The Thinker

I’ve come to the realization that when suffering from Depression I become The Thinker.  My mind races between a million different thoughts…

… Did I pack my lunch? What do I do if I didn’t?…

… Did I pack Sophia’s lunch? Oh my god, what if I didn’t? What is she going to do?…

… Is Sophia going to have an Anxiety Attack today?  Is she going to learn coping skills already? Did I pass my mental illness to her?…

… Oh my god, what if i did?…

… I’m horrible.  I don’t deserve my husband and daughter.  I am the reason they are without a son/brother…

In the blink of an eye my thoughts went from continuous worrying to negativity about myself.  Unfortunately, this happens often.  It’s a very good thing I’m medicated.  It was these thoughts that landed me back in the hospital over a month ago.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about Tyler.  We would’ve been celebrating his 3rd birthday this month.  Last night I caved and looked at his picture.  Tears began to fall.  Tears because it was my fault that we weren’t going to celebrate his birthday.  My fault that he wasn’t with us anymore.  I am my worst critic.  Once again the Depression showed its ugly face and I began to beat myself up again with negative thoughts…

… I’m horrible.  I don’t deserve my husband and daughter.  I am the reason they are without a son/brother… 

I don’t deserve to be loved…

I cried.  I cried some more.  I put his picture away and wiped away my tears, but the anxiety was there, the thoughts were there.  Luckily, the medication I’m prescribed for sleep, Seraquil, (This was at night) clears my head like my anti Anxiety meds.  The thoughts stopped and I fell asleep.

I was lucky last night but there are times during the day where my thoughts race and they always go from worrying to negativity about myself.  I constantly call myself evil, undeserving, horrible…  It’s a never-ending cycle while under Depression’s spell.

But the sun still shines.  With the medication I get stronger.  With therapy I get stronger.  With exercise I get stronger.  Instead of crying daily, I’m now crying weekly and soon it will be less.  I’m hopeful when my thoughts aren’t racing.  I know I’ll return to the old me, but a stronger one.  It just takes time.

Admitting I’m Certifiably Crazy

My first hospital stay started November 16th, 2006, exactly one month after the birth of my daughter.  Although I needed to admit myself to short term psych it was extremely hard for me to come to the conclusion that I was being hospitalized in a psych ward… It was hard for me to realize that I was indeed, now certifiably crazy.  I was amongst so many other people in for various reasons… Depression, Schizophrenia, Anxiety, Addiction.  I thought of myself as the most normal one there.  After all, I was only “crazy” because of the hormone drop from having a baby.  I wasn’t like these other people!

But, I was and still am.

While there all of us patients had to attend various group therapies.  We had Morning Meeting where we would pick inspirational quotes and our goal for the day.  We had art therapy.  We had actual group therapy where we shared our stories and then Wrap Up at night to see if we achieved our goals.

Day 1 that I was there still believing I wasn’t mentally ill I did not join group.  By day 2 the nurses and therapists forced me downstairs.  I went to group but remained exceptionally quiet.  I just listened to all the “crazy” people speak.  It still didn’t click.

Then, one day, an older gentleman spoke about his Depression and how because of holding out for help his wife and daughter had abandoned him.  Years that he could’ve gotten help… Years he could’ve had with his family… just wasted.  It wasn’t until he described his symptoms that I realized I wasn’t just crazy for the first time now.  Sure the hormonal drop didn’t help but like him I experienced the anger, the verbal abuse, the crying, the sleep changes, the food changes and ultimately, the distancing.

He and I actually became good acquaintances while there in short term psych.  I pushed him to call his daughter and he pushed me to get better for mine so I wouldn’t turn out like him.

I left 12 days after I admitted myself into the loving arms of my husband, daughter, parents, sister and inlaws.  These are the only people outside of the hospital who knew my diagnosis.  I was embarrassed to be labeled “Mentally Ill”… Certifiably Crazy.  I fed the stigma.  I didn’t tell friends for a long time because I thought they would abandon me.  I mean who wants a friend with a mental illness?! After all it took me days in the hospital to realize I was mentally ill, that I belonged there.  How would others feel when the stigma over mental illness just grew more and more over the years?!

Once I decided to tell other people, I was not abandoned but accepted.  They wanted to help me.  A few were mad I never told them I was in the hospital.  They wanted to visit.

It was because of this overwhelming support that I became such an advocate to dismissing false information about people with mental illness.  I decided to tell anyone who would listen to my story… Not just my postpartum story… but my story since my first bout of Depression at 14.  I continue this now with this blog.  Yes, I may be medicated under the eyes of a psychiatrist and in therapy, labeled with mental illness, but I honestly am a relatively normal person.  I don’t exhibit behaviors of a crazy person stereotype but I am one.  I am turning my experience into help for others… I am helping to tear down the wall called ‘Stigma’.

Mommy Is Not Going To Kill Herself

Recently Sophia has forced me to listen to a popular local radio station.  Normally, I enjoy what I call classic rock (or 80s rock which makes me feel old now that it’s called ‘classic’).  I gave in to her request being that her recital songs play on this station and I wanting to be a cool mom decided to learn today’s music.  Honestly, with what comes next it wouldn’t of mattered what radio station was on. 

On our day off, Presidents Day, my 8 year old daughter and I had a day of fun.  This day included the most fun activity of all… visiting my psychiatrist.  Note sarcasm.  Because of this I had to go to CVS to pick up my monthly medications.  Sophia was with me.  While we waited for them to be filled, Sophia was perusing the magazines…  Then she asked…

“What’s going on with Bobbi Kristina (Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown’s daughter)?”

Tough one.  How do I explain this, mental illness, anxiety, depression and ultimately suicide to an 8 year old who suffers from anxiety herself and tends to turn everything into a catastrophe?!  I thought about this for a minute. 

Some of you will diagree with me about talking to Sophia about this but being that she can read, suffers herself and has just witnessed her mother’s breakdown, I felt I had to tell her something.

I told Sophia that Bobbi Kristina suffers from Depression like Mommy does.  I then explained that some people who suffer from Depression feel that the only way to escape their pain and sadness is by taking their own life.  I quickly followed that with…

“Don’t worry, Mommy is not going to kill herself.  I’ve never ever had those thoughts.  I’ve only had thoughts of running away.  I NEVER had thoughts of killing myself.”

I had no idea what would follow as Sophia’s Anxiety Attacks can be triggered by almost anything and forces her to freak out at a moments notice.

Then she asked about herself.  I told her for Mommy Anxiety is a major cause of my Depression but I’m an adult.  I told her I know what to look for in her and right now Anxiety is her only issue.

Luckily, my explanation was enough for her and no anxiety attack followed.

Well, Sophia is a big thinker.  She constantly thinks about everything.  In the car this morning listening to her radio station, the DJ started to list off some news items starting with Bobbi Kristina and how she was still on life support but getting worse and her organs were beginning to fail.  Sophia perked up and once again asked about her. 

I explained that Bobbi Kristina must have been really depressed and tried to take her own life but she didn’t succeed.  She then asked if she was okay.  I told her that although she is still alive, she did a lot of damage to her body and most likely she will die soon.

Sophia then asked, “Mommy, are you going to do that?”

“No sweetie.  Mommy is not going to kill herself.”

She then told me how she was going to talk with her therapist about this at the next appointment and added that maybe she shouldn’t listen to this radio station.

All this has left me in awe of her.  At 8, she’s picked up news by reading magazine covers and by little snippets on the radio.  I can’t hide everything from her.  Most of me wanted to brush off the topic and lie to her telling her Bobbi would be okay but I just couldn’t.  This little girl has seen me shaking, crying, dry heaving, delusional.  She’s seen me at my worst and is old enough to remember and know Mommy is sick.  This little girl suffers herself with Anxiety which makes her nauseous and delusional.  I had to tell her something.

Mental Illness is real.  It affects all ages.  It plays with your mind.  It plays with your body.  Unfortunately, it can occur in children.  Unfortunately, children can witness their parents.  My child both suffers and has witnessed her mother’s suffering.  I chose to explain it to her in a way an 8 year old would understand.  I chose to break the stigma.

Less Of A Mother

I am a blessed mother of one, an only child.  She’s growing into such a young lady.  Sophia is kind, loving, strong willed and stubborn (like her mom). She’s also amazingly talented in the arts (my lefty!). 

And at 5 she was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.  So yes, my beautiful daughter has issues.  She is emotional, a huge worrier that tends to turn everything into a catastrophe.  There are times her anxieties will last 5 minutes and times they have lasted over an hour.

I am a mother to an only child, an only child with issues and still I feel like less of a mother than those who have more than one.  I feel I have no right to give any parenting advice even if it is about raising a girl or raising a child with anxiety.

I feel like less of a mom.  I tried mothering 2 and my mind and body broke down.  They told me I can only physically mother 1.  As I suffer with this bout of Depression and Anxiety I can’t help but to beat myself up even more.  I’m less of a mother because I only have 1 child.

Am I though?  So I don’t have a sibling for my daughter.  She’s still not a stereotypical only child.  She’s a great kid.  She’s a great student excelling in reading and writing.  She’s nice to all her classmates.  She’s empathetic to others emotions.  She’s a great kid that has issues.

And yet that nagging negative Stephanie, the one that suffers from Depression and Anxiety still feels like less of a mom.  Maybe it’s because I always imagined I’d  have more kids and because my body broke down trying to mother 2, I am less of a mom. 

Maybe that actually makes me a stronger mother.  My body told me I couldn’t do it and I listened after trying too hard. 

Being a mom to an only is simple to most.  I constantly hear the following:

“Well you only have one, how hard could it be?!”

“There’s two of you (parents) to one child, that’s so much easier”

“You have no idea the battles we have with our kids” (To this I usually add, I  may only have 1 BUT I am 1 of 3)

“You probably have so much money because you only have one child.”

Hearing these aids in making me feel like I’m less of a mother, especially as I battle Depression and Anxiety again.  It will take quite some time and therapy for me to not feel like “Less Of A Mom.”

When the Joy Fades…

When my beautiful baby girl was born, I felt euphoric from the second I pushed her shoulders out.  I had never been so happy.  To know this little baby was all mine.  She was all I ever wanted since I was a child playing house with my dearest friend.  I would constantly pretend my Cabbage Patch kids were my babies.  I always wanted to be a mother.  Now I was one.
The pure glow continued as I was moved from Labor & Delivery into Recovery.  I saw elation on my husband’s face as he got to push the lullaby button marking the birth of our baby girl.  That lullaby plays throughout the hospital, a little joy.  Little did I know how much that lullaby would mean to me.
I held her… My Sophia Faye, my Wise Fairy.  She was so small but so beautiful.  I treasured her coos and even embraced her cries.  I was on a high and hoped I would never come down.  She stayed with me until bedtime so I could attempt to get as much sleep as possible before returning home where my sleepless nights would begin.  One night I awoke and started to freak because it was 5 hours since she was brought to me for feeding.  The worry was beginning.  Where was my baby girl?!  I made Jimmy go get her.  The nurses didn’t bring her because she was asleep and one thing you learn is never wake a sleeping baby.
The day came to bring her home.  This child I brought forth into the world.  Seriously, people were entrusting her life to me?!  I felt like a child myself and I was 26.  Things seemed to be going well until Jimmy was called in to work.  Some 2 weeks off.  His boss claimed it was because our child arrived 2.5 weeks early.  Out of the 10 days he should’ve been home with me, he was home 4 of them.  My mother did come to help.
Feeding was another issue.  My baby girl had no issues latching but she just felt like it was sleepy time once she did.  Okay, no problem, I would supplement with formula.  Even then I began to worry she wasn’t gaining weight.  I began to worry that she didn’t cry enough.  I worried she was too hot or too cold.  With all this worry, I started to have issues sleeping.  This should’ve been clue #1.
Two weeks after her birth the Baby Blues I was experiencing quickly turned into Postpartum Depression.  Aside from lack of sleep, I was barely eating and whatever went in me was quickly thrown up.  Crying was an event that occurred at least 6 times a day.  Then the thoughts moved in.
“What have I done?!”
“Her crying makes me want to rip my hair out.”
“They’d be better off without me.”
“I’m useless.”
“I hate her.  I hate myself for hating her. “
“I can’t stand to be around her, I can’t stand to be around me.”
“I wish I could turn back time.”
“I’m going to run away!”
That last thought plagued my mind for the 2 weeks before entering myself in short term psych for the first time.  I planned everything from when, to going to the bank to withdraw money, but always froze on where to go.  I was torn.  I didn’t want to be alone but I didn’t want Jimmy or my parents to find out.
Exactly 1 month after my baby girl was born I was brought to the emergency room by my mother.  Jimmy left work to meet us there and my sister was watching Sophia.  In the ER I began to tremble like I never have before.  The anxiety kicked in.  Silly me wanted to come because I was worried I was malnourished since I was constantly vomiting.  Once in the room the only doctor brought to me was the psychiatrist.  The same psychiatrist I just recently saw for a consult.  She questioned me and felt I needed to be admitted.  Her next question was, “Are you willing to admit yourself?”
I thought about this.  I thought about what I was doing to Jimmy, my mother, my father, my sister, and Sophia.  Reluctantly, I answered yes. 
This was the beginning to me getting better.  This was day 1 of twelve days I would be there.  12 days of therapy.  12 days of playing with my medication.  12 days of discovering things about me.  12 days to understand the Postpartum Depression that overtook me like an alien.

Yesterday…

Jimmy and I took a big step.  After asking Sophia how she would feel, we finally opened the door to Tyler’s old room.  This door has remained closed since he left on January 2nd.  At first it remained shut for me.  I was far too emotionally unstable and cried at the site of anything that was his that remained behind.  As the weeks passed, I told myself it should remain shut as to not hurt Sophia… As I hate to cause her pain.

When we came home last night the door was open.  Jimmy was airing out the room.  I peered inside and although there was an emotional feeling of melancholy, I did not cry.  My medication must be working.  So, I asked Sophia if we could keep the door open.  She was hesitant not because of her feelings but she was worried about me.  My 8 year old should not bear the stress of worrying about her Mommy.

So, the door is now open.  I looked inside this morning at the bed he used to sleep in, the carseat that used to be in my car, and the highchair that used to adorn our dining area.  I could see him in all these visions.  Tears began to well up but then they stopped.  I am not the best Mommy for him and I know that.  I could’ve been had I not fallen victim to Anxiety and Depression once again, but I did.  I thought about how we helped him and about how he will find the best Mommy and Daddy for him.  That made me smile.

I will full out admit that I broke down crying a few days ago when I found his fall jacket in the closet.  I inhaled it… To smell him again, to not forget.  Then I put the jacket in the clothes donation pile.  After, I walked into his old room and took his throw that was left behind and sat on my bed.  I cried.  I inhaled him. I hugged it close and 5 minutes later my eyes were dry. 

The throw still remains on my bed.

My Dearest Tyler

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that I cannot be your Mommy.  I’m sorry I disrupted your life for a few months and gave you false hope of being part of our family.  Please know it is nothing you did.

You were my little boy, the second child I always wanted.  You were as much mine in my heart as Sophia was.  My heart filled with joy hearing you laugh and play with Sophia.  I loved when you knew every morning that it was “Coffee Time”.

I’m sorry.  I’m sorry that my body broke down.  I’m sorry that all the responsibilities that came with you caused my brain to be crippled with anxiety.  I’m sorry I couldn’t overcome it for you.  I didn’t know how I would react.  I didn’t know I would lose 12lbs due to constant nausea because if the anxiety.  I didn’t know that I would start to become delusional.  I didn’t know that you, my little boy, would become my biggest trigger.

I’m sorry.  I’m sorry you had to leave us.  I’m sorry I wasn’t there to say goodbye.  I realize that I am not the best mother for you… That my body is only able to parent 1 child physically, emotionally and mentally.  I’m sorry that you were my body’s test. 

Just know my little boy, I still love you.  I still think of you daily.  I still consider you my little boy. 

Love Always,
Your Foster Mom of a Few Months

I Am A True Believer…

… in exercise as medicine for both Anxiety and Depression.  I have many friends who agree and many who disagree.  I think for those that disagree it is a matter of finding that 1 particular form of exercise that you absolutely LOVE.

It wasn’t easy for me to find it.  Let’s go back in time… back to my bout of Depression in 2008.  My daughter had just turned 2.  I was having a stressful time at work and once again I recognized my Depression symptoms just a tad too late.  My psychiatrist put me on Lexapro, the occasional Xanax and Trazodone for sleep.  The medication helped a great deal but I still had this constant sad or mopey feeling.
Enter my therapist (who I still see now).  He would constantly tell me to exercise.  Exercise releases endorphins or feel good chemicals.  I heard him loud and clear and even attempted some Nintendo Wii fitness.  I just didn’t love it.  I would schlep down to the basement to do 15 minutes 3 times a week to feel mildly better.  My therapist suggested hiking.   Hmmm…. hiking… I did live right up the street from a city owned park with many hiking trails.  Could I really do this?  One day in late fall, probably Thanksgiving weekend, I put on my sneakers and took a twirl around the white trail at the park.  The white trail circles Parks Pond and is about 1 mile in length.  At the end of the trail I felt… refreshed!  I felt rejuvenated!  This was just what I needed!  I finally found a form of exercise I enjoyed.
Then problem #1 hit… hello… it’s winter in Connecticut now.  How does one hike in the snow?!  Don’t worry, my therapist had a solution for that too… Snowshoeing.  Snowshoeing?!  Was he out of his mind.  I would fall over.  I’d look like and idiot.  Isn’t snowshoeing for older people?!  He said to try it.  The cost is minimal (just the price of snowshoes and poles) and the learning curve is very quick.  I was doubtful, but I did want to enjoy a sport in the winter that had me outside.  Being outside made me happy in itself.  So I had my husband buy me snowshoes for Christmas that year.  He spent all of $75 for the shoes, poles and carrying bag.  Like my therapist suggested, not a high cost sport.  I opened the snowshoes on Christmas.  I even tried them on…
…but it was a year before I actually took them outside.  The fear of me looking like an idiot plagued my brain.  So winter of 2009 came around.  We finally had a decent snowfall and after another year of talking with my therapist I finally had enough confidence to strap the snowshoes on and go out.  You know what… it was fantastic!!!  I actually enjoyed Snowshoeing more than Hiking!!!
There is this peacefulness when snowshoeing that isn’t quite there when hiking.  The peacefulness lies in the fact that most people do not venture outside when it snows.  Under that sun that first time producing a fresh trail with my snowshoes it was a rebirth.  I made these footprints.  I exist.  That year I went out snowshoeing probably about 10 times which was fantastic because the next 2 years did not produce enough snow.
Last year, my last snowshoe of the season was perfect and fell on my birthday.  It was a great end to that day.  Don’t get me wrong.  I still yearned to strap on the snowshoes but it was a nice way to say goodbye to the snowshoe season and hello to the spring hiking season.
With my Depression back this year, I had a very hard time pushing myself to exercise.  First off, I wasn’t eating enough for me to burn calories.  I was barely eating 1000 calories a day.  In addition, I mean after 6 bouts with this disease I fell victim once again to not enjoying what I used to.  Once released from the hospital and on my antidepressant for a week and a half I felt more and more like myself and because of that exercise was on my brain.  So when 6″ of snow was forecasted last Friday night into Saturday morning I told myself I was going to snowshoe!  Sunday, I strapped them on and took myself into the city park and walked my usual snowshoe path of the 3 hayfields and you know what… It was euphoric!!!
True happiness… not hiding under this smile (Snowshoeing 1-25-15)
If suffering, and you’ve tried many forms of exercise that you just seem to trudge through, try something new.  In addition to hiking and snowshoeing, I love Zumba Fitness… so much so I became an instructor last summer although I’m not teaching anywhere right now.  I admit as a gym goer I hate doing cardio there.  I trudge through it.  I’d rather hike… but I go because I love to strength train with weights there.  Maybe you’ve tried hiking and it wasn’t your cup of tea.  Maybe for you it will be Yoga, or Crossfit, or Running.  Try something new, you may be surprised at the affects it has on your mood.
Here are a few more pics from my snowshoe adventure on January 25th, 2015:
A view of the silo from the 1st hayfield

Love the sunspot!

My fresh snowshoe tracks!

Rustic shed with snow… so peaceful
Did you notice… not one other person was out there with me?  It was perfect!

Almost A Week Ago…

…I went 8 years back in time.  I admitted myself to short term psych at the hospital.  This was not an easy decision and now being out with a clear head I know it was the best for me.

This bout of Depression and Anxiety has crippled me.  The amount of weight loss, the constant body ache from shaking, the irrational thoughts.  Honestly, it may be tied for #1 with my PPD.

Last Wednesday, I had a manic Depressive episode in front of many people that I wish would never see me this way.  I’m just happy that these people are my good friends and were there to help.  Jimmy drove me to the hospital where I was admitted overnight in the Behavioral Crisis Center.  What a scary place (but that will be another entry).

In the morning, I had a psych consult with the same doctor who saw me 8 years ago for my consult for PPD.  This time, she saw no need to admit me.  I was taken home.

At home my anxiety rose.  As I said before my house scared me.  My bed scared me.  Sleeping scared me because I thought I either wouldn’t sleep or wouldn’t wake up.  I was delusional.  As Jimmy brought our daughter to dance that evening, my parents brought me to my psychiatrist appointment.  I told her I was afraid to be alone, afraid of what I might do to myself.  She did not like the things I was saying and back to the hospital I went.  This time I stayed.  5 days in short term psych.  The best decision I made.  I was discharged yesterday.

I will go further in depth at another time but for now I would like to thank the staff of 6/7 West, especially my nurses.  I miss them a lot. 

Living in Hell

Places that felt safe to me before don’t.  I don’t feel safe at home.  I hate that my husband has to see me like this again and that Sophia is old enough to know Mommy is not well and is blaming herself.  Sleep used to be an escape until the anxiety kicked in.  I’m having a really hard time trying to keep up with my daily routine when I feel I’d be better off if I were hospitalized.  Does mental illness count as a short term disability?  I really don’t know how much longer I can live like this without more attention.  It’s so hard to play with medicinal doses when you have to go to work.  I’m so confused.