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 You Learn How Important Self-Advocacy Is

In the last twenty years, off and on, with my frenemies, Anxiety & Depression, I have learned quite a bit about living a life with Mental Illness. My first twelve years were in secret, keeping my mouth shut on anything relating to the words melancholy, empty, sad. I was told to hide, told that the stigma would ruin any chance of a career for me, would isolate me and make me feel even more lonely than I already did. I was ashamed that my differences made me plague-worthy. Who wants to be friends with a psycho?!

Eventually, I got fed up… or I should say, extremely deeply depressed. I couldn’t hide it anymore. My Postpartum Depression and Anxiety brought on my first step in becoming free of this stigma… I had to admit my illnesses to someone aside from my family. I had to tell my boss. I had no idea what would happen, if I would be let go for some stupid made up reason to hide the real dismissal of me being crazy. I had no other option though, I was hospitalized and in turn could not do the work I took home to do during my maternity leave.

I then started to tell some friends and upon seeing their genuine compassionate reactions, I realized not everyone believed the stigma behind having a Mental Illness diagnosis. It was from this point, about a decade ago, when I decided to screw the stigma and advocate.

Advocacy is defined as, “the act of pleading for, supporting, or recommending,” by dictonary.com. I dove right in, starting with Mental Illnesses that most were unaware existed, Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. I immersed myself joining up with a non-profit I found on Facebook one day. I bonded with fellow mothers who experienced similar events. Some of them proudly declared their stories while others still felt the need to hide. It was an amazing feeling to not feel alone.

By doing this I began to tell my story to anyone at any given moment. It didn’t matter if they never inquired about my illnesses. I wanted to get my story out there. I wanted to be a voice, a voice that was heard when many others were still so afraid to speak up. This was my main form of Advocacy. I told my stories and frankly couldn’t care less if someone responded negatively which was very rare. I rose up to the challenge of becoming a symbol of someone who could be successful and who lived with Mental Illnesses.

These last few years, I began to learn about Self Advocacy, the need to fight for my own care. This is not always easy to do especially when your own care involves a brain imbalance and what I like to call “thinking imperfections”. In the beginning, I even wondered who would trust me to create my own care plan… after all, that required someone with a healthy brain, not someone who was mentally ill. Now I don’t care. Majority of the time, I am in my right mind and can decide things for myself. But this was not always the case.

Three years ago, things changed. I quickly went from a stable human being to one having a psychotic break. There was no point in creating a Self-Advocacy plan at that time because the change was so rapid I could barely recognize it. One moment I could coherently tell my husband I needed to go to the hospital’s inpatient psychiatric unit, the next, I was in the fetal position scratching my head repeatedly crying for the rapid thoughts to leave me, that it hurt too much. It frightened my husband, my parents and my daughter who was 8 at the time. More importantly, in my lucid moments, it scared the shit out of me.

It was after this last episode with Major Depressive Disorder that I became extremely involved in Self-Advocacy. I needed to be. I knew how my body felt, what my brain was telling me, how the meds were working. When I needed a different type of therapy, I searched for the therapist. I worked together with my psychiatrist at the time in weaning off two of my medications. I made sure my doctors and my therapist were aware of each other. I began to practice Mindfulness and really took notice at how my body felt. There were no secrets anymore, no hiding.

And now, once again, I am advocating for myself. In the last 2 years 9 months, I have been through 4 psychiatrists/APRN’s at the same psychiatric group. They all left for some reason. The first, who saw me through my worst, left to have a baby and never came back. The second I saw once and then he retired. The third who aided me in my weaning and worked with me on medication changes left to become a head for an addiction facility. The last… I saw her once in July, just sent a letter explaining that she returned to work far too early when she had her first child and was now pregnant with her second. She decided to leave the end of the December. I was due to see her in January.

What to do, what to do? As I am waiting for my next assignment, whether it be a psychiatrist or psychiatric APRN, I am researching my other options because well, starting a 5th doctor in 3 years is kind of annoying. With my track record, the 5th is bound to up and leave too. There must be other psychiatric groups out there. Sad thing is, I am only down to seeing them twice a year just for prescriptions. I know for emergency purposes, my primary care physician would write a script for me. Problem is, my Anxiety has been worse these last couple of months and I foresee an additional medication being prescribed. As much as I like my PCP, I need someone who specializes in Psychiatry.

Self-Advocacy is a process that can be very time consuming and mentally and physically draining. When it comes down to it though, it needs to rank high in the self-care process. The only person who is going to care as much about your care and health, is you. What I have realized is that having a Self-Advocacy Care Plan is also a necessity. This can be used when you know you are not mentally stable. It is a list of things for your spouse, parents, or even a special friend to tell the doctors when you can’t. It allows them to advocate for you the way you would want to advocate for yourself.

I am currently putting mine together.

When I Learned To Accept My Depression Diagnosis

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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



Twenty-plus years later, I have learned acceptance.


A Letter To My Former Foster Son As You Turn 5

 

My Sweet Little Boy,

I can hardly believe it has been a little over two years since you left our home. I can still remember your toddler-self walking in circles around the house. I can still hear your voice so vividly as I would come down the stairs in the morning, you pointing at me, saying, “Look, it’s a Mommy!”. I can still feel the soft skin of your cheeks as I would hold your face in my hands right by your dimples and then place my lips on them.

And then I remember what happened next. I never wanted you to be a trigger for me. Countless hours as I would hear you talk yourself to sleep or cough made daggers pierce my heart. It was as if I was falling down, out of an airplane with no parachute, into another episode of Postpartum Depression. First, the severe anxiety that left me emaciated and riddled with shaking and hyperventilating. Many days towards the end, as you sat in the living room watching TV with Sophia, you remained oblivious of the delusions my mind and body played on me. Once you left, Depression set in… Badly.

Oh, my sweet boy, it was never you. You were never the problem. I was. Every day since you left, I wake up with you on my mind. You are also one of my last visions when I go to bed at night. Please know, I never stopped loving you since the moment I met you in August of 2014. I still love you that much now.

And now you are turning 5. I am completely in awe of this. In my eyes you are still this toddler discovering the world. I remember seeing you learn how to eat real food, how to interact with children your age, learning the true meaning of love. You made friends, you experienced holidays, you finally had a family who truly loved you and in return, you learned how to love back. I can only imagine the little boy you’ve turned into, with your tousled dark brown hair and deep sienna eyes.  This big boy who will be starting Kindergarten in the fall.  I wonder how much taller you’ve grown, if your reading, what you are into.

Everyday my heart yearns to see you, to know you are okay, cared for, loved for certain.  And other moments, just when I think I would be okay seeing your face, my heart reminds me of my longing for you, the pain, the ache, the realization that you will never come back to me.

My Tyler, on your 5th birthday, I want you to know how loved you are. I don’t want you to ever feel abandoned. You are still adored by us. You are cherished by your forever family. You are cared for and loved deeply.  You will always be special, especially to me.  I did not birth you, but in those few months I had the pleasure of interacting with you, you gave me a new view on life and compassion.

Today, we will light 6 candles on a cake for you… five for your age and one more for good luck because Tyler, you deserve all the luck in the world and so much more.

Happy 5th Birthday my boy!

Love eternally,

Your Former Foster Mommy

I Support: My Response To Recent Events

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…FAIL.

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

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

…FAIL.

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

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

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

What do you want to be when you grow up?

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

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

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

…No.

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

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

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

November 16th… How Far I’ve Come

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

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