I’ve Always Wanted To Be An Architect… And Other Shit 

I remember my first Lego set.  I was six and my family had just gotten back to my Aunt & Uncle’s house from the mall.  I am not sure why I wanted this set so badly, but I begged, I pleaded, and now it was lying on the floor of the bedroom I was sitting in.  It was a medieval boat that came with two men in helmets.  I stared at it in awe.  Could I build this?  At six?

I worked hard on it but sure enough, I completed it.  I stared at it in amazement thinking, Wow, I built this!

This teeny-tiny itty-bitty Lego set started it all.  I wanted to become an Architect.  I made a major life decision at the respectable age of 6.

Through the years, I challenged myself.  The sets got bigger and my time to build them got shorter.  I would follow the directions, quickly erect the Lego building, look at it with pure elation and then take it apart.  At this point, I would be my own creations.  I was, after all, a budding Architect!

As I became a teen, I shifted from Legos to hand drawings.  I would draw floor plans just for fun.  Soon, I developed into drawing the front elevations of houses.  I received several home plan books and computer programs for my birthday and holidays.  I even received a drafting table.  Yes, this is definitely what I wanted to do.

In the fall of 1998, I started the 4 year Bachelor of Science in Architecture degree at the University of Maryland.  I was on my way.  For the next few years, I lived in the Architecture building, taking a particular interest in my Architectural History courses.  I became fascinated with buildings, mainly homes, from the Colonial and Federal time periods.  I graduated in May of 2002 and after a month started my career in Architecture.

But, I was far from my desire to be a licensed Architect.  I kept my work records and when the time came, I began to study for the exams.  7 exams at over $200 each.  I took my first exam when my daughter was 2.  I anxiously waited for my results.  The day finally came…

…FAIL.

I was heartbroken.  I was also in the midst of my 5th episode with Major Depressive Disorder.  I decided to take a break and wait for my daughter to get a bit older.  After all, the 5 year rolling clock didn’t start until you passed one of the exams.

1 year after I failed the first exam, I took a different one.  I felt confident going in.  I felt happy when I left.  I felt defeated when the results came…

…FAIL.

The word ‘fail’ and the fact that I am an Alpha with perfectionist tendencies, didn’t ease this situation.  I decided then and there, I was done taking exams until I had the money to pay for the review courses and the exams.

Years went by.  My job growth continued, although minimally.  I began to really think about my career.  Would being licensed make a difference?  At that point, no.  My pay would not increase.  My responsibilities would not increase.  Why spend the money?  Just so I could put ‘Architect’ after my name?

A few years ago, I was struggling with my career.  Where I was working was affecting my Mental Health greatly.  It was not a healthy place for me anymore.  So I once again thought about the question:

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Suddenly, the answer was no longer Architect.  I had become increasingly interested in hiking and nature.  Being outside rejuvenates my soul.  Researching, I realized that maybe a career in Forestry, like becoming a Park Ranger would be for me.  Lacking funds to go get a degree in it, I decided to start small and take a Certificate Course in Forest & Wildlife Conservation.  Most of the material intrigued me.  And then reality set in… there were very little, if any, paying positions in the Northeast, and we were not moving.

Next up in line, a Groupon became available to become a Certified Personal Trainer.  I studied and miraculously passed the exam (an exam that most of its material was not covered in the books the course came with).  To this day, I am still certified.  To this day, I have not used it.

Why?  I changed jobs.  I found a job that still uses my knowledge in Architecture that I enjoy.  Is it my passion?…

…No.

I feel like we stress deciding a career so early in life.  Of course, I made the decision even earlier than necessary.  I graduated college when I was 22, but one had to declare a major by the end of sophomore year.  I look at my daughter now, and can’t even believe that in less than 10 years, she will have to decide what she wants to do with the rest of her life.  How can we decide so young with so little knowledge and experience on what life really is?  She is already starting to decide.  So far she has narrowed it down to Fashion Designer, Illustrator, and Teacher  (Fashionista dropped off the list a couple of years ago).  These are her current passions, but when she is my age (a few years shy of the big 4-0) will she still feel that way?  I don’t.

If I could turn back time (someone send me a Time Turner from the Harry Potter world), I would change my major, knowing what I would endure in the years to come.  Becoming an Architect would fade away.  After suffering severely with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety and with Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, advocacy is my new passion.  I only want to help others to not suffer the way I have and to get better.  I want others to know they are not alone.  I want to be one of the many people to break down the stigma wall, block by block.  If money were not an issue, I would go back to school now.  I would get a degree in Mental Health Counseling.  I would become a Mental Health Counselor.  Since money does not grow on trees, I will do what I can, maybe one day going back to school.

For now, I am an Architectural Project Manager who advocates for Mental Health and Maternal Mental Health through my writing. And, I am content this way.

November 16th… How Far I’ve Come

It’s been a decade, 10 years, and still on this date every year I think about it, the day I admitted myself into the hospital for severe Postpartum Depression and Anxiety.  Every year I would cry.  The last few years, I got angry.  None of the years did I listen to my therapists (last and current) and actually focus on how far I’ve come instead of how forgone I was.  I focused too much on “Why me?” or “It isn’t fair” all the while knowing life isn’t fair.  I didn’t grow up in some naive protective bubble.  

Many tears have dripped down my cheeks.  I stir up memories of having a panic attack in the ER.  I visualize the days, even weeks, leading up to this moment.  I never wanted to experience this.  I never wanted to hate my daughter.  I never wanted to contemplate running away.  I never wanted to think of myself as unworthy, a disgrace.  I never wanted to cause pain to my husband and parents.  I did though and I carried all that guilt, that blame, that shame, with me on this day for the last 10 years.
The anger I had toward myself would revisit me on this date every year.  The anger I had because I was given this experience set in only the last year.  The anger that because of the Postpartum Depression and Anxiety, the dream of a larger family ceased to exist.  I would no longer have my two, three, four kids I planned I would since childhood.  The anger that because I suffered this, I missed a typical postpartum experience… being that doting mother who adored being around her baby, rocking her, singing to her.  The anger that I missed almost 2 weeks of her life because I was in the hospital.
 
This year, though, I think it is finally time for a change.  Time to not dwell so much back to that moment in time.  Time to sit with the thoughts and feelings for only 10 minutes max and move on.  Time to focus on the good that came from my experience:
 
1)  I got the help I so desperately needed… even if I couldn’t see it at the time.  I’ve dwelled on the lost time, the hate I had for myself and this little baby that took away my life.  But, where would I be if I never went into the hospital?  Would I have run away, contemplated suicide, or worse, took my life like so many other women?  With the hospital stay, I got to focus on getting myself better and I did.
 
2)  My daughter and I have a great relationship.  Years I agonized the fact that because I missed two weeks of her life we would never have a tight bond  or she would use that time lost against me.  I also worried that she would despise me for once hating her.  None of the above happened.  In fact, she appreciates my honesty and knows how much I love her now (to infinity and beyond, forever & always).
 
3)  I am not alone as I thought.  Ten years ago resources in this area were limited.  The hospital, my psychiatrist and therapist were not trained to deal with a focus on postpartum.  The internet was not what it is now with social media and information.  I thought I was alone.  Feeling alone is the worst thing to ever feel.  The isolation, the lack of hope.  Turns out, there is a whole community of us who have experienced Postpartum Illnesses.
 
4)  I get to help and advocate for others.  Once I discovered this community, I wanted to give back.  I wanted to let others know they were not alone and they should never feel like they were.  I wanted to be a friendly ear, a warm hug, a trustworthy soul.  I became a voice for thousands of others who fear(ed) speaking up.
 
After 10 years, I am finally focusing on how far I have come!

Finding My Purpose In Life…

For as long as I could remember, I always wanted to be a mother.  I was drawn to my friends’ younger siblings.  I loved to coo at babies I saw.  I even transformed the bottom of my tiny closet into a “crib” for my two baby dolls.  I couldn’t wait to feel that love, a love between a mother and her child, this time from the view of being the Mommy.  At that young age, motherhood was my focus in life and I would be blessed almost two decades later with the birth of my daughter.
At six, with the purchase of my first Lego set (a tiny Viking boat), I suddenly had another desire in life… I wanted to build.  I loved sitting there for hours building Lego sets.  First I would follow the step by step instructions included with the set and then I would let my imagination run wild.  During many trips to see my aunt and uncle, I would admire the houses we would pass, studying details and running through my head how to build them with my Legos.  The building desire soon morphed with my love of houses.  I now wanted to become an architect.

A career was always a desired purpose in life for me.  Watching my mother work, I was brought up with a sense of equality, that a woman could support her family just as much as a man.  A woman’s role was not solely being confined to being a housewife.  I studied hard in college with many overnighters spent hunched over my drafting table drawing (or in some cases snoring with my head on my pillow taking a nap).  I wanted so badly to become a talented architect, rising to the same levels of Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier and Michael Graves.  I wanted to see designs I created built and enjoyed by people.  I knew that that was my purpose in life… to be a famous architect and a mother.  I would be able to succeed in both.  Nothing could stop me.

At least that is what I thought…

I was well on my way to obtaining all my necessary hours of experience to be able to sit for my exams to become a licensed architect.  With the birth of my daughter, I was sidetracked from this goal while I struggled for almost a year with Severe Postpartum Depression and Anxiety.  When my baby girl reached age 2, I was back on track and was now able to sit for the seven exams that would give me my other purpose.  I once again studied, but was interrupted many times that when I received my results with the word “FAIL” on it, I was not shocked.  Okay, I would detour my plans for a few more years when my daughter was not so dependent on her Mommy.  Still working full time and taking care of her proved a challenge with carving out niches of time to study harder.  Different exam, a few years later, results… FAIL.

I am not happy with the word “fail”.  I am an Alpha that very much strives to give 100% on everything I do.  I sat and thought about this “purpose” in life.  How important was it to me now to see the word “architect” after my name?  Would it increase my salary at the moment?  Would I really be famous?  Is that what I really wanted now?  After many weeks thinking about this and discussing it with my husband, my family and my therapist, I realized that becoming a licensed architect was no longer a purpose in life.

I knew I wanted more though, more than being a Mommy.

I flip-flopped on certain “purposes” for the next few years.  First, I wanted to take my love of nature and become a Park Ranger.  I wanted to teach people about the outdoor world.  I took a certificate course through Penn Foster on Forestry – Wildlife Conservation.  I was fascinated by the things I learned but after researching more, I realized that getting paid to be a Park Ranger was nearly impossible on the East Coast and relocating wasn’t an option.  Next up, I took my love of exercise and decided I would become a Certified Personal Trainer.  Purchasing a Groupon, I did just that.  I barely passed the proctored exam but obtained my certification and although my purpose of owning my own gym and teaching women to love their bodies was lost when I succumbed to another episode of Major Depressive Disorder, I have still kept this certification active.  I realize though, this is not my purpose in life.

With decades of therapy under my belt, I began to play therapist to myself on this topic… What is your purpose in life Stephanie?  What do you want to accomplish?  What in your mind will give meaning to your life?  Answering these questions gave me that awkward puzzled look that you try to prevent your face from making when you are given the question, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” at an interview.  Luckily, I was not put on the spot sitting in front of an interviewer as it was only me, myself and I.

I analyzed all my aspirations up to then… becoming a mother, creating buildings people needed and could enjoy, helping people enjoy nature, helping people love their bodies and realized that all these aspirations centered around helping or nurturing people.  What could I do with that that would not require going back to school because this lady did not have the money for that.  The light bulb moment happened after a friend of mine published her first book.  I always loved to write since childhood.  Writing was an outlet for me during my Depressive episodes.  I felt that if I wrote about my experiences with Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I would be able to help those people who were too scared to speak up, who needed someone to tell them that they are not alone, that they do not need to see the stigma as a threat.

I started my blog focusing on my 20+ years struggling with these illnesses and then decided to do more.  I began to document my journey for a future book.  I became a Climb Co-Leader and a Warrior Mom Ambassador for Postpartum Progress Inc.  I submitted several articles to Stigma Fighters and The Mighty online.  I have been published in two collaborations focused on Mental Illness, Stigma Fighters Anthology II and A Dark Secret.  In a few years, I hope to have my book published and I hope to become a Certified Peer Specialist.  I have become a Mental Health and Maternal Mental Health Advocate.  

This, this, is my purpose in life.  Helping others.  As I help my daughter with her homework, help a struggling mother find someone who has been through what she has been through, or help others shed the shame of their Mental Illness diagnosis, I know, this is what I was put here to do.