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:

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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.

 

When You Dream About Tornadoes…

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The F3 tornado that hit the University of Maryland College Park Campus, September 2001.

I have lived through 1 tornado in my life and frankly, it was 1 too many. It was senior year of college, September 2001, and I was sitting in class during Architectural Studio, when all I heard was continuous thunder. The booming never stopped. Crack, boom, rumble. Then the papers started flying off the walls. We couldn’t see a thing due to the room only having these slit windows in alcoves, but we were aware of how dark it got outside. Eventually, a professor ran into our room and said we couldn’t go anywhere, there was a tornado. We all just stared at her in shock.

A tornado hitting Maryland?! Kind of bizarre. You would think Kansas or another of the plains states, but Maryland?! This University of Maryland tornado (story here) registered as an F3, with winds as high as 206mph, and killed 2 sisters traveling home. It flipped their car over one of the high-rise dorm buildings. One sister was set to graduate in January, the other was a sophomore. While I, fortunately, was unscathed, many others weren’t. My husband (fiancee at the time) was displaced from his apartment and had to live in a hotel for awhile. Many were injured. Buildings were destroyed and the landscape unrecognizable.

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The aftermath. I lived in that high-rise dorm in the back for my first 2 years at college.

But we persevered.

Now, it was no tornado like that in the Wizard of Oz. It didn’t lift up the building and drop us in a fantasy world filled with flying monkeys, witches, and little people. But, it did scare us all. Not long after…

… the dreams started.

When they first began, they were terrifying. Similar to the double cyclone scene in the 1996 movie Twister starring Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton. They occurred a couple times a week. I was always caught in them, trying to hold on for dear life. Some of the dreams had up to 6 tornadoes spinning in my vision at one time. I screamed, I cried. It was horrible.

After a few years, they diminished in occurrence. The dreams became a bi-yearly event and then one day they were gone. Afterall, the Maryland tornado happened over 17 years ago. I thought I was free of them, that my PTSD-inducing dreams were gone.

Sadly, I was wrong.

A few weeks ago, I had a dream. My husband, daughter and I were on vacation in North Carolina. We were staying at a hotel. We checked in, received our room keys and ventured to our room. I should have known something was amiss when upon entering our room there was no ceiling over the beds, just open sky. It was actually beautiful in the beginning, laying in the beds at night and staring up at the stars. One day it changed though. Thunderstorms began to roll in. Oddly enough, there was no rain, but hey, it is a dream. I suddenly recognized that never ending roar.

I panicked and ran to the front desk and cried that there was a tornado coming. The people behind the desk laughed, “Silly woman, it’s just one of our typical North Carolina storms.” I sprinted back to our room and eyed 2 funnel clouds in the distance… typical storm my ass, I thought. We were totally fucked. As I entered our room I could see the clouds swirling overhead because remember, there was no ceiling. I couldn’t breathe. My heart was palpitating. This was it, this was how my triangle family was going to die. I could see the headlines now:
“Vacationing Family Gets Swept Up by Mammoth Cyclone and Perishes”

What were we going to do?! I wasn’t ready to die and definitely not by a tornado! In the distance I could hear my daughter crying and rightly catastrophizing the situation. My husband was pulling her into the bathroom. He then grabbed my arm and…

My alarm clock went off.

Shit, another terrifying tornado dream.

Of course since I suffer from generalized anxiety disorder, I began to get a bit anxious about what this all meant. Was this foreshadowing another tornado in my life? Was it a metaphor for something else? Googling the word ‘tornado’ within the dream realm, I found out the following:

  • Tornadoes: symbolize a destructive situation in your life. It could be loss of control over your life or your behavior becoming destructive. In addition, tornadoes mean that you may feel overwhelmed and disappointed. (Dreamingandsleeping.com)
  • Multiple Tornadoes: Indicates a strong change in life. (Dreamatico.com)
  • Surviving a Tornado: You’re going to have an advancement in your life. (Dreamatico.com)
  • Chasing a Tornado: someone in your life is displaying power over you. (Dreamatico.com)
  • Being Caught in a Tornado: someone is controlling you and you’re letting that happen. (Dreamatico.com)

This latest dream had me seeing multiple tornadoes and being caught in them. I wasn’t exactly swirling within them but I was stuck with no where to go. I have no idea if I survived because I woke up. If I analyze it then there is something or someone affecting my life in a bad way and I am letting it happen. Hmmm… can’t really think of anything or anyone that falls into that category. Oh, and I am overwhelmed (uh, duh!).

Dreams are bizarre though. There are those reoccurring ones, such as the dream about missing a college class all year and freaking out when you realize it is time for the final. There are random ones that you can distinctly know the meaning of because it related to something you did the day before. Then there are the instinctive ones that let us know what may happen in the future. What these tornado ones mean for me, who knows!

What do you dream about?

4 Years Ago… A New Blog

4 years ago, I started a blog. I needed a way to express what I was feeling after losing my foster son back to the Department of Children & Families (DCF). It was a horrible time in my life. I have never felt so low, so pointless. I couldn’t comprehend the thoughts in my head. I couldn’t understand why my mental health was not stable enough for me to parent another child.

“Why me?!”

So many times that phrase went through my head.

Because I needed clarity, a place to vent, to try to understand, I decided to write about it. On January 5th, 2015, I published my first entry. I titled it, My First Time Was When I Was 14 through Google’s blogger. I began from the beginning, the first time I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, the first of six episodes… each one getting progressively worse.

The entries continued. I was raw, laid all my emotions out for the world to read. I was emotionally and mentally unstable.

What did I want people to know? I wanted them to understand what it was like living with a condition that affects your brain.

It was a long time before I could accept things the way they were but once I did, I was so much better. I was content. I could look at images of my former foster son and smile instead of cursing myself internally. I was human again. I thank so many people in my lives for that… my husband, my daughter, my parents, my EMDR therapist (thank you S.B.!) and, of course, myself.

4 years ago, I was dying, a corpse of my former self. Today, today I am the strength trifecta, strong physically, mentally & emotionally. It was a long journey, and although I suffered greatly, I wouldn’t change it. It has made me the me I am today.

So, what does that mean for S. Paige Writes?

I no longer struggle with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). I no longer suffer from PTSD. Even my Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD) is under control. The only mental illness that I still combat daily is my Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). That being said, I still have plenty more to write in regards to all the mental illnesses I have encountered, but, I will also be writing more about, well anything.

I have been into writing since I was a child. I wrote endless amounts of stories (but never finished any of them). I wrote poetry. I branched out into publishing my life. So, why limit it to just my mental health?

I will still write about my experience with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. I will still write about my MDD, PDD, GAD & PTSD. But, you may see a few poems mixed in, a few chapter blurbs from the fiction work I am writing, a few article reviews, local news items and a few humorous items.

S. Paige Writes is back from her hiatus with a new blog look and new content!

You Don’t Have PTSD, You’re Not In The Military: Redefining Our View Of PTSD

My husband told me a story the other day from work.  He forewarned me that I may be a little upset by it.  Uh-oh.  I was a bit worried but once he mentioned the words “Mental Illness” I instantly knew why I would be angered.

“Who said something stupid now?” I asked him expecting some noneducational comment about Mental Illness not being real.

It wasn’t a who this time, but someone’s calendar that offended him.  A calendar?!  Odd, but I had him proceed.  The calendar was created and distributed by the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars).  It was in a coworkers cubicle.  Okay, nothing wrong displaying a calendar from the VFW.  I fully support our Veterans.  My father is a Veteran.  How can a calendar from the VFW anger me?!

He went on to explain that the calendar had pointed out that that particular day was PTSD Awareness Day.  I looked at him oddly, “Okay, and?  Not seeing the offensive part…”

“It wasn’t just PTSD Awareness Day, it was Veteran’s PTSD Awareness Day.  I don’t know, it just made me feel like they only think those in the military get PTSD.”

I thought on this a moment.  I actually viewed it as the opposite.  The VFW created a whole separate day dedicated to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Veterans.  This is big to me.  Actually acknowledging that the illness exists is huge.  A ginormous step in eradicating the stigma behind PTSD.  I relayed my thoughts to my husband.  He understood but still felt that it ignored the many people who suffered from PTSD and were not in the military.

This I understood.  When someone mentions PTSD, most people will instantly think of someone in the military and mainly a male who was in war.  I did this for the longest time until these four letters were labeled to me.  I have never served (many thank yous to those who have).  The closest I have gotten to the military is wearing my father’s dog tags as a teen because that was in style.  So, how did I, a full time working mom develop PTSD?

Trauma.

Trauma is defined as “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience” on dictionary.com   The definition does not limit it to one group of people.  Trauma can impact anyone at any moment.  One can experience trauma from war, trauma from abuse, trauma from rape, trauma from birth, or like mine, trauma from loss.  I cannot say my trauma was as horrible as those that have seen war, but it still deeply affected me and those around me.  To have an experience that distresses you to complete exhaustion and removes you from reality is serious and can affect anyone.

The ‘T’ of the acronym should be highlighted for all to understand.  While the military makes up a large percentage of those diagnosed with PTSD, there are many people with this diagnosis that have never served.  My trauma came in the quick (extremely quick) time frame of fostering-to-adopt, falling in love with this child, and then losing this child because of my Generalized Anxiety Disorder.  What resulted in these less than 3 months was a depleted being who had lost a ton of weight and frankly, her mind.  After my former foster son went away, I fell into the deepest (and darkest) episode of Major Depressive Disorder of my life thus far.  I grieved.  I grieved for him, I grieved for myself.  For fear that I would hurt myself, because honestly I was worried to be alone with myself, I became inpatient at the local hospital.  After being discharged a whole 5 days later, my PTSD symptoms started.

Everything triggered me.  Driving to my psychiatrist was the worst.  I would pass the Department of Children and Families and start sobbing and having flashbacks.  Then I would pass the hospital and cry more.  It didn’t end there.  Once I arrived at my psychiatrist the tears continued to flow.  Songs made me cry and have more flashbacks.  I couldn’t listen to Adele’s Hello or Ed Sheeren’s Photograph for months.  I would find things at home that were Tyler’s and left behind and once again I was thrown back in time.  Trigger after trigger.  It was an endless game.

But the flashbacks were not my only symptom.  Because of them, I tried to avoid anything that would trigger me.  This led to alternate routes to my psychiatrist which just caused me to be late and feel more shame.  I would try to hide in my bedroom or in my cubicle.  I became isolated, not wanting to be around anyone.  I couldn’t concentrate and had insomnia.

Eventually both my psychiatrist and my therapist at the time gave me a PTSD diagnosis, but a mild one.  It took a new form of therapy (God Bless EMDR), a new therapist and time (over 2 years) and I no longer have this diagnosis.

 

 

 

Thank You!

Call it part of a Depressive’s “12-Step” Program, but I feel the need to say thank you to the people in my life that have contributed to my better health and wellness.  Considering the decades that I’ve struggled, this list can become rather lengthy but I will narrow it down to my latest and greatest (note sarcasm) episode of Major Depressive Disorder.  Some people listed may shock you, but all have helped in bringing the strength trifecta back to me.  I now feel strong.

Thank You To:

My Parents:  You have never given up on me.  Although we all struggled to understand exactly what was going on with me in my teenage years, you never pushed my thoughts and feelings aside.  You never told me to “suck it up”.  You never told me to “just get over it”.  From the beginning you both have sought out ways to get me help starting with group therapy, to Cognitive Behavior Therapy and even medication.  You helped when I was a few states away in college.  You both have cried with me, constantly worried about me but never ever left my side.  I am extremely thankful to have you two as parents as many others do not have such caring and understanding parents in their lives.

My Husband: Oh, what we have been through… first and foremost, thank you for never taking me up on my offer to leave me.  I must of told you dozens of times to go, take Sophia and run.  But you didn’t.  You stayed and took our wedding vows seriously.  You loved me when I was “crazy”.  You sacrificed so much when I was hospitalized.  You never gave up on me.  Although now you are unsure of what to say or do when my illnesses make themselves present, I know you care.  As Bon Jovi said, “Thank you for loving me”.

My Sophia, my baby girl:  How did I get so lucky?!  You are the light in my darkness.  So compassionate, kind and empathetic.  You have never made me feel guilty or unloved by you.  You worry about me to extents you shouldn’t but I appreciate it.  You are always there for a big hug.  Thank you for being  you.

My Therapist:  Hmm… I don’t think I would be here without you.  I came to you in the darkest moments of my life.  Lost and completely hopeless that I would ever recover this time.  CBT therapy wasn’t working this time.  I needed something more.  It was fate that all I did was Google EMDR Therapists and narrow it down to who was more convenient in location.  It just so happens that the most convenient turned out to be my saving grace.  I had huge doubts that EMDR would work.  Highly emotionally draining in the beginning, you helped me to reprocess the loss of Tyler and in turn, the loss of Sophia’s infancy, my Postpartum, loss of more children and even the loss of my former self.  Thank you!

My Friends: From visiting me in the hospital to checking in on my through social media and texts, I am grateful for each and every one of you.

My Gym:  Again, another choice of convenience to work and home, the gym has been a wonderful addition to helping me get strength in all areas of life.  Aside from building up my physical strength (I can barbell squat 135lbs currently!), all the trainers, instructors and the owner have made me feel welcome, like I belong.  I am not just a number lost among many.  It is a close knit family that I am thankful to be a part of.  Thank you!

My Medications:  Although the stubborn weight gain and selective side effects are an annoying pain in my ass, I am completely grateful that they exist.  I used to hate taking these tiny pills to feel ‘normal’ but now I am thankful they help me to feel like myself.  We have a strong bond that will never be broken.

And lastly…

Myself:  I think this was the hardest person to thank.  I spent years hating myself, years internally abusing myself.  I didn’t matter.  I didn’t deserve love.  At points in my life, I thought I didn’t deserve to live.  I have come a long way.  Battling Depression and Anxiety both physically and mentally, sometimes draining myself into complete despair…  I’ve finally learned acceptance and because of this have become kinder to all aspects of myself.  I am now happier and understand I cannot change the past.  I am starting to live in the present, enjoying the little things in life… my daughter’s smile, a chirping bird, pretty flowers.  I want to live.  I want to see what the future brings.  Thank you Stephanie, for learning to live.  You are truly an amazing strong being!

 

Living With Someone Who Is Mentally Ill: Interview with My Daughter

My daughter has seen it all. From her oceanic blue eyes in her cherub baby face to now, almost 12 years later. She is a remarkable child who has not only witnessed her mother’s hysterics (& panic attacks, drastic weight loss and days of not getting out of bed) but also her own diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. My daughter, given the name Sophia Faye at birth, is the epitome of the meaning… “Wise Fairy”. Sophia is an old soul and understands so much for such a young person. Many words can be used to describe her but at the top of the list are definitely compassionate, empathetic, caring and loving. There are days I may miss her little toddling body and cheeky grins but I love watching her blossom into the amazing young lady she is today.

When I decided to do this interview series, I knew I had to interview her. I have not hid much from her. In fact 3 years ago I was so foregone I couldn’t. She learned about suicide at the tender age of 8 and questioned me often about it. She knows I grew to hate her as a newborn. I’ve always explained things to her in an age appropriate manner and often worried about her reactions but she has always listened, digested and never ever judged. I am amazed by her and couldn’t of asked for a better child.

Sophia’s Interview

Lounging in her preteen abode full of textured pillows and dozens of Stitch stuffed animals early in the evening, we both relaxed on her bed. There were many giggles beforehand as she pictured this interview as a video recording and not just a vocal recording. She was a little nervous, as was I, and we both tend to laugh a lot when we are nervous:

Me: How did you feel when I told you I grew to hate you when you were a baby?

Sophia: Fine.

Me: How come you were okay with it?

Sophia: Because I knew you didn’t mean it.

Concerning 3 years ago

Me: What did you feel and think when I left the house 3 years ago to stay with Bubbe & Grandpa (my parents) because Tyler (former foster son) was triggering me?

Sophia: I don’t remember that.

Me: It was only 3 years ago!

Sophia: Didn’t I come with you?

Me: You did.

Sophia: It was when he left?

Me: Yes.

Sophia: Oh, I mean, I was… I didn’t even notice anything was wrong with you. Like, I… I don’t really know. I felt fine because I didn’t know you were triggered.

Me: I left the house because I couldn’t stay there.

Sophia: But wasn’t I there too?

Me: I don’t think you came the first night.

Sophia: Oh. I don’t remember. I’m getting old!

Me (after rolling my eyes at that last statement): How did you feel when I admitted myself into the hospital?

Sophia: Scared.

Me: Did you know why I was there?

Sophia: No, I’m not sure. No.

Me: What did you think when you couldn’t visit me in the hospital and had to stay in the cafeteria with Grandpa?

Sophia: I wasn’t happy about it. I mean, I wanted to see you.

Me: You weren’t allowed to see me because they were worried about what the other people might say to you, what you might see.

Sophia: Oh, okay.

Me: Were you scared when I was released from the hospital?

Sophia: No, because I was happy you were going to leave and come home.

Me: You’ve been protecting me since the hospital stay. How come?

Sophia: Because I don’t want you to go back to the hospital.

GAD, PPD, Depression, & Suicide

Me: Do you blame me for your Generalized Anxiety Disorder and it is okay if you do?

Sophia: No.

Me: Do you blame anyone for it?

Sophia: No. Why would I?

Me: Do you wish you were ‘normal’?

Sophia: Sometimes.

Me: If you didn’t worry about the things you worry about?

Sophia: Sometimes, because sometimes it is good to worry.

Me: Do you fear you’ll have Postpartum Depression and Anxiety because I had it?

Sophia: Sometimes.

Me: Do you worry or fear you’ll have a Depressive Disorder because I have one?

Sophia: I don’t usually think about it. I guess, but that is only when I think about it.

Me: Do you know when I was first diagnosed (with Depression)?

Sophia: You were 14.

Me: And how old are you?

Sophia: I am 11.

Me: So you are close to that age.

Sophia: Yeah.

Me: That’s why I watch you a lot.

Sophia: That’s not creepy.

Me: Not in that sense Sophia. I’m not stalking you… Are you worried I will commit suicide?

Sophia: Very much.

Me: How come?

Sophia: You told me how you took that can cutter thing (a case cutter) and almost cut your hand off (almost slit my wrist).

Me: I was 18 then.

Sophia: So?

Me: That was 20 years ago.

Sophia: You also said that if you go off of medicine you’re probably going to want to commit suicide the next time you have an episode (of Major Depressive Disorder).

Me: Are you worried I will hurt myself?

Sophia: Yeah.

Me: Do you think there will be a next time?

Sophia: Yes, just because of events that can happen in the future.

Me: Like what?

Sophia: Like Bubbe & Grandpa dying or like the kitties dying and stuff.

Me: Do you think because of what I have been through that I am too overprotective with you about Mental Illness?

Sophia: Sometimes. There is no reason you should be.

Me: Do you understand why I am?

Sophia: Yeah. Because you don’t want me to get Depression and stuff.

Stigma & Advocacy

Me: What have I told you about stigma?

Sophia: What does stigma mean again?

Me: Hard to define but how people think the Mentally Ill are a danger to our society, that you should be hush-hush about it because people may not hire you, people may not want to be your friend, people don’t believe it is real.

Sophia: You’ve told me.

Me: And what do you think about that?

Sophia: I mean if that’s what they think, that’s what they think.

Me: Because you know that one of your grandparents thinks that way.

Sophia: Well, yeah, but…

Me: How do you feel knowing that you have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and you have a grandparent that doesn’t believe it exists?

Sophia: Well, that’s what he can think.

Me: Do you understand why I advocate for this?

Sophia: What does that mean, advocate?

Me: Why I share my story. Why I try to teach others.

Sophia: Yes.

Me: Do you see yourself doing that?

Sophia: I don’t know.

Thoughts on Me, Her Mom

Me: Do you think I am a bad mother?

Sophia: No. Not at all. Why would I think you were?

Me: Do you ever wish you had a mother that wasn’t like this?

Sophia: No.

Me: Did you ever think I was a bad mother?

Sophia: No.

Me: How do you characterize your mother?

Sophia: Worried, anxious, fun, caring, loving, sometimes depressed.

Me: Do you always related Mental Illness stuff to your mom?

Sophia: Like different things other than Postpartum?

Me: Well I have had Depression since I was 14. There have been others thrown in there.

Sophia: When I think of Depression I don’t think of you as ‘Oh, she’s depressed’, I think ‘she is still alive and she is strong’.

Me: You see me as strong and a fighter?

Sophia: Yeah.

Me: What traits do you hope you get from me or do you see you already have gotten?

Sophia: I want to get your determination and your strength and sometimes your empathy because a lot of times empathy is good and I want your mental strength.

Me: Any last comments on me, your mother?

Sophia: I love her.

Me: Would you want any other mother besides me?

Sophia: No.

Me: How much do you love me?

Sophia: To infinity and beyond!

I am truly grateful for this kid!

Living With Someone Who Is Mentally Ill: Interview with My Husband

I was approached by a friend of mine who offered up the suggestion on doing an interview series with family members on what their thoughts and feelings were concerning my Mental Illnesses.  I have to admit, I had been toying with this idea for a long time and at this request, felt it was the time to actually commit to the series.

Since it is May and Mental Health Awareness Month, I knew that I wanted to publish these now.  As much as we (those of us diagnosed) feel and think about when we are deep in the depths of Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Borderline Personality Disorder, etc., what do those close to us feel?  Do they feel as hopeless? Do they feel frustrated with us? Are they so angry they are wondering why they are with us?

I interviewed my husband this past weekend (my daughter and parents interviews will follow).  This is a man who has been with me for almost 22 years, since we were teenagers.  He has witnessed 5 out of my 6 episodes of Major Depressive Disorder.  He has been through my hospitalizations, my self-loathing, my hysterical thoughts.  And he stays.  A lot of what I asked him, I knew the answers to (I mean, hey, we’ve been together for over 2 decades!), but he did shock me with a few.

I present below my interview with my loving husband, Jimmy.

The Interview

Picture it, Master Bedroom, a late Saturday afternoon in May in New England.  I greet my husband and thank him for participating.  He nods.  He is not a wordy person which is shocking by some of his answers:

S. Paige:  What were your 1st thoughts and feelings after witnessing my episode of MDD in college where I slammed doors and pushed you out?

Jimmy:  I felt I had done something wrong to make you feel, like, the way you were feeling.

S. Paige:  Were you angry? Were you upset?

Jimmy: Defeated.

S. Paige:  What made you call my parents then?

Jimmy: I don’t remember doing that.  (He did in fact call my parents and filled them in on what was going on with me.  I received a phone call from my therapist that evening and then the campus psychologist the next day.)

Episode 4: Postpartum Depression & Anxiety

S. Paige: Okay, let’s go to something more recent. What did you think and feel when you got the phone call that I was at the hospital after Sophia was born (for severe postpartum depression & anxiety)?

Jimmy: … I don’t know.  I didn’t know what to think or feel.  I didn’t feel.

S. Paige: Were you worried? Were you wondering what the heck was wrong?

Jimmy: No.  I just thought that is what happened (after childbirth).  You had a hormone crash.  You had baby blues.  I didn’t realize you weren’t sleeping well.  I didn’t realize it was a thing.

S. Paige:  Did you realize I was vomiting all the time?

Jimmy:  No, I knew you were taking Ensure.

S. Paige:  Were you and I living in the same house at that time?!  You went to therapy with me.  You went to the psychiatrist with me.  You weren’t concerned at all?

Jimmy:  I don’t recall going to the therapist.

S. Paige:  This is proving to be a really valuable interview (sarcasm)

Jimmy:  I blocked these bad memories out.

S. Paige:  How were those 12 days when I was in short-term psych (I admitted myself exactly 1 month after our daughter was born)?

Jimmy:  Non stop.  I didn’t have time for, like, myself.  I was always visiting you or taking care of Sophia or with your parents or at work.  I had no time for me.

S. Paige:  Did that strain you?

Jimmy:  I’ll never eat at a KFC ever again.

S. Paige: (perplexed) Why? What does KFC have to do with this?

Jimmy:  Because that is where I would eat from the train station on the way to the hospital.  The KFC on North Street.  And I just can’t eat at a KFC ever again because I link the two together.

S. Paige: So it is a trigger?

Jimmy:  Yes.

S. Paige:  How were you able to continue with that schedule?

Jimmy:  Because I knew it would end eventually.  There was light at the end of the tunnel.  I know you didn’t see the light, but I could.

S. Paige:  I feel guilty for that (putting him in this position).  Do you know that?

Jimmy:  It’s what I am here for.  I’m the husband.

Episode 6: My 2nd Hospitalization / A Next Time?

S. Paige:  How did you feel when I went back to the hospital?

Jimmy:  I had gotten used to it.  It’s just like a part of you.  Every decade or so, you’re going to have to spend a couple of weeks in the hospital.  I don’t know.  I’ve just accepted it.

S. Paige:  Are you okay with that?

Jimmy:  Okay-ish.  I would rather you not have to do that.  But, it is part of who you are.  That every time some major event occurs in your life and for whatever reason you can’t adjust to the change it is always a possibility that you could end up in the hospital for a week or two.

S. Paige:  Do you worry about a next time?

Jimmy:  No.

S. Paige:  Do you think there will be a next time?

Jimmy:  Probably.

S. Paige:  Do you ever fear I won’t recover?

Jimmy:  Depends on your definition of recover.  So like hopped up on mega does of anti-psychotics for your life type never recover?

S. Paige:  Yes.

Jimmy:  Yeah, that’s a concern.

S. Paige:  What would you do?

Jimmy:  I don’t know.  I don’t want to think about it.

S. Paige:  Do you fear I will take my own life?

Jimmy:  No.

S. Paige:  How are you so sure?

Jimmy:  I… don’t know.  I’m not so sure, but I am pretty sure.

Stigma

S. Paige:  How did you feel about having your wife in the psych ward?  Did that seem normal to you?  Seem weird?  Did stigma play into it?

Jimmy:  No.  Because… its… its… maybe for the people of the older generation than us.  I might not tell them directly that my wife is a ‘nut job’ and she’s spent time in the psych ward but people our generation and younger are much more accepting of medication and therapy and needing inpatient stuff but I might not be as open to the older generation.

S. Paige:  Taking the older generation into account, how do you feel when your father says…

Jimmy: (cut me off) He’s an idiot.

S. Paige:  I didn’t even get the question out.

Jimmy:  It doesn’t matter.  But he’s my father and its not like I can say anything bad to him because he’s a Catholic father and because you haven’t grown up in a Catholic family you don’t know.

S. Paige:  No, I don’t know.  But you have a wife and daughter with Mental Illness diagnoses’.

Jimmy:  I’m not going to change him so I just accept the fact that he’s and idiot and ignore him as best as I can.

Our Daughter, Sophia

S. Paige:  As a parent, do you worry that she’ll be like me?

Jimmy:  I worry she is going to be like me.

S. Paige:  Why, what’s wrong with you?

Jimmy:  I’m an antisocial, geeky, anxiety riddled ‘nutto’.

S. Paige:  You do not have a disorder.  You have moments of anxiety.  She has one already.  With teenage years and hormones do you worry she’ll follow in my footsteps?

Jimmy:  No, you’re still alive and you’re 38.  She’ll make it through.  It’s part of who you are, it is part of who she is.  I wouldn’t want to change either of you two.

S. Paige:  Do you think because of what I went through, we’re better equipped to deal with Sophia if she does fall victim to depression?  I know we have definitely done better dealing with her anxiety.

Jimmy:  I just hope we’re not biased.

S. Paige: That concerns me.

Jimmy:  I mean you’re super biased towards never going on medication.

(FYI, I am medicated and fine with it)

S. Paige:  It’s not that I’m biased, it’s just…

Jimmy:  … like it’s a sign you’re headed down that slope.

S. Paige:  Yeah.

Jimmy:  And I’m just like yeah, whatever, if it makes the slope less steep than who cares?!

Changing Me

S. Paige:  Did you ever just want to ‘slap’ the anxiety and depression out of me?

Jimmy:  No.

S. Paige:  Do you wish I didn’t have either one?

Jimmy:  Interesting question.  It’s hard to answer.  Because it’s part of you and I love you.  But would not having it make you better or different?

S. Paige:  Do you think we would have had more children if I didn’t have anxiety & depression?

Jimmy: Yes.

S. Paige:  How do you feel overall with this (pointing to self)?

Jimmy:  It’s interesting.  What’s the point of living life if it isn’t interesting?!

S. Paige:  Why do you stay?  Times I’ve said go, leave me, take Sophia.  I’m a disaster, you deserve more.

Jimmy:  I need you.

 

And lastly…

 

S. Paige:  What would you say to a husband/father who was going through this with his wife or child for the first time?

Jimmy:  Persevere, because there is light at the end of the tunnel and it isn’t an oncoming train.  It is really the end of the tunnel.  It will get better.

When All You Can Do Is Blame Yourself For Your Daughter’s Diagnosis

I tried to hold my tears back as I stared into my daughter’s oceanic blue eyes.  I could feel them welling up, feel the moisture increasing.

Not here, not now, not in public, Stephanie.

But, to be cliché, the dam was about to break.  A tear or two escaped.  My daughter was concerned and relayed this to her father on the phone.  She handed my cellphone back to me and my husband proceeded to ask, “Are you okay?”  No, no I wasn’t okay, but do I tell him that?  The silence was broken as he asked again.  I told him the truth because even if I lied and told him I was okay, he knew I wasn’t.

I am about to cry,” I uttered quietly so the other patrons could not hear me.  My daughter and I were waiting for our dinner order to be ready at our favorite sandwich shop in town.  It was last Friday evening, the start of the weekend, and my husband’s Friday to geek out and play Magic.  He wanted to stay home with me.  I told him no, I didn’t want him to blame me for not being able to play (even though he wouldn’t, it was all in my head).  I told him this knowing full well that I wanted his support but feeling I didn’t deserve it.

Our food order was ready and we went home passing my husband’s car on the way.  When we pulled into the garage, my tears flowed like a high pressure hose.  My daughter wanted to know what was wrong although she could somewhat guess as she has been a witness to me, her mother, for the last eleven years.

“It’s my fault, it’s all my fault.”  My lamentation increasing as these words escaped my mouth.

“What is your fault, Mommy?”

“That you are the way you are.  It is my fault.”

My daughter has been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder since she was 6 and has struggled off and on with it over the last 5 years.  This year has been extremely hard on her and because of it, hard on me.  She has been in therapy since the fall and because of some reactions she has had during her anxiety attacks the past month, it has recently been suggested that she get evaluated by a psychiatrist.

When the recommendation was first made to me by her therapist, I have to say I was a bit shocked.  I guess I never thought that her Anxiety warranted a psychiatric evaluation.  After a few hours, I have to admit the stigma against Mental Illness set in; her seeing a psychiatrist would really mark her as someone who is mentally ill.  I hurt for her.  My husband and I discussed the evaluation with her.  She has learned about the stigma, has learned to stand up to it (from her Mom of course).  But even this, having the word “psychiatrist” associated with her name, caused her to want to hide.  She instantly thought she would be medicated.  Eventually, she became okay with the evaluation that is set to be done in another week and a half.

All this got to me.  It pulled at my heart, tore holes, ate away at it.  The biggest fear I had when becoming a parent is that I would pass on my Depression and Anxiety to her and I have.  Her being in therapy never bothered me.  I am a firm believer that most people would benefit from therapy regardless of a Mental Illness diagnosis.  It was the mention of “psychiatrist”.  To me, like my daughter, I associate “psychiatrist” with “medication”.  Throw in the word “evaluation” and I was losing it.  I held back my emotions for the sake of my daughter, but I knew eventually they would become very visible.

I spoke with my therapist about it.  He told me it wasn’t my fault.  I said, “How?  How is it not my fault?!  She suffers the way I do.  I never wanted her to and now she is.  It’s only going to get worse.”  He logically said that this is something I did not give her on purpose.  There was no way of knowing whether she would be Mentally Ill or not.

“But I gave it to her.  It is my genetics that did this.  She is becoming me.”

No matter how many people tell me it is not my fault (heck, even my intelligent daughter tells me), I still cannot stop blaming myself.  I can’t kick this feeling.  She is already experiencing more than I ever did at her age.  I mean, I wasn’t even diagnosed until 14 and here she is at 11 with 5 years of Anxiety under belt.  Maybe I am transferring myself onto her to an extent, already predicting more suffering in her future getting worse and worse as she ages like it has for me.  No parent wants to see their child endure pain and illness.  In this case, I didn’t want her to endure the thoughts that I have felt, the fear I have felt, the hopelessness that I have felt.  I didn’t want her holding a case cutter to her wrist.  I didn’t want her desiring to stick something in her brain to end the constant negative thinking.

And yet it is beginning.  The fear is already inside of her.  And it was all my fault.  How could I, someone who has battled Depression and Anxiety for over 24 years, not feel blame?  More importantly, how can I stop feeling blame?