I would stop inconveniencing you!  Because suffering from Panic Attacks that riddle my body with extreme exhaustion and fear of actually dying or days that I am so Depressed I can’t physically get out of bed is fun for me!  I just want to keep experiencing that.

Reality:  Believe me I wish I knew.  I hate what Depression and Anxiety do to me and my family but there is no answer.  With medications and therapy, I get better as time passes.

Did you take your mental illness medication today?

Snarky:  Why do you ask?  Am I annoying you?  Is it wrong for a Mentally Ill person to get irritated or angry sometimes like “normal” people?!  We are still people and we experience emotions that can affect any human.

Reality:  Yes, I did.  But like any “normal” person, I can get angry or irritated.  It isn’t always associated with my Mental Illnesses.  Thanks for asking.

Aren’t all people with mental illness violent? (This one is my all time favorite)

Snarky:  “Why yes… now step aside so I can beat the crap out of you!” 
(Seriously, why ask if you think this to be a reality because then honestly you are asking to be hurt.)

Reality:  “No.  Are all people who own guns violent?  Most of the population of Mentally Ill people have no violent tendencies, especially against others.  Please change your view on this.”

Yes, I suffer from Mental Illnesses (Depression and Anxiety).  If you had no idea who I was and met me on the street, you wouldn’t have a clue.  Most days I am exactly like a “normal” or typical person.  On days I am sick, I will mask it.  I will still show the smile on my face.  On days I am really sick, I admit, I am a little nutty but usually this occurs if I am NOT on medication.  I am close to entering remission for a 6th time for Depression and a 3rd for Anxiety.  This is due to me taking my medication, communicating with my doctors, family and friends.

I am a sarcastic person by nature but when it comes to Mental Illness, my answers to all questions (even the stupid ones), are sincere and informative.  If I were to give you the answers floating in my head it will only grow the false beliefs behind Mental Illness and I wouldn’t want that.  I want to inform, teach and inspire.

I’m Surely Dying… My 1st Panic Attack

It truly amazes me how in the matter of just a few days, my body and my brain, can completely double cross me… 

A friend of mine recently posted how we are less than 200 days away from Christmas.  This had me thinking about last Christmas and my immediate family that was 4 in count at the time.  I remember waking Christmas morning in our house with two very happy kids, my 8 year old daughter and my 2 1/2 year old foster son.  He was smiling, his dimples poking his cheeks, realizing this is a happy occasion but not knowing why.  There was laughter and much confusion from him as he had no idea what to do with a wrapped present.  My husband sat on the floor by T’s gifts and unwrapped them with the glee a child would normally have.  It was a Christmas morning that was full of smiles, laughs and love.

Just a few days later, this all changed. 

I had been having major anxiety off and on since T moved in with us at the end of October.  None of my spells lasted past a week.  This was a warning sign and I refused to listen to it.  I ignored the heavy breathing, the annoyance of every sound within my home… these things that my brain was telling me, “SOS, we need help, NOW!”.  I didn’t want to believe my perfect family, my dream family, was causing me to drown.  I tried to suppress the angry feelings I was getting toward my children in order to keep my dream of mothering 2 kids alive.  I continued to go to work and act as if nothing was bothering me, dreading going home at the end of the day.  I told myself, “This too shall pass.”

But it didn’t.

On the morning of December 30th, I awoke for work not feeling normal.  I was shaking.  My chest felt tight and I was dry heaving.  Once again, I ignored my body’s warning signals and went to work.  I sat in my cubicle hyperventilating.  “Deep breaths Stephanie,” I told myself.  I stared at my breakfast with disgust.  I was so nauseas that the sight of my cheerios churned my stomach.  I became dizzy, pushing myself against the headrest of my office chair to hold me up.  I cried as quietly as I could to not clue my coworkers into what was happening to me.

Then the tightness in my chest produced extreme heart palpitations.  This only fed my anxiety more as I wondered whether or not a heart attack was going to follow.  My hand quivered at my keyboard.  My eyesight blurred with tears I was striving so hard to hold back.  I was scared.  I had never felt this way in my life before.

And then, about 20 minutes later, the moment passed.

I thought I was in the clear when about a half hour later all the symptoms I had just experienced came roaring back.  My body was exhausted from fighting it the first time.  Professionals say there are two types of people with anxiety… the fighters and the flighters.  I am the former.  I fought so hard, I was dumbfounded I didn’t pass out from fatigue.  Just like the first time, after about 20 minutes, I succumbed to exhaustion.

This cycle repeated itself over and over that morning.  My coworkers were still clueless.  Most of them weren’t there due to vacation days they needed to use.  Those that were, I hid the terror in me from them with a fake smile.  It was 1pm at work which was lunch time.  I went down with my coworkers and sat in silence which was uncommon for me.  I forced myself to eat as much of my lunch as possible.  As they chatted away about TV shows, I sat… my heart beating out of my chest, the nausea increasing, my breaths become short and rapid.  Yet, I forced the smile on my face.  I left the lunch table slightly early. Back at my cubicle, almost an hour later, the symptoms weren’t subsiding.  In fact, they were growing in strength.  I thought surely I was going to pass out and die.

I called my husband.  He told me to use my coping skills from therapy.  They weren’t working.  I said I needed help.  I needed to go to the hospital.  He could not take me because he was home with our daughter and foster son.  Next in line was my mother.  I called her cell but could not reach her.  3rd in line was my father.  Success.  He answered the phone and tried to talk me down from this attack.  I informed him this was going on all day off and on.  He said he would come and take me to the ER as I was in no condition to drive myself.  I sat waiting for his text that he was here.  I informed a coworker as to why I was leaving in general terms to inform my boss.  My phone vibrated… my father was here.

By the time I reached his car, he could see I was not myself in any way.  I was a shaking, hyperventilating shell of a person.  On the way to the ER, he asked me more questions that took me minutes to respond due to my lack of breathing.  I was shivering so much, it was as if I was standing out in frigid temperatures for a long period of time which for December was common but I was dressed appropriately.  We reached the parking garage at the ER within 15 minutes.  I felt helpless as my father had to help walk me in because I would fall over.  At the desk I had to give my name, date of birth, etc. to the person at the ER desk.  This I did with labored breath.  My father than helped me sit until we were called into a triage room.  I sat down next to the nurse in the room.  At this point I was just waiting for the heart attack.  My heart was outside my chest visually in my mind.  The pounding drowned out my hearing.  I was still shaking uncontrollably and my breathing remained heavy.

Her questions were not easy to answer.  Unfortunately, being a grown adult, my father could not answer for me.  It took about 15 minutes to answer her five to six questions including if I had been to West Africa lately.  Believe me, Ebola was far from my mind.  Then she got up and hooked me up to the blood pressure machine… 164/95.  Then came my temperature… inaccurate read because of my strenuous breathing.  Then my pulse and O2… again, inaccurate.  Upon completion of these tests I was finally moved to a room in the ER.

The ER doctor came in, asked me several questions, some the same as the nurse in triage.  He took a good look at me.  I could see the look in his eyes.  He knew the suffering I was going through.  The words came out of his mouth, “You are having a major Panic Attack.”  The good news, I wasn’t dying.  The bad news, I felt like I was.  I was given .5mg of Xanax.  Within 15 minutes of taking the Xanax, my body was beginning to calm itself.

At this time, I phoned my husband.  Our foster son’s social worker was over for what should have been a happy occasion.  He brought gifts for the family for the holidays.  After hanging up the phone, I knew what was going to happen.  My husband had to tell the social worker where I was and why.  I knew that my foster son, a boy I loved just as much as my daughter, would probably be removed from our house.  This stirred the anxiety in me but I was drugged and extremely exhausted I couldn’t fight anymore that day.  I just laid in the bed in the ER and breathed what were the first normal breaths of the day…

*****

Most people that know me, know that it was only a few short days later that T left our home.  It was a decision that both my husband and I (with agreement from our and his social worker) made in the best interest for him, our daughter and myself.  It was not an easy decision… as a couple of people expressed to me after he was gone saying I didn’t care about T’s needs, that I was being selfish.  The fact is, I cared so much about him, I knew he needed a mother that was not becoming a poster child for Mental Illness.  I think of him daily.  I smile at the fact that we taught him how to love, how to eat, and how to speak in the 2 months he lived with us.  He is truly an amazing little boy that I will always love and miss.