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?

Teaching My Daughter To Rise Above The Stigma Of Mental Illness

My daughter has seen me. She has seen me throughout her eleven years of life.  She has seen me lose touch with reality several times, seen me cry uncontrollably many times, seen me at a handful of Psychiatric and Therapy appointments.  She has even seen me become hospitalized.  Throughout all of this, she has stood by my side supporting me any way a preteen can.  She will get me my medication and water when I have an anxiety attack.  She will tell me she doesn’t want any other Mommy when I say she deserves better.  She fights the stigma behind Mental Illness for me to “infinity and beyond” (A Toy Story line that defines how much we love each other).

 

But, even with all that she does to help me, she falls victim to the stigma when it comes to herself.

 

My daughter was diagnosed at age 6 with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, a diagnosis that she deserved even at age 4. She feared doctors or, honestly, anything medical.  She catastrophized thoughts in her mind constantly thinking that she could catch diseases such as Ebola and Rabies just by breathing it in.  While these medically induced anxieties faded through the years she still tends to get overwhelmed and will have minor Panic Attacks over things that she can’t control.  She is easily frustrated.  She cries. She’s a worrier, and a huge Empath like myself.

 

There have been several occasions where school was a trigger. When she started elementary school, they placed my daughter in the Special Friends program at my request.  It was a program dedicated to giving young children a place to relax for an hour and talk about their feelings.  I loved this program.  She aged out after 2nd Grade .  At this point we started therapy for her to learn coping skills for when anxiety attacks hit.  This helped for a while and she was able to stop therapy for a year or two.  Enter a few major life events, moving and entering Middle School, and her anxieties came back full force.  Insomnia set in.  Panic Attacks over homework became present and therapy sessions returned.

 

Through all of this, I have been her advocate. I do not want to see her suffer the way I have.  There was a brief discussion last year with the school nurse about possibly getting her further help, such as a 509 report, within the school system.  She had been sent home because she threw up.  The nurse knew right away after seeing my daughter through the years that this was related to her GAD, but due to the rules, I had to pick my daughter up and keep her home for 24 hours.  The nurse said that if this was in her file, she could return to school the next day bypassing the required 24 hours.  I thought heavily on this and suggested to my daughter that we get the school more involved.  Her response:

 

“I don’t want special treatment. There are kids that need it more.”

 

I respected that answer since the school year was almost over and we were switching school systems. She started Middle School and things were okay for a short period of time.  Then I noticed her getting heavily overwhelmed, crying and panicking.  I brought the subject of getting more help from the school with her again.  She hesitated and replied:

 

“I don’t want special treatment.”

 

I explained to her that it wasn’t special treatment. Her diagnosis, which is in her medical file at the school, would be more known so that if she did have further issues, she could receive the help she needed, whether it be visits to the school Psychologist or extra time on a test.  Then she started to tear up a bit and said, “No, I don’t want it.  The kids will make fun of me and my friends won’t like me anymore.”

 

Oh boy. Enter the Mental Health stigma.  Because I have been fighting it so long, the huge advocate in me came out and I may have reacted a tad too intimidating for an 11-year-old.  I was angry.  I thought the world has become slightly better with Mental Illness, but I was wrong.  I spoke, with a seething rage inside my head, sternly to my daughter:

 

“Do not feel that way at all. Do not, for one second, be ashamed of your diagnosis.  So, you have an Anxiety Disorder.  You have no idea what other kids at your school may have.  Most likely a few of your friends have one too.  All that, all that you just said, that is the stigma talking.  You do not have to hide like I did.”

 

She began to cry a little. She knew I was right especially after being such a support and advocate for me.  She nodded her head, apologized, and went upstairs.  I didn’t know if it really sunk in, the words I said until one afternoon she came home from school and was excited to show me a video she was working on in school in one of her classes.  I sat and watched the video and was so enamored and proud of this child.  Here she stood, in the crowded hallways of her school talking about her Anxiety Disorder.  She didn’t care if anyone heard her.  She spoke confidently about coping skills and therapy.  My daughter isn’t hiding anymore.  She’s kicking the stigma to the curb just like her mom.

When You Need To Discuss Sexual Harassment With Your Pre-teen Child

“Mom, I need to tell you something,” my daughter spoke as I started the car after picking her up from the YMCA yesterday, “but I don’t think you are going to like it.”

 

I love sentences that start this way. I had no idea what was going to come out of her mouth next.  Let’s just say I never ran the following as a possible scenario in my head.

 

She proceeded to tell me that a 7th Grade boy on her afternoon bus was going around talking about his two favorite words, thick and moist.  I knew instantly what was coming next as I am my father’s daughter and have always had a dirty mind.  She continued by saying that this boy then proceeded to ask all the girls on the bus if he made them moist.

 

Uh, what?! Did I really just hear that correctly?!

 

My daughter, a wise soul (after all her name means Wise Fairy), was disgusted. Somehow, she knew what he meant at her tender age of eleven.  She scrunched up her face and replied with a huge “No!” when he asked her.  But that response wasn’t enough for this kid.  He then wanted to confirm her answer by asking if he could look to make sure.

 

I was worried what her response would be to this. I have always been straight with her, not sheltering her from the realities of this world.  I was very proud when she said that she told him, “Heck no!”  I am raising her right.

 

I had to digest all this. I knew I would feel disgusted if someone asked me this and I am in my late 30s.  When we got home I was curious to see what her father’s response to this situation would be, hoping that some reaction would be given.  Knowing my husband, I knew I was asking for a bit too much.  He said that this is the age boys get disgusting and that our daughter responded correctly.

 

As the discussion progressed during dinner, more questions arose in me.

 

“Did the bus driver do anything?” My daughter responded with, “No.”

 

Excuse me?!

 

“She didn’t say anything at all?!” My daughter responded, “Nope.  Well, at one point she tried to change the subject, but that didn’t work.”

 

Okay, bus driver, I know this is not really in your job description, but please say something even if just to the school.

 

Did I mention that this bus aside from having the Middle School kids, also has 4th and 5th Graders?

 

I was torn with how to react. So obviously, I posted it on Facebook leaving it to the internet gods to come up with a solid solution.  Waiting for reactions to start pouring in, I pondered this event more and more and became more saddened by it.  Of course, the kids in Middle School are learning about their bodies and how their bodies react hormonally, I can’t prevent that, nor do I want to.  But this, this wording… While he thought he was being cool, it was just feeding the Sexual Harassment frenzy that has snowballed into an avalanche in the United States recently.  It isn’t right, this wording isn’t right.  What this boy did, as many on Facebook agreed, was Sexual Harassment.  These girls aren’t going to know yet to tell him to shut up.  Most are going to shy away from it and pretend it didn’t happen.  Worse yet, is a 4th Grader going to know to tell him no when he wanted to check if they were or weren’t “moist”?

 

I woke up and checked Facebook this morning. I was met with generally the same reaction… this is Sexual Harassment, call the school and the bus company.  While I want to jump at the phone and dial the school’s number, I am undecided what to say.  I feel awkward using the word “moist” (God, what a horrible word) when discussing this with the school authority.  I also have no idea what the child’s name is.  What am I going to say, “Some 7th Grade boy is asking the girls on bus 20 if he makes them moist”?  But, I do not want this to die away.  This is extremely relevant especially at this prepubescent age.  This is the age where girls and boys are learning about what their body can actually do.  They are learning about sex.  They are learning about their body’s reaction to sex.  They are feeling awkward about it.  I mean my daughter still plugs her ears and sings “La, la, la” when I even try to discuss what a menstrual cycle is.  I also know that they are coming upon an age where some of their friends will sadly begin to engage in sex.  All this, all this means, they are coming upon the age of being sexually harassed.

 

It is sad, sad to think that I need to discuss in further detail what Sexual Harassment is to my newly eleven-year-old daughter. It is sad that this boy feels he can talk this way and get away with it, especially with all the recent events (Al Franken, Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein, etc.).  It is sad that now somewhere in my town a parent might have to discuss this with their nine-year-old 4th Grader.  How does one delicately explain it to a mere child?  How do you teach your child this is not right?  There is no required training in this like there is at work.

 

So here I sit, angry, disgusted, saddened and a bit confused wanting to hold on to the little girl that still resides in my daughter, but knowing that in this day and age, she needs to grow up at a younger age than I did.

When You’re More Nervous Than Your Child On The 1st Day Of School

Crowds of kids gathered with their parents at the bus stop snapping photos of their elated children.  Some even took video.  I stood with my daughter giving a hug and kiss on her cheek.  I did this as support, support she didn’t ask for. Why? Because today was the 1st Day of School, the first day in a new school district for her and I was worried.

I was very nervous, bordering on anxious… wondering if she had everything.  I think I was more nervous this year than she was because I can actually remember Junior High (New York’s version of Middle School) and I remember starting Junior High not knowing anyone.  I remembered the fear, the anxiety, the pure terror.  You see, I didn’t go to my zoned Junior High where I would have had friends from my elementary school, I went to a ‘Gifted & Talented’ Junior High for my creative writing abilities.  And although my daughter was starting a new school system as we moved in late spring to give her a better education, unlike myself, she already knew a few people.

I worried about my daughter.  With every new thing she would panic over… What if I can’t open my locker? What if the kids make fun of me? What if I am late to class?… my worry grew.  I only want her to be happy and to succeed.

As the days passed and the 1st Day approached, I repeatedly asked her questions:

“Do you remember how to open your locker?  Tell me.”

“What bus do you take from school to the YMCA in the afternoon?”

And then I started to make blatant statements:

“Don’t forget you will need lunch.”

“You only need a pen or pencil the first day. Why are you bringing so much other stuff?!”

I think I was beginning to drive my daughter batty as she began to roll her eyes at me and sigh.

I just wanted her to be prepared.  Middle School is not Elementary School.  You are given more responsibilities in Middle School.  You have to go to more than one classroom.  You have a set time to get to each class.  You have reports and projects.

And most important… you must figure out who you are sitting with at lunch!

This last item was what was making my daughter more anxious the last few days.  She doesn’t want to hurt anyone.  She was debating between her oldest and dearest friend (they have been friends since they were babies), our neighbor across the way and a friend from her former camp in the city we used to live in that relocated too.  She questioned me repeatedly about this.  I suggested her old camp friend as she would see her bestie on the bus and well, our neighbor lives right across the way from us.

A mass chaos of questions, things to purchase, items on a To-Do list and my brain was foggy (it has been for the last couple of months already).  I couldn’t concentrate to get everything organized, I just couldn’t think.  With that I became irritable.  With the irritability, I grew more anxious and had several anxiety attacks.  It felt like my brain was playing a hyper speed game of Atari’s Pong in my head. But I tried to keep my anxieties from my daughter. We didn’t need her GAD to start.

It was official. I was more nervous than my daughter.

As I stood at the bus stop this morning with her and the gaggle of other kids and parents, I internally told myself this is it.  She is ready and if she forgot something, there is always tomorrow.  Tell your Anxiety that she is fine.  She will make friends. She will open her locker.  She will find her classes. You know she is ready for this and so are you.

Then the bus showed up. I waved to my friend, the bus driver.  I watched her get on and smiled. I walked away feeling calm and content and whispered, “Good luck my love.”

Hi, My Name Is Not “Sophia’s Mom”

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

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

But I am so much more.

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

But I am so much more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Struggling To Help My Daughter…


My daughter is a bright, caring, empathetic, preteen girl.  Most days she has a smile on her face that melts her mom’s heart.  She is typical preteen, mostly caring about binge-watching shows on Netflix or catching up on her friend’s latest YouTube videos featuring her fave, Beanie Boos.  She does well in school, is friendly to everyone, and is respectful of others.
She also has Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
When she was diagnosed at age 6, I did everything I could to help her.  I got her into a special group at her school, inquired information from her doctor and read up on anything I could get my hands on.  I have plenty of experience with adult GAD, but I haven’t a clue on what to do for childhood Anxiety.  The school group helped immensely and then she aged out of the program.  She was doing well until a major life event occurred in our household.  We were fostering-to-adopt but had to give this child back to DCF because of my declining mental health.  Her GAD came back full force.  This time we sought out therapy.  While she got help, so did I for my Depression and Anxiety.
In the last 2 ½ years, my daughter has been doing great with only minor hiccups.
Then we decided to move to give her a better education as she starts Middle School, another major life change.
My husband and I do not hide things from her and she knew from the beginning about the move.  She helped us in choosing where we would live (ultimately her input was minor).  We wanted her to embrace this change.  She was excited as she will be in school with her best friend now.  We thought she was handling this well.
And then sleep disturbances set in.  
My daughter has always been a good sleeper; I have never experience this before even with her past episodes of GAD.  As the moving date approaches, her sleep disturbances have become full fledge episodes of Insomnia and I, as her mother, feel completely helpless.  Here I am, a woman who has struggled with Depression and Anxiety for most of my life and I can’t help her.  For me, the solution comes in the form of medication that I take nightly.  For her, at age 10, there is no medicinal help.  At first we tried simple solutions by telling her to read, it will tire her eyes.  That didn’t work.  
As night 3 was approaching, I became extremely concerned.  I could vividly remember what I felt like and how I reacted to night 4 of Insomnia for me.  I remember the tears and the strong desire to sleep.  I remember the immense amount of thoughts that bounced in and out of my mind.  I remember the extreme irritation and delusional thinking I had during the day.  I was desperate to give my child relief.  
I suggested she use my weighted blanket.  She refused.
I suggested mindfulness meditation.  She refused. 
I suggested my Therapist’s 4-square breathing technique (breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds, repeat 4 times) which has worked for me a few times.  She was hesitant but decided to give it a shot.  It didn’t work.
Night 4 brought on the only pseudo-medicinal thing I could try with her… Melatonin.  I cut my 3mg pill in half.  Nope, still didn’t work.  She was in tears.  She just wanted to sleep and I completely understood this all too well.  I explained that she needed to distract herself, try not to just lay in bed.  I suggested reading, writing, journaling, drawing, coloring and lastly, watching stuff on her Kindle (which I set to the night mode that turns off the harming blue light).  She slept only 7 hours that night, barely enough for an adult.
Last night, night 5, I finally convinced her to use my weighted blanket.  I thought we may have found the solution as all was quiet.  Then I heard her come downstairs at 11pm.  After about 15 minutes, she returned to her room.  This morning she said that she sat crying in her room and eventually fell asleep around midnight.  She woke up at 6:10am.  6 hours of sleep.
I don’t know what to do.  She is declining rapidly.  The recommended amount of sleep for a child her age is 9-12 hours.  She has not had anywhere close to this in five days.  My sleep is becoming disturbed worrying about her.  I do not know how to help her anymore.  I am struggling as I feel the sense of blame coming back… she is like this because of me.  My GAD worries that she will never sleep again, always jumping to the worst conclusion.  I cry for her.  I blame myself for her struggles with this illness.  I am pondering therapy again, but that isn’t going to fix her problem quickly.  How can I help my daughter?  

What My Daughter Knows

My daughter knows I hated her just two weeks after she was born. Pure hatred, where using the actual word ‘hate’ is valid and not taboo. She knows I wanted to leave her and never ever see her again. She knows I wanted to turn back time and never have her, completely obliterate her existence.

My daughter knows what suicide is. She learned this at age 8 because she overheard something on the radio. She knows that I have thought about committing suicide a handful of times and that one of those times I came very close to slitting my wrist with a case cutter I stole from work (and still have). She knows I was a teenager then, almost 18, a legal adult, only 8 years older than she is now. She knows that these ideations have blown into my mind like a breeze and have quickly left several times in the last twenty years.

My daughter knows I am sick. She has seen me at my worst, a vision I never wanted her to lay eyes on. She has seen me shaking, rocking back and forth, nails digging into my head spewing delusions out of my mouth left and right. She has seen the tears, witnessed the dry-heaving runs to the toilet, heard my self-loathing.

My daughter knows I have been hospitalized, twice. She accompanied my parents this latest time when they visited me, being forced to stay in the cafeteria with my father because she was deemed ‘too young’ for the short term psychiatric ward. The hospital feared the patients there would hurt or scare her by saying or doing something. This means they feared I would hurt or scare her too. She knows the emotional pain one feels when the only communication we had was through a phone… a phone that would cut you off if you moved wrong, a phone so desperate in need of replacement. She understands that the hospital is my safe place, when our home is unable to be just that.

My daughter knows she is an Only child because of me. She knows I was barely able to raise her in the beginning due to Severe Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. She knows at times I have been unable to care for her in the episodes of Major Depressive Disorder since. She knows that she lost her little brother, my beloved former foster son, because my illnesses prevented me from being able to function, let alone parent. I became a third child for my husband then, a childlike creature in an adult body that my daughter started to take care of, becoming a Mommy to her own mother.

What I didn’t expect for  this wonderful, kind, and loving child to learn was acceptance. Every time I had to explain these things, every time I hurt her, I expected anger and rage in return. I expected her to ignore me, shout “I hate you Mommy”, rotating the knife deeper into my back.  I expected extreme tears over losing her brother, many more than she shed (and she cried quite a bit).

Instead, she shocked me by becoming my protector of sorts, a role I never asked her to take and tell her now she can relinquish.  She truly cares if something will affect me, triggering me back to those dark dismal days.  She has true compassion and empathy, two traits I am happy she learned, although I wish she learned them with something other than me as the subject.  She is the Wise Fairy that her name, Sophia Faye, connotes.

There are so many things she has had to learn at the tender age of 8, 9 and now 10.  These things I would have liked to have postponed.  I have been called out by a select few saying she was too young for these strong topics.  Yes, I know.  But, I have to say, if by telling her about being mentally ill, suicidal & hospitalized has made her into the awesome kid that she is today, I am happy she knows.  I am happy she knows, because she won’t have to live in the shame and stigma of it if it happens to her.  She knows she has a loving mother who has been through hell and back that can help her.  And she knows that although at one point I hated her, wanting to leave, I couldn’t bare to live without her now.  She is my heart, my strength, my love, my Sophia Faye.

Mommy’s Sick… Does Anyone Care?!

A few days ago I stayed home sick.  No, I didn’t actually have a fever, but my nose was constantly draining as if someone forgot to turn the shower off and my body was achy everywhere.  I was involuntarily stretching because of these aches and knew that I would accomplish nothing, zero, zilch, nada at work.  I was lightheaded and nauseas.  From the moment I woke up, I knew I was doomed.  I texted my boss and informed him I would be out apologizing because I have a project deadline approaching.  I then crawled up the stairs and informed my husband that he would have to drive our daughter to school.

“I’m sick.  Can you please drive Sophia to school?” I voiced weakly, “I’m dizzy, achy, and my nose needs to be permanently attached to tissues.”

I should’ve known what his response would be, after all I have been married to the man for over 12 years and with him for over 20, but I was still a bit awe stricken…

“Ugh, do I have to?!” he whined.

Really?!

I love my husband, really I do.  He really is my rock.  So many times my Depression and Anxiety have told him to leave, that he would be better off without me.  But he never did.  He stepped in as primary parent and let me get the help I needed whether in the form of visits to my therapist or psychiatrist, a phone call to my parents or even a couple of hospitalizations.  He truly is my best friend and an awesome man with exception to this one thing.

During my hospitalization for Severe Postpartum Depression and Anxiety 10 years ago, I finally learned I am not Wonder Woman, I cannot do it all.  I mean ALL is a considerable amount.  The media will have you believe that mothers can do everything.  I haven’t met a mother yet that does everything and those that come close usually have large quantities of coffee or wine in hand.  Once I arrived home from this hospitalization, I put the phrase, “I need help” to use.  I mean, I honestly needed help.

“Jimmy, can you help me with this?” I asked my husband.  For awhile, he did (remember, this was a decade ago).  Then he would get whiny.  Once he started to get whiny, I stopped asking for help.  Without asking for help, my Mental Illnesses got worse, but I kept them relatively under control.  After all, I was forever in debt to him for being hospitalized and leaving him with a newborn to take care of for 12 days… at least I thought I was.  Then, I was hospitalized again and once released, he and my daughter questioned me how they could help me.

Ah, finally, they were asking how they could help, not waiting for me to beg them.  This, unfortunately, didn’t last.  I was once again asking them for help, not a lot, and I was using “please” and “thank you”.  They are the magic words you know.  My daughter usually obeyed, but lately, with prepubescence, it is becoming more difficult.  My husband…

And we’re back to… “Ugh, do I have to?!”

I tried not to get angry by this response.  I was completely drained anyway, but inside I was beginning to boil.

“Yes.  Thank you.”

He proceeded to do as asked.  I then called him at work around noon, after a nap and forcing some food into me, to make sure he was going to pick her up from school.

“You’re picking Sophia up from school, right?” I inquired.

“What? Me? Why me?  You’re home.  You pick her up.”

“I’m sick.  I’m not leaving the house.”

And once again… “Ugh, do I have to?!”

When this is a response you constantly receive, it makes it hard to ever ask for help.

Then, he added, “What are you making for dinner?”

What?!  Yes, I know I am home, but really, I don’t even have a desire to eat.  After explaining if he would like his food with snot on it (because, hello, drippy nose), I hoped he would understand that dinner making was not happening from me.  That wasn’t the end of it though… somehow he did guilt me into marinating the steaks I wasn’t going to eat.  With tissues stuck in both nostrils and my hands lathered in antibacterial gel, I got the steaks marinating.

It didn’t end there.  When these two people I love to infinity and beyond arrived home, their understanding of Mommy being unwell left the house.  I was constantly needed for something.  I don’t understand… the two of them functioned fine when I was away on business a couple of weeks ago.  But somehow they can’t understand the idea of me becoming sick.  To them, if I am present in the house, I should be able to function at 100%.  This, too, was the case 3 years ago when I had the flu.  They both couldn’t fathom why I wasn’t cooking and cleaning the whole house since I was home.  At that time, I put myself in quarantine… for 3 days all I did was sleep, go to the bathroom, and munch on toast.

And now, the tables are turned.

Hubby left work early 2 days ago feeling icky, deep into a case of the ‘Man Cold’ with the symptoms I had.  For those who are questioning what the heck ‘Man Cold’ is, I am pleased to tell you.  ‘Man Cold’ is the common cold when it presents itself in male humans.  Instead of acknowledging that they have a cold, they think they are dying.  They believe their sneezes and coughs are much more than a common everyday germ.  They somehow get the idea that this germ, the germ us females have just had, has mutated into a superbug.  They will continuously whine about how awful they feel and try to make you believe that they deserve to sit on the sofa and binge watch Star Trek and Mythbusters.

He stayed home yesterday to nurse said ‘Man Cold’ and mainly because school was canceled due to a couple of inches of slushy snow and ice.  He questioned why I wasn’t staying home too so I could take care of him and our daughter. I just looked at him oddly.  Home all day and he didn’t even salt the walkway, driveway and sidewalk.  Made for quite a theatrical performance for me getting to my front door last night after work.

This is the same person that only a few days ago was having me drive my child to school, make dinner, clean, pick up the child from school and wanted to know why I couldn’t go to work.  But I don’t whine when he asks for help.  Why?  Because I am Mommy.  I am the caretaker and my heart aches when those that I love are ill.  I just want to help them feel better.

I am sure there are men out there that do not act like they are on their death bed, that do not suffer from the dreaded ‘Man Cold’.  But, I haven’t met one yet.  Anyone who is married or with one of this special men, hold onto them tightly.  They are a rare species.