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!

When Specific Dates Are Excessively Triggering

I’ve been a Depression sufferer for most of my life. Because of this, I tend to live in the past.  At the moment I am coming up on certain months in my life that cause me guilt, anxiety, regret, and deep sadness… 

October 26th (2014): The day Tyler moved into our house

October 31st (2015): The day I left my new job early to rush my little boy to the Pediatrician because he wouldn’t eat or drink.

November 12th (2014): The day Tyler got kicked out of the first daycare because he wouldn’t follow their schedule. 
November 16th (2006): The day I admitted myself into the hospital for Severe Postpartum Depression and Anxiety 
December 5th (2014): The day at work where I had my cell in one hand talking to Birth to 3 about Tyler and my work phone in the other talking to the nurse at Sophia’s school about an anxiety outburst. 
December 30th (2014): The day I went to the ER for a severe panic attack. 
December 31st  (2014): The day I moved out of my house to my parents waiting on Tyler to be removed from our house.  The day my psychotic break started.  The day I didn’t want to leave work early to go home.  The day the delusions took over. 
January 2nd (2015): The day Tyler left us. 
January 3rd (2015): The first day I started to die inside. 
January 14th (2015): The day I went to the Behavioral Crisis Center at the hospital and spent the night there. 
January 15th (2015): The day I knew I could not be left alone by myself.  The day I went back to the Behavioral Crisis Center.  The day I laid on the bed there and tried really hard to come up with a way to removed a screw from a table and jam it in my head.  The day I admitted myself again to short term psych. 
I try hard every year to look at how far I’ve come, but these dates and the images associated with them instantly pop into my head if I don’t keep my brain busy.  It’s amazing how quickly I can forget the good.  How images of my daughter’s euphoric birth are pushed aside with memories of the postpartum months that followed.  I sit with them, the hurt, the pain, the shear agony, ignoring the good.  Each year it does get slightly better.  EMDR therapy has made a world of difference in how I process these memories.  
Then the dates quickly approach.
Somehow, even with all my effort to push away these negative moments, there is always a moment where I find myself sitting with the anger and the frustration, and of course the guilt, and it seems nearly impossible to focus on the good.  So many happy memories.  
… An intensely cute little cherub of a boy, a dimple in one cheek… instead my focus goes directly to how in the end he was a huge trigger for my Anxiety and Depression. 
… Hearing him speak, seeing him learn how to eat solid food, seeing him discover how to love and loving him back…  to the point it hurt so much to let him go.  To the point I put my Mental Health aside again to try to save my family of four.  To the point I almost sacrificed my life as I admitted defeat, as I raised my white flag and surrendered to my Anxiety and Depression… 
The struggle is in how long I let the negative memories sit with me.  How long to let them dwell in my house, eat my food, drink some tea.  The longer they sit with me, the more deeply rooted they become, and the harder the struggle to pull myself out of them.  I am still working on this step.  Still having issues letting the guilt I have for myself over these events go completely.  After decades of dealing with Depression, I am learning how to live with it, instead of fighting to remove it from my body, mind and soul.  That latter battle is pointless.  It will never fully leave.  I am learning to control it, instead of it controlling me.  
As each of these dates approach, I will let in all the emotions and memories and will work my hardest at not letting the negative ones become permanent house guests.

How Being Hospitalized Saved Me

I grew up with the stigma that you never wanted to be known as crazy. Keep it quiet. Don’t ever speak about it. It can affect your grades, your career, your relationships. Hush-hush, on the down low. I obeyed these commands for fear that because I was a diagnosed depressed person, I would only be seen as crazy. I would be known as a woman who talks to herself or becomes violent because, well, that is how Mentally Ill people have always been portrayed in the media.

I’ll even admit, I fell victim to those views. I would thank God everyday that I was never hospitalized. I could live in silence with my depression and fane happiness by putting on a smile. Day in, day out, I plastered that smile on my face hiding the inner turmoil beneath. And then it happened, the day I feared the most, the day I had to be hospitalized.

At the time of my first hospitalization, I was deep into severe postpartum depression and anxiety. Honestly, I was extremely delusional and vaguely alive. My days were filled with multiple crying spells, several trips to the bathroom to vomit, not eating, not sleeping and spewing forth lies I believed that I didn’t love my daughter and my husband and her would be far better off without me. The week before entering the hospital, I was at my new psychiatrist three times and my new therapist twice. Five of those seven days I saw someone to help me and yet I was getting worse.

The final decision to go to the hospital was based solely on the fact that I thought I was extremely malnourished.

My mother brought me to the ER. I spent the next hour pacing the room or rocking back and forth in one of the waiting area chairs all while shaking uncontrollably and hyperventilating. My mother was extremely worried about me, beyond your typical Jewish mother worrying. She feared that my life was in danger. No parent ever wants to get to that point. Her fear never crossed my mind once as my only concern was my malnourishment.

I wasn’t deemed an emergency because I was not suicidal or having thoughts of harming myself or my child. I did, however, have extreme thoughts of running away, of removing myself from this situation, this situation where I didn’t love my daughter and wanted nothing to do with her. When I was brought back into a triage room and questioned by a physician’s assistant I explained quickly that I was one month postpartum and then angled in on my not eating/vomiting for a couple of weeks situation. The only doctor that was brought in to see me… a psychiatrist. This is where I was officially diagnosed with severe postpartum depression and anxiety. Her next question to me was:

“Are you willing to admit yourself to the short term psych ward?”

That is when I started to shake again. Tears rapidly fell down my cheeks. Psych ward? But that is for crazy people! Me? Crazy? Quick visions of strait jackets and padded rooms came into view. Fear that I would be drugged and left for eternity entered. I would never see anybody again. But this is what you wanted Stephanie, you wanted to run away and eradicate yourself from this world. Then I looked at my mother and my husband and said, “Yes.”

My initial day is a blur. I was so out of it, physically drained from all the crying, vomiting and shaking. I think I attempted to sleep through most of it. Of course, I was drugged, but at this point didn’t care. I didn’t care about my well being at all anymore. I could’ve wasted away to nothing and I would’ve been cool with that.

But, on day 2, I was pulled from my bed and brought to group therapy with the threat that I would have to go home if I didn’t ‘participate’. Therapy brought on stories from others who were ‘obviously’ more sick than I was, at least that is what I thought. I heard their struggles and their successes. I was given food and although it was very hard in the beginning, I started to eat and guess what? I didn’t throw any of it up. I was given coping tools in art therapy by drawing, crafting and journaling. I was becoming more human. Within days, I anticipated visiting hours when my baby girl would come to see me and I held her the whole time.

Being hospitalized saved my life. If I didn’t admit myself, I am not sure where my delusional thoughts would’ve taken me. The hospital gave me the ‘Me’ time I so desperately needed. It gave me a break from my responsibilities to others and forced me to take care of myself first. It gave me medication that got me stable (although apathetic). I felt safe there, safe from myself.

I felt so safe there that when, 8 years later, I needed help badly, I knew I needed to be hospitalized and begged for it. Once again I was riddled with extreme anxiety that had me nauseas from sunrise to sunset. I had lost lots of weight and was grieving the loss of my foster son back to DCF. This time, I was worried about myself. This time I had thoughts of hurting myself. This time I cared about getting better. I, not ashamed, admitted myself to the same short term psych unit I was in all those years ago. I did it because it saved me then, and I knew, it would save me now.

*****

Being hospitalized wasn’t perfect. The psychiatrists were basically non-existent during my visits, the first that lasted 12 days, the 2nd lasting 5 days. Both stays contained weekends and holidays, days that, well, doctors didn’t work. I mean who wants to work on a weekend or holiday?! It’s like us patients could put our issues on hold until they came back. The life saving measures I found in the hospital were through myself being able to focus on me, medication, their slipper socks (still feel safe in them), and its therapists and nurses. They were nice and didn’t treat us as a threat to society. We were respected. We were people.

I don’t hide the fact that I have been hospitalized. It is not a hush-hush situation for me anymore. People need to know what it is really like. People need to know that anyone around you, your parent, your coworker, a friend, could be battling a Mental Illness and may be or have been hospitalized. People need to know that One Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is not typical.

A Letter To My (Toddler) Daughter

While purging our house this weekend in preparation to move next summer I came across the following letter that I wrote on February 8th, 2008.  My daughter was then only about 16 months old and it was in this letter that I realized my struggles with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety were still not over.  She has read this letter, and being the kind loving child she is, apologized for not being soothed by me.  She thought I blamed her.  We had a really long heart-to-heart talk where I told her that she is in no way to blame, that this is what these Illnesses do to my brain at times.  I told her I have always loved her and will always love her… to infinity and beyond.

2/8/08
My Dearest Daughter Sophia,

I should have started this journal sooner… I should have started it right after you were born.  There are so many thoughts and things I need to say to you.  Upmost and of most importance is I love you, I will always love you.  You are the reason I was born.  You are my heart, my biggest accomplishment.

With all this said, I must apologize to you.  I feel like I am failing you as a mother on this particular night.  You have a bad cold today and you are battling cutting a molar and with this you are crying.  I am immediately brought back to when I was succumbed with Postpartum Depression 2 weeks after you were born.  Now as you are nearing 16 months I hate to admit I may still be battling it.  I already feel tremendous amounts of guilt for the 12 days I spent in the Mental Ward when you were only a month old.  Reliving these memories now only makes me feel worse.  I hope you never feel this guilt… this pain.  With this, I get anxiety attacks… shortness of breath, crying, hyperventilation.  I can’t seem to stop them at the moment but just know my sweet girl, Mommy is working on it.

There are fears I have for you whenever an attack hits.  I worry, too much, that I passed this nasty disease on to you.  Just know Depression & Anxiety are real.  Know that I am so sorry if I did pass it to you.

What I am most upset about at the moment is I feel I can’t console you.  Every time I try to rock you, sing to you, hold you… it just doesn’t seem to work.  I just don’t know what I am doing wrong.  I am happy that you are safe in Daddy’s arms but am upset that mine can’t make you better.  Is this because of my anxiety attacks that make me freeze & mentally give up?!

I just want to be normal.  I want to “go with the flow” like your father.  I want to be able to hear you cry & not freeze.  I want to not feel guilty anymore! I want to not feel like I failed you.  I want it resolved today.

You may read this years from now and think it is you who caused this.  Sophia, you are not to blame.  Don’t you dare think that.  Think about it as this, your Mommy has a disease that there is no complete cure from but it will not kill me.  It alters the way I think about things and for this I am getting help.  For this reason I had to go to the hospital for 12 days.  For this reason I feel guilty, worried & like a failure every day.

I only hope you can forgive me for the time I missed… The hugs… The kisses… The songs… I am trying because I want to be there the next time you need to be rocked… The next time you need a lullaby. 

I love you with all my heart & soul and I will until the day I have to depart from this world.  I couldn’t imagine life without you in it anymore.  Whenever you smile, giggle, reach out for me, hug me, give me a kiss, take a step, it makes me realize that the world is a good place and that we will discover it one day at a time, together.

Love Always & Forever,

Mommy

“I Hate You, Mommy!”

​I would have to say it was around age three when Sophia first yelled at me that she hated me.  Being so young, she had not learned just how hurtful the word “hate” could be.  I know a lot of women who have gotten upset, practically in tears, when their young toddler spews forth, “I hate you, Mommy!”  For me the tears didn’t come.  I knew she was just mad that I told her “No” for doing something wrong, or for not buying her something.  Was I wrong not to care?  How come I brushed it off so easily?  How come the bridge of emotional stability did not collapse me into tears at the uttering of “I hate you, Mommy!” like with other mothers?

As an adult, I understand how hurtful the word “hate” can be.  I continuously tell Sophia to never say that word, to always replace it with “dislike” or, in certain circumstances, “extremely dislike”.  “Hate” implies bigotry and prejudice.  We can’t hate something anymore, the word has become a swear word, something evil.  

But, I can say without a doubt, I hated my daughter in her infancy.  Only three weeks after she was born, I had racing thoughts through my head on how I could rid myself of her.  I never wanted to hurt her, I just wanted to remove myself from her presence.  I thought over and over again about running away.  Leaving in a car, train, plane or even a Greyhound bus… something that would take me far away where her cries didn’t echo in my head like a Mandrake plant from Harry Potter and the Chamber Of Secrets (See video here).  I pondered hurting myself so that I might have to be in the hospital for weeks or even months.  I even dreamed of being put into a psychiatric hospital (which would occur).  Anything to get me away from her, because my hatred of her was so strong.

Of course I was ill.  

My daughter is my only child.  She is the child I suffered severely from Postpartum Depression and Anxiety with.  She is the child I grew to hate in her first few weeks and I have told her this.  I have sat her down once she reached age eight and explained why Mommy is, well, a bit different.  She had seen my crying outbursts, my running sprees to the bathroom to dry heave, my clawing at my head, the constant rocking back and forth and my 2nd hospitalization.  I didn’t have to go back to the history of my Postpartum days, but I did.  I wanted her to know everything.  I wanted her to know about how an illness can change the way you think.  And I wanted her to know that now, I love her, as I constantly tell her, “to infinity and beyond!” (Thank you Toy Story!)

But when she uttered those words, “I hate you, Mommy!”, it didn’t faze me in the slightest way.  Why?  It was so easy for me to hate her but so hard to believe that she could actually hate me.  Believing that she had innocence on her side at age three.  The moment she said this, I instantly thought of the 7th Heaven episode (Season 2, Episode 9) where Ruthie tells her mother “I hate you” for the first time.  She’s around 4 or 5.  The mother loses it.  She’s crying her eyes out.  She seriously believes her child hated her… and for what, yelling at her for coloring the walls.  It made me wonder if a child so young could actually understand the affects of saying the word “hate”.   But the episode continues to teach us about the connotation of the word “hate” with the story of a WWII Concentration Camp survivor.

I haven’t  thought much of “I hate you, Mommy” since, until someone I know recently was in this situation and because it was the child she suffered from a Postpartum Illness with, she took it more to heart and was deeply upset that that due to their rough first few years, there was indeed still a separation amongst them.  I thought about this.  With all of Sophia’s knowledge of my Mental Illnesses, when she tells me she “hates” me now, does she really mean it?  I’ve been so honest with her that I am sure there will come a time when she really does hate me.  Who is to say she doesn’t now and, in some ways, she has every reason to.  She knows I have actually hated her.  She knows my presence in the first year of her life was more robotic.  She knows she was ignored while we were fostering a child, my Tyler.  She knows I have missed moments in her life because I was stuck shaming myself for what happened with Tyler.  I have hurt her.  I have hurt her so much.  Am I wrong to assume that eventually she will hate me?

“I hate you, Mommy!” has been said to me so many times in Sophia’s almost ten years of life.  It is usually followed an hour or two later with “I love you, Mommy!”.  At what age does that change for us?  At what age does our innocence fade and we learn how hurtful words really can be?