When False Information On A Meme Makes You Angry…

Originally posted on Stigmama on Tuesday, June 20th:

The other day on Facebook I came across a meme… actually calling it a meme is too nice. I came across a shitty ad that basically told me and others that are Mentally Ill and medicated that we are now drug addicts. While addiction is a Mental Illness, I have not been diagnosed with it. I am a long time Depressive and Anxiety-ridden Mom that will fully disclose any part of my history because people need to know what it is really like to be Mentally Ill.

When I saw this, I was outraged, furious, and this was at 10am on a weekday morning in my cubicle at work:

What made this worse, was this was the pinned post in this group ‘The Free Thought Project’. My blood was boiling. I wanted to break something. Instead I decided to use this as an oppurtunity to educate.

I have seen many versions of this ad before (see below) consciously telling people that medication is evil and while I find them offensive, it didn’t hit me as hard as saying I now have a “lifelong addiction”:

                                        

Is medication shit… well I will flat out admit I wish I didn’t have to take it but comparing it to the stuff that would be on my daughter’s diaper years and years ago is a bit much.

Nature as an antidepressant… I agree wholeheartedly that nature is very rewarding.  I am an avid walker and hiker (and snowshoe-er in the cold winter months).  I love being outside.  After a hike, I usually find myself rejuvenated, feeling alive and most importantly happy.  A hike or a walk outside at lunch can ‘turn my frown upside down’.  There are just a couple of things wrong with this statement:  Nature does not have the same effect on everyone and when you are severely Depressed, it ain’t going to work, trust me, I’ve been there.

Being an Alpha personality, a control freak, a perfectionist, I will fully admit that I hated being on meds.  I couldn’t fathom the idea that a little pill (or four) controlled me.  I was only ‘normal’ because of them.  I thought I could get better without them.  I was wrong… very very wrong.

The first time I was prescribed medication was shortly after my 18th birthday.  It came in the form of a half white and half aqua capsule known as Prozac.  I was quickly told not to tell anyone I was taking it.  This was after I held a case cutter I stole from work to my wrist debating whether I should live or die.  This event, I was also told, to not speak of.  Ah, you got to love the stigma associated with being Mentally Ill.  Because of this, I thought medication was wrong, bad, sinful.  How stupid of me.

It wasn’t until my recent episode of Major Depressive Disorder and Severe Anxiety almost three years ago, that while getting better I finally said “Screw it!”  I didn’t care who knew.  If I had a megaphone, I would probably be screaming it.  There is nothing wrong with being medicated.  I really should create (or order if it exists) a shirt that reads: “Medicated & Proud Of It”.

These people that create these offensive and naïve memes have no idea what it is really like to live with these conditions.  Because it is invisible it doesn’t actually exist.  Because there is no official blood test or genetic test, we all must be making it up.  It is all in our heads… why yes, it is.  Because of a lack of Serotonin, something produced in my brain (i.e. my head) I live daily with two severe illnesses.  I am not making it up.  Who would make up paying monthly for medications, weekly psychiatrist & therapy appointments, being hospitalized, becoming severely delusional, considering hurting or killing yourself?!  Yes, I totally want all of this!

But we live in a society that believes Mental Illness is not on the same level as a Physical Illness.  It is okay if you take lifelong medications for illnesses such as Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, and Cancer and that is not seen as an addiction.  Why is it okay for them but not for people like me?  Why am I considered ‘an addict’?  Why am I ‘faking it’?  I wonder if there was a real test that proved a Mental Illness diagnosis if these views would change.

I have weaned off medications a handful of times.  It can happen.  I lived 4 years med free before I entered into my 6th Major Depressive Episode.  Once on medication again, I took a hard look at my husband, my daughter, and my parents and told myself I didn’t want to see them suffer anymore.  I didn’t want to suffer anymore.  I decided then and there to never ever go off my antidepressant.  Lexapro and I will remain the best of friends.  I am not ashamed of my med.  Without it, I would be in a very dark place or not here at all.

To ‘The Free Thought Project’, research more on what is truth and what is fiction.  I don’t care if you lean liberal or conservative.  The Mentally Ill are a large population and by posting this, you are making us want to hide more.  Because of this, many people will stay silent.  Because of this, many people will not get the help they need.  Because of this thinking, more deaths by suicide will occur.  Remember that old adage “Stop and think before you speak”?  It would have come in handy here.

To all my fellow people with Mental Illness, please do not hide.  Do not believe a word of this absurdity.  There is help.  A walk in the woods can help, but it is not a cure.  It will not help as much as therapy and medication.  Remember:

 

Hi, My Name Is Not “Sophia’s Mom”

I was not given the name “Sophia’s Mom” at birth.  How would my parents know all those years ago that I would go on to have a beautiful daughter and name her Sophia.  I am sure they had hopes and dreams for grandchildren, but exact details as the sex and name of the child could not be foreseen in the stars.  After the birth of my daughter though, my name has gone from “Stephanie” to “Sophia’s Mom”.  When introducing myself to her friends’ parents, I always say, “Hi, I am Stephanie, Sophia’s Mother.”

And yet, almost 99% of the time when introduced at school events, or to other friends, I am always referred to as “Sophia’s Mom”.  

But I am so much more.

Being Sophia’s mother is just one piece of me and it is a major important piece of me.  Having a child changes your life.  You are no longer responsible for yourself, you are now responsible for another human being.  I would be foolish to say that being her mother was not significant.  She is one of the reasons my heart beats.  She is one of my strengths.  She is this beautiful human being.  And I love being her mother.

But I am so much more.

I didn’t grow up thinking my career would be ‘Mother’.  I played house and had baby dolls and that was a dream of mine.  But, I was taught to have more aspirations.  My mother stayed at home until I, her youngest, was six.  Then she returned to work.  Her having a career taught me that I could have one of my own.  I did not have to rely on my future spouse for income.  I could earn my own money.

When I decided Architecture would be my schtick at six years of age, I dove into the career head on, even as a young child.  I would build any Lego set I could get my hands on.  The sets progressed in size and complexity as I aged.  In high school, I took drafting classes and started to design houses.  Instead of Teen Vogue, I would buy house plan magazines.  In college, I majored in Architecture and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Architecture.  Since graduation 15 years ago (wow, I’m old), I have worked in my field for several architects and now for a prominent furniture retailer & interior design studio.  I am not just “Sophia’s Mom”, I am also a “Project Manager/Architectural Services”.

Not every title is positive though.  Since teenager-hood, I have been a diagnosed Depressive.  Through the years, I gained the title of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and PTSD.  At my daughter’s birth, I had the titles of Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety.  I am Mentally Ill.  While most see these as negative, I have turned this into a positive.  I served as a Warrior Mom Ambassador and Climb Leader for the former Postpartum Progress.  I am an Ambassador for PatientsLikeMe.com.  I stand up to the stigma of Mental Illness and contribute not only to my blog, but online to The Mighty and Stigma Fighters.  I have contributed to three different books concerning Mental Illness, Stigma Fighters Anthologies II & III and A Dark Secret: Real Women Share Their Trials And Triumphs Of Their Battle With Maternal Mental Health Illness.  I am not only “Sophia’s Mom”, I am also a “Mental Health Advocate & Mental Health Author”.

While being a mother, I knew once Sophia started school, that I wanted to be known in that school for a reason most parents would not imagine.  I wanted the teachers and staff to know who I was in case my child was a trouble maker, which thankfully she never turned out to be.  I also wanted to be aware of what was going on in the school so I joined PTO.  First I was just your typical PTO member, then I became Treasurer.  For the last three years, I served in this position and will relinquish it once the school year ends and my daughter graduated elementary school in three weeks.  I have grown close to the staff and will miss them as they have always been nice and considerate to my daughter and myself.  I was not only “Sophia’s Mom”, I was “PTO Treasurer”.

What I am saying is we as moms are so much more than mothers.  You have likes and dislikes, hobbies and other things you are interested in.  Aside from all that I mentioned above, I am a daughter, sister and loyal friend.  I love to garden, to hike, to exercise.  I like hanging out with my friends painting or enjoying a nice meal.  We need to remember that being a mother is a part of us, a huge part, but not the only piece.  The next time I am introduced as “Sophia’s Mom”, do not be shocked if I correct you and say:

“Yes, I am Sophia’s Mom, but I am Stephanie Paige.”

When I Learned To Accept My Depression Diagnosis

I am not a woman who hides her age.  I will admit it, I am 37.  I don’t look it and that is probably why I will fully cop to my actual age.  I have a young (very young) face and I am short (incredibly short).  Throw these two traits together and I might as well be 20.  I still get gawkers and non-believers when I correct people on my age.  I am 37 and for the last 23 years, I have been a sufferer and survivor of Depression.



My first diagnosis was at age 14.  With all the rapid firing, teenage emotions, who would’ve known that Depression was there too.  I certainly did not.  I just blamed normal teenage angst.  The signs were there though… crying uncontrollably, hating myself, hating others, wanting to run away, wanting to remove myself from this crazy world (although not by suicide… that would come a few years later).  Once my parents realized there was something not quite right with me, I was brought to a therapist where I received my diagnosis and then to group therapy with other troubled teens.  Major Depressive Disorder.  I was angry.  I was so angry.  Why me?  Why couldn’t I just be ‘normal’?  And then there is the infamous stigma.  Back in the early 1990s, being labeled with a Mental Illness had people envisioning you in a strait jacket, talking to yourself and banging your head against walls.



I could not accept this diagnosis.  Being a teenager, I fought it like I fought everything else.  I barely paid attention at group therapy.  I still was mad at my parents.  No, nope, I would not be a Depressive.



A few years later, almost 18 and a legal adult, my 2nd episode with Major Depressive Disorder hit.  This time I was suicidal.  Group therapy was a thing of the past.  I was now seeing a therapist one-on-one.  I was deeply immersed into CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy).  Even with wanting to die, holding a case cutter to my wrist, and seeing a professional, I could not accept living a life with Depression.  Nope, not for me.  I didn’t want it.  Someone please, for the love of God, take it from me.



My 4th bout of MDD was one of my worst, it was my battle with Severe Postpartum Depression and Anxiety, an illness so taboo in the mid-2000s.  I felt so alone.  I knew no one.  I became hospitalized.  Now, Stephanie, now would be the time to accept your circumstances and push past the trauma to live a fulfilling life.  Nope!  In the fight or flight aspect of Anxiety, I was and will always be a fighter.  I couldn’t understand why I had to go through this… hating my daughter, the panic attacks, crying spells, being an empty void for almost a year.  I couldn’t accept that I would never experience a typical postpartum and be the doting new mother.  I missed so much of my daughter’s first year of life, it just wasn’t fair.



My latest episode, brought on by taking care of and eventually having to give back my former foster son, was probably the worst.  I grieved for the loss of him for a good year and a half.  I was struck by several panic attacks, another hospitalization, and the realization that I was meant to only mother one child.  I lost myself, hopes and dreams I had for myself.  It brought back the trauma of my postpartum experience and ultimately gave me a PTSD diagnosis.  While dwelling so much in the past with the “Why me?”, “It’s not fair”, “I miss him”, I once again missed out on a big chunk of my daughter’s life, the child I did have.



It’s interesting though. I think we begin to learn acceptance with age.  After all, we are not as young and virile as we used to be.  I accept that I cannot run as fast I could before.  I accept that I can’t eat the foods I could eat before and maintain my weight.  I accept that my hair grays quicker after each coloring appointment.  So why couldn’t I accept my Depression diagnosis?  I have been living with it for over 2 decades.



Yes, I will never get that first year of my daughter’s life back.  I have so many pictures of my robot self from then, bad memories of myself caught on a piece of photo paper.    I will never get that year and a half of her life back from grieving the little boy who left our house.  I sat with this, after a year of EMDR therapy, and it came to me.  A light bulb literally appeared in my head and turned on.  By torturing myself with fighting my Depression, I was missing out on so much in life.  I took hold of a phrase my EMDR therapist would tell me:



“Invite your Depression in for a cup of tea.”



This time, after decades of being at war with my brain, I took his advice.  When I would find myself in pain over the past or self-loathing, I sat back and talked with my Depression, letting it consume me for that moment.  In time, I have learned to live in that moment, whether with my Depression or with my Anxiety, inviting it in for tea, and after a short time let it go.  My Depression no longer devours me.  The lies it tells me, no longer control me.  I have finally learned to live with this illness.



Twenty-plus years later, I have learned acceptance.


I Support: My Response To Recent Events

I didn’t know what ‘white privilege’ was until I attended the Warrior Mom Conference in Boston, MA in July of 2015.  I have been living in a suburban bubble for the last twenty plus years.  Before that I grew up in the melting pot that is New York City.  I had friends of all races, ethnicities and religions.  A lot changes when you are removed from that pot.  Suburbia rarely houses those that are not white.  In my suburban high school, minorities made up, maybe, 10% of our population.  But I digress… At this conference, there was a presentation on privilege and it reopened my eyes.  I learned so much that day and yet had so much more to learn.

I am white, there is no denying it.  My skin doesn’t tan unless it gets severely burned first.  I need to look like a relative of a lobster to show any color other than fair.  This gives me one of the highest privileges.  I grew up Middle Class and remain in that category.  I come from a loving family with parents who are still happily married.  I attended college.  I am privileged.  In certain ways, I do feel the sting of societal beliefs.  I am Jewish and with that comes a boat load of history of Anti-Semitism.  In recent weeks, it comes with bomb threats to JCCs (Jewish Community Centers) and destruction of Jewish cemeteries.  I am also a person with two diagnosed Mental Illnesses currently.  This label has negative assumptions associated with it and in the present day, a huge stigma and a belief that I am a danger to society.  But, I am privileged.  No denying that.
This weekend shit went down in an organization I volunteer my time to, an organization I wish existed when I had just had my daughter, Postpartum Progress Inc.  While I do not have the whole story, the women hurt by this organization are my friends and women of color.  The CEO and founder of this organization said and did something she shouldn’t have that was racist in nature.  While the intent may not have been, we must always think of how others may react.  I do not agree with what was said and done.  As a white woman, I can’t fully understand the damage that occurred.  All I know is that many of my friends, who I met through this organization, and love dearly, were hurt.  I hurt because they are hurt.  As an Empath, I yearn to feel their pain in full so that I can completely understand.  The comments said and actions done (or not done), I thought, was only the beginning of the true nature of the leadership in this organization.
But I was wrong.
Over the weekend, former board members have come forward with stories of “Remember so-and-so, and that she left, want to know why?”.  This battle with women of color has been going on for 2 years and the reaction in the last two years from the leadership of this organization has been to keep it quiet, hushed, on the down low.  They left on mutual terms, that is what was told to the Warrior Mom community, all of us volunteers.
My heart is broken.  I feel like I need to pick a side even though I do not technically have to.  I support my friends who were hurt.  These women gave so much of their time, roughly 20 hours a week, and were only paid minimum wage for five of those hours.  They gave their energy, their love and pieces of their heart to women of all races, ethnicities, religions & sexual orientations.  They only made you feel wanted and respected.  They deserve the same in return.  I will always remain loyal to them for that.  
Where does this leave me with my work with Postpartum Progress, Inc?  
I for one want to help women with their struggles with Postpartum Mental Illness, but there are other organizations.  My heart is telling me to leave PPI.  The Leadership has covered up too much over the last two years which makes you wonder what else is being hidden from us Ambassadors and Climb Leaders.  I just can’t support them anymore.  Yesterday, I wore my Warrior Mom fleece and felt disgusted.  I want to toss my Postpartum Progress travel mug even though it is my best insulated travel mug.  I have lost the motivation to help them.  I just cannot stand behind someone and something, that while trying to ‘help’ women of color, has in turn been hurting them for years now.
That said, I am truly glad I found PPI back in 2014 because through it, I discovered this amazing community of women who just want to help each other.  We just want other women to know they are not alone.  We will still support them whether under PPI or another organization.  I will still advocate for Maternal Mental Health.
With that said, I hereby use this post to submit my formal resignation as a Warrior Mom Ambassador and Climb Leader for Postpartum Progress, Inc.
With love to ALL moms,
Stephanie

Can I Call Myself An Author?

I have always dreamt of being a published Author.  Writing has always been a huge part of who I am.  I remember writing imagination filled stories since elementary school.  In junior high, I expanded to poetry, the easiest form of writing to express myself.  I was even in the Creative Writing talent as my school was for the ‘Gifted & Talented’.  In college, I took a poetry class and threw in some laughter on a poem about bowling that symbolized sex (might post that one day).  I’ve been published in school anthologies with both stories and poetry.

But, can I label myself an author if I haven’t actually published a book of my own?

Dictionary.com defines “Author” as:

  1. a person who writes a novel, poem, essay, etc.; the composer of a literary work, as distinguished from a compiler, translator, editor, or copyist.
  2. the literary production or productions of a writer:
    to find a passage in an author.
  3. the maker of anything; creator; originator:
    the author of a new tax plan.
  4. Computers. the writer of a software program, especially a hypertext or multimedia application.

I definitely fit the mold of #1, yet calling myself “Author” doesn’t feel right.  I guess it stems from learning all those years ago, that to be a real Author, you had to be published.  Published.  What constitutes ‘being published’?  As stated before, I was ‘published’ in anthologies put out by the Creative Writing talent at my junior high.  I was ‘published’ in an anthology in high school.  Do these count?  Only a marginal amount of people will ever read them.  And while I still possess all of these works, I highly doubt they exist beyond my possession anymore.

I write this blog.  Starting in 2015, I created my blog, Rising From The Ashes, and still keep it active (although switching platforms from Blogger to WordPress).  I bought my own website to make it official.  I try to publish a post at least once a week.  I have contributed to other blogs, sharing my work several times with The Mighty, Stigma Fighters & Postpartum Progress.

I have been published as a Contributing Author (note my use of the word Contributing as I was one of many) in Stigma Fighters Anthology II and A Dark Secret… both books helping to tear down the stigma associated with Mental Illness and Maternal Mental Illness.

But I haven’t published a book of my own yet and now I am questioning if I want to anymore.

I want to share my life with the world to help others like me.  I want men, women, and teens to know they are not alone in there Mental Health struggles. I want to give them a voice. And while I have started my memoir, my book, to do this, I’m beginning to wonder if I have to complete it because…

Am I not doing this already?  Advocating for those who feel they need to remain silent.  Have I not been sharing my story piece by piece through this blog, on The Mighty and on Stigma Fighters? Was it not published in 2 compilations of stigma breaking books?

It comes down to time.  I just don’t have the time to finish this book right now or in the near future.  I don’t have time to actively contribute to The Mighty and Stigma Fighters if I even attempt to finish my book.  Time is something I cannot buy extra of.  Working full time, being active on my daughter’s school’s PTO, advocating.  Nightly, I am left deciding if I have time to breathe or read my book for 20 minutes (the book usually wins out).

If I do not finish my book, am I still an Author?

Have I still made a longtime dream of mine come true?

I think the answer may lie in the grin on my face below.

I am Stephanie Paige, Author & Advocate.

I’ve Always Wanted To Be An Architect… And Other Shit 

I remember my first Lego set.  I was six and my family had just gotten back to my Aunt & Uncle’s house from the mall.  I am not sure why I wanted this set so badly, but I begged, I pleaded, and now it was lying on the floor of the bedroom I was sitting in.  It was a medieval boat that came with two men in helmets.  I stared at it in awe.  Could I build this?  At six?

I worked hard on it but sure enough, I completed it.  I stared at it in amazement thinking, Wow, I built this!

This teeny-tiny itty-bitty Lego set started it all.  I wanted to become an Architect.  I made a major life decision at the respectable age of 6.

Through the years, I challenged myself.  The sets got bigger and my time to build them got shorter.  I would follow the directions, quickly erect the Lego building, look at it with pure elation and then take it apart.  At this point, I would be my own creations.  I was, after all, a budding Architect!

As I became a teen, I shifted from Legos to hand drawings.  I would draw floor plans just for fun.  Soon, I developed into drawing the front elevations of houses.  I received several home plan books and computer programs for my birthday and holidays.  I even received a drafting table.  Yes, this is definitely what I wanted to do.

In the fall of 1998, I started the 4 year Bachelor of Science in Architecture degree at the University of Maryland.  I was on my way.  For the next few years, I lived in the Architecture building, taking a particular interest in my Architectural History courses.  I became fascinated with buildings, mainly homes, from the Colonial and Federal time periods.  I graduated in May of 2002 and after a month started my career in Architecture.

But, I was far from my desire to be a licensed Architect.  I kept my work records and when the time came, I began to study for the exams.  7 exams at over $200 each.  I took my first exam when my daughter was 2.  I anxiously waited for my results.  The day finally came…

…FAIL.

I was heartbroken.  I was also in the midst of my 5th episode with Major Depressive Disorder.  I decided to take a break and wait for my daughter to get a bit older.  After all, the 5 year rolling clock didn’t start until you passed one of the exams.

1 year after I failed the first exam, I took a different one.  I felt confident going in.  I felt happy when I left.  I felt defeated when the results came…

…FAIL.

The word ‘fail’ and the fact that I am an Alpha with perfectionist tendencies, didn’t ease this situation.  I decided then and there, I was done taking exams until I had the money to pay for the review courses and the exams.

Years went by.  My job growth continued, although minimally.  I began to really think about my career.  Would being licensed make a difference?  At that point, no.  My pay would not increase.  My responsibilities would not increase.  Why spend the money?  Just so I could put ‘Architect’ after my name?

A few years ago, I was struggling with my career.  Where I was working was affecting my Mental Health greatly.  It was not a healthy place for me anymore.  So I once again thought about the question:

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Suddenly, the answer was no longer Architect.  I had become increasingly interested in hiking and nature.  Being outside rejuvenates my soul.  Researching, I realized that maybe a career in Forestry, like becoming a Park Ranger would be for me.  Lacking funds to go get a degree in it, I decided to start small and take a Certificate Course in Forest & Wildlife Conservation.  Most of the material intrigued me.  And then reality set in… there were very little, if any, paying positions in the Northeast, and we were not moving.

Next up in line, a Groupon became available to become a Certified Personal Trainer.  I studied and miraculously passed the exam (an exam that most of its material was not covered in the books the course came with).  To this day, I am still certified.  To this day, I have not used it.

Why?  I changed jobs.  I found a job that still uses my knowledge in Architecture that I enjoy.  Is it my passion?…

…No.

I feel like we stress deciding a career so early in life.  Of course, I made the decision even earlier than necessary.  I graduated college when I was 22, but one had to declare a major by the end of sophomore year.  I look at my daughter now, and can’t even believe that in less than 10 years, she will have to decide what she wants to do with the rest of her life.  How can we decide so young with so little knowledge and experience on what life really is?  She is already starting to decide.  So far she has narrowed it down to Fashion Designer, Illustrator, and Teacher  (Fashionista dropped off the list a couple of years ago).  These are her current passions, but when she is my age (a few years shy of the big 4-0) will she still feel that way?  I don’t.

If I could turn back time (someone send me a Time Turner from the Harry Potter world), I would change my major, knowing what I would endure in the years to come.  Becoming an Architect would fade away.  After suffering severely with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety and with Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, advocacy is my new passion.  I only want to help others to not suffer the way I have and to get better.  I want others to know they are not alone.  I want to be one of the many people to break down the stigma wall, block by block.  If money were not an issue, I would go back to school now.  I would get a degree in Mental Health Counseling.  I would become a Mental Health Counselor.  Since money does not grow on trees, I will do what I can, maybe one day going back to school.

For now, I am an Architectural Project Manager who advocates for Mental Health and Maternal Mental Health through my writing. And, I am content this way.

November 16th… How Far I’ve Come

It’s been a decade, 10 years, and still on this date every year I think about it, the day I admitted myself into the hospital for severe Postpartum Depression and Anxiety.  Every year I would cry.  The last few years, I got angry.  None of the years did I listen to my therapists (last and current) and actually focus on how far I’ve come instead of how forgone I was.  I focused too much on “Why me?” or “It isn’t fair” all the while knowing life isn’t fair.  I didn’t grow up in some naive protective bubble.  

Many tears have dripped down my cheeks.  I stir up memories of having a panic attack in the ER.  I visualize the days, even weeks, leading up to this moment.  I never wanted to experience this.  I never wanted to hate my daughter.  I never wanted to contemplate running away.  I never wanted to think of myself as unworthy, a disgrace.  I never wanted to cause pain to my husband and parents.  I did though and I carried all that guilt, that blame, that shame, with me on this day for the last 10 years.
The anger I had toward myself would revisit me on this date every year.  The anger I had because I was given this experience set in only the last year.  The anger that because of the Postpartum Depression and Anxiety, the dream of a larger family ceased to exist.  I would no longer have my two, three, four kids I planned I would since childhood.  The anger that because I suffered this, I missed a typical postpartum experience… being that doting mother who adored being around her baby, rocking her, singing to her.  The anger that I missed almost 2 weeks of her life because I was in the hospital.
 
This year, though, I think it is finally time for a change.  Time to not dwell so much back to that moment in time.  Time to sit with the thoughts and feelings for only 10 minutes max and move on.  Time to focus on the good that came from my experience:
 
1)  I got the help I so desperately needed… even if I couldn’t see it at the time.  I’ve dwelled on the lost time, the hate I had for myself and this little baby that took away my life.  But, where would I be if I never went into the hospital?  Would I have run away, contemplated suicide, or worse, took my life like so many other women?  With the hospital stay, I got to focus on getting myself better and I did.
 
2)  My daughter and I have a great relationship.  Years I agonized the fact that because I missed two weeks of her life we would never have a tight bond  or she would use that time lost against me.  I also worried that she would despise me for once hating her.  None of the above happened.  In fact, she appreciates my honesty and knows how much I love her now (to infinity and beyond, forever & always).
 
3)  I am not alone as I thought.  Ten years ago resources in this area were limited.  The hospital, my psychiatrist and therapist were not trained to deal with a focus on postpartum.  The internet was not what it is now with social media and information.  I thought I was alone.  Feeling alone is the worst thing to ever feel.  The isolation, the lack of hope.  Turns out, there is a whole community of us who have experienced Postpartum Illnesses.
 
4)  I get to help and advocate for others.  Once I discovered this community, I wanted to give back.  I wanted to let others know they were not alone and they should never feel like they were.  I wanted to be a friendly ear, a warm hug, a trustworthy soul.  I became a voice for thousands of others who fear(ed) speaking up.
 
After 10 years, I am finally focusing on how far I have come!

When You Know It’s Time…

​It finally happened.  It only took almost two years, but it finally happened.  I am proud to announce…

…I have tapered off Ativan!!!

This little almost microscopic pill was in control of my life.  Sure, I owe it some credit for saving me from body shaking, hyperventilating, heart-palpating anxiety.  But… it controlled me.  From the first moment that Benzo entered my system in January of 2015 when I was last hospitalized, I knew what would happen.  I knew I would succumb to this drug just like I have so many times before to its siblings: Valium, Xanax & Klonopin. Drugs that force me to relax (which is very necessary at the time).  Drugs that force me to sleep.  Drugs that force me to become ‘normal’.

For the longest time I hated being on medication.  I despised the fact that a little pill was necessary in my life to retain some ounce of normalcy.  Every time I tapered off a medication, I threw a little party in my head to not being controlled by a substance anymore.  I longed for the day I wouldn’t be on any medication.  Although it did occur, and lasted for four straight years, I once again became dependent on medication, and many of them, that January of 2015.

When I admitted myself to the hospital, besides telling the psychiatrist I was having thoughts of hurting myself and bordered on having suicidal ideations (which I was), I had to agree to put myself on whatever medication they gave me.  I needed the help, so I desperately agreed.  That night I started on 5mg of Lexapro, 100mg of Seroquel and .5mg of Ativan, the latter would be given to me 3 times daily.  I’ll fully admit, I was a complete mess and was in dire need of the aid of medication in addition to therapy.  I welcomed these meds with open arms.

After suffering on and off for decades, I finally decided to let go of my irritation at being dependant on medications.  I welcomed it inside my ‘guest house’ for tea. (Please read Rumi’s poem ‘The Guest House’ below).

Over these last almost 2 years, I tried multiple times to taper off the Seroquel and the Ativan (yes, with the aid of my Psychiatrist – NEVER taper by yourself).  I failed on these attempts.  I realized I was not where I needed to be mentally, and although I cried when these attempts were unsuccessful, I pushed onward and took my meds.  It was only about 4 months ago that I finally, successfully, tapered off the Seroquel!

The next item on my agenda was to tackle the Ativan.  Although, I was not on the prescribed dosage from the hospital anymore, I was still actively taking .5mg in the evening for sleep.  With this last hospitalization (and the events that occurred a few months prior) my anxiety at night was excessive.  I feared bed time.  I internally fought going to my room because I knew my bed was a cause of extreme anxiety.  My therapist didn’t quite understand this anxiety.  After many visits with him, we figured out that it pertained to noise.  My brain assumed every loud noise, forget loud, every noise would keep me from sleeping and when Stephanie doesn’t sleep, Stephanie goes off the deep end.  We processed my anxiety over loud noises and although I’m still highly irritated when I hear any noise in the evening, I was able to talk myself down from the ridiculous thoughts that I would never sleep again.

I was now ready.  The time to taper off the Ativan was now.

I consulted with my Psychiatrist the best way to do this.  At this point, I was down to .25mg of Ativan at night (have you ever tried to cut that tiny .5mg pill in half?!).  I have been through tapering before but I wanted her best recommendation.  She honestly said to me, “I think you got this.  You know exactly what to do.” I started with 2 more weeks at the .25mg.  Then I proceeded to .25mg every other day for 2 weeks and then, last week, .25mg every 2 days.  By the time I got to my last dosage (Saturday night), I just said screw this and didn’t take it.

So here I am, Ativan free for almost a week now and I am doing just fine.  My bed does not scare me.  When noises pop up at night, I logically tell myself it will not last and that the ear plugs will block it out.  I’ve talked myself out of my Anxiety without forcing it.  I am proud of myself.

*****

With all that said… please do not skew my view on medication.  It is a valuable aid in Mental Illness recovery.  I only taper off meds when I know I do not need them anymore, when I know I can live typically without them.  I am off the Seroquel because I am not having a psychotic episode anymore and it was not helping me sleep anymore.  And I am off the daily Ativan because I do not need it anymore. I still filled a prescription for it because when I do have Anxiety attacks, I will take it.  I am still on my Lexapro because after battling Depression on and off for more than 2 decades, and after the suggestion of a few doctors, I have decided that it is probably a good idea to remain on an antidepressant for the rest of my life. I am more than okay with this decision.  One day, I hope to taper off my sleep aid, Trazodone, but for now, I am content and living ‘normally’ and that is what matters the most.

Birthplace 

​My 22 year struggle with diagnosed Depression started at 14 (although I believe I suffered earlier than that).  Just barely a teenager, my family had moved from the only place I ever knew, the city of Brooklyn NY, to suburbia Western CT at the start of high school for me.  Being a teenager, I decided to suffer alone for as long as I could.  I expressed myself through poetry which when struggling with Depression now, I still do.  Below is a poem I wrote in 1995: 

Birthplace
Leaving the place

where you were nurtured

And where you were raised

Leaves a whimper or a

tear,

As if the tear was a brief

memory escaping.

As if God is crying for you

Sending a sign of hope and

luck,

Upon your departure.

Dependent on the feelings

around you

Can cause brief sorrow

Leaving much melancholy.
For you will never visit

the same structures

Or recline in the same bed

Or love the same place

that you still enjoy.

You will never see the sights

of tired-some people

Calling for a ride,

You will never feel the same

traffic

Or breathe the same air,

filled with your life.
The clothes will never

quite fit the same

The languages will be forgotten

And your friends will be remote

to your pathetic living.

The new companions will never 

feel your pain

Or understand where you come from

Or who you are

your heritage.

They will never be your

true friends

Or anything else

Just simple comrades to replace.
Hands will never waver

amongst the harsh winds,

Bodies will never stand

Awaiting the arrival of a bus

or the arrival of spirit

And when people begin

to ask where you are from

You stutter in reply because

Though you know where

you were born,

You are reluctant to answer

your home.

And you don’t dear reply

Where you are situated now

for you don’t belong.

You are not one of them

nor are you one

Of the people who you were.

You become confused

crying inside

Solitary confining yourself

to be a loner.
©11/15/1995 Stephanie Paige 
Please talk with your children at an early age.  Talk to your teens.  Depression tends to manifest itself differently in the younger population.  Research the symptoms and clues and watch for them.  Most of all, be a strong support to your child.  I was and still am lucky to have the immense support of my parents.

Finding My Purpose In Life…

For as long as I could remember, I always wanted to be a mother.  I was drawn to my friends’ younger siblings.  I loved to coo at babies I saw.  I even transformed the bottom of my tiny closet into a “crib” for my two baby dolls.  I couldn’t wait to feel that love, a love between a mother and her child, this time from the view of being the Mommy.  At that young age, motherhood was my focus in life and I would be blessed almost two decades later with the birth of my daughter.
At six, with the purchase of my first Lego set (a tiny Viking boat), I suddenly had another desire in life… I wanted to build.  I loved sitting there for hours building Lego sets.  First I would follow the step by step instructions included with the set and then I would let my imagination run wild.  During many trips to see my aunt and uncle, I would admire the houses we would pass, studying details and running through my head how to build them with my Legos.  The building desire soon morphed with my love of houses.  I now wanted to become an architect.

A career was always a desired purpose in life for me.  Watching my mother work, I was brought up with a sense of equality, that a woman could support her family just as much as a man.  A woman’s role was not solely being confined to being a housewife.  I studied hard in college with many overnighters spent hunched over my drafting table drawing (or in some cases snoring with my head on my pillow taking a nap).  I wanted so badly to become a talented architect, rising to the same levels of Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier and Michael Graves.  I wanted to see designs I created built and enjoyed by people.  I knew that that was my purpose in life… to be a famous architect and a mother.  I would be able to succeed in both.  Nothing could stop me.

At least that is what I thought…

I was well on my way to obtaining all my necessary hours of experience to be able to sit for my exams to become a licensed architect.  With the birth of my daughter, I was sidetracked from this goal while I struggled for almost a year with Severe Postpartum Depression and Anxiety.  When my baby girl reached age 2, I was back on track and was now able to sit for the seven exams that would give me my other purpose.  I once again studied, but was interrupted many times that when I received my results with the word “FAIL” on it, I was not shocked.  Okay, I would detour my plans for a few more years when my daughter was not so dependent on her Mommy.  Still working full time and taking care of her proved a challenge with carving out niches of time to study harder.  Different exam, a few years later, results… FAIL.

I am not happy with the word “fail”.  I am an Alpha that very much strives to give 100% on everything I do.  I sat and thought about this “purpose” in life.  How important was it to me now to see the word “architect” after my name?  Would it increase my salary at the moment?  Would I really be famous?  Is that what I really wanted now?  After many weeks thinking about this and discussing it with my husband, my family and my therapist, I realized that becoming a licensed architect was no longer a purpose in life.

I knew I wanted more though, more than being a Mommy.

I flip-flopped on certain “purposes” for the next few years.  First, I wanted to take my love of nature and become a Park Ranger.  I wanted to teach people about the outdoor world.  I took a certificate course through Penn Foster on Forestry – Wildlife Conservation.  I was fascinated by the things I learned but after researching more, I realized that getting paid to be a Park Ranger was nearly impossible on the East Coast and relocating wasn’t an option.  Next up, I took my love of exercise and decided I would become a Certified Personal Trainer.  Purchasing a Groupon, I did just that.  I barely passed the proctored exam but obtained my certification and although my purpose of owning my own gym and teaching women to love their bodies was lost when I succumbed to another episode of Major Depressive Disorder, I have still kept this certification active.  I realize though, this is not my purpose in life.

With decades of therapy under my belt, I began to play therapist to myself on this topic… What is your purpose in life Stephanie?  What do you want to accomplish?  What in your mind will give meaning to your life?  Answering these questions gave me that awkward puzzled look that you try to prevent your face from making when you are given the question, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” at an interview.  Luckily, I was not put on the spot sitting in front of an interviewer as it was only me, myself and I.

I analyzed all my aspirations up to then… becoming a mother, creating buildings people needed and could enjoy, helping people enjoy nature, helping people love their bodies and realized that all these aspirations centered around helping or nurturing people.  What could I do with that that would not require going back to school because this lady did not have the money for that.  The light bulb moment happened after a friend of mine published her first book.  I always loved to write since childhood.  Writing was an outlet for me during my Depressive episodes.  I felt that if I wrote about my experiences with Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I would be able to help those people who were too scared to speak up, who needed someone to tell them that they are not alone, that they do not need to see the stigma as a threat.

I started my blog focusing on my 20+ years struggling with these illnesses and then decided to do more.  I began to document my journey for a future book.  I became a Climb Co-Leader and a Warrior Mom Ambassador for Postpartum Progress Inc.  I submitted several articles to Stigma Fighters and The Mighty online.  I have been published in two collaborations focused on Mental Illness, Stigma Fighters Anthology II and A Dark Secret.  In a few years, I hope to have my book published and I hope to become a Certified Peer Specialist.  I have become a Mental Health and Maternal Mental Health Advocate.  

This, this, is my purpose in life.  Helping others.  As I help my daughter with her homework, help a struggling mother find someone who has been through what she has been through, or help others shed the shame of their Mental Illness diagnosis, I know, this is what I was put here to do.