Turning My Life Into A Book

I should’ve titled this, “Petrified, In Need of Confidence”!

Last year after one of my good friends published her first book I started to think about writing myself.  I had a remarkable talent for it when I was younger.  I was actually in Creative Writing Talent at my Junior High, had a poem published in high school, and turned the sport of bowling into a semi erotic poem in a college class.  So, why the lack of confidence?

I feel as if when the real world set in (job, marriage, child), adulthood, the creative part of my brain sold its living space and found a new host.  I used to write stories, poems, digiscrap, do crafts… Now, there is an empty spot in my brain that says, “VACATED, SPACE FOR RENT” and it has been that way for years.

So, as I was saying, my good friend wrote a book and it got me thinking, not creatively (remember, that part left) but logically… I used to write.  I’ve always wanted to publish a book and lastly, what I’ve been taught through the years, write what you know.

What do I know?  I’m a pretty ordinary person.  I have a daughter.  I can write about her.  No, nope, been done before.  I work.  I can write about that.  Who wants to read a book about me working?!  I suffered from Depression and Anxiety since age 14…  BINGO!

I started writing.  Jumping around from one bout of Depression to the next and then stopped.  Why did I stop? I once again fell victim (Great, more ammo for my book).

Recently I’ve started to write my book again.  It has a working title the same as my blog, “Rising From The Ashes: My 20+ Year Battle With Depression And Anxiety”.  I am nowhere near done with my first manuscript.  Baby steps.  But, I’ve started.

So why am I lacking confidence?  I’m scared no one will read it.  Who cares about some 30 something’s battle with mental illness? I’m scared my creative writing ability will not move back in and remove the vacate sign.  I’m scared it will be used against me.

Yet, I am still writing it.  I’m writing it for those who suffer like I did and remain in silence.  I write for professionals to get a first-hand look into a patient.  I write for myself.

Happy 3rd Birthday Tyler!!! (Letting Go…)

My Little Boy,

Today you turn 3.  I used to dwell on all the things that went wrong, blaming myself for everything and ultimately living in the past.  But, beating myself up is not something that should be done on a happy occasion such as your 3rd Birthday.  Instead, I am going to think of all the happy times we had when you were here and how much you grew.

You learned to talk with us becoming quite a chatterbox by the time you left.  Phrases such as “Coffee Time”, “Penguin, Penguin, Snowman”, “Christmas Tree”, “It’s A Mommy” still linger in my head.  You slept in a big boy bed.  You began to eat food… this is a biggie!  No more caloric shakes.  You also began to reject foods like a typical toddler.  You learned to love and play and be the boy you should be.  You have made such an impact on my life.  You will always remain in my heart.

So on a great day like today, I wish you all the happiness in the world and all the love a person can have because you are a special little boy who deserves everything.  Although I can picture a Blues Clues Birthday Party in my head that will never be, I know somewhere you are having a great celebration.

Sophia, Daddy and I decided to throw you a little celebration of our own, what we could do… to let go of the past and wish you a bright future.  We each released a balloon with our own wish for you on it in hopes that it will get to you.

Sophia chose Elmo for you.

Daddy chose a Monkey Balloon
I chose Mickey Mouse.

Letting go and hoping they reach you!

After that we lit a candle in a cupcake and wished you a Happy 3rd Birthday!

Happy 3rd Birthday My Little Boy!

With this I will close my letter to you.  Just know that we think of you all the time and will always love you.

Love, Your Former Foster Mommy

“Happy” Me vs. The Real Me

I’ve just read this great blog entry from the Project Helping Founder and CEO.  Everything he wrote in it was so familiar it was absolutely scary.
Here is the blog post.  I encourage you to read it:
Running From Myself 
The premise of the blog post is the constant battle he had between his “Happy” self and his Real self.  It got me thinking about my “Happy” self and my Real self.
Most people with Depression have 2 selves… The fake one, or “Happy” one, we put on for others to hide or Real self, the one that constantly suffers with mental and physical pain.  Ask anyone who has suffered from Depression and most likely they will agree to the constant battle.
Now, why do we put on the fake happy face?
Many reasons.  Stigma.  Hiding.  Confusion.  You name it, there is a good reason.  I would imagine the stigma behind mental illness is a biggie.  There are still so many people who fear the reactions of their friends and family that they put on a “happy” face.  I know several of these people who have privately confided in me.  I am glad they did tell me, I am glad that by me coming forward I am helping those in silence.
For me it was definitely the stigma in the beginning.  I was a teenager after all.  I was being judged on a daily basis for so many other things why add mental illness as ammunition?!
As the years passed, I still hid myself behind the stigma for fear of losing friends, employment, etc.  It wasn’t until after suffering from Postpartum Depression that I broke the mask I was hiding behind and became an advocate of breaking the stigma.  After this, my real self stayed hidden due to confusion on why I was suffering and the internalizing of my feelings I didn’t feel others needed to see.
The problem with having these 2 selves is the battle, like a real war, is massively draining in all areas.  Because of this duel between my Real self and my “Happy” self, I usually end up erupting with full blown crying fits, anxiety attacks and a body ache that my mind produced.
They call Depression a hidden disease for a reason.  You can’t look out in the public and pinpoint someone suffering but they are there, more than you’d like to guess.  Just realize underneath someone’s smile, their “Happy” face, could be a person who is inwardly suffering, inwardly at war with themselves.
I encourage any of my readers to talk with someone if they are hiding the battle.  Take the next step and get help.

Making Amends… I’m Sorry…

Last night I had a dream.  Actually, I was deep into this dream when my alarm clock went off at 7am this morning…

…Wake up, don’t sleep your life away…

Normally, I will gladly wake up but today I didn’t want to get out of bed.  I didn’t want to leave the dream.  In the dream I got to see Tyler.  I didn’t want to leave him.

There was more to this dream then seeing Tyler which is why I call this the “Making Amends” dream.  I was at Tyler’s daycare waiting for him to show up, to be dropped off by his new Daddy or Mommy (still pains me to say that). It seemed as if I was an employee there but not sure.  Every time the door opened someone I wanted to apologize to walked through.

… Daycare Manager & Assistant Manager…

… Daycare workers in Tyler’s room…

… Birth to Three Workers…

… Tyler’s Social Worker…

During this dream I had deep conversations with the Birth to Three people profusely apologizing that I screwed things up, I let them down.  We went into how he was doing and how they would be leaving him soon too since he’ll be turning 3 in a week.

Then I turned toward my right and Tyler’s social worker was standing there.  I once again apologized as I never got the chance to speak to him since before Tyler left.  I was ashamed and still am.  I was in the middle of talking to him (or should I say crying) when Tyler walked in.  It was in that moment that I turned to look at him and smiled that my alarm clock went off…

… Wake up, don’t sleep your life away…

This time I wanted to.  I wanted to dive back into the dream.  I wanted to hug him, to kiss him, to apologize to him and my stupid Cow alarm clock stole that from me.  It stole the most important thing, making amends with the adorable little boy I once called my son.

… Wake up, don’t sleep your life away…

Thinking about it now I wish I threw that clock across the room out of anger of that stolen moment.  Then again the damn clock is right.  There would be no good in sleeping my life away trying to enter that dream world again.  I’d miss those around me now that I constantly say I’m sorry to, those I love deeply and hope love me still.

Making amends… I know it’s part of many addiction 12 step programs but I wonder if there should be a 12 step program for those who put their loved ones through hell due to Depression and Anxiety.

Step 1… Breathe
Step 2… Therapy 
Step 3… Medication
Step 4… Meditation
Step 5… Make Amends

And so on.  In my dream all those people I apologized to accepted and told me it wasn’t my fault.  I wasn’t in control of my body and mind.  I was sick.  I still wonder though if these individuals would really accept my apology including my former son.

… Wake up, don’t sleep your life away…

Just wish this time I could’ve, just to hold Tyler once again.  To hug him, give him one last kiss on his cheek and tell him, “I’m so sorry.”

The Thinker

I’ve come to the realization that when suffering from Depression I become The Thinker.  My mind races between a million different thoughts…

… Did I pack my lunch? What do I do if I didn’t?…

… Did I pack Sophia’s lunch? Oh my god, what if I didn’t? What is she going to do?…

… Is Sophia going to have an Anxiety Attack today?  Is she going to learn coping skills already? Did I pass my mental illness to her?…

… Oh my god, what if i did?…

… I’m horrible.  I don’t deserve my husband and daughter.  I am the reason they are without a son/brother…

In the blink of an eye my thoughts went from continuous worrying to negativity about myself.  Unfortunately, this happens often.  It’s a very good thing I’m medicated.  It was these thoughts that landed me back in the hospital over a month ago.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about Tyler.  We would’ve been celebrating his 3rd birthday this month.  Last night I caved and looked at his picture.  Tears began to fall.  Tears because it was my fault that we weren’t going to celebrate his birthday.  My fault that he wasn’t with us anymore.  I am my worst critic.  Once again the Depression showed its ugly face and I began to beat myself up again with negative thoughts…

… I’m horrible.  I don’t deserve my husband and daughter.  I am the reason they are without a son/brother… 

I don’t deserve to be loved…

I cried.  I cried some more.  I put his picture away and wiped away my tears, but the anxiety was there, the thoughts were there.  Luckily, the medication I’m prescribed for sleep, Seraquil, (This was at night) clears my head like my anti Anxiety meds.  The thoughts stopped and I fell asleep.

I was lucky last night but there are times during the day where my thoughts race and they always go from worrying to negativity about myself.  I constantly call myself evil, undeserving, horrible…  It’s a never-ending cycle while under Depression’s spell.

But the sun still shines.  With the medication I get stronger.  With therapy I get stronger.  With exercise I get stronger.  Instead of crying daily, I’m now crying weekly and soon it will be less.  I’m hopeful when my thoughts aren’t racing.  I know I’ll return to the old me, but a stronger one.  It just takes time.

Admitting I’m Certifiably Crazy

My first hospital stay started November 16th, 2006, exactly one month after the birth of my daughter.  Although I needed to admit myself to short term psych it was extremely hard for me to come to the conclusion that I was being hospitalized in a psych ward… It was hard for me to realize that I was indeed, now certifiably crazy.  I was amongst so many other people in for various reasons… Depression, Schizophrenia, Anxiety, Addiction.  I thought of myself as the most normal one there.  After all, I was only “crazy” because of the hormone drop from having a baby.  I wasn’t like these other people!

But, I was and still am.

While there all of us patients had to attend various group therapies.  We had Morning Meeting where we would pick inspirational quotes and our goal for the day.  We had art therapy.  We had actual group therapy where we shared our stories and then Wrap Up at night to see if we achieved our goals.

Day 1 that I was there still believing I wasn’t mentally ill I did not join group.  By day 2 the nurses and therapists forced me downstairs.  I went to group but remained exceptionally quiet.  I just listened to all the “crazy” people speak.  It still didn’t click.

Then, one day, an older gentleman spoke about his Depression and how because of holding out for help his wife and daughter had abandoned him.  Years that he could’ve gotten help… Years he could’ve had with his family… just wasted.  It wasn’t until he described his symptoms that I realized I wasn’t just crazy for the first time now.  Sure the hormonal drop didn’t help but like him I experienced the anger, the verbal abuse, the crying, the sleep changes, the food changes and ultimately, the distancing.

He and I actually became good acquaintances while there in short term psych.  I pushed him to call his daughter and he pushed me to get better for mine so I wouldn’t turn out like him.

I left 12 days after I admitted myself into the loving arms of my husband, daughter, parents, sister and inlaws.  These are the only people outside of the hospital who knew my diagnosis.  I was embarrassed to be labeled “Mentally Ill”… Certifiably Crazy.  I fed the stigma.  I didn’t tell friends for a long time because I thought they would abandon me.  I mean who wants a friend with a mental illness?! After all it took me days in the hospital to realize I was mentally ill, that I belonged there.  How would others feel when the stigma over mental illness just grew more and more over the years?!

Once I decided to tell other people, I was not abandoned but accepted.  They wanted to help me.  A few were mad I never told them I was in the hospital.  They wanted to visit.

It was because of this overwhelming support that I became such an advocate to dismissing false information about people with mental illness.  I decided to tell anyone who would listen to my story… Not just my postpartum story… but my story since my first bout of Depression at 14.  I continue this now with this blog.  Yes, I may be medicated under the eyes of a psychiatrist and in therapy, labeled with mental illness, but I honestly am a relatively normal person.  I don’t exhibit behaviors of a crazy person stereotype but I am one.  I am turning my experience into help for others… I am helping to tear down the wall called ‘Stigma’.

Mommy Is Not Going To Kill Herself

Recently Sophia has forced me to listen to a popular local radio station.  Normally, I enjoy what I call classic rock (or 80s rock which makes me feel old now that it’s called ‘classic’).  I gave in to her request being that her recital songs play on this station and I wanting to be a cool mom decided to learn today’s music.  Honestly, with what comes next it wouldn’t of mattered what radio station was on. 

On our day off, Presidents Day, my 8 year old daughter and I had a day of fun.  This day included the most fun activity of all… visiting my psychiatrist.  Note sarcasm.  Because of this I had to go to CVS to pick up my monthly medications.  Sophia was with me.  While we waited for them to be filled, Sophia was perusing the magazines…  Then she asked…

“What’s going on with Bobbi Kristina (Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown’s daughter)?”

Tough one.  How do I explain this, mental illness, anxiety, depression and ultimately suicide to an 8 year old who suffers from anxiety herself and tends to turn everything into a catastrophe?!  I thought about this for a minute. 

Some of you will diagree with me about talking to Sophia about this but being that she can read, suffers herself and has just witnessed her mother’s breakdown, I felt I had to tell her something.

I told Sophia that Bobbi Kristina suffers from Depression like Mommy does.  I then explained that some people who suffer from Depression feel that the only way to escape their pain and sadness is by taking their own life.  I quickly followed that with…

“Don’t worry, Mommy is not going to kill herself.  I’ve never ever had those thoughts.  I’ve only had thoughts of running away.  I NEVER had thoughts of killing myself.”

I had no idea what would follow as Sophia’s Anxiety Attacks can be triggered by almost anything and forces her to freak out at a moments notice.

Then she asked about herself.  I told her for Mommy Anxiety is a major cause of my Depression but I’m an adult.  I told her I know what to look for in her and right now Anxiety is her only issue.

Luckily, my explanation was enough for her and no anxiety attack followed.

Well, Sophia is a big thinker.  She constantly thinks about everything.  In the car this morning listening to her radio station, the DJ started to list off some news items starting with Bobbi Kristina and how she was still on life support but getting worse and her organs were beginning to fail.  Sophia perked up and once again asked about her. 

I explained that Bobbi Kristina must have been really depressed and tried to take her own life but she didn’t succeed.  She then asked if she was okay.  I told her that although she is still alive, she did a lot of damage to her body and most likely she will die soon.

Sophia then asked, “Mommy, are you going to do that?”

“No sweetie.  Mommy is not going to kill herself.”

She then told me how she was going to talk with her therapist about this at the next appointment and added that maybe she shouldn’t listen to this radio station.

All this has left me in awe of her.  At 8, she’s picked up news by reading magazine covers and by little snippets on the radio.  I can’t hide everything from her.  Most of me wanted to brush off the topic and lie to her telling her Bobbi would be okay but I just couldn’t.  This little girl has seen me shaking, crying, dry heaving, delusional.  She’s seen me at my worst and is old enough to remember and know Mommy is sick.  This little girl suffers herself with Anxiety which makes her nauseous and delusional.  I had to tell her something.

Mental Illness is real.  It affects all ages.  It plays with your mind.  It plays with your body.  Unfortunately, it can occur in children.  Unfortunately, children can witness their parents.  My child both suffers and has witnessed her mother’s suffering.  I chose to explain it to her in a way an 8 year old would understand.  I chose to break the stigma.

Less Of A Mother

I am a blessed mother of one, an only child.  She’s growing into such a young lady.  Sophia is kind, loving, strong willed and stubborn (like her mom). She’s also amazingly talented in the arts (my lefty!). 

And at 5 she was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.  So yes, my beautiful daughter has issues.  She is emotional, a huge worrier that tends to turn everything into a catastrophe.  There are times her anxieties will last 5 minutes and times they have lasted over an hour.

I am a mother to an only child, an only child with issues and still I feel like less of a mother than those who have more than one.  I feel I have no right to give any parenting advice even if it is about raising a girl or raising a child with anxiety.

I feel like less of a mom.  I tried mothering 2 and my mind and body broke down.  They told me I can only physically mother 1.  As I suffer with this bout of Depression and Anxiety I can’t help but to beat myself up even more.  I’m less of a mother because I only have 1 child.

Am I though?  So I don’t have a sibling for my daughter.  She’s still not a stereotypical only child.  She’s a great kid.  She’s a great student excelling in reading and writing.  She’s nice to all her classmates.  She’s empathetic to others emotions.  She’s a great kid that has issues.

And yet that nagging negative Stephanie, the one that suffers from Depression and Anxiety still feels like less of a mom.  Maybe it’s because I always imagined I’d  have more kids and because my body broke down trying to mother 2, I am less of a mom. 

Maybe that actually makes me a stronger mother.  My body told me I couldn’t do it and I listened after trying too hard. 

Being a mom to an only is simple to most.  I constantly hear the following:

“Well you only have one, how hard could it be?!”

“There’s two of you (parents) to one child, that’s so much easier”

“You have no idea the battles we have with our kids” (To this I usually add, I  may only have 1 BUT I am 1 of 3)

“You probably have so much money because you only have one child.”

Hearing these aids in making me feel like I’m less of a mother, especially as I battle Depression and Anxiety again.  It will take quite some time and therapy for me to not feel like “Less Of A Mom.”

When the Joy Fades…

When my beautiful baby girl was born, I felt euphoric from the second I pushed her shoulders out.  I had never been so happy.  To know this little baby was all mine.  She was all I ever wanted since I was a child playing house with my dearest friend.  I would constantly pretend my Cabbage Patch kids were my babies.  I always wanted to be a mother.  Now I was one.
The pure glow continued as I was moved from Labor & Delivery into Recovery.  I saw elation on my husband’s face as he got to push the lullaby button marking the birth of our baby girl.  That lullaby plays throughout the hospital, a little joy.  Little did I know how much that lullaby would mean to me.
I held her… My Sophia Faye, my Wise Fairy.  She was so small but so beautiful.  I treasured her coos and even embraced her cries.  I was on a high and hoped I would never come down.  She stayed with me until bedtime so I could attempt to get as much sleep as possible before returning home where my sleepless nights would begin.  One night I awoke and started to freak because it was 5 hours since she was brought to me for feeding.  The worry was beginning.  Where was my baby girl?!  I made Jimmy go get her.  The nurses didn’t bring her because she was asleep and one thing you learn is never wake a sleeping baby.
The day came to bring her home.  This child I brought forth into the world.  Seriously, people were entrusting her life to me?!  I felt like a child myself and I was 26.  Things seemed to be going well until Jimmy was called in to work.  Some 2 weeks off.  His boss claimed it was because our child arrived 2.5 weeks early.  Out of the 10 days he should’ve been home with me, he was home 4 of them.  My mother did come to help.
Feeding was another issue.  My baby girl had no issues latching but she just felt like it was sleepy time once she did.  Okay, no problem, I would supplement with formula.  Even then I began to worry she wasn’t gaining weight.  I began to worry that she didn’t cry enough.  I worried she was too hot or too cold.  With all this worry, I started to have issues sleeping.  This should’ve been clue #1.
Two weeks after her birth the Baby Blues I was experiencing quickly turned into Postpartum Depression.  Aside from lack of sleep, I was barely eating and whatever went in me was quickly thrown up.  Crying was an event that occurred at least 6 times a day.  Then the thoughts moved in.
“What have I done?!”
“Her crying makes me want to rip my hair out.”
“They’d be better off without me.”
“I’m useless.”
“I hate her.  I hate myself for hating her. “
“I can’t stand to be around her, I can’t stand to be around me.”
“I wish I could turn back time.”
“I’m going to run away!”
That last thought plagued my mind for the 2 weeks before entering myself in short term psych for the first time.  I planned everything from when, to going to the bank to withdraw money, but always froze on where to go.  I was torn.  I didn’t want to be alone but I didn’t want Jimmy or my parents to find out.
Exactly 1 month after my baby girl was born I was brought to the emergency room by my mother.  Jimmy left work to meet us there and my sister was watching Sophia.  In the ER I began to tremble like I never have before.  The anxiety kicked in.  Silly me wanted to come because I was worried I was malnourished since I was constantly vomiting.  Once in the room the only doctor brought to me was the psychiatrist.  The same psychiatrist I just recently saw for a consult.  She questioned me and felt I needed to be admitted.  Her next question was, “Are you willing to admit yourself?”
I thought about this.  I thought about what I was doing to Jimmy, my mother, my father, my sister, and Sophia.  Reluctantly, I answered yes. 
This was the beginning to me getting better.  This was day 1 of twelve days I would be there.  12 days of therapy.  12 days of playing with my medication.  12 days of discovering things about me.  12 days to understand the Postpartum Depression that overtook me like an alien.

Yesterday…

Jimmy and I took a big step.  After asking Sophia how she would feel, we finally opened the door to Tyler’s old room.  This door has remained closed since he left on January 2nd.  At first it remained shut for me.  I was far too emotionally unstable and cried at the site of anything that was his that remained behind.  As the weeks passed, I told myself it should remain shut as to not hurt Sophia… As I hate to cause her pain.

When we came home last night the door was open.  Jimmy was airing out the room.  I peered inside and although there was an emotional feeling of melancholy, I did not cry.  My medication must be working.  So, I asked Sophia if we could keep the door open.  She was hesitant not because of her feelings but she was worried about me.  My 8 year old should not bear the stress of worrying about her Mommy.

So, the door is now open.  I looked inside this morning at the bed he used to sleep in, the carseat that used to be in my car, and the highchair that used to adorn our dining area.  I could see him in all these visions.  Tears began to well up but then they stopped.  I am not the best Mommy for him and I know that.  I could’ve been had I not fallen victim to Anxiety and Depression once again, but I did.  I thought about how we helped him and about how he will find the best Mommy and Daddy for him.  That made me smile.

I will full out admit that I broke down crying a few days ago when I found his fall jacket in the closet.  I inhaled it… To smell him again, to not forget.  Then I put the jacket in the clothes donation pile.  After, I walked into his old room and took his throw that was left behind and sat on my bed.  I cried.  I inhaled him. I hugged it close and 5 minutes later my eyes were dry. 

The throw still remains on my bed.