Anxiety Amongst The Clouds

I was academically intelligent in high school excelling in all my subjects and took more than a fair share of honors classes. I didn’t graduate in the top ten but was still considered very smart. I know the physics behind an airplane and even had my husband repeating it to me over and over again as he graduated college with a BS in Physics and Astronomy.

Then why did my fear of flying exist?!

I have flown countless times since I was a child. We flew to England, California, Canada. In college, I often took what I deem the “Quickie Shuttle” home. I mean this was an up-down flight, about an hour in the air. I wasn’t scared to fly. I actually enjoyed it. Something about watching the world disappear and finding yourself amongst the clouds.

Then my honeymoon occurred. A typical flight from New York to Orlando (hey we’re big Disney fans) turned my happy thoughts on flying in almost an instant to extreme fear. The culprit… The remnants of Hurricane Ivan, a storm in 2004 that just wouldn’t die. After hitting as a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, Ivan wasn’t done tormenting the eastern US as he regained strength along the eastern coast in the Atlantic. Ivan was a crutch to me. He was the force that destroyed my rather calming experience of flying turning it into a nightmare. The flight was constantly turbulent and once we landed I was basically sitting in my husband’s lap shaking with fear while the flight attendants joked that that flight would be the best ride we would have the whole trip. Ha ha!

I avoided flying and was lucky for awhile. During this time the birth of my Generalized Anxiety Disorder happened. Diagnosed in 2006, it was born a twin with my daughter. I raise them both, my daughter with much love, and my GAD with much dislike. Our next flight was for my best friend’s wedding in 2010. Once again, I boarded the plane. My husband sat at the window, my daughter in the middle and me in the aisle seat. The engine roared to life and as my daughter was screaming in my ears from how loud the engine was, I was digging my nails deep into my husband’s hand across my daughter’s seat. I even drew blood. I was hyperventilating, shaking and desperate to get off the flight. My GAD stayed with me the whole flight as I was off medication and hadn’t quite grasped “coping mechanisms”. My Anxiety was fueled by Ivan, airplane crashes, and with this flight, my tantruming toddler daughter.

Traveling by plane was beginning to be a huge trigger and I tried to avoid it at all cost suggesting vacations that only required travel by car. This was somewhat easy to do since at the time we were struggling financially. That being said, we have since flown many times to Florida and even Canada, where you will always find my nails securely dug into my husband’s hands and my breaths rapid.

Then I changed jobs and with that change came some minor traveling. Uh-oh. My first flight was solo from New York to Maryland. A flight I had done so many times when in college. Now I was alone. I tried persuading my husband to allow me to cut off his hand so I had that to dig my nails into when I flew but he convinced me he needed them for work. So here I was, sitting in my seat, trying to calm down. There was no more Sky Mall magazine which used to distract me. There was no one next to me I could depend on. There were no electronics I could have on during lift-off. How was I going to cope? How was I going to keep my Anxiety leashed?

I had quick access to my Anxiety meds but wanted to see if I could manage without. I was already on 4 different medications for my Depression and Anxiety and I wanted to avoid adding an extra dosage. I started my Four Square breathing I learned from my EMDR therapist… breath in for a 4 count, hold for 4 counts and breath out for 4 counts. I did this along with focusing on Word Searches and before I knew it, we had lifted off and were amongst the clouds. It was a vision I missed all those years of being horribly fearful of flying and having my Anxiety feed off of that. I now looked out the window and took the view in. I was floating high above the rest of the world next to blue skies with puffy cumulous clouds and the sun brightly beam in. I smiled and once I smiled, my GAD was pushed away to the sidelines and my fear of flying quickly became joyful once again.

Now I try to get the window seat whenever I am able to.

Rebound Insomnia… Really?!

I always found it senseless and cruel that most antidepressants, at least the SSRIs, take 4 – 6 weeks to fully be functional.  Is this a colossal joke?!  What depressed person wants to hear, “Hey, you’ll be feeling much better, just wait another month or two!”  Having already suffered badly, sinking into further depths of not recognizing your brain, further days of losing sanity, you now have to wait.  Tick tock.

Slowly weeks one and two pass and your anxiety increases… “Why isn’t this damn drug working?!”

Week three shows up and you question if anything is different… “Wait, was that smile for real, or was it still my masked cover-up?”

Week four comes and one day you wake up and you can tell you are different… “Hallelujah!!!”

Six times and I am still not quite used to this adjustment. 

What the doctors don’t tell you is what you may experience when you come off of a drug.  For a few months now, I have been weaning off of Seroquel, an antipsychotic I was prescribed while hospitalized in January 2015 for both its help with psychosis and that it works mighty well as a sleep aid.  This drug has had so many “lovely” side effects… weight gain, bloat, constipation… that I couldn’t wait until I could go off this stuff.  Several months after starting this drug, I was no longer in need of it for its antipsychotic-ness but still relied heavily on it for sleep.  Then, it stopped working for that and I had to add Lunesta in the mix.  So why, why was I still taking it?!  I started out on 100mg and after a few weeks went down to 50mg all under the supervision of my psychiatrist.  About a month later (over 2 weeks ago), I went down to 25mg, the lowest dosage.  Then, starting with this Sunday night, I stopped taking it.

And then I started to not sleep!

For the last two nights I have had what is called Rebound Insomnia – “Rebound insomnia is when you can’t sleep after coming off sleeping pills. Your brain and body have adjusted to the sleep medication and almost anticipate it. The feedback mechanisms have had their set points adjusted, to some extent. The set points change back of course, but in the short run your body experiences insomnia in response to the lack of drug… (courtesy of  Seriously?!  This is jut cruel now!  Even with my .5mg of Ativan and 2mg of Lunesta I am still experiencing rebound insomnia.  It is now taking me more than an hour to fall asleep and I am waking up at 4:30 in the morning.

What to do, what to do.  Do I cave, give in, and take the Seroquel?  Do I continue hoping there is only a day or two more of this?  There is already a panic brewing inside of me.  I know how bad not sleeping is for me.  It is a huge trigger for my Depression and Anxiety.

Searching on the web, because the internet doesn’t lie and is only there to scare you, I have found several people who complain because their rebound insomnia is going on for three weeks… three weeks?!  Okay internet, you’ve officially scared me.  I can’t go three weeks with my current sleep pattern.  I’ll wind up back in the hospital with them pumping me with large quantities of Seroquel to get me to sleep and back to square one.  I refuse to give in.  I logically know this drug is doing nothing for me right now.  Without it, my digestive system will start to function normally again and maybe this extra 10lbs I’ve been holding onto since the birth of Seroquel into my system will disappear.

So, ladies and gentlemen, because I do not fully trust the psychiatric system, I want to let you know that there is such a thing as “rebound insomnia” and it is as cruel as finding out in the beginning that you will have to suffer another one to two months before you will feel better from your Depression (if the correct drug is picked).  I implore you to ask your doctors about the drugs you are on, their interactions and their rebound effects.  It is your body, you should know what you may be in for.

Rebound insomnia… really?!

Sound Meditation: Am I In That 1%?

I seem to be a star pupil when it comes to EMDR therapy, so much so that we have taken a break from it and returned to CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy).  In other words, I am back to what I would like to call normal therapy.  My therapist, after months of reprocessing certain devastating memories… Tyler, losing Tyler, losing myself, my Postpartum fiasco… decided I needed to learn how to cope.

To cope… according to, the word “cope” is defined as “to face and deal with responsibilities, problems, ordifficulties, especially successfully or in a calm oradequate manner“.

Key word: successfully.  Okay, Dr. B., I agree with  you completely.  After being on this earth for over 36 years, I should learn how to “cope” with my tragedies, both big and small.  Instead of stuffing them to some corner of my brain and locking them away, I need to face them head on.  I need to embrace them.  After years of CBT, you would think I would know by now how to “cope”.  I don’t.  It seems that with every episode of Depression and Anxiety, I start out as an infant and need to relearn everything once again.  It is rather annoying and downright tedious.

So after dealing with the typical “replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts” exercise, my therapist who is big on Mindfulness and Meditation, suggested we try exercises employing this.  Why not?  I am game for anything therapy wise.  We decided to focus on a guided meditation dealing with sound.  Why sound you ask?

One example… this Saturday night, as my husband and I were in the basement watching TV, our neighbors decided to celebrate July 4th a bit early.  I mean, it isn’t even June 4th yet.  Even though we were in a basement which deafens the sound a bit with its concrete and insulated walls, I sat scrunched up in a fetal position with my hands on my head scratching at my scalp.  I started rocking back and forth, curses flying out of my mouth.  It was not a pretty sight.  This sound, like my neighbors’ annoying diesel truck and dirt bike is something I can’t control.  I dislike things I can’t control.  I am an Alpha after all.

I sat comfortably in the soft cushioned chair upholstered in a floral pattern.  My arms draped over the arms of the chair, my feet were flat on the floor.  My therapist proceeded to get up telling me that for this Sound Meditation we would in fact need sound so he opened two of his office windows and returned to his seat.  He began to read from a book which directed me to close my eyes.  Simple task, done.  Then it got more difficult.

“Focus on the sounds around you.  Those near and those far.  Those that are long, those that are short.  Those that are loud, those that are quiet.  Notice how they fade in and then fade out…”

As he spoke these words all I could think was these damn cars.  They are so loud.  How am I supposed to learn how to tune them out?!  Okay, Steph, focus on the birds.  You like nature sounds.  Ah, birds, tweet, tweet, tweet.  Damn cars! Shit, a motorcycle!

I was then supposed to imagine the sounds passing by like clouds.  They roll in, they roll out.  Instead my breaths got short and rapid, my lank hands were now gripping the ends of the arms of the chairs, my head felt like it was being squeezed.  I was nauseous, dizzy, tense and about a few seconds away from getting up and shutting the windows myself.  The sound was too much for me.  I was having a full blown Anxiety Attack.

When my therapist finished reading, he looked up at me and asked me how it was.  Being a great faker of feelings he didn’t notice any of the affects my Anxiety was having on me.  Between rapid breaths I asked, “Does it get better?”

“Does what get better?” he replied.

“Meditation?  I am having a freaking Anxiety Attack.”

“Hmmmm… this exercise is supposed to have a calming effect,” he responded.

“So was the Container Exercise.  I seem to be in this 1% where Meditation has the opposite affect,”  I joked, “My head feels like it is being squeezed in a vice.”

At this point my hands were now in tense fists.  I felt as if I would vomit soon.  I just wanted to leave.  I needed fresh air.  I needed space.  I needed….

“Would you like to try this again?” he asked.

My eyes widened in horror, “Like now?!  I am still coming down from my attack!”

“No, not now.  I can see how distressed you are right now.  But could we try it again with the windows closed focusing on smaller sounds at another session?  I think you should give it a try a few more times before ruling it out.”

I pondered this.  Obviously, this first time did not yield the response he or I wanted.  Neither did EMDR for at least the first month of doing it but eventually it worked wonders.  I knew I needed to get over this sound annoyance thing or I would forever be enveloped in my Anxiety.  I trust my therapist and agreed to try it again.  The battle continues.

Is Depression an Illness?…

At first when I read this article, “Is Depression an Illness? Or Part of the Human Condition?”, yesterday it was kind of ironic.  I had just posed the question to my therapist on Monday of can Depression be cured since it is labeled a disorder?  His summation of the question led to the theory that professionals now believe Mental Illnesses such as Anxiety, Depression, Panic Disorder, etc are not necessarily Illnesses but rather spectrums.  These spectrums have levels with low being the ordinary human being, to a point somewhat in the middle that points to those like me who have issues typically coping and fall under the title of “Disorder”.

When I read this article (see above) by Chantal Marie Gagnon, PhD, LMHC, at first I was rather shocked to hear a psychiatrist admit that she does not believe these illnesses are real.  She, along with my therapist, agree that to some level, all human beings will experience depression and anxiety.  Because of this, Ms. Gagnon states, “Are we all disordered? Do we all need medication?”  She then goes on to admit that her and her fellow constituents “fail to give people the knowledge, support, and tools they need to move past those difficult period.” 

This got me thinking, am I really ill?  I suppose those who have a lower degree of depression and/or anxiety have formed coping techniques that aid them through their time of hardship.  This is something I greatly lack.  I still haven’t fully developed coping techniques and I do believe it is because of this that I quickly become so far gone that medications and therapy are needed to bring me back.

She goes on to state that “the medical model of labeling feelings as “illnesses” limits recovery options”.  She continues to say that as Americans we have been bred to believe that if we have an illness, we need medication to recover.  Other countries believe in looking at diet, exercise and forms of meditation first before handing over a prescription for a controlled substance.  She blames the psychiatrists, including herself, of doing this to sustain their income.  I agree to some extent.  All the times I ever walked into a psychiatrist’s office, they have been more than happy to send me off after the 10 minutes of getting to know me with a script for Ativan.  This only continues to build my annoyance with the Mental Health Care system here in America.

But do I believe that I could have overcome my Postpartum Depression and Anxiety and this 6th episode of Depression and Anxiety without medication?  Do I think I could have survived them with diet, exercise, psychotherapy, yoga and meditation alone?  NO!  I was to the point of Anorexia this last time because I couldn’t eat.  I couldn’t eat because my Anxiety was so severe.  Telling me to eat better and exercise would have been a sarcastically mean retort.  I definitely had a Disorder.

But at what point does my Major Depressive Disorder change into just a past episode of Depression? I always imagined that Depression and Anxiety remained with me and just had periods of dormancy.  Could I be wrong?  If I am, what does that mean?  Where does that put me now, not quite suffering but not quite cured…

My therapist joked, “You are in partial remission with Major Depressive Disorder.”  Hmm… sounds a bit too complex.

The part of the article that struck me was when Ms. Gagnon’s colleague, Dr. Barry Duncan states, “As crazy as it sounds, problems, like depression, also provide possibilities for living our lives differently, for reaching new conclusions. Depression is obviously painful, and it brings attention to the fact we are not happy with some aspect of our lives. The depression, therefore, can be a life-transformation vehicle.”

Yes!  Right on!  All my episodes have always had me digging deeper into my soul.  I questioned my happiness with my career, my family, my friends and my hobbies.  Therapy helped me comprehend what wasn’t going right and in turn gave me the tools to alter my perspectives.  Like the article states, I constantly battled with my identity each time.  Who was I?  Did Depression and Anxiety define me? Coming out of each bout has made me wiser and more aware at what triggers me and what my feelings are when these illnesses are returning.  I have grown from them.

Her final debate is the argument about labeling Depression an illness due to biochemical properties.  I have read countless articles that to some point explain Depression as not producing enough Serotonin.  According to the study in this article, those patients given a placebo over an actual antidepressant did about the same.  The study continues to state “that a psychiatrist with a positive therapeutic alliance with his patients was more effective in improving depression symptoms with a placebo than was a psychiatrist with a poor therapeutic alliance administering a real antidepressant drug” (Krupnick, J., Sotsky, S. M., Simmens, S., Moyer, J., Elkin, I., Watkins, J., & Pilkonis, P.A., 1996).

Hmmm…. the above again supporting the need for Mental Health reform in the US.  That being said, it is true to fact and I totally agree that psychotherapy has done more for me than my medications.  Of course, I am thankful to my medications for what they have done for my psyche.  In my opinion (again, I have no medical background, just experience), I tend to think that for some, Depression and Anxiety are Disorders and this may be because of genetics, because of biochemical factors and because of environmental factors.  I know many aside from myself who will agree that if it wasn’t for their meds, they wouldn’t be here.  That in itself says it all.

Team Work?!…

I never had a Psychiatrist I loved.  Heck, I never had one I liked.  Honestly, my relationships with my Psychiatrists these last 20+ years don’t even measure up to an “acquaintance” standard.  They are short, sometimes snippy, and barely lift their eyes off their laptop to make eye contact.  These doctors that control what medications I take… and I am only in their office for a whopping ten minutes… at most.

It bugged me yesterday as I sat in the waiting room for my appointment.  I wasn’t even meeting with my normal Psychiatrist.  I had a sub-psychiatrist for this visit as my normal doc was out on maternity leave.  No big deal, it wasn’t as if I were close with her even after seeing her for over a year.  I entered my sub’s office where he asked me the typical psychiatrist questions:

“How are you feeling?”
“How are the medications working?”

Yada, yada, yada.

I thought maybe he at least read my file before meeting with him, but nope, he didn’t.  I had to tell my story of the last year to him as quick as possible as I only had about 2 minutes left on the clock of my appointment.  And like that, my ten minutes were up.  I am not sure what was accomplished as this man knows nothing about me and just handed me prescriptions for controlled substances.  Upon leaving, I made my next appointment.  I asked the receptionist who I should make it with and she responded, “It doesn’t matter.  Your regular doctor will be back then if you would like to see her.”  Then was three months away.  Then was almost at the end of summer.  Then was August.

On my drive home, I really thought about the Mental Healthcare system in the United States.  I even crowdsourced to see if my revelations about the system had merit and wasn’t shocked with the answers, but I should have been.  Most of the people that responded to me agreed that they had appointments with their Psychiatrists that lasted up to 30 minutes at most, but it was more like 10 minutes where only drugs were discussed.  These people then revealed that like myself, they saw a Therapist weekly or biweekly for an hour or more at a time.  And the kicker, these 2 team members never conversed with each other about care!

This is what angers me.  I’ve signed waivers to no end that enables my Psychiatrist to contact my Therapist (and vice-versa) concerning my care and they never have.  There are waivers signed for them to contact my Primary Care Physician… never have.  This situation was even more complicated when I was hospitalized.  I had additional doctors, several hospital Psychiatrists, along with my Therapist and regular Psychiatrist and there was still no contact.  Amazingly, the hospital Psychiatrists didn’t even converse with each other.

I thought some more.  How can I receive the best care possible when my “Team” chose to be independent workers?!  I became the go-between, the third party mediator.  This was all fine and dandy for now because I am doing well but a couple of months ago when I had a breakdown… wouldn’t it have made sense for this “Team” to talk?  It’s bad enough as the patient your medications are a trial and error affair taking weeks sometimes months to get correct, now you, mentally impaired with Depression and Anxiety, need to be able to handle the negotiating between your “Team”?!  I understand from a work perspective, as I hold a full-time job myself, that it is hard to fit things in.  Asking these Psychiatrists to talk with their patients Therapists is another step to make in a busy job they already do.  Think about it… if they work 8 hour days and see 4 patients an hour (although 15 minute appointments are a stretch), that’s 32 patients a day.

32 patients a day… that’s 160 patients a week!  I’d be shocked if they knew my name without looking at their laptop when I came in!  But they should.  They are dispensing medications that can be harmful.  These medications carry some serious side effects, some even include suicidal thinking. With this knowledge, wouldn’t it be a wise decision to discuss the patient’s condition with both their PCP and their Therapist?  Get an idea of who their patient really is aside from there in depth 15 minutes?! (note sarcasm)  See if they have any medicinal allergies they are lying about?  See if they are known to hide their suffering to an extreme?

How do we accomplish this?  Among my crowdsourcing was a Therapist and she even agreed she would rather be doing the Team method but that it was hard to enforce.  By not having our Teams discuss our care we are really at a disadvantage here in the United States with Mental Healthcare.  We need this system to be audited, to be dissected, and to be resurrected in a way that really has the patient’s care at the core of the system.  After all, this is May, it is Mental Health Awareness Month!

I Was Alone…

I woke up this morning with snippets of Canadian singer Bryan Adams’ song How Do Ya Feel Tonight? in my head (I’m a child of the 80s and yes, I like Bryan Adams)…

is there anybody out there?
anyone that’s loved in vain
anyone that feels the same…”

“is there anybody out there?
anyone that can’t explain
anyone that feels no pain…”

we all need something new

something that is true
and someone else to feel it too…”

“is there anybody out there?……someone else to feel it too…” 

These lines stuck with me.  It was what I found myself dwelling on almost 10 years ago after the birth of my daughter.  10 years ago before the terms Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety were common and more well known.  10 years ago when I was falling into a pit hoping to be buried alive.

I was alone.  

There was not one person I knew at the time who could say, “You’ll be okay, I’ve been there.”  My diagnosis came one month after my daughter was born when I was sitting in the ER of the hospital wondering if I was dying of malnourishment.  Wondering if the mental pain would ever stop.  Wondering if I would ever be able to swallow anything and keep it down.  Wondering if the sight of my daughter wouldn’t cause hate and anger.

I was alone.

Once in the hospital, after they threw the term Postpartum Depression and Anxiety along with the word Severe in front of it at me, I was treated as if I was a typical case of Depression.  Medications were pumped into me.  Dosages were adjusted.  Sometimes they were changed.  Twelve days there and the only thing these professionals accomplished was making me a void, a void of all emotion, a true walking zombie or Data from Star Trek.  Not once in those twelve days did they even discuss my Postpartum Illnesses and what was causing them.  They didn’t offer me articles to read.  They didn’t suggest any books.  And lastly, upon exiting the hospital after almost two weeks, they didn’t offer me any therapists with Postpartum training or any outpatient programs focused on Postpartum Illnesses.

I was alone.

It wasn’t until 2014, when I noticed an ad on Facebook for a group called Postpartum Progress, that I would realize I wasn’t alone (yes, six  years later).  The name intrigued me.  I clicked and was taken to a group  for women who have or are suffering from a Postpartum Illness.  Hmmm… this was a concept I was unfamiliar with, a group of women, who like myself, suffered, hated their babies at one point, had intrusive thoughts, wanted to run away.  A group where we were not alone.  This, this is what I needed way back in 2006 after the birth of my daughter.  It is just upsetting that the community really didn’t exist back then and that it was most likely stigma that kept it from existing.  I mean, what mother can’t handle her baby?!

I wasn’t alone?

Postpartum Progress runs a pseudo race type of event to raise awareness and it is also the main source of their funds called Climb Out Of The Darkness.  Held on the Saturday closest to the Summer Solstice, women, men and children all over the world climb (or hike, run, walk) to tell the world we suffered and we are here to break the silence surrounding Postpartum Illnesses.  That first year I found Postpartum Progress in 2014, I did a solo Climb with just my husband.  I raised over $500 myself.  The next year and this current year, I have joined up with a Co-leader.  I have also become a Warrior Mom Ambassador trained in Mental Health First Aid.  I have helped several of my friends find someone that they or their loved ones can talk to about what they are going through within an hour of posting for help in our Warrior Mom Community.  Why?  Because…

I was alone.

I don’t want any woman out there to ever feel like that.  No mother should have to suffer in silence while robotically taking care of an infant that they are supposed to love and honestly don’t.  No woman should have to ponder and plan leaving their spouse and infant because it would be better for them (the spouse and child).  No woman should have thoughts of jumping off a bridge or crashing a car to end the mental anguish they are going through but can’t quite explain it to their doctor or are afraid to.  No woman should have to die from this anymore. 

I was alone… but that ends now.  I help so that no other mother has to be alone.  You are not alone!

#MaternalMHMatters #climbout #WarriorMoms

Resources can be found below:

If you would like to join my Climb or contribute: Stephanie Trzyna’s Climb.
If you would like to find a Climb in the area:  Climb Out Of The Darkness

Thank you J!…

I was six, she was four.  We met through a mutual friend whose age fell between us.  Quickly, we became Besties or whatever the 1980s equivalent was.  I was the older sister she didn’t have and she was the younger sister I didn’t have.  We played with Cabbage Patch Kids, Baby Dolls, Doll Houses and Lego.  There were many sleepovers and secrets.  We were family.

Until we weren’t.  There were big fights between us (I take complete blame), between our mothers, and then a move.  She left the comforts of NY and myself and moved to the sunny south of the country when I was about 12, she 10.  Although we weren’t talking, I missed her deeply.  I became alone, sad, and broken.  I made other friends through the years, but it just wasn’t the same.  I think this might be the earliest Depression I really had, but this episode went undiagnosed.

Then one day I received a cryptic message on Prodigy (old school AOL) from someone who knew me in NY.  I was fifteen at the time.  She called herself Jade and expressed her love of giraffes. Through many discussions I realized it was her, she found me!  I was overjoyed.  A piece of my broken heart returned. Over the next few years we wrote many letters, exchanged pictures, told each other secrets again.

And then, during Spring Break one year in college, we met at Downtown Disney (now Disney Springs).  We both were so excited and happy.  The great thing, it was like nothing ever happened. Since that trip, we have been in eachother’s weddings, shared the births of our children and have tried to see eachother at least once every two years.

Jokingly, out of the blue, after planning our Disney trip for this year, J decided we should call it our 30th Friendiversary!  I took this and ran with it.  30 years.  We have been friends for 30 years!  Last week we met on Sunday at Animal Kingdom, Monday at Epcot and Friday at Epcot.  Seeing her, her husband and her boys was the highlight of my trip.  Whenever we see eachother we just pick up where we left off.  Leaving her on Friday was tough and for more than the reason of not knowing when I would see her again.

J did something that trip, something she didn’t even know she did, and I am eternally grateful for.

Suffering from Depression and Anxiety, fraternal twins whose biggest characteristic is lying, isn’t easy and although I have been doing very well since admitting compassion for my Inner Bitch, I still get doubts every now and then.  I tend to feel that I am constantly being judged on my parenting and on the shear fact of if I should even be allowed to parent.  Crazy, yes?  Depression and Anxiety lie a lot.  I tend to think that my friends would never leave their child for a play date with Sophia because of how delusional and mentally broken I became early 2015.  I tend to think that is the person they see.  I know, still ridiculous, but I believe this.

Now, of course, being in Disney, this was not a play date situation.  We were in Epcot the last day in line for Spaceship Earth deciding who would go with who.  J’s oldest, who is 3 1/2, wanted to ride with Sophia.  J agreed as long as I was in the car with them.  For the length of this ride, a few minutes, she trusted him with me knowing my full history.  It was a confidence I needed, a person who really believed I was fully capable at not only keeping and eye on and parenting my child but also keeping an eye on hers.

I was six and she was four and 30 years later going from playing house with dolls to having our own children, we are still Besties.  We care for each other and our families.  We love each other.  And, we trust each other.  Thank you J!  Thank you for trusting me and helping me see, that I am a good parent and a good person!  Love you and miss you! My younger sister!

EMDR, The Room, & My Inner Bitch…

How many of us can admit that we are our own worst enemy?  That we judge ourselves more than we judge others?  That we self-loathe, self hate, self deteriorate?  Everyone who suffers from Depression can answer these questions with a blunt, “ME, I do!”  This part that harshly judges me, I’ve dubbed my Inner Bitch and she has been in control of me for so long.

While recently battling my demons that were deeply buried from my Postpartum Depression and Anxiety days, my EMDR therapist has also been trying to tackle a plethora of Blocking Beliefs I have.  I am proud to say I have been able to reprogram myself to remove many of them including the belief that I don’t deserve to get better.  The biggest one I have been tackling lately has been, “It has been so long, I don’t think I will ever get better!”.  Oh, this is a biggie and guess who keeps beating it into my brain… yes, my Inner Bitch.  It is now sixteen months and while there is massive improvement with my thoughts, there is still a bit more to go.

My therapist had discussed when I first started EMDR several grounding exercises we would do at the end of each session to help me relax and get calm (these 2 words aren’t in my vocabulary).  The one he first used was the Container Exercise.  In this exercise, you are supposed to think of a container, anything you could put something in, place whatever was discussed in that session in there, cover it and (hopefully) forget about it until next week.  Well this seemingly easy exercise took a turn for me.  I had the perfect ‘Container’.  The Room of Requirement from Harry Potter.   Only problem is he didn’t tell me to NOT place myself in this room, just to place the memory.  I am stuck in this Room.  I had written about this in a past post:  Room Of Requirement – Part 1 .  This post is dated December 11, 2015.  I am still not able to step out of this Room.  I am stuck.  My feet are glued down to the stone floors with a muck-like substance.  Stuck in this room and on Month 5.

I’ve been able to turn my body at my waist and been able to lift my feet with tendrils of muck attached to them.  That’s about it.

Two weeks ago, my therapist had me once again staring into this room.  Eyes closed, I could see out of the corner of my left eye the sunshine from the Gothic window opening.  In front of me was an old wooden shelf unit, nicked from years of wear and tear and covered with a nice layer of dust and cobwebs.

“I’m staring at something straight in front of me at eye level.  I can’t make out what it is, it is too covered in dust.”

“Okay, just go with that,” he said.  This phrase is constant throughout our sessions.

Out of nowhere, Sophia, at her present age, appeared between the bookcase and myself.  She’s smiling up at me but I am too focused on what is on the shelf behind her.

“What do you think this means?” my therapist asks with a newborn smile on his face.

I don’t want to admit what it means, but with each round of EMDR we do that I don’t admit the truth, Sophia’s smile slowly turns into a huge frown.  At last, “Sophia represents the present.  She is upset with me that I am so focused on what is behind her, and not in the present.”

“Ah, that is very interesting.  Out of curiosity, let’s try this… do you think this Room of Requirement could be a metaphor for something else?”

I instantly knew and presented the answer at this week’s session, “The Room is a metaphor for my brain.  The items within are memories.”  This puts a smile on my therapist’s face.  Apparently, now we are getting somewhere.  When we started the first round of EMDR I was once back in this room battling with my brain, yelling at it to let me out of this Room already.  I was done, exhausted, so tired from the last 16 months.  Desperation was setting in.  I saw myself fall to the floor of the Room almost in the fetal position.

“Do you notice anything else?”

I held the Tappers in my hands, closed my eyes and saw myself on the floor like a wilted flower.  I was crying.  I no longer cared so strongly about what was on that damn shelf.  I cared about me.  I cared about how drained I was.  I cared about how sad I was.  I cared about how sickly I looked.  I cared about my pain.

My therapist asked me what I saw or felt and my response was:

“I seemed to have developed compassion for my Inner Bitch.”

The days since this session (it was last Monday), I have seemed to turn a corner.  This revelation has made me happy and content.  I have had enough of my Inner Bitch and realize that she was the one stuck in this Room, the one I left crying on the floor exhausted.  Now that she is weakened, I can take back control.  I can become the beast I once was, the beautiful self-confident inspirational Warrior and I can’t wait.


I used to be strong.  I was strong physically.  I was strong mentally.  I was strong emotionally.  When I was all these things I was Super Stephanie, a woman who exuded self confidence, who inspired people to become the best versions of themselves because I, I was the best version of myself.  I was a beast!  Then I broke.  My pieces shattered all around me plaguing each step I took because if I stepped on a shard of myself, I would break into more pieces.  The more pieces, the harder to put back together.  I’ve been here before, more than a handful of times and have recovered to become Super Stephanie time and time again within six months or so.  Now, almost a year and a half later, Super Stephanie is still lost in some black hole deep in my head as just little shards remain.

I read and admittedly save a lot of inspirational quotes about strength and mental illness.  I do this to believe that I do have some strength left in me.  Quotes like these swirl through my mind, my kindle, my phone…



Strength… do you know how hard it is to believe you’re strong when all you feel is weak?  I am flat out exhausted with these last sixteen months of battling my Anxiety and Depression with some mild PTSD thrown in there.  I’m tired.  I’m at times empty.  But, I am still here, because like the mantra above with the lion, being strong is the only choice I have.

Over the last few days, I have been a mental and emotional mess going from extreme anxiety that had my hands in tight fists, heart pounding and hyperventilating, to being a void crying and trying to keep my eyes open because it was only two in the afternoon.  Using the roller coaster metaphor, I was up and down the whole weekend.  There may have been some corkscrews in there.  Last night, I had an epiphany as to why this may be happening (aside from other stressors in my life which are an issue)…

Sixteen months!  Sixteen months of being so mentally strong, that it drained me of all physical and emotional strength.  I admit it. I am upset with myself.  Packing for my family’s vacation next week irked me.  Half my summer clothes didn’t fit.  I had gained weight.  I knew this.  I can keep blaming my medication, which majority of them do cause weight gain, but I also know it is the absence of Strong Stephanie. Strong Stephanie did 5 workouts a week, 45 minutes or more, burning at least 400 calories each workout.  Exercise was my high, it was my best working antidepressant.  It was my only antidepressant.  Sapped Stephanie is lucky if she walks at lunch 3/week and hikes once on the weekend.  I am physically on empty and lack motivation to even start because I am so impatient, I want results now.

But it is not just the physical strength I desire, I want the trifecta, I want all three.  Once I am physically strong, my mental health will improve which in turn will improve my emotional health, the latter has been going through roller coaster after roller coaster.  Once I am Strong, I can wean of the medications.  I am just so confused on where to start.  The Anxiety within me plays Pong with hundreds of exercise ideas but has me shaking at which one to choose (Gym, Boot Camp, Zumba…). EMDR therapy has my mentality and emotions jumping once a week but training them to be stronger. How do I help the physical side?  How do I get my ass into gear?  How do I do this and still get my required 8 hours of sleep because of the Lunesta I take?

How do I bring Strong Stephanie back?

How do I become the strongest, best, inspirational version of myself?

Not One Smile…

For the last month or two during EMDR therapy, my therapist has tried very hard to penetrate the rock-like protection I keep around my postpartum memories.  These memories were so deeply buried that the strongest jackhammer wasn’t getting to them.  We had made brief success by making me realize I need to have compassion for my Postpartum self and I am beginning to, but the more hurting, the more raw, the more emotional memories, were still very much deeply buried.

It was in one such session, I did slip out that I had never grieved over that time period.  I never grieved for myself or for Sophia.  I never let myself unravel for never getting a typical postpartum period.  I never lamented the lack of love I had for my baby.  Ultimately, my deeply buried memories were rising to the surface themselves, my therapist the grave digger exhuming them.  When discovering this, he told me to take some time at home, alone, with pictures during that first year and let the mourning begin.  Because I have been so busy, this did not occur until yesterday.

I arose yesterday already feeling different.  A few days of happiness, or I should say contentment, for me are usually followed by a few Anxiety-filled days or, in this case, Depression-filled days.  I was off.  Irritability crept in early followed by sadness, anger, hypervigilence and the worst, emptiness.  I faked any idea of normality yesterday.  Since I had some spare time, I figured I would create a graphic to use for the upcoming Climb Out Of The Darkness for Postpartum Progress to try to ignite donations, using myself as the victim.  I sat at my laptop and opened the file under Pictures labeled “Sophia Faye”.  I then proceeded to open the folders labeled “2006” and “2007”.  With each picture I glanced at, my eyes welled up with tears until finally they exploded.

For the first year of Sophia’s life, there is not one picture of me with her where I am smiling.  Not one smile…

The pictures start two months after her birth.  I have no pictures of her and I those first two months except for the day she was born.  Because of the Postpartum Depression and Anxiety rapidly increasing in those first two months, pictures were the farthest thing from my mind.  But because of this, I have no way of remembering her first Halloween, nor her first Thanksgiving.  All I remember during those 2 months is how many times I had to visit my therapist and psychiatrist and ultimately how I ended up in the short term psychiatric ward at the hospital.  I wish I could remember her coos, her smiles caused by gas, just her.

After these first two months, there are sporadic photos of me holding Sophia.  As I held her, looking into my eyes, you can see how drugged up I was, how emotionless I was.  My fake smile was more like a smirk.  I was acting the part of mother and I was doing horribly bad at it.  Over the next few months, the druggie face starts to fade and the smirk becomes slightly fuller trying really hard to be a smile, but it isn’t.  My eyes, instead of looking like an addict, look blank and empty.  I am tempting the photographer to see the real me while attempting to cover it up.

Months and months, still not one smile, one REAL smile.

It wasn’t until I came across a photo from September 2007, 11 months after Sophia was born, where my eyes were happy.  They sparkled, twinkled, danced, while I held my daughter.  Eleven months I spent tragically suffering from no emotion, from a type of death, from crippling postpartum illnesses. I stared at this photo in more detail.  Still mostly a smirk on my face, but it slightly resembled a smile.  There was some emotion behind it.  I was not a zombie anymore.  I was not a robot anymore. I was human again.

Eleven months I spent living a hell where my brain was playing the devil.  Eleven months I spent acting out motherly duties to take care of my daughter but not remembering or even caring about any of it.  Eleven months I spent looking at my daughter wondering why I was her mother instead of someone “normal”, she deserved so much more.

These pictures, these memories, were buried for many reasons deep within myself.  They are hard to process.  Not loving your child and being able to see it on your own face is something I wish no mother ever has to go through.  I lost that time when Sophia was just beginning to discover the world around her.  I can’t get it back and I will never have that opportunity again.  For this I mourn, I grieve, I ache.

Eleven months, and not one smile.