My daughter is a bright, caring, empathetic, preteen girl. Most days she has a smile on her face that melts her mom’s heart. She is typical preteen, mostly caring about binge-watching shows on Netflix or catching up on her friend’s latest YouTube videos featuring her fave, Beanie Boos. She does well in school, is friendly to everyone, and is respectful of others.
She also has Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
When she was diagnosed at age 6, I did everything I could to help her. I got her into a special group at her school, inquired information from her doctor and read up on anything I could get my hands on. I have plenty of experience with adult GAD, but I haven’t a clue on what to do for childhood Anxiety. The school group helped immensely and then she aged out of the program. She was doing well until a major life event occurred in our household. We were fostering-to-adopt but had to give this child back to DCF because of my declining mental health. Her GAD came back full force. This time we sought out therapy. While she got help, so did I for my Depression and Anxiety.
In the last 2 ½ years, my daughter has been doing great with only minor hiccups.
Then we decided to move to give her a better education as she starts Middle School, another major life change.
My husband and I do not hide things from her and she knew from the beginning about the move. She helped us in choosing where we would live (ultimately her input was minor). We wanted her to embrace this change. She was excited as she will be in school with her best friend now. We thought she was handling this well.
And then sleep disturbances set in.
My daughter has always been a good sleeper; I have never experience this before even with her past episodes of GAD. As the moving date approaches, her sleep disturbances have become full fledge episodes of Insomnia and I, as her mother, feel completely helpless. Here I am, a woman who has struggled with Depression and Anxiety for most of my life and I can’t help her. For me, the solution comes in the form of medication that I take nightly. For her, at age 10, there is no medicinal help. At first we tried simple solutions by telling her to read, it will tire her eyes. That didn’t work.
As night 3 was approaching, I became extremely concerned. I could vividly remember what I felt like and how I reacted to night 4 of Insomnia for me. I remember the tears and the strong desire to sleep. I remember the immense amount of thoughts that bounced in and out of my mind. I remember the extreme irritation and delusional thinking I had during the day. I was desperate to give my child relief.
I suggested she use my weighted blanket. She refused.
I suggested mindfulness meditation. She refused.
I suggested my Therapist’s 4-square breathing technique (breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds, repeat 4 times) which has worked for me a few times. She was hesitant but decided to give it a shot. It didn’t work.
Night 4 brought on the only pseudo-medicinal thing I could try with her… Melatonin. I cut my 3mg pill in half. Nope, still didn’t work. She was in tears. She just wanted to sleep and I completely understood this all too well. I explained that she needed to distract herself, try not to just lay in bed. I suggested reading, writing, journaling, drawing, coloring and lastly, watching stuff on her Kindle (which I set to the night mode that turns off the harming blue light). She slept only 7 hours that night, barely enough for an adult.
Last night, night 5, I finally convinced her to use my weighted blanket. I thought we may have found the solution as all was quiet. Then I heard her come downstairs at 11pm. After about 15 minutes, she returned to her room. This morning she said that she sat crying in her room and eventually fell asleep around midnight. She woke up at 6:10am. 6 hours of sleep.
I don’t know what to do. She is declining rapidly. The recommended amount of sleep for a child her age is 9-12 hours. She has not had anywhere close to this in five days. My sleep is becoming disturbed worrying about her. I do not know how to help her anymore. I am struggling as I feel the sense of blame coming back… she is like this because of me. My GAD worries that she will never sleep again, always jumping to the worst conclusion. I cry for her. I blame myself for her struggles with this illness. I am pondering therapy again, but that isn’t going to fix her problem quickly. How can I help my daughter?
It all seemed to happen so quickly. I knew something wasn’t right with you. First it just seemed like you were coughing up fur balls. Typical for a feline who constantly cleaned herself. Then something changed. The vomiting occurred every time you ate and for the most part lacked fur. This was not just typical hair balls anymore. Then you stopped eating altogether. A trip to the Vet was imminent.
After about a month of seeing you get progressively worse, I finally took you to the Vet. Frankly, I didn’t care if Daddy didn’t agree. He held his stance that the Vet wasn’t needed until I told him the visit would be covered under the Senior Care Plan we bought for you. That was Tuesday last week. The physical exam didn’t yield anything but I opted for a bloodwork panel and X-rays. Something was wrong. A Mother knows. It would be 1 – 2 days to get the results back. We opted to board you for the night and pick you up the next day, Wednesday. In the meantime, the Vet gave you and Anti-nausea med via injection.
Your X-rays came back normal.
When you got home Wednesday evening, you were back to your old self again. Eating, although not as voraciously as you were known to eat. You laid with us, head butting us all for pets and head scratches. In the back of my mind there was a thought, that maybe, just maybe this was a virus that has finally run its course. Similar instances with past pets should have told me otherwise. Thursday morning, I fed you like normal expecting to come home to an empty food bowl and a multitude of meows for more.
I was wrong.
The Vet said the med was only good for 24 hours and she was right. Where were the blood test results?!
Impatient, Friday morning I called the Vet asking about your blood work. I was told that everything came back normal with exception to your liver enzymes which were elevated to 350 when the normal was 10 – 100. There was no concern in the Vet’s voice. They recommended the next step, and ultrasound. Although a high expense, we agreed. Friday, late afternoon I picked you up at home and drove the Veterinary Hospital a few towns away.
And waited some more.
They brought me into an exam room, told me you were handling things well, and then I waited some more.
When the Vet returned, I could tell something was wrong but I couldn’t tell just how grim the results would be. There was this look of sincere sadness. She sat down in the chair next to me and said, “I have bad news.”
I looked at her and realized that when I said to my boss earlier that day that I needed to leave work because my cat is most likely dying, I now spoke the truth.
She continued, “We found a large mass in her intestines.” And she proceeded to draw a diagram on a dry erase board she had in me. Tears were beginning to well up in the corners of my eyes. I remained strong. Then, “She has intestinal cancer.” That phrase sealed your fate.
She spoke gently and continued to tell us the measures we could take (we… I was sitting there alone absorbing all this). The highest level of care, also the most expensive, required a biopsy of the lump to see if it was lymphoma or carcinoma and then chemotherapy and possibly surgery. There was no way we could afford this. I hated thinking this, but it was true. I would’ve wanted to do anything to save you. The next level of care was hospice care. This required medicating you to make you more comfortable while you were dying. And lastly, was humane euthanasia.
The Vet and I discussed what was reasonable in your situation. She knew from my telling her and then her trying to do the ultrasound, that you were a bit stubborn and didn’t like ingesting pills. In fact, it was nearly impossible to “pill” you. There was a brief discussion on us learning how to inject you with medications. She said, she would either go the hospice or euthanasia route. At this point, the tears started flowing. I hated being there alone.
I chose to bring you home and to discuss the options with Daddy and Sophia basically knowing what we would choose. It wasn’t a hard decision, but it wasn’t an easy one either. We didn’t want you in pain. We didn’t want you to get worse. We wanted you to be pain free and relieved of suffering. Friday evening, we chose option 3, humane euthanasia. We also knew, we didn’t want to wait long. The longer the wait, the harder on all of us.
Saturday morning, we called your Vet and plans were made. At 3:10pm we would all go with you and be with you as you faded away. It was so hard to look at you that day knowing in only a few hours you would be gone. I was not ready to let you go, my Furry Princess, my Princess Fuzzybutt. I held you, rocked you, kissed your head. You licked me one last time. I cried incessantly. The cat that made me love cats. The cat that helped ease my anxiety. The cat that was one of the family.
Saturday afternoon came and the three of us walked somberly to the car, me holding your carrier. You meowed the whole way there. The candle was lit already when we walked in, marking the death of a beloved pet. They led us the cat room, explained everything to us and took you back to put a catheter in. We picked an urn, chose to get 3 clay pawprint hearts and then waited for your return. We were told that you had to be sedated to get the catheter in (no surprise since you hated anything medical). They brought you back and gave us a few moments. We all kissed you. I held you and already because of the sedation you felt like a dead weight. But I noticed your chest rise and fall.
The Vet returned with the syringe filled with an overdose of anesthesia. We laid you back on the cat bed and sat the bed on Sophia’s lap at her request. With one hand, I held Sophia’s and with the other I held your paw. The syringe was administered and almost instantly your chest ceased to rise and fall.
You had crossed over the Rainbow Bridge.
Finding it terribly hard to let go, I held you for a few moments longer and rocked you and kissed your smooth head. Then I gently placed your lifeless body back on the cat bed, kissed your once more, whispered for you to go chase the rabbits like you used to do in your dreams, and left.
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday… 5 days, and you were gone after 7 years with us. It is still debated how old you really were, somewhere between 8 – 12. Too young for death. Saturday and Sunday, Depression hit… 2 days full of tears and emptiness. It is easier now, the grieving. I still talk to you like you are right next to me offering you bits of smoked salmon and a shred of steak. I still imagine you curled up between Daddy and I on the loveseat downstairs at night. I still expect to wake up and hear your meowing and scratching at the door for food.
Silverbelle, we love you immensely and miss you so much. Please know that one day we will all be together again. RIP my furry child.
My Sweet Little Boy,
I can hardly believe it has been a little over two years since you left our home. I can still remember your toddler-self walking in circles around the house. I can still hear your voice so vividly as I would come down the stairs in the morning, you pointing at me, saying, “Look, it’s a Mommy!”. I can still feel the soft skin of your cheeks as I would hold your face in my hands right by your dimples and then place my lips on them.
And then I remember what happened next. I never wanted you to be a trigger for me. Countless hours as I would hear you talk yourself to sleep or cough made daggers pierce my heart. It was as if I was falling down, out of an airplane with no parachute, into another episode of Postpartum Depression. First, the severe anxiety that left me emaciated and riddled with shaking and hyperventilating. Many days towards the end, as you sat in the living room watching TV with Sophia, you remained oblivious of the delusions my mind and body played on me. Once you left, Depression set in… Badly.
Oh, my sweet boy, it was never you. You were never the problem. I was. Every day since you left, I wake up with you on my mind. You are also one of my last visions when I go to bed at night. Please know, I never stopped loving you since the moment I met you in August of 2014. I still love you that much now.
And now you are turning 5. I am completely in awe of this. In my eyes you are still this toddler discovering the world. I remember seeing you learn how to eat real food, how to interact with children your age, learning the true meaning of love. You made friends, you experienced holidays, you finally had a family who truly loved you and in return, you learned how to love back. I can only imagine the little boy you’ve turned into, with your tousled dark brown hair and deep sienna eyes. This big boy who will be starting Kindergarten in the fall. I wonder how much taller you’ve grown, if your reading, what you are into.
Everyday my heart yearns to see you, to know you are okay, cared for, loved for certain. And other moments, just when I think I would be okay seeing your face, my heart reminds me of my longing for you, the pain, the ache, the realization that you will never come back to me.
My Tyler, on your 5th birthday, I want you to know how loved you are. I don’t want you to ever feel abandoned. You are still adored by us. You are cherished by your forever family. You are cared for and loved deeply. You will always be special, especially to me. I did not birth you, but in those few months I had the pleasure of interacting with you, you gave me a new view on life and compassion.
Today, we will light 6 candles on a cake for you… five for your age and one more for good luck because Tyler, you deserve all the luck in the world and so much more.
Happy 5th Birthday my boy!
Your Former Foster Mommy
I didn’t know what ‘white privilege’ was until I attended the Warrior Mom Conference in Boston, MA in July of 2015. I have been living in a suburban bubble for the last twenty plus years. Before that I grew up in the melting pot that is New York City. I had friends of all races, ethnicities and religions. A lot changes when you are removed from that pot. Suburbia rarely houses those that are not white. In my suburban high school, minorities made up, maybe, 10% of our population. But I digress… At this conference, there was a presentation on privilege and it reopened my eyes. I learned so much that day and yet had so much more to learn.
I am white, there is no denying it. My skin doesn’t tan unless it gets severely burned first. I need to look like a relative of a lobster to show any color other than fair. This gives me one of the highest privileges. I grew up Middle Class and remain in that category. I come from a loving family with parents who are still happily married. I attended college. I am privileged. In certain ways, I do feel the sting of societal beliefs. I am Jewish and with that comes a boat load of history of Anti-Semitism. In recent weeks, it comes with bomb threats to JCCs (Jewish Community Centers) and destruction of Jewish cemeteries. I am also a person with two diagnosed Mental Illnesses currently. This label has negative assumptions associated with it and in the present day, a huge stigma and a belief that I am a danger to society. But, I am privileged. No denying that.
This weekend shit went down in an organization I volunteer my time to, an organization I wish existed when I had just had my daughter, Postpartum Progress Inc. While I do not have the whole story, the women hurt by this organization are my friends and women of color. The CEO and founder of this organization said and did something she shouldn’t have that was racist in nature. While the intent may not have been, we must always think of how others may react. I do not agree with what was said and done. As a white woman, I can’t fully understand the damage that occurred. All I know is that many of my friends, who I met through this organization, and love dearly, were hurt. I hurt because they are hurt. As an Empath, I yearn to feel their pain in full so that I can completely understand. The comments said and actions done (or not done), I thought, was only the beginning of the true nature of the leadership in this organization.
But I was wrong.
Over the weekend, former board members have come forward with stories of “Remember so-and-so, and that she left, want to know why?”. This battle with women of color has been going on for 2 years and the reaction in the last two years from the leadership of this organization has been to keep it quiet, hushed, on the down low. They left on mutual terms, that is what was told to the Warrior Mom community, all of us volunteers.
My heart is broken. I feel like I need to pick a side even though I do not technically have to. I support my friends who were hurt. These women gave so much of their time, roughly 20 hours a week, and were only paid minimum wage for five of those hours. They gave their energy, their love and pieces of their heart to women of all races, ethnicities, religions & sexual orientations. They only made you feel wanted and respected. They deserve the same in return. I will always remain loyal to them for that.
Where does this leave me with my work with Postpartum Progress, Inc?
I for one want to help women with their struggles with Postpartum Mental Illness, but there are other organizations. My heart is telling me to leave PPI. The Leadership has covered up too much over the last two years which makes you wonder what else is being hidden from us Ambassadors and Climb Leaders. I just can’t support them anymore. Yesterday, I wore my Warrior Mom fleece and felt disgusted. I want to toss my Postpartum Progress travel mug even though it is my best insulated travel mug. I have lost the motivation to help them. I just cannot stand behind someone and something, that while trying to ‘help’ women of color, has in turn been hurting them for years now.
That said, I am truly glad I found PPI back in 2014 because through it, I discovered this amazing community of women who just want to help each other. We just want other women to know they are not alone. We will still support them whether under PPI or another organization. I will still advocate for Maternal Mental Health.
With that said, I hereby use this post to submit my formal resignation as a Warrior Mom Ambassador and Climb Leader for Postpartum Progress, Inc.
With love to ALL moms,
My daughter knows I hated her just two weeks after she was born. Pure hatred, where using the actual word ‘hate’ is valid and not taboo. She knows I wanted to leave her and never ever see her again. She knows I wanted to turn back time and never have her, completely obliterate her existence.
My daughter knows what suicide is. She learned this at age 8 because she overheard something on the radio. She knows that I have thought about committing suicide a handful of times and that one of those times I came very close to slitting my wrist with a case cutter I stole from work (and still have). She knows I was a teenager then, almost 18, a legal adult, only 8 years older than she is now. She knows that these ideations have blown into my mind like a breeze and have quickly left several times in the last twenty years.
My daughter knows I am sick. She has seen me at my worst, a vision I never wanted her to lay eyes on. She has seen me shaking, rocking back and forth, nails digging into my head spewing delusions out of my mouth left and right. She has seen the tears, witnessed the dry-heaving runs to the toilet, heard my self-loathing.
My daughter knows I have been hospitalized, twice. She accompanied my parents this latest time when they visited me, being forced to stay in the cafeteria with my father because she was deemed ‘too young’ for the short term psychiatric ward. The hospital feared the patients there would hurt or scare her by saying or doing something. This means they feared I would hurt or scare her too. She knows the emotional pain one feels when the only communication we had was through a phone… a phone that would cut you off if you moved wrong, a phone so desperate in need of replacement. She understands that the hospital is my safe place, when our home is unable to be just that.
My daughter knows she is an Only child because of me. She knows I was barely able to raise her in the beginning due to Severe Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. She knows at times I have been unable to care for her in the episodes of Major Depressive Disorder since. She knows that she lost her little brother, my beloved former foster son, because my illnesses prevented me from being able to function, let alone parent. I became a third child for my husband then, a childlike creature in an adult body that my daughter started to take care of, becoming a Mommy to her own mother.
What I didn’t expect for this wonderful, kind, and loving child to learn was acceptance. Every time I had to explain these things, every time I hurt her, I expected anger and rage in return. I expected her to ignore me, shout “I hate you Mommy”, rotating the knife deeper into my back. I expected extreme tears over losing her brother, many more than she shed (and she cried quite a bit).
Instead, she shocked me by becoming my protector of sorts, a role I never asked her to take and tell her now she can relinquish. She truly cares if something will affect me, triggering me back to those dark dismal days. She has true compassion and empathy, two traits I am happy she learned, although I wish she learned them with something other than me as the subject. She is the Wise Fairy that her name, Sophia Faye, connotes.
There are so many things she has had to learn at the tender age of 8, 9 and now 10. These things I would have liked to have postponed. I have been called out by a select few saying she was too young for these strong topics. Yes, I know. But, I have to say, if by telling her about being mentally ill, suicidal & hospitalized has made her into the awesome kid that she is today, I am happy she knows. I am happy she knows, because she won’t have to live in the shame and stigma of it if it happens to her. She knows she has a loving mother who has been through hell and back that can help her. And she knows that although at one point I hated her, wanting to leave, I couldn’t bare to live without her now. She is my heart, my strength, my love, my Sophia Faye.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Moms, stand up for a moment. Identify yourselves! We all deserve medals. Scratch the medals. Just bring us coffee, wine, ice cream and leave us with a nice comfy blanket on the sofa binge watching the latest and greatest on Netflix. Oh, wait, is that the baby that just cried out? Is that the toddler whining for Goldfish crackers? Is that the preteen rolling her eyes at me because I said no? Is that my husband screaming about having no toilet paper even though he was told to buy some earlier this week because we were out? And now the cat is kneading her claws into the blanket which in turn is scratching my legs and the dog is running from the sofa to the door deciding if he wants in or out.
Add in a bit of, “Mom, what’s for dinner?” and, “Honey, can you hand me the remote? It’s too far away.” (Really dear, it is 3 feet away from you sitting on the coffee table. Move the damn cat and get it yourself.)
Mothers are the most important figures in a household. Sure, I will give dads credit. They do a lot… well most of them… okay, 50% of them? I know, that might be a stretch. But, it is us Mothers who have to deal 100% with all the Mental Shit that goes on.
A couple of weeks ago, I read the most enlightening article about Mothers and their Invisible Workload called The Invisible Workload That Drags Women Down. This article made such and impact on me that I am still thinking about it today. It discusses that although women will work outside the home just as much as men (hubby and I work full time jobs and make about the same give or take 1%), women take on a WHOLE lot more then their male partners. It isn’t that men do nothing. Their share at home tends to be physical (think laundry, dishes, taking out the trash). While us Mothers, aside from doing roughly equal amounts of the physical labor at home, take on all of that Mental Shit. We know when Johnny has little league, when little Sarah has her dentist appointment, and of course, when the dreaded toilet paper has run out. We are the ones who have to buy the milk, even if we don’t drink any, because our husbands forgot they have two arms, two legs and a driver’s license. We are the ones that know where the passports are, the birth certificates, the car titles.
All of this is a HUGE drain on our brains, the brains that were already sucked dry from being pregnant (google pregnancy brain). Ten years later, my brain is still not the same.
We become sick, and are still seen by society, to be workhorses. Have the flu? It doesn’t matter, you have a household to run. Why is that? Why has society taught us that if we are “under-the-weather” to just “suck it up”? Why are our needs so minor? Why is our care not as relevant?
This needs to change. All you Mothers out there standing up, it is time we take back ourselves. I am not saying abandon your family. For sure, you wouldn’t be able to leave the house without a child attached to a leg. It’s time we tell our hubbies, “I need a break. You all are mentally draining me. Please give me a couple of hours, just a couple, to sit and be lazy on the sofa reading a book with a glass of wine (or coffee, tea, hot chocolate).” Don’t back down. Then make sure these couple of hours are truly kid (& hubby) free. Have him take the kid(s) to another part of the house, or heck, out of the house.
Of course, I am a bit hypocritical. I have yet to have this happen in my household of 1 lazy, but loving, husband, 1 moody preteen daughter, and 1 precious and beastly furry child. I started writing a book about two years ago chronicling my struggles with Depression and Anxiety. I asked my husband to take our child to see her grandparents (his parents) once a month giving me the day to write. Two years later… I am still waiting for this to happen. Even tonight, I begged my daughter without giving me a guilt trip, to let Mommy write a blog post. All I needed was 1 hour of quiet time. I was not in my room 5 minutes and she was on my bed showing me drawings she made using pictures of me, her father and the cat, pulling my attention away from writing the post after I spent most of the day cuddling with her on the sofa.
But this changes today. 2017 will be the year I take back myself. The year I recognize I am not just a mother and a wife (and an Architectural Project Manager). I have my own hobbies and interests. I will take my Mommy Time every weekend, a couple of hours each day, and recharge my batteries. I will convince myself that this isn’t selfish, that this is truly necessary to keep this household running. I will do this to deal with the Mental Shit us Mothers deal with all the time.
Because I matter.
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…
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…
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?…
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.
Everyone has days where they feel sad, hopeless, empty. A day here and there when nothing seems to be going right. A day where getting out of bed is a struggle you don’t mind losing. The good news is most people, typical people, wake up the next morning and are ready to take on the world. They woke up on the “correct side of the bed”. They can easily carry out their normal routines and enjoy things.
This, unfortunately, is not the case of a diagnosed Depressive.
I’ve been unwell for so much of my life, that sometimes I am unsure if I am actually better, if I have overcome the latest bout with Severe Depression and her sister, Severe Anxiety. I can easily tell when I have clawed my way out from the quicksand, my head finally above the surface, but the last few inches seems like an eternity to rise from. Living with these two, even when well, is a constant battle and a huge drain on my battery.
I fear mornings when I wake up and know I’m off. I feel the melancholy taking over. My heart is a void, all emotion down it’s drain. I don’t want to move. I want to remain in my bed. Soft, yet firm mattress. Warm blankets. A cozy cocoon. If I stay there, I will feel safe. I know though, that I can’t. Years of therapy and battles has taught me I need to force myself out of bed.
So I rise.
I walk, slow, feeling the weight of my body all pushed down to my feet. It’s an extreme struggle to take a step, but I push onward. Dragging myself to the kitchen, I carry out my routine starting with feeding the cat. After, I climb the steps trying really hard not to crawl up them and enter the bathroom. I plug my flat iron in and start it and brush my teeth. The routine is killing me on the inside. As I gaze at myself in the mirror, those horrible negative thoughts come back:
“Why get ready? Why go to work? They will be just fine without your worthless self”
“You’re look horrible”
“You don’t deserve love. You don’t deserve your husband, your daughter, your family, your friends.”
I hold back tears, repeatedly telling myself that this is my Inner Bitch talking, not the real me, the real Stephanie, ultimately failing at convincing myself.
Somehow I manage to get dressed and somewhat care about my appearance for work, hiding my inner dialogue and turmoil from those around me with the elusive faux smile. In 20+ years, I have become an expert at it.
I get to work, still sporting the fake grin, but once in my cubicle, it is shed away. I become quiet, a recluse. I do not want to leave the cubicle. I do not want to interact with anyone for fear that they may see what is going on with me. I just desire to sit in my chair all day. On and off, I will fight back tears. Sometimes a few will make their way down my cheeks. I don’t care if the sun is out, if the weather is beautiful, I want to stay hidden, be invisible.
When I get home, I am exhausted. Heart still empty. Body still drained. Mind still double-crossing me. I permanently erase the smile as I walk through the door. At this point, my 10-year-old daughter instantly notices and says to her father who is in the kitchen preparing dinner, “Mommy is having a Depression day.” Yes, baby, Mommy is.
Dinner is spent with me looking down. I play with my food. Some of it makes it into my mouth. I am not hungry. I just want to go into my room and hide. I have no desire to watch TV, read, pay games on the Kindle. Even scrolling through my Facebook feed doesn’t appeal to me. I just want to be alone, alone with my hopeless self. When I finally am, at the end of the day, tears fall… and every negative thought I have or action I’ve done feeds them.
I take a deep breath, swallow my pills, and eventually fall asleep hoping that tomorrow will be “normal”.
A day that most people have once in a while, but I am not the typical person. Most times, I do not wake up the next morning feeling better. It can take me a week or more to wake up “normal”. This frightens me. Experts (Psychiatrists & Therapists) say that after two or three weeks of feeling like this, that you are entering a Depressive state, that you are clinical. I am already clinical, so what is the big deal, right? I am scared of another episode with the Severe sisters, Depression & Anxiety. My episodes have only gotten worse as I get older. This last one took just about 2 years to get through. What would episode #7 do? Would I survive episode #7?
This most recently happened to me in December (one of the reasons there were no new posts from me). For over a week, ten days, I woke up likes this. Over a week, I didn’t exercise. I didn’t even take my daily walks at lunch that I love so much. I was getting worried. I saw my therapist during this time. Even he looked a little worried. He assured me that I could contact him whenever, day or night, if I needed to.
Then on the morning of day 11, I woke up fine.