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

Image by Jasmin Sessler from Pixabay

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

My Desire To Work With LGBTQ+ Adolescents

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

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

The Facts

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

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

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

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

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

What Can We Do?

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

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

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

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

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Important Resources for LGBTQ+ Adolescents

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

Crisis Text Hotline: 741741

The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386

LGBT National Hotline: 1-888-843-4564

Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860

References

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

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

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

2019, The Year and The Decade

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2019, I can’t say that I am not happy to see you go. I spent most of you in a chronic depressive state. Riding a roller coaster to the point of  my depression becoming cyclical but not quite bipolar. You taught me about self-harm, the urge to see myself in pain, to control something in my life, to feel some sort of emotion. You brought me death of someone close to me, death of my book and its publishing company. You made me lose myself again and again. You turned me into a weak being so unsure if my strength would ever return.

But, 2019, I can’t say all of you was bad. I did two book signings and with that made a good group of friends with other authors. One night together in May and we became so connected that we still chat almost daily. You gave me Princess, the sweetest rescue dog who has brought me so much solace and love. You sent me to California, albeit via a stressful project. I got to see the desert of southern CA including pieces of Joshua Tree National Park. You brought me to some beautiful trails in Vermont. I can definitely say I saw many beautiful things in nature this year.

And your decade, 2019. So much has occurred from 2010 to now. I went through my hardest, deepest episodes of depression. I almost had a son. I loved this boy from the moment I met him and there is still a piece of my heart that is his. You sent me to the short term psych ward in the hospital once again. A place that both scares me and helps me. You introduced me to EMDR therapy, a therapy that saved my life after the grief of having to return my boy to DCF due to my failing mental health. You rewarded me with a new job that gives me the opportunity to travel to places I have never been… Indiana, Tennessee, Georgia and areas of California. You were the decade of my 30s, my decade of learning.

Now I need to turn my attention to 2020, and the decade that will be my 40s. I bid you farewell 2019. My aim will be to try not to look back. I am determined to make your successor the year of strength. I am not going to make excuses anymore and live in your shadow.

I woke up this morning a little giddy. Excited that you will be gone in less than 24 hours. That I can take my life back, take me back from the spiraling depression you put me in. I will return to the gym. I will eat correctly again (heck, I’ll eat again). I will take back what is rightfully mine. I will focus on my mental health, taking inventory of what I need and exploring other therapies, other medications. I will welcome 40 with open arms in February, living it up with friends and family (trying new craft beers, yum!). I will get back to my blog, back to True Crime Tuesdays, back to possibly republishing Rising From the Ashes.

And this decade coming up… there is so much that will happen. My baby girl will graduate middle school in 2020, high school in 2024 and most likely college all in the next ten years. There is a chance I will see her get married toward the end of the decade. There will be many more trips to see places & things I never have, like the redwoods of northern CA and the cheese state of Wisconsin. I will continue to write, focusing on the other books that have be swirling around in my head. Maybe I will become a peer specialist, just a plethora of possibilities.

There is so much that I can make happen, and for the first time in a long while, I am excited!

Adios 2019! Sayonara 2010-2019! Good-bye 30s!

Welcome 2020, my 40s, my time to bring me back!

It Takes A Suicide…

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what more could I do?

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

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

… Zero!

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

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

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

I immediately wrote them both an email.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh boy, did I!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1200px-Lifelinelogo.svg    Crisis Text Line

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

Teen Suicide & Social Media

Over the weekend, a local 16-year-old girl took her life. A permanent solution to probably years of bullying.

And the bully laughed. Instead of stopping her, she watched her jump off the top deck of the mall parking garage. Then, she took a photo and posted it on social media warning people to stay away from the mall. If that wasn’t bad enough, she expressed joy that this young lady was dead and even remarked, “Rest in peace, bitch.”

It’s time we discussed teen suicide and the ramifications of it with the effects of social media.

When I was a senior in high school, a freshman took her life by hanging herself. We were all sad and confused. Even myself although I had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder four years earlier. I was still not fully aware of what goes through a person’s mind to think ending their life is the only way out. That quickly changed when I found myself sitting on the floor of my bedroom with a case cutter to my wrist debating slicing through a major artery. The numbness, the self-loathing, that feeling that the world would be better off without you in it. I understood then.

But I was in high school in the late 1990s… a generation without social media.

Now, I have a 12-year-old daughter. She is only 2 years shy of my first depression diagnosis and 4 years shy of the young woman who committed suicide. I constantly talk to her. She has known about suicide since she was eight because I was unwell and she was old enough to see that. Our discussion can be found in my post “Mommy Is Not Going To Kill Herself“. After learning of this teenager’s demise, I sat my daughter down for another discussion. I didn’t know if the school would bring it up, but I wanted her to know. I told her everything I knew. I told her about the young woman’s suicide and then I told her about the bully.

Her reaction was pretty much the same as mine as we are both highly emotionally and compassionate people. We were heartbroken upon hearing of this girl’s death. We were livid with the bully’s reaction.

How could someone be happy that another person committed suicide?! How can you express it on Snapchat and be okay with that?! How could you then degrade her by calling her a bitch?! I am sure like most teens she thought nothing would happen to her, that she is invincible. The local paper has pretty much kept the story hush-hush as these are minors and the police are still investigating.

The weird thing about all this… I had just watch Friday night’s Dateline concerning the Michelle Carter case. Michelle Carter is in prison for a couple of years because she coaxed her then boyfriend, Conrad Roy, to take his life. They were teens at the time. On the day of his death, he was having second thoughts and left his truck (where he would later die from carbon monoxide poisoning). Michelle told him to get back in and just do it. It is known as the “texting suicide case”.

This recent local event is somewhat similar. It involves teens and cell phones. I believe the Carter case has set a precedent. Will this local bully be charged with anything related to what she put on Snapchat? Who knows. There may be way more concerning the young woman and her bully on all forms of social media.

And that is the issue, isn’t it?! Social media. We can lay it all out there. Say anything we want and hide behind the cell phone or computer screen. The problem is, whatever you say on social media is there forever and it can come back to hurt you days or years later. But once again, teens think they are invincible. It’s time we told them they aren’t.

My heart breaks for the family and friends of this young woman. I am not sure what could have been done. Her parents lost a child. All these hopes and dreams they must have had for her, taken away by a teenage bully. The pain they must be going through. Then I think of the parents of the bully and the shitstorm that is coming their way. Are they in denial… my kid couldn’t do that, she is a perfect angel and so kind… or have they come to the realization that no matter how good of a parent they are, some kids can be mean, downright cruel and immune to others feelings, almost sociopathic. I hurt for those parents as well.

For  now, I weep internally (because of Lexapro I can’t externally). I cry for the young lady, her family and friends and for the parents of the bully. I am an empathetic creature and want to feel their pain. I will continue to talk with my daughter because I do not want her to become the bully or the victim.

It is Kindness Week at her middle school this week. Kind of fitting with recent events. Today is yellow or ‘joy’ day. I hope the school does mention this teenager’s suicide and the bulling. These kids are not little innocent beings anymore. They need to know because the person who is sitting next to them could be the one contemplating taking their life or the one causing pain and suffering to someone else. They need to know that death is permanent. They need to know that rude comments leave scars. They need to know the damage that can be done.

Teen suicide is real. If you know someone who is in trouble please push them to get help. If they are not willing, stand up and speak for them.2417122_1280x720

The Sun Will Shine… Poetry

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The Sun Will Shine

Rocking chair moves, dark room,
Blank stare, melancholy doom,
Holding babe, lanky arms,
Tear falling, first do no harm,
Rock forth, rock back,
Losing grip, feeling slack,
Beautiful girl, pudgy cheeks,
Trying to hold close, feeling so weak,
Told you’ll be okay, trying to believe,
Closing your eyes, just feeling grief,
Slipping fingers, baby girl falling,
Quickly catching her, still bawling,
Fixated spot, empty wall,
A big void, emotional overhaul,
Losing the battle, giving up,
Hating the child, yet still in love,
Months gone, still feel alone,
Trying to fane happiness, trying to feel whole,
Body raped, pill after pill,
Combinations played, climbing that hill,
Happy eyes stare, filled of ocean blue,
Trying to love, holding and hugging you,
Dormant smiles, buried deep,
Hiding my pain, inside I weep,
Hour glass runs out, flipped once again,
Feeling less zombie, gaining control of my head,
Hearing you laugh, seeing you crawl,
Suddenly amazed, Inhaling it all,
The sun is shining,” I say holding you,
Let’s go out and observe,” just us two,
We both stare in awe, you at the sky,
Me taking deep breaths, pushing your first year to the side,
The rocking chair still sits, alone and bare,
Room still darkens, my mind is not there,
Now cradling you, swaying side to side,
I’ll never leave you, my baby girl, my pride.
– Stephanie Paige, 2016
This poem was originally published on PostpartumProgress.com as a guest post. It can be found here: http://www.postpartumprogress.com/sun-will-shine-poem-postpartum-depression
I have to say, I love to write poetry and have since I was a preteen, my daughter’s age. The odd thing about this poem is it rhymes.  I usually never rhyme in my poetry.  I also have to admit, that my best poetry occurs when I am struggling with depression. Since I am on that roller coaster ride once again, I have been writing a lot of poetry lately and expect to share more in upcoming posts.

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.

 

Are You A Mom?

If you’re reading this, you probably answered yes to the above question. I mean who out there reads blogs more than us mothers? Am I right? This came up in a hilarious book I just read titled Nobody F#&@ing Told Me: “Mess”ays from Motherhood by Sammie Prescott. Sammie is a mother to 2 young boys, Tater and Tot, and married to her hunky husband, ‘Squatch. In this book you learn a lot about what it is like to be a mother to young children. Even though my daughter is 12 now, I was nodding my head and laughing in agreement through almost the whole book.

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My little munchkin around Tater’s age… man how time flies!

I can relate to Sammie in many ways. We both suffered from postpartum depression after the birth of our children and we both found solace in writing about it. As Sammie says,”Everything I wrote started as a way to make me sane again.” That is how I feel about my blog. This book was a way for her to process her emotions and find a little humor in them.

I found her essay about play dating on par. It is very similar to dating. I remember asking myself the same questions… will I like this parent? Is their child a nightmare? Will they think I am completely weird and run away? It causes so much anxiety that frankly it is so much easier for our children than us.

The one story that really cracked me up was “Humbled: A Weiner Story”. That one you will just have to read for yourself.

But she gets serious too. I completely sympathized as she spoke about how a sick child is like a “passionate Yoga class” because it is a mind, body and soul experience. All you want is to take the sickies away while trying really hard not to vomit as you are cleaning your children’s vomit. Calling first-time motherhood a lonely experience really hit home for me as well. In the beginning you are only with your child. There is a lack of adult conversation. It definitely fed my postpartum depression. And then there are the Mom impostors, when everything in their lives seem so perfect and you wonder what is wrong with you.

Aside from the above, another reason I highly recommend this book is it’s chapter length. These are essays that are roughly 2 – 5 pages. It is easy to pick up and read one when you have 5 minutes to yourself (you know, in the bathroom). It is just the right amount to read when you are waiting for a doctor’s appointment or your child’s school bus. And I guarantee, you will laugh.

My advice for Sammie, since I am past the young child stage:

  • They do eventually wipe their own tooshies. My husband and I threw a party when Sophia could wipe her own ass. I believe she was 5 or 6. It’s coming.
  • You and I are kindred spirits. I, too, wanted to run away after Sophia’s birth. I had everything planned except for a location. All I needed was for someone to tell me I was not alone. That statement is so powerful.
  • Toddlers are rough. That is the worst age so far. You are right. The eye rolling, smart ass sayings, pushing their limits. Ugh. Three was the roughest age. I loved the line you quoted, “Like serial killers, toddlers lack empathy (Bumni Laditian)”. That appealed to my love of true crime as well. It does get better. For me, with a girl, I am told it will get worse as a teenager.
  • Last tidbit of advice, which I think you know… you are the best mom for your children and you are doing an excellent job. You’re right, motherhood sucks sometimes and more of us mothers should speak up about how shitty it can be.

Honestly, if you have spare time, read this book. It will let you know you are not alone and doing a great job while making you laugh. Keep it up.

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Now, my baby is a preteen and she’s taller than me. But, I am doing a great job at being her mom!

Sammie’s book can be found at Amazon in both Kindle & Paper back here.

Cost is not high as the ebook is only $3.99. If you like to hold real books in your hand (like I do), the paperback is only $14.99.

 

*Disclaimer: This post is sponsored content by Eliezer Tristan Publishing

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!