Move Over CVS, There is a New Competitor in Town

It is not a shock that I was laid-off due to Covid-19. I am one among thousands who were. This lay-off, though, has led to an interesting learning experience about medical insurance and medication. This will be a two-part blog series as there is a side story that I will twist with humor concerning GoodRx.

I have spoken at great length about my extensive history with mental illness (yes, Stephanie, we know already!). I have been on various medications throughout these last 22 years (I didn’t start meds until I was 18). After two decades, my body said nope, not anymore to the antidepressant, Lexapro. This drug worked so well until it didn’t. I was not sad to see it go. Since I was put on every known SSRI*, my psychiatrist recommended switching to an SNRI*.

So here I am, newly unemployed and feeling highly depressed, inadequate, and self-loathing. I have a telehealth session with my psychiatrist the beginning of May. She sends my scripts to Express Scripts, the online pharmacy that I was using with my now former job. I’m thinking that things will go as normal as the company paid for two months of COBRA*.

Boy was I wrong!

I thought it very funny that I never received a text that the drugs shipped. Of course, because I am now over 40, I did not recognize this until a week and a half later. I am filling my pill container and gasped when I realized I was in dire need of my SNRI, the generic version of Cymbalta. I was beginning to run low on my 100mg lamotrigine as well. The latter helps me with the cyclical nature of my depression (I do not have bipolar disorder, I lack the mania aspect).

“Shit! Shit! Shit!”

Anyone who has ever been on an antidepressant knows that it is really bad to go off of them cold turkey. Depression symptoms can quickly elevate and worsen. You are also at a higher risk of suicide. Now you understand my profanity.

I quickly log on to Express Scripts to see where these prescriptions that my psychiatrist ordered two weeks ago are. What do I see for each and every one of them? CANCELED. Um, what?! I am now panicking. I only have a week left of the Cymbalta. This is not good.

I call Express Scripts.

The nice lady on the phone tells me that she sees the five prescriptions as canceled but cannot tell me why. I explain to her my dire situation. She is of no help. She notices I have a refill left on the lamotrigine 100mg and says she can put that through but because that script technically expired she has to notify my doctor. I explain to her that I really need the Cymbalta more, that I was laid-off, and only have insurance through mid-June. She checks my account and says, it is showing me you have no insurance coverage.

What?! Wait, did I miss something in the awfully confusing COBRA paperwork?! Of course, I did. One needs a lawyer to fully decipher that thing.

I hang up with this ‘delightful’ lady as she works diligently contacting my doctor’s office to fill the expired refill. This is the 3rd full week in May (take note of this date, it is necessary for the end of this post). I need to also mention that my psychiatrist is now out on maternity leave (ugh, I see Murphy’s Law is in play).

As if talking with Express Scripts wasn’t enough, I now decided to contact COBRA. A different ‘delightful’ woman looks into my file and tells me, wait for it, you never elected coverage. You are not insured. What?! The letter I received from my now-defunct job said I was covered for two months! I am so confused and rapidly falling into an anxiety spiral. I am trying to explain this to her and we ultimately go back and forth between “You are not insured. You needed to elect to be covered” and “But my job sent me a letter saying I was insured.” Ultimately, I lost the battle.

Okay, Stephanie, let’s regroup. You are not insured. Your psychiatrist is out on maternity leave. All of your Express Scripts prescriptions have been canceled. And, most importantly, you now have five days left on your antidepressant. FUCK!

I quickly call the doctor’s office and explain to the receptionist what happened. Her voice tells me she isn’t quite convinced of my story. I’m gathering her first instinct is that I am a patient dying to get my hands on some good ‘stuff’. Yes, that is definitely it… Cymbalta, Gabapentin, Lamotrigine, and Trazodone. Those are definitely drugs I can get high off of and sell on the street for some mad dough (note sarcasm, none of them are). I am on the verge of tears about the Cymbalta. She informs me that she will have another doctor send it in. I have her send it to a local grocery store pharmacy where it is cheaper. Remember, not employed, GoodRx to the rescue (or are they?)!

I will avoid telling my twisted tale concerning GoodRx until my next blog post. We will just say that all my prescriptions were filled on time. I now have at home over 120 pills of Trazodone, Lamitrigene 25mg, and Gabapentin. My prescriptions are for 90 days. The pharmacist doesn’t even bother putting my Cymbalta tabs in another bottle. I receive the original bottle the pharmacist received. I am a at around 100 pills for the Lamitrigene 100mg.

So I am well stocked for the next few months.

Then, my husband finally adds my daughter and me to his insurance. I meet with my psychiatrist over the internet once again at the end of July. She already has my new insurance. She automatically sends my prescriptions into CVS. I hadn’t realized she had done this until I received a text from CVS letting me know my prescriptions are ready. I go to the CVS I think they were called in to pick them up. Nope, not that one. They were put into the one near my former employment. Because I know myself, I knew that passing by would be very emotionally triggering for me. I went online and had them mail them to me for free.

So if you are doing the math right, here are the current totals (remember two months have gone by):

  • Cymbalta: Around 120 capsules
  • Lamotrigine 100mg: Around 120 tablets
  • Lamotrigine 25mg: About 320 tablets (I take 2/day and had plenty to start)
  • Trazodone: Around 120 tablets
  • Gabapentin: Around 120 capsules

Too many, right?! Well, remember when I told you to keep the 3rd week in May in mind? The time the ‘delightful’ lady from Express Scripts was going to contact my doctor to fill the expired prescription? Yeah, I almost didn’t either.

Guess what showed up last week… that prescription. Only 3 months late! Add another 90 tablets of Lamotrigine 100mg to my list.

I can now put CVS out of business!


*SSRI is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor which increases the amount of serotonin your brain produces. To note, serotonin is mass-produced in your gut but this serotonin does not travel into the brain.

*SNRI is a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor. As you probably has guess this class of drug not only increases your brain serotonin levels but also your norepinephrine levels. Both help you to feel happy.

*COBRA is a confusing and expensive way to continue your health benefits after you have been let-go or fired. Really, don’t use it unless you really need to, and then there are still cheaper options out there.

A Look At LGBTQ+ Adolescents Concerning Self-Harm & Suicide: What Can We As A Community Do?

Image by Jasmin Sessler from Pixabay

I have been asked in my current Introduction to Mental Health Counseling class to take the population I most desire to work with and discuss a particular issue that exists and what we, as the public, can do about it. Because of the suicide of a 12-year-old girl last summer, I have become a huge advocate in youth mental health. The public school system where I live, has started to educate students at the middle school level. Still, instead of calling out the names of these mental illnesses, they group everything under “stress” and “social-emotional well-being.” My first thought is good, they are doing something, but I think as younger adolescents are affected, schools, parents, and the community need to do more.

My Desire To Work With LGBTQ+ Adolescents

As I researched further, I saw a more pertinent need in helping adolescents that identify as LGBTQ+. This need first arose in me after having a friend back in the late 1990s stay ‘in the closet’ because he feared he would be ostracized. When he finally did come out, we told him that he could have told us sooner. We loved him for him, not for his sexual preference.

This yearning increased as my daughter would continue to tell me about friends and classmates in her middle school who were in the sexual and/or gender minority. I felt compassion and empathy for them because they had to keep everything hidden for the same fear my friend had all those years ago. Some of them had to keep it hidden from their parents as well, thinking they would not understand and would disown them. All of this hiding puts stress on LGBTQ+ youth and can, in turn, cause a severe episode of depression. This depression can get worse and lead to self-harm and suicide.

The Facts

I am no professional so I sought out peer-reviewed scholarly articles, meaning they are reliable and trustworthy.

For reference, when I speak of gender minority, I am discussing those that identify as nonbinary, transgender, gender-queer, gender-fluid, and gender nonconforming (Ross-Reed et al., 2019). When I speak of a sexual minority, I am referring to those that are gay, lesbian, or bisexual (Oginni et al., 2019).

One of the first articles I read concerned a study done in the Avon area of England. The group that was studied was 4,274 children from infancy up to the twenties. They were observed at several points throughout their lives including at the ages of 15, 17, 18, and 20. They were looked at for sexual orientations and the relationship to depression, self-esteem, self-harm, and suicidal ideation. It was noted that the individuals who identified as in the sexual minority were more likely to develop depression, self-harm, and suicidal ideation due to the societal stigma that surrounded them (Oginni et al., 2019)

Then, I reviewed a survey performed by the schools in Albuquerque, NM. This was one of the few school locations that looked at gender minority students with regard to their cisgender counterparts. The survey looked at the likelihood of developing violence victimization and self-harm as well as support systems in play for adolescents. The overall consensus was that the gender minority group had a higher percentage of victimization and self-harm than their cisgender peers. They also had significantly less support from family, school, the community, and peers (Ross-Reed et al., 2019).

A similar look at the under-served population of gender minority adolescents noted that these teens had a higher percentage of depression and suicide than their sexual minority peers. It was suggested that there is a clear need for prevention and intervention programs to serve this population especially due to the lack of data that is available. In one study it was noted that 83% of gender minority youth reported feeling depressed, 54% of them contemplated suicide, and 29% of them attempted suicide compared to their cisgender peers (Price-Feeney et al., 2020).

What Can We Do?

So, what can we actually do to help our stigmatized sexual and gender minorities? I am not going to lie, this is a tough question. Support is key. These adolescents need to know there is someone that supports them. They need to know that there is an adult who will advocate for them whether it is a parent, a neighbor, a teacher, or someone in the community. Once licensed, I will be their advocate with the schools, their parents, and the community. Adults that support this population need to come forward and publicly let these students know they are there for them.

One way my town supports our LGBTQ+ youth is that there is a yearly Pride Parade at the beginning of May. This event was created by two eighth-graders for their final middle school project. Every year there has been a large turnout. There is a walk which includes several local groups, including Free Mom Hugs, which I am apart of. There are many tents that have valuable information regarding the LGBTQ+ community as well as supportive local organizations.

We as a whole population need to learn acceptance and have empathy for LGBTQ+ adolescents (Ross-Reed et al., 2019). To just imagine the struggles they are going through breaks my heart.

What suggestions do you as my readers have to help the LGBTQ+ youth feel accepted?

——————————————————————————————————————–

Important Resources for LGBTQ+ Adolescents

National Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-273-TALK

Crisis Text Hotline: 741741

The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386

LGBT National Hotline: 1-888-843-4564

Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860

References

Oginni, O. A., Robinson, E.J., Jones, A., Rahman Q., & Rimes, K.A. (2019). Mediators of increased self-harm and suicidal ideation in sexual minority youth: a longitudinal study. Psychological Medicine, 49(15), 2524-2532. https://doi-org.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/10.1017/s003329171800346x

Price-Feeney, M., Green, A.E., & Dorison, S. (2020). Understanding the mental health of transgender and nonbinary youth. Journal of Adolescent Health, 66(6), 684-690.

Ross-Reed, D.E., Reno, J., Penaloza, L., Green, D., & Fitzgerald, C. (2019). Family, school, and peer support are associated with rates of violence victimization and self-harm among gender minority and cisgender youth… Head To Toe Conference, April 25, 2019, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Journal of Adolescent Health, 65(6), 776-783. https://doi-org.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/101016/j.jadohealth.2019.07.013

Chronic Depression and COVID-19

I have had diagnosed depression for the last 26 years. I can barely remember a time when I didn’t have it. Honestly, I probably was depressed since birth. It is just how my brain is wired. I have always been a chronic pessimist, seeing the glass fully empty. I was the one who knew I wasn’t invincible and expected bad things to happen to me. I would stare at happy people and wonder why I wasn’t circuited that way. And then as I aged, I just accepted that I was never ever going to have a sunny disposition.

In the beginning, my depression started out with episodes of major depressive disorder. As a teen I had MDD because we moved to a different state right before high school. Then came the stress of completing my senior year in high school followed by beating myself up over a poor semester in college.

Then it morphed. It became postpartum depression bringing anxiety, a new friend, into the mix. At some point it changed to dysthymia with episodic MDD. Then, it metamorphosed into cyclical depression last year becoming difficult to treat and adding several bipolar disorder medications to my regime.

I was somewhat stable, let’s say status quo, and then COVID-19 hit, the global pandemic that has made us all feel like we’re living in an episode of the Twilight Zone.

At first it was my anxiety disorder that took possession of my body. I was worried that I would obtain this novel virus. This was enhanced by my daughter’s anxiety that had her thinking we were all going to contract and die from this coronavirus. It kept me awake as I could not shut my brain off even with 100mg of Trazodone, 100mg of Lamictal and 300mg of Gabapentin.

Then on April 1st anxiety departed and my chronic depression stood center stage. In the cruelest April Fool’s Day prank, I was laid off, except this was no joke. After I got off the phone with my boss, I told my husband I was going on a long walk. I was upset, crying (which is rare for me) and needed to clear my head. I wound my way through many local streets and the educational park. I couldn’t understand why. Yes, I knew on a large scale this was happening everywhere. I knew my company laid off 70% of their workforce and shut business down for who knows how long.

It was the smaller scale ‘Why me?!’ that was driving me into the dark abyss. There were four of us in the department who did the same thing. Two of us were let go. Why didn’t I make the cut?! I understood why one of the people in my department stayed but I couldn’t understand why the other one was there and I wasn’t. I had excellent reviews, my projects hadn’t been shut down yet, and I was not the last one hired. My husband explained to me that it was probably due to salary and I most likely was making more so to save the company money, I had to go.

But I couldn’t let go of this. It gnawed at my brain. The negative thoughts repeated themselves over and over again:

“You’re useless!”

“You’re worthless!”

“You sucked at your job! Why would they ever keep you?!”

“You’re not needed!”

“You couldn’t hold on to your job. Are you stupid?”

The guilt and self-loathing are the worst. I now feel as if I am not contributing anything to the family anymore. My income was almost equal to my husband’s. In my head we are now going to lose all our savings, including the savings we created for emergencies, you know like for a global pandemic! I just never thought we would have to actually use it. I have applied for unemployment and miraculously have not had to wait long as others have.

But the guilt is still there. I have self harmed several times since April 1st because I feel I deserve the pain. The loathing got worse when my coworker texted me for some information regarding one of my projects (the one who was hired after me). That day I had strong suicidal ideations. If I had a plan, who knows what I would’ve done. Luckily, I did not act on them and virtually met with my psychiatrist the next day and my therapist the day after.

It scares me. It scares me to not have anything to ‘do’. I’m petrified of how my thoughts may worsen. I thought my depression that lasted all of 2019 was bad, but this, this has gotten worse and in such a short amount of time.

I try to avoid my former coworkers because I am afraid of how this may trigger me. This is hard to do sometimes as my boss calls me weekly to ‘check in’. Check in on what? How sucky my life is right now? He called last Friday right after I found out that my uncle passed away due to COVID-19. Talk about triggers. I was done. I seriously did not know how I was going to survive anymore pondering the question ‘What else could go wrong?!’. Because, you know, I cannot view anything as a positive.

Both my psychiatrist and therapist suggested I create a schedule that way I am not dwelling on the negative thoughts. I am working on several of them now: One for rainy weekdays, one for sunny weekdays and one for weekends. I logically know this will help me. When I have things to do I can easily get out of my head. My negative thoughts do not stay away all day. They flutter in and out like a butterfly seeking just the right nectar. For the most part though I can tell them, my Inner Bitch, to shut up.

I am not really sure what the next few weeks or months will bring. I am sure I will be riding this rollercoaster for awhile, with a few contently lucid climbs, many spiraling downfalls and some corkscrews constantly circling my brain.

I just have to hold on for the ride and not let go.

Mental Health Monday: Poetry “Hidden Pain”

Depression_art_Getty_crop_2

I had a rough day early last week. When I am having one of those days, I write poetry:

Hidden Pain

I am good at masking my pain,

It is a lesson I learned long ago,

Smile,

For the camera,

With a friend,

Along at work,

Hiding the pain that never ends.

 

I am lonely all the time,

Even with family and friends,

Alone,

When the sun rises,

As the wind blows,

Amongst company,

The negative thoughts always flow.

 

I am an expert at falsities,

Creating an alternate reality,

Growth,

Shame that has prevailed,

Hatred that boils,

Losing myself once again,

Being stuck in internal turmoil.

 

I am beginning to think this is it,

I am meant to internally suffer,

Pain,

Mental, like no other,

A black hole of sorts,

An emotional anguish,

Forever a ring of retort.

 

I am tired of constantly feeling this way,

So drained of strength that I seem to portray,

Tired,

When the sun has risen,

As the faux smile is reborn,

Over and over,

My body slashed and torn.


Stephanie Paige © 9/28/19

Just An Unhealthy Fantasy

I was doing well. It had been over 2 months since I last cut myself. The mood stabilizer was working (thank you Lamictal!). All was good… until it wasn’t.

I should’ve known.

For some reason, I am not allowed to be stable for long periods of time. The last time I self harmed was Saturday, July 13th.

I am not even 100% sure why I did it. It was the first time in weeks that I acted out on my fantasies. These fantasies aren’t romantic, or frankly, happy. It is a constant thought in my head of me with any sharp object, lightly cutting the spot on my body of preference. When I feel sad, the visions are more abundant with the negative thoughts to back them up. I succumbed to them that Saturday evening as I sat with a case cutter and nicked my wrist (nowhere near my arteries). I am not going to lie, it felt good. It felt like a release of stress and tears I so desperately wanted to cry.

But why was I consistently fantasizing about self harming myself?

I attributed the latest episode to a culmination of this delusional thought that I would be laid off and with my daughter leaving for a 2 week vacation in Alaska with my parents soon. At this time, she was crying non-stop about not wanting to go, about the long plane flights, and about missing her father and I. I was stoic in front of her but crying inside. I needed to let my pain out. And so, I cut.

The fantasies still persist.

My daughter left last Sunday. With her away, I have been down and empty, two emotions that feed the depression beast inside of me. I’ve welled up with tears the last few days about how much I miss her and need her with me. It took her going on vacation to make me realize how much I counted on her as a strength for me. My husband, yes is a huge strength, but he isn’t as compassionate and empathetic as my daughter. Once I realized that I relied on her so much, a 12-year-old girl, I felt more shitty. Negative thoughts have been spewing in my brain since then.

On top of my daughter being away, the delusion about being laid off is as strong as ever. Everything that does or doesn’t happen at work I take as a sign that feeds this delusion. I didn’t get a new location to work on… well I must be getting laid off. I am not invited to go see my location that is opening next week… see, getting laid off. It’s August (layoffs happen in February and August), just tell me now.

Stephanie, why couldn’t you be better at your job?! And, on the flip side, if it does happen, what did I do wrong?!

And now, I fantasize about cutting… ALL. THE. TIME.

To take away the pain. To solidify every negative thought in my head. To relieve the tears I can’t physically expel. So many reasons.

But I have remained strong and have not acted on it. And I hope that it remains that way, just an unhealthy fantasy…

*Disclaimer: I am under the watchful eye of both my psychiatrist and therapist. If you are self-harming or considering, please reach out to someone. There is always help. Text CONNECT to 741741, the Crisis Text Line. Or call the Self Harm Hotline at 1-800-DONT CUT (1-800-366-8388)*

 

It Takes A Suicide…

July 6th was a rough day for the people in my town. Many somber faces questioning, “Why? Why would she?” They were clueless. All they saw was a happy girl who had a loving family and friends. A preteen about to start the 7th grade in a little over a month.

They didn’t understand. And how could they?!

Unless you have been there or have known someone who has been there, you can’t fathom what would make a person want to take their own life. I understand because I have had that mental pain before, I have suffered from suicidal ideation before. I know what it is like to want to leave the world.

It’s hard hearing when it is a grown adult. Harder when it is a teenager. Definitely the hardest when it is a 12 year old.

My daughter did not know this girl personally. Sophia is a grade ahead and never had any classes or extracurriculars with her. When I showed her a photo, she commented that she had seen her in the halls but that was it. Sophia was saddened to hear about this girl and wondered what we could do.

I, like many others… friends, family, community members, teachers… donated a bit of money to her funeral expenses.

But what more could I do?

How many times I had read articles recently about teens and even preteens in our area taking their life… too many. What could cause this? What could change to prevent this?

I had decided even before this child ended her life to speak to the school about further mental health education at the start of the next school year. Being a huge advocate, I was curious last year when my daughter discussed health class what she was learning. She told me that other than stress and coping techniques, there wasn’t much. We had discussed her anxiety disorder at the beginning of last school year with her guidance counselor. He expressed to us that he would meet with Sophia once a month to check in with her. How many times did he meet with her?

… Zero!

That was when the anger in me started to boil. It was beginning to rapid boil, a pot about to overflow with lava hot water. I was furious. Not necessarily in the case of my daughter because she had a therapist and parents who could recognize her anxiety. But what about the next child? What if that child had no support system at home? What if their parent(s) didn’t believe mental illness is real? What if their guidance counselor was their only support? What then?

That child could have easily taken their own life because no one checked in with them.

We received an email from the school superintendent on behalf of her and the middle school principal regarding the recent suicide of this young girl the day after she took her life. At the end of the email it stated that we should not hesitate to contact either one of them.

I immediately wrote them both an email.

I told them my story about how I was diagnosed at 14 with major depressive disorder but probably had it earlier. I reiterated what Sophia told me about lack of mental health education and wanted to know what the schools were actually doing aside from the one 2-hour grief counseling session. I really didn’t think I would get a response. To my shock, the superintendent wrote me back that same day, a Sunday, saying she would like to discuss this further with me. After much back and forth, we agreed to meet one weekday morning. My daughter came with me.

Prior to the meeting, I was pretty angry with school system. This was solely based off of what happened with Sophia’s guidance counselor and the lack of mental health education in health class. But I went into the meeting with an open mind. I highly doubted the schools did nothing, but I wanted to know what resources, if anything, were available. I was shocked to learn that aside from the 3 guidance counselors (1 for each grade in the middle school) there was a school psychologist and a social worker just for the middle school. All the teachers were learned in mental health first aid. They were using a Tier system model:

  • Tier 1: Mental Health Awareness
  • Tier 2: School guidance counselors, teachers, staff, school psychologist and social worker are brought in to discuss a child’s welfare
  • Tier 3: Police and/or Mobile Crisis Intervention is called

I was glad that was all in play. Very important. Then I asked:

“But what about the kids? What are the kids learning? Do they know where they could go if they are suffering? What resources are available to them?”

Both the superintendent and middle school principal agreed that this was an area they were lacking in. They did teach about stress and feeling “off” in health class but did not come right out and name the conditions (Anxiety, Depression, Bipolar, etc.) which of course feeds the stigma. The principal did express that they were focusing this year on mental health awareness (last year was bullying). They wanted to know if I had any ideas.

Oh boy, did I!

I first told them the story of Sophia and her guidance counselor. Both seemed annoyed that the counselor did not check in with her and were going to make sure that didn’t happen again. They did express to Sophia that she should not feel like she is a burden and to come and see him (the principal) or her guidance counselor whenever she needed.

I said there should be some way to let the kids know that there is a suicide hotline and a crisis text line. They agreed.

I suggested having mental health first aid training for interested parents by supplying a place for it to be held.

I proposed having people who have been diagnosed come to speak to the schools via assembly. I had no shame, I will happily tell my story.

I asked that they let the parents know what resources were available as I, a parent advocating for youth mental health, had no idea. They agreed they would.

And then they hit me with something, a truth, but a big shock: Parents. How do we get more parents involved? After this young girl’s death to the time I met with them (about 2 weeks) I was the only parent to contact the superintendent. I was one of maybe 4 to contact the middle school principal. The dilemma is as simple as what the superintendent stated, “If it is not my kid, it’s not relevant to me.”

The superintendent suggested I sign up for the District Safe School Climate and Wellness Committee. This committee is comprised of parents, teachers, administrators, Board of Education members and even students. They meet about once a month during the school year. I quickly signed up. I am very excited about this and can’t wait for the first meeting.

At this point I was given homework. I am still trying to find answers to my homework. How do I get more parents involved?! How do I put the word out that their kids might be struggling and they might have no idea?! How do I get them to take suicide and mental health seriously when it is not “their kid”?!

And then, when all of the above is answered… how do I get these parents to interact with the schools in finding a cohesive mental health education program that can be used in school and at home for our kids?!

This child that ended her life… it shouldn’t have come to this point to create a year geared to mental health at the middle school. It shouldn’t have come to this point in asking parents to be more involved. This child should not have had to die for the rest of us to wake up. All this said, because of her, I will keep advocating for our children.

Rest in peace, sweet girl. May you not be in pain anymore.

1200px-Lifelinelogo.svg    Crisis Text Line

My New Family… The Barnes & Noble Book Event

I can’t lie, I have fantastic parents. They have grown so much in their views on mental illness. From telling me to keep my mouth shut to being proud about how open and honest I am with my suffering. I have a great husband, whom I chose. He is truly my best friend. He has seen the worst in me and the best and has always stood by me. My daughter is amazing, an old compassionate soul. A kind loving artistic creature and a huge support for me, her mom.

With their support, there has also been some great disappointment with other family members. Since I do not want to upset anyone, I am going to leave them alone and respect them for who they are even if they aren’t very supportive.

They say blood is thicker than water, but I do not believe that. There are plenty of people I know who are adopted or have been adopted and have terrific relationships with their adoptive families. There are many I know that chose friendships over their blood because their blood is just toxic.

I am lucky because I get to have a mix of both. Something a lot of people do not have.

I first ‘adopted’ my oldest and dearest friend ‘J’ as my younger sister. We met when she was 4 and I was 6. For the next few years we had many playdates that included dolls, dollhouses and Lego. Even though there were some years where we were apart, we rekindled our strong friendship and have since been in each other’s weddings and have supported each other with our children. I consider her 3 kids like my own, even though I haven’t met her youngest yet. We try to see each other every year although sometimes it goes longer. And you know what, we pick up conversation as if time hasn’t passed.

Recently, I am choosing to ‘adopt’ more siblings into my tight-knit family.

We all first met online. I know, creepy, right?! You never know who is really behind the online person. We were joined together by who we call our Supreme Leader… CEO and founder of both Stigma Fighters and our publishing company, Eliezer Tristan Publishing. I first met the Supreme Leader through Stigma Fighters as I am a frequent contributor… usually at least twice a year. We met in person at a reading in NYC at the NYU bookstore (wow, that is a lot of letters!) a few years back. What an amazing woman!. I totally love and admire her.

Well, she created this publishing company and was seeking authors who wanted to publish their books. Um, hi, hello, me! I jumped at the opportunity. And hence Rising From the Ashes, the book, was born on October 23, 2018. It is a collection of many of my blog posts here from its birth over 4 years ago until the summer of 2018.

Because of this book, I have met some great people. These people are my family now, including our Supreme Leader.

It all started one day a few months back with a text from the Supreme Leader, “Can you do a book signing in CT on May 17th?” Well, hell yeah I can! She proceeded to tell me that a few other local ETP (Eliezer Tristan Publishing) authors would be there as well. Awesome! I’ve read quite a few of their books and was ecstatic to meet them in person. Well, it got closer to the event, like May 13th closer, when the Supreme Leader didn’t know if she could make it. Usually flying standby, there were no available standby seats.

Panic commenced between the rest of us. We can’t do this without her! It was as if the sky was falling and we were Henny Penny. A group chat was started between us authors to try to raise money for our Supreme Leader and her 2 children, the Little Supremes, to get her here in CT for this event. This chat started out as the “I’m confused” chat because, frankly, we were all very very confused with the situation.

With some begging, a decent donation from myself, and pure luck, we were able to fly the Supreme Leader here. Sadly, one of our fellow authors remained back in Oregon to watch the Little Supremes. This author was my cover designer as well.

Well, in the mass confusion of whether or not our Supreme Leader would make it, Sarcastic Asshole (author of 100) was in a bit of a panic on where he was going to stay the evening of the 16th. Him and the Leader were supposed to be sharing an Airbnb. He was going to back out of coming. Well, I couldn’t have that… no Supreme Leader and no Sarcastic Asshole! No way. I invited Sarcastic Asshole to stay with me.

We had never physically met before. (Insert my mother panicking right now)

So after some mass confusion of which Union Station in CT he was coming into (Yes, we have more than one) and an Uber ride, Sarcastic Asshole landed on my doorstep. Honestly, it was like we were old friends. Conversation was easy with him. We were both very sarcastic people, and some of the oldies of the group of authors. He did think I was going to kill him though as he found my list of what not to do when committing a crime (expect that follow up blog post soon, see the first one here) and quickly took a swig from his bottle of Fireball. But all was well the next morning as we continued our sarcastic banter.

It was time to pick up Young Possum at the train station. After confirming which Union Station we were going to, Sarcastic Asshole and I popped in my car for what would be a fast trip up to Hartford… hahaha. Fast trip on a Friday?! No, CT believes that rush hour starts at 3pm on that day. It took some time but we made it there just in time as Young Possum exited the train station. Now Sarcastic Asshole, of course, started to be a sarcastic asshole with Young Possum but it was all in good fun.

We arrived in West Hartford and was quickly met by Lucky Rabbit’s Foot, her husband, best friend and the cutest toddler you have ever seen. Rabbit was the editor on my book. I admire her so much. What she has gone through and she always seems to have such a cheery positive disposition. Honestly, everyone from this event has gone through so much… so much that some of them shouldn’t physically be here. But that is their stories to tell.

Soon after, Corpse Bride and her mother arrived. I could tell she would fit in perfectly on the sarcasm meter.

But where was our Supreme Leader?!

As the event commencement time was approaching, again, all of us began to panic. What the heck were we going to do without her?! Our anxieties were quelled when she literally popped up in the room.

It’s funny though. If you had attended the event, you would never know that we all had met in person that night. Conversation flowed between us. We read from our books, clapped for each other and had a great panel discussion with the representative from NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness).

I was saddened to see the night end. The drive back from West Hartford to my home was a depressed one for this depressive. I missed my new family greatly. None of us knew when another ETP event might happen. The thought of meeting these great people, brought together by mental illness, and not seeing or hearing from them for who knows how long overwhelmed me with sadness.

This sadness quickly dissipated as our private messaging has continued. I have totally ‘adopted’ all of them. They are not only friends. Each one of them… Supreme Leader, Sarcastic Asshole, Young Possum, Corpse Bride & Lucky Rabbit’s Foot, are now close family.

Totally looking forward to our next family event!

I believe it involves breaking things…


Note: I have used nicknames that we have given each other through our messaging and time together. If you would like to know, my given nickname is How To Get Away With Murder because of the above mentioned list and my true crime obsession. They can call themselves out, but I would like to keep their privacy if they do not want to.

And because I love them, I would like to promote their books (which kind of gives away their names):

100

In The Gray Area of Being Suicidal

Nobody

Stigma Fighters Anthology IV 

Untranslatable

Redeeming The Anti-Fairytale

And although my cover designer couldn’t be there, his book:

Cultural Savage: The Intersection of Christianity and Mental Illness

You will not be disappointed!

They Should’ve Warned Me… The PMAD Addition

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I recently read a blog post (written in 2015/revised in 2017) by Jenny Studenroth Gerson on the Huffpost which left me slightly angry and annoyed. Actually, ‘slightly’ is an understatement. I was pissed. In the post, They Should’ve Warned Me, Jenny explains that throughout her pregnancy, she was told to “sleep while you can”, “enjoy your husband now”, and “You’ll never have time to shower.”

Then she proceeds to explain how ‘they should’ve warned her’ about the immense love she would have the second her child was born. About how crying is happy thing. About how you would love your husband so much more. About how eating healthy would create enough milk to nourish your child. About how even being extremely exhausted, waking up in the middle of the night to take care of your child is so rewarding. About how the little cries and screams wouldn’t piss you off but make you feel like a rock star… and so on and so on.

As someone who suffered from two PMADs (Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder), I was angry after reading this. First off, you do not need a ‘warning’ about loving your child. Everything she lists in this post are happy things (and frankly I can’t buy that all of them are true). Who needs a warning that you are going to cry at your child’s birth because you are happy?! Really?! With all this anger, I decided I needed to counteract this post with one of my own that deserves the word ‘warned’ in the title:

They Should’ve Warned Me: The PMAD Addition

12 years ago, I suffered. I suffered first from severe postpartum anxiety that slowly morphed into severe postpartum depression. This is what ‘they’, whoever ‘they’ are, should’ve warned me and, in turn, you about:

  • They should’ve warned me that my anxiety would start right after birth. That I would constantly worry if my daughter was getting enough colostrum. That I would have anxiety attacks in those first few hours in the hospital about why after 2-3 hours she wasn’t brought to me for a feeding.
  • They should’ve warned me that the anxiety would only grow as I had to identify the color of her poop. Is it green? Is it mustard in color? Is it brown?
  • They should’ve warned me that breastfeeding is hard work and sometimes it is not the right answer to feeding your child and that that is okay. Why is she falling asleep on my boob after 5 minutes? Is she eating enough? Oh God, what’s wrong with her?!
  • They should’ve warned me that although crying is normal, keep an eye on it, it could develop into something more than Baby Blues. I cried from day one. Sure it started out being 3-4 times a day but it slowly grew in excess of six times a day.
  • They should’ve warned me that sleep is important and to push for it. Yeah, I get it, you’re not going to sleep much when you have a newborn, but if you have a prior mental health condition (such as myself with depression) then those around you should know the importance sleep plays in your life and allow you to rest for a few hours.
  • They should’ve warned me that my anxiety would worsen that no matter what I tried to eat, it wouldn’t stay down. That vomiting would become my new way of life. That Ensure won’t cure it all and that the smell of chicken cooking would have me running to the bathroom.
  • They should’ve warned me about how my love for my infant would grow into hatred. That with each shriek, I would want to pull out my hair or bang my head against the wall.
  • They should’ve warned me that I would become hysterical enough to make plans to run away, that my husband and daughter would be better off without me. That the whole world would be better off without me.
  • They should’ve warned me that I would scare my family and friends with my hysterics.
  • They should’ve warned me that I would see myself as useless, unworthy and undeserving of love.
  • They should’ve warned me that all this would occur in the first month postpartum and would culminate into admitting myself into short-term psych.
  • They should’ve warned me I would have to be inpatient for 12 days.
  • They should’ve warned me that I would go through many therapy & psychiatry appointments after my stay.
  • They should’ve warned me that I would go through multiple medication changes that first year to find just the right combination.
  • They should’ve warned me that it would be a few months before I loved my child again.

And…

  • They should’ve warned me that it would be a year before I would smile for real.

PMADs deserve warnings. The things Jenny Studenroth Gerson mentions in her article do not. It took me to one year postpartum to feel like myself again. To fully embrace my daughter with infinite love. To know my life is the way it was meant to be. For some women it is longer. Although most women will not be affected by a PMAD, there is a high percentage that are. About 1 in 5 women will experience postpartum depression. That’s just one PMAD. Let’s not forget about postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, postpartum PTSD, and postpartum psychosis. These are things to be warned about.

If I could tell Jenny Studenroth Gerson one thing it would be:

Research your definition of ‘warn’. Most women understand and have the immense love for their partner and child at birth. Most women will successfully breastfeed. Most women will cry tears of joy when their baby coos or cries. But you need to realize that over 20% of the postpartum population will not feel that. They will not see these items as warnings (and they didn’t, I took to my Warrior Mom community with this one). Some will find your article cruel, like if they didn’t feel what you did, they weren’t as loving as a mother as you are. And, if they read this while going through a PMAD, it would just make them feel worse. I understand you enjoyed your postpartum stage (and around 80% of mothers will) but please show compassion for the rest of us.

If you are someone you know is suffering from a PMAD (Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder) resources can be found at the sites below:
The Bloom Foundation for Maternal Wellness
Postpartum Support International
2020 Mom
If you know a mother or are a mother considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at
1-800-273-8255
or text 741741

When a Nobody Becomes A Somebody

A Book Review of Nobody by Sarah Fader and Ari Fader-Van Luyn

Have you ever felt alone? Different? Invisible?

I have most of my life. I knew from a young age that I wasn’t like other kids. I could not pinpoint what made me different with the exception to my extreme pessimism. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder at 14 that I became aware of why I was different. Because of this diagnosis and the fact that this was the mid-1990s, I was told by my parents to never bring it up. At the time they didn’t know any better since the stigma surrounding mental illness was so much worse than it is today. This just isolated me more. Aside from feeling different, I felt alone. I thought I was alone with my suffering, that no one else felt like I did.

Through the years, I have gone back and forth with depression and now anxiety to a point that I will not hide anymore. It is just too hard to keep it all in. I said screw it to the stigma and have become a huge advocate (and activist) for mental health. I had to, especially when my own child was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at age 6 that was present for two years prior.

She felt alone and scared. She didn’t understand what was going on. She was a Nobody.

What is a Nobody? This is a Nobody:

Nobody_Cover_Sarah_Fader

And that is Nobody’s dog, Nobody. And they live Nowhere.

This is a children’s picture book written by Sarah Fader (Founder of Stigma Fighters and Eliezer Tristan Publishing) and her young preteen son, Ari. Like my daughter, Ari feels like a Nobody because of the struggles he has been through. Both have felt very “ERRRRGH” and have the need to not feel like a Nobody anymore.

How I wish this book was around when my daughter was diagnosed. It would have let her know that although she is different, she is not invisible and alone. She is not a Nobody. She is a Somebody.

Somebody, that is a human child that finds the Nobodys and tells them that they are important too. That they are seen. That makes the Nobodys feel special. That makes the Nobodys feel like Somebodys. I would love to tell you how it ends, but that would give away the whole story.

This is a great book to read to your young child that feels different, that feels like they do not fit in. It lets them know they are not alone and that there is always a Somebody out there for them.

Nobody is beautifully illustrated by Shari J. Ryan.

Okay, So Where Can I Find Nobody?

You can find Nobody by Sarah Fader and Ari Fader-Van Luyn at:

Eliezer Tristan Publishing: Nobody

Amazon: Nobody

Losing Your Identity: Postpartum

I have always been a strong and independent person. I am a real go-getter, sometimes an overachiever, always pushing my limits. I am an alpha personality that likes to be in control and has a hard time handling abrupt changes in my day-to-day schedule. I can be rather stubborn (ask my parents or my husband) and sometimes emotional (okay, very emotional). I knew who I was and who I wanted to be when I became a mother. I didn’t think I would change.

When I gave birth to my daughter, I had grandeur plans of being able to maintain a household, care for this boob-sucking, dependent 7lbs being, and of course, be able to work & keep up a social life. Boy, was I wrong. I didn’t realize how much a newborn changes you. I didn’t realize how invisible you become.

The second Sophia was born (4:46am on 10/16), I was no longer me. I was Sophia’s mother, her primary caregiver. My husband would be helping but since I had planned on breastfeeding, her care mainly fell to me. My world revolved only around her. I fed her, changed her majority of the time, and woke up in the wee hours of the morning with her since my husband went to work while I was off on maternity leave. I became a slave to her cries. And it hurt.

People came to visit and although they would kindly ask, “How are you?”, they really were only interested in the Sophia. Everyone wants to see cute babies, no one wants to see their disheveled mother. No one noticed what was happening to me. Even my husband doesn’t remember and he was living in the house with me. I was falling apart. Every bit of energy I had I used on my daughter. My schedule depended on her schedule. I was depleted and left with nothing. Eventually, I had nothing left to give.

After a few weeks, maybe 3 weeks postpartum, my mother became concerned. She began to see what was happening to me. Someone was finally recognizing me. I succumbed to postpartum anxiety first and rapidly fell victim to postpartum depression. After many psychiatrist and therapist appointments, the inpatient psych ward became my home for 12 days.

But it didn’t end there. What I did learn within the walls of the psych ward is that I was no longer myself. I could not do it all! I was not Wonder Woman or those super moms on TV. I didn’t know who I was anymore with exception to being Sophia’s mom.

I lost myself. I lost my identity.

Although highly medicated and still in therapy, I was miserable. Photos of the first 11 months show me with crooked half smiles, trying to be happy, trying to enjoy this new life I had. I loved my daughter deeply, but could not stand everything she meant. She was the reason I lost my sense of self.

I had to know who I was, who this person who stared back at me in the mirror was. I couldn’t recognize her anymore. Every morning there were tears shed when I looked at my reflection. How would I fix this?

I continued to do the things I had to do… mother my child, go to work, cook dinner occasionally. I carried on robotically for several months trying to get a glimmer of something that gave me a sign as to who the new me was. My husband carried on being his same quiet, geeky self. There were never any changes for him. Why was it only me, the mom, who had to change? Why was my identity lost but not his?

Years would pass before I became ‘whole’ again. I dabbled with possible career changes. I hung out with different groups of friends. I tried multiple forms of exercise. All this to see who I really was, to learn what my personality had become.

It took my daughter’s birth and my loss of self to realize I loved to be outside. I found a rebirth when hiking or snowshoeing. I became aware of life around me. Reading and writing were reintroduced into my life and then my love for true crime blossomed. I forced myself to take ‘me’ time because I was important. I was a human. I was not created in a chop shop from discarded mechanical parts. I was Stephanie.

I am a mother to one child, but experienced this again a few years ago. When we were fostering to adopt our former foster son, this loss of identity took over. I couldn’t stop the fact that I was being pulled in so many directions and because of it, I, once again, became a robot. My body was no longer connected to my brain. My brain only functioned to send signals to move my body parts but my sense of self was gone. And like my postpartum, it took years to get it back.

So, who is to blame for mothers losing their identity? Do we blame society? Husbands? Other mothers? Random people on the street? Maybe it is the media for portraying moms to be perfect, a Stepford Wife. Should we turn the blame inward to ourselves for letting it happen? Should we blame doctors for not caring enough to check in on mothers?

And, most importantly, how do we make it stop?

I admit, things have changed over the years since I gave birth to Sophia. Twelve years has made somewhat of a difference on this topic. We have peer led support groups for new mothers. We have organizations pushing for more screening in both the antenatal and perinatal periods. There are people speaking up. Women are beginning to declare that yes, motherhood does suck sometimes and you shouldn’t feel ashamed by admitting that. We can talk with other mothers and realize we are not alone. We all lose our identity to some extent and I think by identifying this, it is the first step to finding out who we are now.