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

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

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

Sophia’s Interview

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

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

Sophia: Fine.

Me: How come you were okay with it?

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

Concerning 3 years ago

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

Sophia: I don’t remember that.

Me: It was only 3 years ago!

Sophia: Didn’t I come with you?

Me: You did.

Sophia: It was when he left?

Me: Yes.

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

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

Sophia: But wasn’t I there too?

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

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

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

Sophia: Scared.

Me: Did you know why I was there?

Sophia: No, I’m not sure. No.

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

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

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

Sophia: Oh, okay.

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

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

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

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

GAD, PPD, Depression, & Suicide

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

Sophia: No.

Me: Do you blame anyone for it?

Sophia: No. Why would I?

Me: Do you wish you were ‘normal’?

Sophia: Sometimes.

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

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

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

Sophia: Sometimes.

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

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

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

Sophia: You were 14.

Me: And how old are you?

Sophia: I am 11.

Me: So you are close to that age.

Sophia: Yeah.

Me: That’s why I watch you a lot.

Sophia: That’s not creepy.

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

Sophia: Very much.

Me: How come?

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

Me: I was 18 then.

Sophia: So?

Me: That was 20 years ago.

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

Me: Are you worried I will hurt myself?

Sophia: Yeah.

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

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

Me: Like what?

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

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

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

Me: Do you understand why I am?

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

Stigma & Advocacy

Me: What have I told you about stigma?

Sophia: What does stigma mean again?

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

Sophia: You’ve told me.

Me: And what do you think about that?

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

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

Sophia: Well, yeah, but…

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

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

Me: Do you understand why I advocate for this?

Sophia: What does that mean, advocate?

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

Sophia: Yes.

Me: Do you see yourself doing that?

Sophia: I don’t know.

Thoughts on Me, Her Mom

Me: Do you think I am a bad mother?

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

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

Sophia: No.

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

Sophia: No.

Me: How do you characterize your mother?

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

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

Sophia: Like different things other than Postpartum?

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

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

Me: You see me as strong and a fighter?

Sophia: Yeah.

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

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

Me: Any last comments on me, your mother?

Sophia: I love her.

Me: Would you want any other mother besides me?

Sophia: No.

Me: How much do you love me?

Sophia: To infinity and beyond!

I am truly grateful for this kid!

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

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

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

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

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

The Interview

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

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

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

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

Jimmy: Defeated.

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

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

Episode 4: Postpartum Depression & Anxiety

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

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

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

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

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

Jimmy:  No, I knew you were taking Ensure.

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

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

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

Jimmy:  I blocked these bad memories out.

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

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

S. Paige:  Did that strain you?

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

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

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

S. Paige: So it is a trigger?

Jimmy:  Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

S. Paige:  Are you okay with that?

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

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

Jimmy:  No.

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

Jimmy:  Probably.

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

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

S. Paige:  Yes.

Jimmy:  Yeah, that’s a concern.

S. Paige:  What would you do?

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

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

Jimmy:  No.

S. Paige:  How are you so sure?

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

Stigma

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

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

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

Jimmy: (cut me off) He’s an idiot.

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

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

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

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

Our Daughter, Sophia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jimmy:  I just hope we’re not biased.

S. Paige: That concerns me.

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

(FYI, I am medicated and fine with it)

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

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

S. Paige:  Yeah.

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

Changing Me

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

Jimmy:  No.

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

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

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

Jimmy: Yes.

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

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

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

Jimmy:  I need you.

 

And lastly…

 

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

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

When You Fear Yourself

There were brief moments, tiny myopic moments, seconds that I could see my reality. In these moments of lucidity, I became scared.  I was frightened at what I was becoming and how fast my body and brain were transforming.  Fortunately (or unfortunately) these moments of clarity were scarce because my body was failing me so rapidly, my cognizance was minimal.

 

I was healthy. Off medication for a few years. Actively working out at least four times a week.  I was confident, loved how I looked and felt, a rare time frame in my life where I wasn’t self-loathing and highly pessimistic. It was a euphoric high that I never imagined I would plummet out of.  I was wrong.  Oh, so wrong.

 

The severe Anxiety hit first. I couldn’t sleep and I tried, I tried so hard.  Listening to my Therapist, I got up, left my bedroom, and went downstairs to watch TV.  I thought watching TV in the dark with the comfort of my cat lying in the crook of my body on the loveseat would do the trick.  I would be able to return to my bed and the act of slumber.

 

But, the sounds came next. My foster son would cough, my daughter would cough and it would echo through the house.  A neighbor’s car alarm would go off.  The heat, even the sound of the damn heat turning on would shatter any hopes of sleep.  Most nights, I gave up around 3am and just cried quietly.

 

It didn’t end there though. The mornings brought me Panic Attacks.  I would be short of breath and my heart would be beating so fast that it felt as if I just finished a marathon in record time.  Nausea would riddle my body and I would run to the bathroom dry-heaving.

 

Then, I started to become delusional, spewing forth ridiculous ideas that my children would be taken away from me (which in the end our foster son was removed from our house), that my in-laws would take me to court to obtain sole custody of my daughter, that I was going to die. These thoughts were constantly in my head and I couldn’t keep them there.  They came out of my mouth easily and I believed every one of them.

 

Finally, Depression and Grief set in, a split second after our foster son was removed. I was experiencing a death not only at losing this little boy who I still think about every day, but at losing myself.  It wouldn’t have been so bad if it wasn’t for those damn moments of sanity.

 

Ugh, they constantly reminded me of what I once was, so healthy and vibrant, and showed me what I had become. I felt defeated. I didn’t understand how all of this happened.  I didn’t want to go on, the fight was so hard.  I feared how much worse I would become; how much worse my family’s lives would be.  I was so scared, so scared that this episode of Major Depressive Disorder and Severe Generalized Anxiety would kill me.  In fleeting moments, I wish it would have.

 

Through all this fear, when I was lucid enough, I knew I needed to get help. I started the hunt for a new Psychiatrist.  I made sure I kept up with Therapy.  I asked for medication even though it was heartbreaking for me to go back on them.  I even fought to be hospitalized again because I knew it would help me.  I wasn’t going to let my fear kill me.  I couldn’t let my daughter lose her mother at such a young age.  I couldn’t let my husband lose his wife.  I couldn’t let my parents lose a child.  I fought for them.

 

It was a long rough journey, so bad, that I believe that the next episode will probably kill me. I’ve taken precautions though.  This time I will never go off my antidepressant.  I will continue to look for the signs, to seek out my fear.  I will be more mindful of my body and listen to it instead of fighting it.  Most importantly, I will remind myself that I have defeated Depression and Anxiety before and that looking at my track record, I am likely to win again.

___________________________________________________________________________

Yesterday was the 3 year anniversary of entering myself into the hospital.  Taking advice from several people (Therapist, family & friends) I do not dwell on how bad I was anymore.  When I think of that time, I acknowledge how far I fell, how bad I became and then, then I think about how far I have come.  I am healthy again, still medicated, still in therapy and still kicking ass.

Teaching My Daughter To Rise Above The Stigma Of Mental Illness

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“I don’t want special treatment.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

When You Learn How Important Self-Advocacy Is

In the last twenty years, off and on, with my frenemies, Anxiety & Depression, I have learned quite a bit about living a life with Mental Illness. My first twelve years were in secret, keeping my mouth shut on anything relating to the words melancholy, empty, sad. I was told to hide, told that the stigma would ruin any chance of a career for me, would isolate me and make me feel even more lonely than I already did. I was ashamed that my differences made me plague-worthy. Who wants to be friends with a psycho?!

Eventually, I got fed up… or I should say, extremely deeply depressed. I couldn’t hide it anymore. My Postpartum Depression and Anxiety brought on my first step in becoming free of this stigma… I had to admit my illnesses to someone aside from my family. I had to tell my boss. I had no idea what would happen, if I would be let go for some stupid made up reason to hide the real dismissal of me being crazy. I had no other option though, I was hospitalized and in turn could not do the work I took home to do during my maternity leave.

I then started to tell some friends and upon seeing their genuine compassionate reactions, I realized not everyone believed the stigma behind having a Mental Illness diagnosis. It was from this point, about a decade ago, when I decided to screw the stigma and advocate.

Advocacy is defined as, “the act of pleading for, supporting, or recommending,” by dictonary.com. I dove right in, starting with Mental Illnesses that most were unaware existed, Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. I immersed myself joining up with a non-profit I found on Facebook one day. I bonded with fellow mothers who experienced similar events. Some of them proudly declared their stories while others still felt the need to hide. It was an amazing feeling to not feel alone.

By doing this I began to tell my story to anyone at any given moment. It didn’t matter if they never inquired about my illnesses. I wanted to get my story out there. I wanted to be a voice, a voice that was heard when many others were still so afraid to speak up. This was my main form of Advocacy. I told my stories and frankly couldn’t care less if someone responded negatively which was very rare. I rose up to the challenge of becoming a symbol of someone who could be successful and who lived with Mental Illnesses.

These last few years, I began to learn about Self Advocacy, the need to fight for my own care. This is not always easy to do especially when your own care involves a brain imbalance and what I like to call “thinking imperfections”. In the beginning, I even wondered who would trust me to create my own care plan… after all, that required someone with a healthy brain, not someone who was mentally ill. Now I don’t care. Majority of the time, I am in my right mind and can decide things for myself. But this was not always the case.

Three years ago, things changed. I quickly went from a stable human being to one having a psychotic break. There was no point in creating a Self-Advocacy plan at that time because the change was so rapid I could barely recognize it. One moment I could coherently tell my husband I needed to go to the hospital’s inpatient psychiatric unit, the next, I was in the fetal position scratching my head repeatedly crying for the rapid thoughts to leave me, that it hurt too much. It frightened my husband, my parents and my daughter who was 8 at the time. More importantly, in my lucid moments, it scared the shit out of me.

It was after this last episode with Major Depressive Disorder that I became extremely involved in Self-Advocacy. I needed to be. I knew how my body felt, what my brain was telling me, how the meds were working. When I needed a different type of therapy, I searched for the therapist. I worked together with my psychiatrist at the time in weaning off two of my medications. I made sure my doctors and my therapist were aware of each other. I began to practice Mindfulness and really took notice at how my body felt. There were no secrets anymore, no hiding.

And now, once again, I am advocating for myself. In the last 2 years 9 months, I have been through 4 psychiatrists/APRN’s at the same psychiatric group. They all left for some reason. The first, who saw me through my worst, left to have a baby and never came back. The second I saw once and then he retired. The third who aided me in my weaning and worked with me on medication changes left to become a head for an addiction facility. The last… I saw her once in July, just sent a letter explaining that she returned to work far too early when she had her first child and was now pregnant with her second. She decided to leave the end of the December. I was due to see her in January.

What to do, what to do? As I am waiting for my next assignment, whether it be a psychiatrist or psychiatric APRN, I am researching my other options because well, starting a 5th doctor in 3 years is kind of annoying. With my track record, the 5th is bound to up and leave too. There must be other psychiatric groups out there. Sad thing is, I am only down to seeing them twice a year just for prescriptions. I know for emergency purposes, my primary care physician would write a script for me. Problem is, my Anxiety has been worse these last couple of months and I foresee an additional medication being prescribed. As much as I like my PCP, I need someone who specializes in Psychiatry.

Self-Advocacy is a process that can be very time consuming and mentally and physically draining. When it comes down to it though, it needs to rank high in the self-care process. The only person who is going to care as much about your care and health, is you. What I have realized is that having a Self-Advocacy Care Plan is also a necessity. This can be used when you know you are not mentally stable. It is a list of things for your spouse, parents, or even a special friend to tell the doctors when you can’t. It allows them to advocate for you the way you would want to advocate for yourself.

I am currently putting mine together.

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

To The Non-Believer,

 

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

 

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

 

And then one day I said “Fuck it!”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

But it can.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Sincerely,

 

Stephanie Paige

A Mental Illness Survivor & Advocate

 

 

When False Information On A Meme Makes You Angry…

Originally posted on Stigmama on Tuesday, June 20th:

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

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

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

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

                                        

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Hi, My Name Is Not “Sophia’s Mom”

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

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

But I am so much more.

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

But I am so much more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Support: My Response To Recent Events

I didn’t know what ‘white privilege’ was until I attended the Warrior Mom Conference in Boston, MA in July of 2015.  I have been living in a suburban bubble for the last twenty plus years.  Before that I grew up in the melting pot that is New York City.  I had friends of all races, ethnicities and religions.  A lot changes when you are removed from that pot.  Suburbia rarely houses those that are not white.  In my suburban high school, minorities made up, maybe, 10% of our population.  But I digress… At this conference, there was a presentation on privilege and it reopened my eyes.  I learned so much that day and yet had so much more to learn.

I am white, there is no denying it.  My skin doesn’t tan unless it gets severely burned first.  I need to look like a relative of a lobster to show any color other than fair.  This gives me one of the highest privileges.  I grew up Middle Class and remain in that category.  I come from a loving family with parents who are still happily married.  I attended college.  I am privileged.  In certain ways, I do feel the sting of societal beliefs.  I am Jewish and with that comes a boat load of history of Anti-Semitism.  In recent weeks, it comes with bomb threats to JCCs (Jewish Community Centers) and destruction of Jewish cemeteries.  I am also a person with two diagnosed Mental Illnesses currently.  This label has negative assumptions associated with it and in the present day, a huge stigma and a belief that I am a danger to society.  But, I am privileged.  No denying that.
This weekend shit went down in an organization I volunteer my time to, an organization I wish existed when I had just had my daughter, Postpartum Progress Inc.  While I do not have the whole story, the women hurt by this organization are my friends and women of color.  The CEO and founder of this organization said and did something she shouldn’t have that was racist in nature.  While the intent may not have been, we must always think of how others may react.  I do not agree with what was said and done.  As a white woman, I can’t fully understand the damage that occurred.  All I know is that many of my friends, who I met through this organization, and love dearly, were hurt.  I hurt because they are hurt.  As an Empath, I yearn to feel their pain in full so that I can completely understand.  The comments said and actions done (or not done), I thought, was only the beginning of the true nature of the leadership in this organization.
But I was wrong.
Over the weekend, former board members have come forward with stories of “Remember so-and-so, and that she left, want to know why?”.  This battle with women of color has been going on for 2 years and the reaction in the last two years from the leadership of this organization has been to keep it quiet, hushed, on the down low.  They left on mutual terms, that is what was told to the Warrior Mom community, all of us volunteers.
My heart is broken.  I feel like I need to pick a side even though I do not technically have to.  I support my friends who were hurt.  These women gave so much of their time, roughly 20 hours a week, and were only paid minimum wage for five of those hours.  They gave their energy, their love and pieces of their heart to women of all races, ethnicities, religions & sexual orientations.  They only made you feel wanted and respected.  They deserve the same in return.  I will always remain loyal to them for that.  
Where does this leave me with my work with Postpartum Progress, Inc?  
I for one want to help women with their struggles with Postpartum Mental Illness, but there are other organizations.  My heart is telling me to leave PPI.  The Leadership has covered up too much over the last two years which makes you wonder what else is being hidden from us Ambassadors and Climb Leaders.  I just can’t support them anymore.  Yesterday, I wore my Warrior Mom fleece and felt disgusted.  I want to toss my Postpartum Progress travel mug even though it is my best insulated travel mug.  I have lost the motivation to help them.  I just cannot stand behind someone and something, that while trying to ‘help’ women of color, has in turn been hurting them for years now.
That said, I am truly glad I found PPI back in 2014 because through it, I discovered this amazing community of women who just want to help each other.  We just want other women to know they are not alone.  We will still support them whether under PPI or another organization.  I will still advocate for Maternal Mental Health.
With that said, I hereby use this post to submit my formal resignation as a Warrior Mom Ambassador and Climb Leader for Postpartum Progress, Inc.
With love to ALL moms,
Stephanie

Can I Call Myself An Author?

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

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

Dictionary.com defines “Author” as:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am Stephanie Paige, Author & Advocate.