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.

Why I Do Not Shop Black Friday

Every Thanksgiving I awaken with a huge grin on my face because I know that somewhere outside in my driveway is the large roll of Black Friday ads. I love looking at them. I dive in each year looking at items I would love to receive for the holidays noting a few to put on my list for this year and storing other items in the back of my mind for my winter birthday. I find good deals that I think my family members would like. I even have a distinct order in which I look at my Black Friday circulars, starting with my least favorite stores and ending with Target. I would be an expert shopper if…

… if I actually shopped on Black Friday (or Thanksgiving for that matter with how the retail market has been the last few years). But I do not. I went once with my mother when I was fifteen and found it overwhelming then. More than two decades later, I refuse to do it now. Why?

My mental health is worth way more than any bargain.

You see, I do not step out into these sales because of my Anxiety. Weekly grocery shopping gives me anxiety attacks. The bright lights, loud noise and people are just too much. Going out on Black Friday would be sensory overload. People waiting in line for that “I just got to have it!” deal, willing to plow through anyone that gets in there way. The attitude of “I had it first!” while playing tug-of-war with an another irate person over an item. No, I just can’t go through that. It isn’t just the fear of being trampled on that occurs in several locations or being shot at. People get mean and manners fly out the window.

Black Friday brings out the worst in people. If I can’t get through a shopping excursion during any other time of year, I definitely cannot handle Black Friday. But the circulars are so tempting. Deals on technology, clothing, toys. Marketing at its best. Which retailer will win the title of first to be open this Black Friday?! (It was Big Lots in my area which opened at 7am Thanksgiving Day). But I do not have to ruin my mental health for this modern American-born “holiday”, not with the creation of Cyber Monday. Cyber Monday, another modern American-born “holiday” where I get the same deals and save myself several anxiety attacks by just sitting at my computer alone in silence. A day similar to Black Friday that does not actually start the Monday after Thanksgiving but on Thanksgiving itself. It is a sufferer of Anxiety’s dream.

Not to say that I never make it out to a store because I do, but I do it for another modern American-born “holiday”, Small Business Saturday. With this day I get to support local businesses without the loud noises and large crowds. It may cost me a little more, but my sanity is worth it.

I sat this morning, pouring through ad after ad for Black Friday. For some of them, I didn’t understand why people lined up the day before, the deals just didn’t look that good. Driving to my Thanksgiving lunch today we passed Best Buy and there were already at least twenty people out there waiting in line in 30 degree weather. It was only 11:30am. I know there is a thrill associated with it, but I have to admit, I even found the circulars overwhelming and had to stop and take a break.

It is for this reason, that you will never see me in a major retail store on Black Friday. I just can’t do it. I won’t do it. I will not sacrifice my mental health for a not-so-great deal. I will not support ruining a holiday, Thanksgiving, that stands for being grateful, on the latest gadget that “I must have”. Instead, I will sit at my laptop with the Black Friday ads and do my shopping here in my house where I am grateful for the internet in creating the ability to do this in addition to my family, my therapist and my medications that keep me stable.

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 You’re More Nervous Than Your Child On The 1st Day Of School

Crowds of kids gathered with their parents at the bus stop snapping photos of their elated children.  Some even took video.  I stood with my daughter giving a hug and kiss on her cheek.  I did this as support, support she didn’t ask for. Why? Because today was the 1st Day of School, the first day in a new school district for her and I was worried.

I was very nervous, bordering on anxious… wondering if she had everything.  I think I was more nervous this year than she was because I can actually remember Junior High (New York’s version of Middle School) and I remember starting Junior High not knowing anyone.  I remembered the fear, the anxiety, the pure terror.  You see, I didn’t go to my zoned Junior High where I would have had friends from my elementary school, I went to a ‘Gifted & Talented’ Junior High for my creative writing abilities.  And although my daughter was starting a new school system as we moved in late spring to give her a better education, unlike myself, she already knew a few people.

I worried about my daughter.  With every new thing she would panic over… What if I can’t open my locker? What if the kids make fun of me? What if I am late to class?… my worry grew.  I only want her to be happy and to succeed.

As the days passed and the 1st Day approached, I repeatedly asked her questions:

“Do you remember how to open your locker?  Tell me.”

“What bus do you take from school to the YMCA in the afternoon?”

And then I started to make blatant statements:

“Don’t forget you will need lunch.”

“You only need a pen or pencil the first day. Why are you bringing so much other stuff?!”

I think I was beginning to drive my daughter batty as she began to roll her eyes at me and sigh.

I just wanted her to be prepared.  Middle School is not Elementary School.  You are given more responsibilities in Middle School.  You have to go to more than one classroom.  You have a set time to get to each class.  You have reports and projects.

And most important… you must figure out who you are sitting with at lunch!

This last item was what was making my daughter more anxious the last few days.  She doesn’t want to hurt anyone.  She was debating between her oldest and dearest friend (they have been friends since they were babies), our neighbor across the way and a friend from her former camp in the city we used to live in that relocated too.  She questioned me repeatedly about this.  I suggested her old camp friend as she would see her bestie on the bus and well, our neighbor lives right across the way from us.

A mass chaos of questions, things to purchase, items on a To-Do list and my brain was foggy (it has been for the last couple of months already).  I couldn’t concentrate to get everything organized, I just couldn’t think.  With that I became irritable.  With the irritability, I grew more anxious and had several anxiety attacks.  It felt like my brain was playing a hyper speed game of Atari’s Pong in my head. But I tried to keep my anxieties from my daughter. We didn’t need her GAD to start.

It was official. I was more nervous than my daughter.

As I stood at the bus stop this morning with her and the gaggle of other kids and parents, I internally told myself this is it.  She is ready and if she forgot something, there is always tomorrow.  Tell your Anxiety that she is fine.  She will make friends. She will open her locker.  She will find her classes. You know she is ready for this and so are you.

Then the bus showed up. I waved to my friend, the bus driver.  I watched her get on and smiled. I walked away feeling calm and content and whispered, “Good luck my love.”

What Happens When A Dream Turns Into A Triggering Nightmare


Suddenly, I was back there.  That place, both a saving grace and a hell.  I was walking down the hall.  Bare concrete block walls.  Gray, solemn, just like the people that dwelled inside.  Doorways on both sides leading to rooms with aging office waiting room furniture that was once comfortable but now forlorn like their occupants.  I was one of them again.  An empty void, emaciated, internally crying for help.  Tempered glass and a counter to my left held those that treated us.  Their faces ranged from a gentle smile to a stare as if asking, “What is this person doing?  Am I safe?”  Slowly, I walked toward the end of the hallway where a window was.  Large, a glimpse to the outside world.  If only it was not right across the street from a cemetery.  

My eyes were welling up with tears.

Why was I back here?  There was no reason to be.  I have been doing well mentally and emotionally.  If this was the case, why was I, without warning, plunged into the short term psychiatric ward once again?  I was dreaming and being triggered.  Being both on the outside looking in and on the inside dying to get out.  

I have a love-hate relationship with the hospital’s psych ward.  When I was first there over ten years ago, I wondered why I was there.  I never thought I was experiencing the same problems as the other residents at the time.  I thought I was normal.  Ha, ha, good one Steph!  When I went back over two years ago, I begged for it.  I know being there would help me.


There are things I would rather forget about the hospital aside from the bare walls and gloomy atmosphere:  


The bed checks every 15 minutes… even if I was deep asleep, like clockwork I was awakened to a flashlight shining into the small glass panel in the door.  


The psychiatrists… although there to help, none of them appeared like they cared to help you. I spent all of five minutes a week day (they did not work on weekends or holidays) talking with them while their eyes looked elsewhere as if saying “You’re wasting my time.”


The wake-up time and routine… it was a bit rough waking up at 7am with all the medications I was given and then to go through the process of waiting in line to get weighed and our blood pressure taken.  


Lack of outdoor time… depending on your mental and physical state that day, you may be allowed to go for a short walk circumnavigating the hospital building viewing the nearby cemetery and emergency room.


But, where there is bad, there is also good.  As I mentioned, I knew I needed to be hospitalized again.  For some reason, I felt safe there.  I was only responsible for myself.  I could focus on my much-needed self-care and work on getting better even if it took a psychotic break to get me there.  I knew I would get the medications necessary to sedate me, stop my brain from its incessant thinking… you’re worthless, helpless, not worthy of love.  These medications would also stop my hysterical, borderline delusional, thoughts… take that screw, just jam it in your head, who cares if it kills you?!


Although the psychiatrists were lacking in care, there were some nurses that were a pleasant gift.  They would talk with you about your life focusing in on your face, treating you like a human being.  They remembered things you told them and asked you about it days later.  They were concerned about your care.  Sometimes they even sat and watched TV with us.


Aside from two very special nurses (1 each hospitalization), I made connections with fellow residents.  We talked about our experiences, gave each other advice, was there as a person who knew what it felt like.  I still, from time to time, communicate with my last roommate.


And yet, this dream triggered me.  I awoke with rapid breaths, scared, worried, panicked.  What did it all mean and why was it affecting me so badly?  I was somber the whole day.  Was this a prelude of another hospitalization to come?  Because of my Anxiety diagnosis, of course, here I am jumping to the worst conclusion instead of calmly thinking this through.  And if it is a premonition, why am I so fearful?  The hospital helped me.  Ultimately, I think I will have to consult my therapist on this.

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:

 

Struggling To Help My Daughter…


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?  

A Letter To My Former Foster Son As You Turn 5

 

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!

Love eternally,

Your Former Foster Mommy

What My Daughter Knows

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.