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.

I Will Not Hide Anymore: A Letter To The Non-Believer

To The Non-Believer,

 

If I passed you on the street, would you be able to identify that I am not ‘normal’? Would you cringe and slither away from me?  Would you see me as different, weak, an attention seeker?

 

For years, I stayed hidden because of people like you. Taught to fear my diagnoses. Shh, don’t tell anyone.  I believed it.  I played into the stigma.  I did it for protection of what you might say or do.  I feared losing friends, family members, even career opportunities.

 

And then one day I said “Fuck it!”

 

It just became too difficult to hide, too shameful, too guilty. And why should I feel that way?  To hide from you and your posse?  On this particular day, many years ago, I stood up proud and said, “I have Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.”  I would hide no more.

 

And you laughed because to you, these illnesses did not exist, do not exist. To you I was weak, finding life’s normal stressors to hard.  To you I was seeking attention, because you thought I felt ignored.  It never once crossed your mind to believe me because hey, you can’t see these illnesses so why the heck would they actually be real?!

 

It didn’t matter that there were other invisible illnesses that you can’t see but believed were real. It didn’t matter that I was someone you knew for decades.  It didn’t matter that a fifth of the population would be diagnosed with a mental illness.  To you and your fellow Non-Believers, I was making it up.  It was all in my head.

 

All in my head. Yes, in a way it is.  My head contains my brain.  Mental illnesses are disorders of the, what?  Yes, the brain.  The brain, the thing that controls everything in your body.  It tells your heart to pump blood.  It tells your stomach to digest food and make energy.  How could we believe that it could turn against us?!

 

But it can.

 

It distorts my thinking, makes me believe I am a loser, unwanted, undeserving of anyone’s love and kindness. It tells me my friends and family can’t stand me anymore.  And in some cases, it makes me ponder hurting myself or if life is even worth living anymore.  Do you know what that is like?  To fully hate yourself, everything about you, everything you were taught at a young age made you the cool unique person you are?  No, can’t be real, right?  And then more emotions creep in, more lies that Depression makes me believe… the guilt and shame to any wrong doing I thought I did.

 

I can’t wish these thoughts away. Oh, how my life would be so much easier if I could.  I would gladly take one day of a horrible depressive funk if I was guaranteed I would wake up wonderful the next day. Stay positive, you say.  One of many phrases that are far easier said than done.  Then you throw out remarks such as grow up, man up, snap out of it.  You call me selfish for thinking about self harm and suicide because obviously, to your Non-Believer clan, I am only thinking of myself in this situation.  You think I am blocking what others may think or feel if I inflicted harm on myself.  The problem is, you have never been there, have never been in that position of just yearning to shut the racing thoughts and emotions from your brain, of wanting to not feel like an empty void.

 

Oh, and the lack of physical symptoms… I laugh. My anxiety causes so many.  Where to begin?  Shortness of breath, heart palpitations, extreme nausea, dizziness, insomnia.  In extreme cases, full blown panic attacks that feeling like I am dying from a heart attack, vomiting, constant muscle tension and hours of rocking back and forth.  You tell me meditate, go for a walk and my favorite, hug your child.  Not bad suggestions, but when I am tensed up in the fetal position, unable to speak, trying to scratch my hair out, these suggestions are not going to happen.

 

And then the hospitalizations. You wonder why our government needs to focus so much resources into Mental Health facilities.  You think my two brief stays were a wasted of time and money.  Yes, of course they were… I so wanted to almost bankrupt my family to pay for these stays.  That was my desire, can’t you tell?!  My response to you now is we do not have enough resources for people like me.  There are not enough inpatient and outpatient facilities.  There is not enough coverage through insurance for psychiatrist visits, therapist visits and medication.  And there isn’t enough because of you Non-Believers and the stigma you place on my population.

 

You call me a Millennial with the way I am “overreacting”. Life is hard, you say.  Stop being so weak, you say.  Everything will not be handed to you on a silver platter, you say.  It doesn’t matter that I was clearly born on the tail end of Generation X or that my parents raised me to be a hard-working person.  You laugh it off thinking somewhere in my childhood they fucked me up.  You would be sadly mistaken.  Except for a genetic link, my parents taught me to be respectful, loving and a go-getter.  They always told me not to expect everything in my future career because we all are easily replaceable.  They taught me that working hard got you to where you wanted to be.  You know, all the same things your parents taught you.

 

And now, I am angry, so, so fucking angry. Angry that this is still an issue, that many people who are diagnosed still feel they must hide, that they would be seen as weak or a freak if they went for help.  I am angry that so many people have taken their lives thinking that was the only way out because of you Non-Believers.  Just furious, even at myself, that I thought I had to stay silent.

 

But, I am silent no more.  I will continue to advocate for my community and myself.  I will tell my story.  I will not let the stigma become me again.  And, I will not wish you to experience the hell I have even though that might ‘turn you’.  The internal suffering and the suffering of your loved ones because they can’t help is too much for anyone.

 

Sincerely,

 

Stephanie Paige

A Mental Illness Survivor & Advocate

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then I started to make blatant statements:

“Don’t forget you will need lunch.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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:

 

Can I Call Myself An Author?

I have always dreamt of being a published Author.  Writing has always been a huge part of who I am.  I remember writing imagination filled stories since elementary school.  In junior high, I expanded to poetry, the easiest form of writing to express myself.  I was even in the Creative Writing talent as my school was for the ‘Gifted & Talented’.  In college, I took a poetry class and threw in some laughter on a poem about bowling that symbolized sex (might post that one day).  I’ve been published in school anthologies with both stories and poetry.

But, can I label myself an author if I haven’t actually published a book of my own?

Dictionary.com defines “Author” as:

  1. a person who writes a novel, poem, essay, etc.; the composer of a literary work, as distinguished from a compiler, translator, editor, or copyist.
  2. the literary production or productions of a writer:
    to find a passage in an author.
  3. the maker of anything; creator; originator:
    the author of a new tax plan.
  4. Computers. the writer of a software program, especially a hypertext or multimedia application.

I definitely fit the mold of #1, yet calling myself “Author” doesn’t feel right.  I guess it stems from learning all those years ago, that to be a real Author, you had to be published.  Published.  What constitutes ‘being published’?  As stated before, I was ‘published’ in anthologies put out by the Creative Writing talent at my junior high.  I was ‘published’ in an anthology in high school.  Do these count?  Only a marginal amount of people will ever read them.  And while I still possess all of these works, I highly doubt they exist beyond my possession anymore.

I write this blog.  Starting in 2015, I created my blog, Rising From The Ashes, and still keep it active (although switching platforms from Blogger to WordPress).  I bought my own website to make it official.  I try to publish a post at least once a week.  I have contributed to other blogs, sharing my work several times with The Mighty, Stigma Fighters & Postpartum Progress.

I have been published as a Contributing Author (note my use of the word Contributing as I was one of many) in Stigma Fighters Anthology II and A Dark Secret… both books helping to tear down the stigma associated with Mental Illness and Maternal Mental Illness.

But I haven’t published a book of my own yet and now I am questioning if I want to anymore.

I want to share my life with the world to help others like me.  I want men, women, and teens to know they are not alone in there Mental Health struggles. I want to give them a voice. And while I have started my memoir, my book, to do this, I’m beginning to wonder if I have to complete it because…

Am I not doing this already?  Advocating for those who feel they need to remain silent.  Have I not been sharing my story piece by piece through this blog, on The Mighty and on Stigma Fighters? Was it not published in 2 compilations of stigma breaking books?

It comes down to time.  I just don’t have the time to finish this book right now or in the near future.  I don’t have time to actively contribute to The Mighty and Stigma Fighters if I even attempt to finish my book.  Time is something I cannot buy extra of.  Working full time, being active on my daughter’s school’s PTO, advocating.  Nightly, I am left deciding if I have time to breathe or read my book for 20 minutes (the book usually wins out).

If I do not finish my book, am I still an Author?

Have I still made a longtime dream of mine come true?

I think the answer may lie in the grin on my face below.

I am Stephanie Paige, Author & Advocate.

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.

Right Mind?…

My blog has been active for over a year now. I have written about many aspects of Mental Illness, mostly focusing on my own experiences. I have reviewed articles and written about recent horrific tragedies. I have included brief excerpts from my upcoming memoir. I have thought a lot about things I post. I want to give a voice to those with Mental Illness who are afraid to voice themselves, who are afraid of the repercussions of what they may say, who still feel the stigma burying them stone by stone.

I may have pushed myself under the city bus this time…

Today, I want to discuss Mental Illness and mass tragedies.

I am a firm believer of facts as I am a very logical person. I still agree that those of us who suffer from any form of Mental Illness are more likely to become victims of violent acts than carry them out. I am also a perpetual thinker. I think in bed at night. I think in bed in the morning. I think at my desk at work and I think in the shower. My best and most deepest thoughts coming from the latter. Lately, after the mass shooting in Orlando, a horrific tragedy, I have thought a lot about this event (a tragedy following many others) and the Mental Health community.

Although, I stand behind my belief and the fact stated above, I find it very hard for someone in their “right mind” to decide to buy a semi-automatic and commit a mass murder. No one who is in their right mind wakes up and says, “Let’s kill people today.” We’ve all been taught killing is bad. These assassins have to have some form of Mental Illness, most of them undiagnosed, but some form. I have not been in my right mind before. My Depressive mind has wanted to hurt myself. I’ve wanted to take the mental pain away by performing a lobotomy with a screw from a hospital lunch tray table. I’ve wanted to, and have, experimented with cutting, lightly stroking my wrist with a pair of eyebrow scissors. I’ve wanted to run away and leave my husband and daughter because they didn’t need me the way I was, a non-functioning zombie.

I was not in my right mind. I’ve been down that frightening road.

How can we believe that these assassins were in their right mind? How can we say that in any terms these mass killings are not related to Mental Illness?

Most recently, speaking with my therapist, he has told me that professionals now view many Mental Illnesses as a spectrum, for example with Depression, one end would be minor Depression and the opposite end could be suicidal. I don’t want to put these assassins at the same spot on the spectrum as myself but it has to be considered that they fall somewhere on the Mental Health spectrum most likely at a “sociopath or psychopath” end.

Allowing assault weapons to fall into the hands of those with Severe Mental Illness is not a good idea (please continue reading on before judging me, again, I do suffer from more than one Mental Illness). Honestly, I wouldn’t trust myself with one when I wasn’t in my right mind, to the extent of hurting only myself. But that is just me. Letting these assault rifles into the hands of one labeled a “sociopath or psychopath” is even a worse tragedy, and one that should fault America as a country as we debate gun control and fall behind with our Mental Healthcare System. Of course, many of these assassins are not diagnosed. So what to do as a country? How do we ensure those with Mental Illness become diagnosed especially with a stigma that scares us to opening up? How would we as a country create a list of those with Mental Illness who shouldn’t be allowed to buy a weapon? How do we determine who is going on a downward spiral and who is treated enough to own one? How do we find those that are more deeply disturbed? Those men and women whose psyches are so far gone?

And then there is the media, the biggest source of this stigma behind relating every horrific crime to someone who is obviously “Looney”. I am not disagreeing that these people are not “crazy” per say, but you are now calling out prejudice to a whole community of people who suffer with Mental Illness. Because one severely ill person carried out this horrific event does not mean all of us will. Most of us lead fairly normal lives and function extremely well. We seek out therapy, medications we may need and self-care. You would never know until we told you or until we spiraled out of control. Then again, this is what American media is all about, let’s blame a whole group of people for a small population’s actions. We are very good at this.

These individuals, the assassins as I like to call them, are not mentally healthy. What may have been going through the mind of the man who carried out the Orlando night club shooting… a man who frequented the club before, a man who was on the FBI’s watch list, a man who’s own wife thought he may have been gay and knew what he was planning, a man who most likely had the inner turmoil of being gay but feared being rejected by his religion because of it. He was not in his right mind. He was not mentally stable, and no, I am not excusing what he did.

Now, what can we do to prevent these vicious crimes from happening? I think that is something that as a country we would all love an answer for.

I Am An Empath…

When I close my eyes, I am being pulled deep underwater, my leg in the clenches of an alligator’s tightly gripped mouth.  I am screaming, wailing, crying for help, clueless of what is going on.  I am waiting to be saved by my Mommy and Daddy, waiting to see their faces and feel their warm embrace.  A few days later, they find my body.

This vision has been with me since I first read about the two year old little boy who was enjoying his Disney vacation with his mother, father and older sister while watching the evening movie on the beach at the water’s edge of the Seven Seas Lagoon at the Grand Floridian.  My family was staying there just two months ago.  I walked past that spot several times during that vacation.  A vacation that was to us the most “Happiest Place On Earth”.

I have no blame for this incident.  The media has already developed enough with the child who fell into the gorilla enclosure at a zoo and now this.  I do not for one single minute blame the parents for not watching their child.  He was close by dipping his feet at the water’s edge.  He was right near them.  Although alligators are common in Florida, I do not blame Disney for not foreseeing an alligator coming into a man-made Lagoon.  There is no blame here…

There are tears.  Lots of tears.  Inside my head, for the last few days, I’ve been crying non stop for this little boy.  I’ve been imagining what he may have gone through and as a mother, I have been trying to take his pain and place it on me.  I have put myself in his parents’ shoes and tried to live the grief they are going through, the blame they probably put on themselves, the guilt.  I very well know this is not my job.  I cannot carry the pain of everyone on this planet.  Most times, my own pain is too much.  Yet I do, or at least I try and I don’t know how to stop and I don’t think I want to.

Along with this little boy, the innocent lives of those 49 people that were lost at the nightclub just a few days prior because of an assassin with his own internal struggles, swim inside my head.  I try to carry their pain and their families’ pain.  I imagine how that scene played out.  I cry at the vision.

And it doesn’t end there.  I am once again thrown into the loss of my foster son.  Thinking of him everyday, I am somehow envisioning him being dragged down with the alligator, but I am that alligator.  When I am lucid, I know this is not true.  I know I helped him along with my husband and daughter in so many ways in those two months but because of what I was going through, I imagine he saw things that scared him.  I only hope he was young enough he never remembers them.

I am an Empath.  I am “…affected by other people’s energies, and have an innate ability to intuitively feel and perceive others… You are always open, so to speak, to process other people’s feelings and energy, which means that you really feel, and in many cases take on the emotions of others (themindunleashed.org)”.  I am now facing this on a larger scale, trying to take on the emotions of all those who perished and their families, a large population all at once.

For me, I am at that point that if I let it continue, I may be dragged down into that dark place I have just recently left, another episode of Major Depression.  All these emotions, sadness, helplessness, guilt that these families must be feeling… pain, fear, loss that those who died were feeling.  If I do not somehow quell them, Depression will take me again and turn those emotions onto me.  I fear this.  I have not completely healed from episode six.  What would happen to me?

But I can’t stop.  I can’t stop feeling.  I can’t stop going into a room and knowing if the atmosphere is a happy one or one full of tension.  I can’t stop seeing my friends go through a hard time and not feeling anything for them.  I can’t stop wanting to hold all those who are grieving.  I am programmed this way.

I am an Empath, a common trait amongst those who are Mentally Ill.  I am highly emotional and tend to absorb feelings of those around me and those I’ve never met.  I feel everything.  Although at times, this affects me to a threatening point, I am glad I am an Empath.  This world needs more people who have empathy.  The more empathy in this world, the less these tragic events occur.  For now, I will try to focus my energies somewhere else with therapy, medication, walking, reading, cuddling with my daughter, anything that will make me happy and focus my mind somewhere else.

To find out more on being and Empath, please read this article:  Top 10 Traits of an Empath

I fit each and every one of them.

Why I Climb (2016 Edition)…

why-i-climb

 

My daughter was born on a typical fall day.  Labor and Delivery, although somewhat long, was a great experience as were the first 2 weeks of her life.  I was the doting and glowing new mom.  I held her, cuddled with her, kissed her constantly.  I loved changing her stinky poop diapers and I relished at her newborn screams.  She was all mine.  She gave me the title of “Mommy”, a title I cherished.

After these two glorious weeks, I changed.  I was a person I didn’t recognize.  My daughter’s face with her plush cheeks now disgusted me.  Her whimpers were like banshee calls.  The never ending dependency broke me… plummeted me into a dark abyss so deep I am still amazed I ever got out of it.  Instead of “Mommy”, my new title should have been, “Depressive Anxiety Woman:  Robotic in Nature, Dead in Emotion.”  This all occurred in the span of a day.  One morning I just woke up different.  I woke up mean.  I woke up full of hatred for this little being that needed me.

I didn’t get help right away.  I was told it was “Baby Blues”.  When the vomiting started a couple of days later, and the crying spells increased daily by 200%, I knew it had to be more.  But, I was ashamed.  I couldn’t admit my inadequacy at doing normal wife and mother tasks.  I couldn’t admit I hated being a mother.  I couldn’t admit I hated my child and wished every second I could turn back time.  I couldn’t face the ugliness that was growing in my head.  I didn’t want to face myself.

Three weeks after her birth, I started seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist.  This was the first step to recovery but honestly it wasn’t enough.  I was drowning more and more into the abyss of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety.  The only good thing was I finally knew what I was suffering from.  Even though I was under the care of a psychiatrist and therapist, I now began planning my escape.

I would run away…

My plan was incomplete as I only figured the following details out… Leaving after my husband was off to work, Sophia was at my parents, I would withdraw money, get in the car and go…

Go where?!

That last important detail saved me from doing something stupid.  Saved me from leaving the two most important people in my life.  Saved me from destroying myself.

Exactly one month after my daughter’s birth, I admitted myself into my local hospital’s short term psych ward where I finally was given the tools (and medication) to save myself.

*****

I have told this exact story on here a little over a year ago.  It is a story I feel needs repeating.  Postpartum Depression and Anxiety stole the first year of my daughter’s life from me.  I was at times an emotional wreck and at other times and emotional void.  It took many different medications, several therapists and a couple of years to overcome these feeling completely.  Recently, I’ve revisited these memories and have finally given my Postpartum self some compassion, something I have never done before.

I am not alone.  There is a whole Warrior Mom tribe out there who have had similar experiences.  Some were worse than mine, some better.  Some took longer to heal, some shorter.  All of us celebrate our success by coming together on the Saturday closest to the longest day of the year to #climbout of the Darkness.  This event spans states, countries and continents and raises awareness of Postpartum Illness and funds to support the many resources Postpartum Progress Inc. provides on the website (www.postpartumprogress.org) and blog (www.postpartumprogress.com).

This is #WhyIClimb :

I Climb for my daughter, my husband, my parents, and my sister. This was my support system in my darkest time. They were there when I wasn’t there mentally, emotionally or physically. They came to therapy and psychiatric appointments. They visited me in the hospital. They kept my daughter healthy and alive when I couldn’t. They woke up with me to feed Sophia. They kept calm and cool in a situation that should’ve driven them crazy with worry. They have my utmost gratitude and love.


I Climb for myself. Somehow I survived an ordeal that rattled my brain and mentality to points this Depression sufferer never thought imaginable. I battled by going to therapy, admitting myself into the hospital and taking my medications. I came out stronger.

I Climb for other mothers who have, are or may suffer… To be their support… To show them they are not alone. There is a whole Warrior Mom Family out there to lean on.