Thank You!

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

Thank You To:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And lastly…

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

 

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

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

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

Sophia’s Interview

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

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

Sophia: Fine.

Me: How come you were okay with it?

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

Concerning 3 years ago

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

Sophia: I don’t remember that.

Me: It was only 3 years ago!

Sophia: Didn’t I come with you?

Me: You did.

Sophia: It was when he left?

Me: Yes.

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

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

Sophia: But wasn’t I there too?

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

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

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

Sophia: Scared.

Me: Did you know why I was there?

Sophia: No, I’m not sure. No.

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

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

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

Sophia: Oh, okay.

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

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

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

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

GAD, PPD, Depression, & Suicide

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

Sophia: No.

Me: Do you blame anyone for it?

Sophia: No. Why would I?

Me: Do you wish you were ‘normal’?

Sophia: Sometimes.

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

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

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

Sophia: Sometimes.

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

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

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

Sophia: You were 14.

Me: And how old are you?

Sophia: I am 11.

Me: So you are close to that age.

Sophia: Yeah.

Me: That’s why I watch you a lot.

Sophia: That’s not creepy.

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

Sophia: Very much.

Me: How come?

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

Me: I was 18 then.

Sophia: So?

Me: That was 20 years ago.

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

Me: Are you worried I will hurt myself?

Sophia: Yeah.

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

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

Me: Like what?

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

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

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

Me: Do you understand why I am?

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

Stigma & Advocacy

Me: What have I told you about stigma?

Sophia: What does stigma mean again?

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

Sophia: You’ve told me.

Me: And what do you think about that?

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

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

Sophia: Well, yeah, but…

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

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

Me: Do you understand why I advocate for this?

Sophia: What does that mean, advocate?

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

Sophia: Yes.

Me: Do you see yourself doing that?

Sophia: I don’t know.

Thoughts on Me, Her Mom

Me: Do you think I am a bad mother?

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

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

Sophia: No.

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

Sophia: No.

Me: How do you characterize your mother?

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

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

Sophia: Like different things other than Postpartum?

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

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

Me: You see me as strong and a fighter?

Sophia: Yeah.

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

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

Me: Any last comments on me, your mother?

Sophia: I love her.

Me: Would you want any other mother besides me?

Sophia: No.

Me: How much do you love me?

Sophia: To infinity and beyond!

I am truly grateful for this kid!

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

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

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

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

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

The Interview

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

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

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

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

Jimmy: Defeated.

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

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

Episode 4: Postpartum Depression & Anxiety

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

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

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

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

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

Jimmy:  No, I knew you were taking Ensure.

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

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

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

Jimmy:  I blocked these bad memories out.

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

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

S. Paige:  Did that strain you?

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

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

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

S. Paige: So it is a trigger?

Jimmy:  Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

S. Paige:  Are you okay with that?

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

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

Jimmy:  No.

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

Jimmy:  Probably.

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

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

S. Paige:  Yes.

Jimmy:  Yeah, that’s a concern.

S. Paige:  What would you do?

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

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

Jimmy:  No.

S. Paige:  How are you so sure?

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

Stigma

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

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

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

Jimmy: (cut me off) He’s an idiot.

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

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

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

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

Our Daughter, Sophia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jimmy:  I just hope we’re not biased.

S. Paige: That concerns me.

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

(FYI, I am medicated and fine with it)

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

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

S. Paige:  Yeah.

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

Changing Me

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

Jimmy:  No.

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

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

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

Jimmy: Yes.

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

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

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

Jimmy:  I need you.

 

And lastly…

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is your fault, Mommy?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teaching My Daughter To Rise Above The Stigma Of Mental Illness

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“I don’t want special treatment.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

What Happens When A Dream Turns Into A Triggering Nightmare


Suddenly, I was back there.  That place, both a saving grace and a hell.  I was walking down the hall.  Bare concrete block walls.  Gray, solemn, just like the people that dwelled inside.  Doorways on both sides leading to rooms with aging office waiting room furniture that was once comfortable but now forlorn like their occupants.  I was one of them again.  An empty void, emaciated, internally crying for help.  Tempered glass and a counter to my left held those that treated us.  Their faces ranged from a gentle smile to a stare as if asking, “What is this person doing?  Am I safe?”  Slowly, I walked toward the end of the hallway where a window was.  Large, a glimpse to the outside world.  If only it was not right across the street from a cemetery.  

My eyes were welling up with tears.

Why was I back here?  There was no reason to be.  I have been doing well mentally and emotionally.  If this was the case, why was I, without warning, plunged into the short term psychiatric ward once again?  I was dreaming and being triggered.  Being both on the outside looking in and on the inside dying to get out.  

I have a love-hate relationship with the hospital’s psych ward.  When I was first there over ten years ago, I wondered why I was there.  I never thought I was experiencing the same problems as the other residents at the time.  I thought I was normal.  Ha, ha, good one Steph!  When I went back over two years ago, I begged for it.  I know being there would help me.


There are things I would rather forget about the hospital aside from the bare walls and gloomy atmosphere:  


The bed checks every 15 minutes… even if I was deep asleep, like clockwork I was awakened to a flashlight shining into the small glass panel in the door.  


The psychiatrists… although there to help, none of them appeared like they cared to help you. I spent all of five minutes a week day (they did not work on weekends or holidays) talking with them while their eyes looked elsewhere as if saying “You’re wasting my time.”


The wake-up time and routine… it was a bit rough waking up at 7am with all the medications I was given and then to go through the process of waiting in line to get weighed and our blood pressure taken.  


Lack of outdoor time… depending on your mental and physical state that day, you may be allowed to go for a short walk circumnavigating the hospital building viewing the nearby cemetery and emergency room.


But, where there is bad, there is also good.  As I mentioned, I knew I needed to be hospitalized again.  For some reason, I felt safe there.  I was only responsible for myself.  I could focus on my much-needed self-care and work on getting better even if it took a psychotic break to get me there.  I knew I would get the medications necessary to sedate me, stop my brain from its incessant thinking… you’re worthless, helpless, not worthy of love.  These medications would also stop my hysterical, borderline delusional, thoughts… take that screw, just jam it in your head, who cares if it kills you?!


Although the psychiatrists were lacking in care, there were some nurses that were a pleasant gift.  They would talk with you about your life focusing in on your face, treating you like a human being.  They remembered things you told them and asked you about it days later.  They were concerned about your care.  Sometimes they even sat and watched TV with us.


Aside from two very special nurses (1 each hospitalization), I made connections with fellow residents.  We talked about our experiences, gave each other advice, was there as a person who knew what it felt like.  I still, from time to time, communicate with my last roommate.


And yet, this dream triggered me.  I awoke with rapid breaths, scared, worried, panicked.  What did it all mean and why was it affecting me so badly?  I was somber the whole day.  Was this a prelude of another hospitalization to come?  Because of my Anxiety diagnosis, of course, here I am jumping to the worst conclusion instead of calmly thinking this through.  And if it is a premonition, why am I so fearful?  The hospital helped me.  Ultimately, I think I will have to consult my therapist on this.

When False Information On A Meme Makes You Angry…

Originally posted on Stigmama on Tuesday, June 20th:

The other day on Facebook I came across a meme… actually calling it a meme is too nice. I came across a shitty ad that basically told me and others that are Mentally Ill and medicated that we are now drug addicts. While addiction is a Mental Illness, I have not been diagnosed with it. I am a long time Depressive and Anxiety-ridden Mom that will fully disclose any part of my history because people need to know what it is really like to be Mentally Ill.

When I saw this, I was outraged, furious, and this was at 10am on a weekday morning in my cubicle at work:

What made this worse, was this was the pinned post in this group ‘The Free Thought Project’. My blood was boiling. I wanted to break something. Instead I decided to use this as an oppurtunity to educate.

I have seen many versions of this ad before (see below) consciously telling people that medication is evil and while I find them offensive, it didn’t hit me as hard as saying I now have a “lifelong addiction”:

                                        

Is medication shit… well I will flat out admit I wish I didn’t have to take it but comparing it to the stuff that would be on my daughter’s diaper years and years ago is a bit much.

Nature as an antidepressant… I agree wholeheartedly that nature is very rewarding.  I am an avid walker and hiker (and snowshoe-er in the cold winter months).  I love being outside.  After a hike, I usually find myself rejuvenated, feeling alive and most importantly happy.  A hike or a walk outside at lunch can ‘turn my frown upside down’.  There are just a couple of things wrong with this statement:  Nature does not have the same effect on everyone and when you are severely Depressed, it ain’t going to work, trust me, I’ve been there.

Being an Alpha personality, a control freak, a perfectionist, I will fully admit that I hated being on meds.  I couldn’t fathom the idea that a little pill (or four) controlled me.  I was only ‘normal’ because of them.  I thought I could get better without them.  I was wrong… very very wrong.

The first time I was prescribed medication was shortly after my 18th birthday.  It came in the form of a half white and half aqua capsule known as Prozac.  I was quickly told not to tell anyone I was taking it.  This was after I held a case cutter I stole from work to my wrist debating whether I should live or die.  This event, I was also told, to not speak of.  Ah, you got to love the stigma associated with being Mentally Ill.  Because of this, I thought medication was wrong, bad, sinful.  How stupid of me.

It wasn’t until my recent episode of Major Depressive Disorder and Severe Anxiety almost three years ago, that while getting better I finally said “Screw it!”  I didn’t care who knew.  If I had a megaphone, I would probably be screaming it.  There is nothing wrong with being medicated.  I really should create (or order if it exists) a shirt that reads: “Medicated & Proud Of It”.

These people that create these offensive and naïve memes have no idea what it is really like to live with these conditions.  Because it is invisible it doesn’t actually exist.  Because there is no official blood test or genetic test, we all must be making it up.  It is all in our heads… why yes, it is.  Because of a lack of Serotonin, something produced in my brain (i.e. my head) I live daily with two severe illnesses.  I am not making it up.  Who would make up paying monthly for medications, weekly psychiatrist & therapy appointments, being hospitalized, becoming severely delusional, considering hurting or killing yourself?!  Yes, I totally want all of this!

But we live in a society that believes Mental Illness is not on the same level as a Physical Illness.  It is okay if you take lifelong medications for illnesses such as Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, and Cancer and that is not seen as an addiction.  Why is it okay for them but not for people like me?  Why am I considered ‘an addict’?  Why am I ‘faking it’?  I wonder if there was a real test that proved a Mental Illness diagnosis if these views would change.

I have weaned off medications a handful of times.  It can happen.  I lived 4 years med free before I entered into my 6th Major Depressive Episode.  Once on medication again, I took a hard look at my husband, my daughter, and my parents and told myself I didn’t want to see them suffer anymore.  I didn’t want to suffer anymore.  I decided then and there to never ever go off my antidepressant.  Lexapro and I will remain the best of friends.  I am not ashamed of my med.  Without it, I would be in a very dark place or not here at all.

To ‘The Free Thought Project’, research more on what is truth and what is fiction.  I don’t care if you lean liberal or conservative.  The Mentally Ill are a large population and by posting this, you are making us want to hide more.  Because of this, many people will stay silent.  Because of this, many people will not get the help they need.  Because of this thinking, more deaths by suicide will occur.  Remember that old adage “Stop and think before you speak”?  It would have come in handy here.

To all my fellow people with Mental Illness, please do not hide.  Do not believe a word of this absurdity.  There is help.  A walk in the woods can help, but it is not a cure.  It will not help as much as therapy and medication.  Remember:

 

Hi, My Name Is Not “Sophia’s Mom”

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

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

But I am so much more.

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

But I am so much more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


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