Awaiting My Emotional Aftermath…

I am sitting here nauseated.  Stomach churning.  Gurgling.  Body repulsed and mimicking regurgitating motions when thinking of eating my breakfast.  It is almost 11am and I have not eaten anything yet.  I have been up since 6:40.  I am anxious.  Anxiety has been building in me since this past weekend started.  There is so much to do and, frankly, not enough time.
On Thursday, I leave for Atlanta.  I am going for pleasure, not business this time.  I will be spending three days there interacting with a wonderful group of Warrior Moms at the 2nd Annual Warrior Mom Conference.  This is indeed a no judgment zone, more so than Planet Fitness.  All of us have empathy.  All of us can relate to each other in some way because all of us have suffered and survived a Postpartum Mental Illness.  I have enthusiastic anxiety.  I am elated to see all of these mothers I met last year and to meet so many more this year.  I can’t wait to learn more about what I can bring to my community.  And, of course, see a little bit of Atlanta while enjoying some Southern fare.
One minor problem that weighs heavily and what is causing my anxiety to grow… I decided to have my daughter’s birthday party the day after I get back, this Sunday.  I did this for numerous reasons.  Sunday is her actual birthday.  I also wanted to get this party stuff over and done with.  By doing this, I left the last minute party details in the hands of my husband, a guy who is wonderful, but has never helped me with planning any of our daughter’s parties.  Now in addition to my packing list, I have to create the “You Need To Do This On Saturday For The Party” list.
And, I am at work… getting overwhelmed with what I need to do here and the above mentioned.
I’m worried.  No, scratch that, I am fearful that I stretched myself too thin.  I am very worried that I’ll snap and like a stone released from a slingshot, be propelled backwards even deeper into that sinking hold of my Anxiety Disorder.  That quicksand, suffocating.  Drowning in the depths of my Frenimies… Anxiety and Depression.
And I did it anyway.  I created this.  I could have easily made my daughter’s party another weekend.  What the heck was I thinking?!  My flight home won’t arrive back at the airport until 11pm on Saturday.  I won’t get back to my  house until 12am, 1am on Sunday the 16th, my daughter’s 10th birthday.
And then there is that… the fact that my baby, my Only, is turning 10.  Double-digits.  I am extremely excited to celebrate this with her, but devastated that this is the beginning of the end of her young childhood.  From this point on she will get moodier, meaner, more secluded.  First with prepubescence and then with becoming a full-fledged teenager.  My sweet little girl will start to not want to be seen with me.  She’ll start to pull away from hugs and avoid kisses.  Yes, 10 starts my grieving process.  Grieving for the baby, toddler, and young child she isn’t anymore.
So many emotions going through me in this short period of time.  I will be fine, yes extremely anxious, but fine until I come back from the conference and get through her birthday.  Then all hell will break loose.  This has happened to me numerous times before.  I did take measures to try to relieve the affects of all these emotions, feelings and side effects from this Anxiety.  I decided to take Monday off of work too.  Crazy, I wasn’t going to do that originally.  I scheduled a massage and have therapy that day.  I am hoping to hike, weather permitting.  All things that help me cope, that relax me, rejuvenate me.
Now I wait… wait to see how bad my emotional aftermath will be.  Wait to see how dead tired and irritable I will be on Sunday as I entertain about 10 girls age 8-10 of course putting on a happy face and pleasant demeanor.  Wait to see when it all will hit me.
Going to try to force myself to eat breakfast now (at 11:30am)…

How Being Hospitalized Saved Me

I grew up with the stigma that you never wanted to be known as crazy. Keep it quiet. Don’t ever speak about it. It can affect your grades, your career, your relationships. Hush-hush, on the down low. I obeyed these commands for fear that because I was a diagnosed depressed person, I would only be seen as crazy. I would be known as a woman who talks to herself or becomes violent because, well, that is how Mentally Ill people have always been portrayed in the media.

I’ll even admit, I fell victim to those views. I would thank God everyday that I was never hospitalized. I could live in silence with my depression and fane happiness by putting on a smile. Day in, day out, I plastered that smile on my face hiding the inner turmoil beneath. And then it happened, the day I feared the most, the day I had to be hospitalized.

At the time of my first hospitalization, I was deep into severe postpartum depression and anxiety. Honestly, I was extremely delusional and vaguely alive. My days were filled with multiple crying spells, several trips to the bathroom to vomit, not eating, not sleeping and spewing forth lies I believed that I didn’t love my daughter and my husband and her would be far better off without me. The week before entering the hospital, I was at my new psychiatrist three times and my new therapist twice. Five of those seven days I saw someone to help me and yet I was getting worse.

The final decision to go to the hospital was based solely on the fact that I thought I was extremely malnourished.

My mother brought me to the ER. I spent the next hour pacing the room or rocking back and forth in one of the waiting area chairs all while shaking uncontrollably and hyperventilating. My mother was extremely worried about me, beyond your typical Jewish mother worrying. She feared that my life was in danger. No parent ever wants to get to that point. Her fear never crossed my mind once as my only concern was my malnourishment.

I wasn’t deemed an emergency because I was not suicidal or having thoughts of harming myself or my child. I did, however, have extreme thoughts of running away, of removing myself from this situation, this situation where I didn’t love my daughter and wanted nothing to do with her. When I was brought back into a triage room and questioned by a physician’s assistant I explained quickly that I was one month postpartum and then angled in on my not eating/vomiting for a couple of weeks situation. The only doctor that was brought in to see me… a psychiatrist. This is where I was officially diagnosed with severe postpartum depression and anxiety. Her next question to me was:

“Are you willing to admit yourself to the short term psych ward?”

That is when I started to shake again. Tears rapidly fell down my cheeks. Psych ward? But that is for crazy people! Me? Crazy? Quick visions of strait jackets and padded rooms came into view. Fear that I would be drugged and left for eternity entered. I would never see anybody again. But this is what you wanted Stephanie, you wanted to run away and eradicate yourself from this world. Then I looked at my mother and my husband and said, “Yes.”

My initial day is a blur. I was so out of it, physically drained from all the crying, vomiting and shaking. I think I attempted to sleep through most of it. Of course, I was drugged, but at this point didn’t care. I didn’t care about my well being at all anymore. I could’ve wasted away to nothing and I would’ve been cool with that.

But, on day 2, I was pulled from my bed and brought to group therapy with the threat that I would have to go home if I didn’t ‘participate’. Therapy brought on stories from others who were ‘obviously’ more sick than I was, at least that is what I thought. I heard their struggles and their successes. I was given food and although it was very hard in the beginning, I started to eat and guess what? I didn’t throw any of it up. I was given coping tools in art therapy by drawing, crafting and journaling. I was becoming more human. Within days, I anticipated visiting hours when my baby girl would come to see me and I held her the whole time.

Being hospitalized saved my life. If I didn’t admit myself, I am not sure where my delusional thoughts would’ve taken me. The hospital gave me the ‘Me’ time I so desperately needed. It gave me a break from my responsibilities to others and forced me to take care of myself first. It gave me medication that got me stable (although apathetic). I felt safe there, safe from myself.

I felt so safe there that when, 8 years later, I needed help badly, I knew I needed to be hospitalized and begged for it. Once again I was riddled with extreme anxiety that had me nauseas from sunrise to sunset. I had lost lots of weight and was grieving the loss of my foster son back to DCF. This time, I was worried about myself. This time I had thoughts of hurting myself. This time I cared about getting better. I, not ashamed, admitted myself to the same short term psych unit I was in all those years ago. I did it because it saved me then, and I knew, it would save me now.

*****

Being hospitalized wasn’t perfect. The psychiatrists were basically non-existent during my visits, the first that lasted 12 days, the 2nd lasting 5 days. Both stays contained weekends and holidays, days that, well, doctors didn’t work. I mean who wants to work on a weekend or holiday?! It’s like us patients could put our issues on hold until they came back. The life saving measures I found in the hospital were through myself being able to focus on me, medication, their slipper socks (still feel safe in them), and its therapists and nurses. They were nice and didn’t treat us as a threat to society. We were respected. We were people.

I don’t hide the fact that I have been hospitalized. It is not a hush-hush situation for me anymore. People need to know what it is really like. People need to know that anyone around you, your parent, your coworker, a friend, could be battling a Mental Illness and may be or have been hospitalized. People need to know that One Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is not typical.

When You Know It’s Time…

​It finally happened.  It only took almost two years, but it finally happened.  I am proud to announce…

…I have tapered off Ativan!!!

This little almost microscopic pill was in control of my life.  Sure, I owe it some credit for saving me from body shaking, hyperventilating, heart-palpating anxiety.  But… it controlled me.  From the first moment that Benzo entered my system in January of 2015 when I was last hospitalized, I knew what would happen.  I knew I would succumb to this drug just like I have so many times before to its siblings: Valium, Xanax & Klonopin. Drugs that force me to relax (which is very necessary at the time).  Drugs that force me to sleep.  Drugs that force me to become ‘normal’.

For the longest time I hated being on medication.  I despised the fact that a little pill was necessary in my life to retain some ounce of normalcy.  Every time I tapered off a medication, I threw a little party in my head to not being controlled by a substance anymore.  I longed for the day I wouldn’t be on any medication.  Although it did occur, and lasted for four straight years, I once again became dependent on medication, and many of them, that January of 2015.

When I admitted myself to the hospital, besides telling the psychiatrist I was having thoughts of hurting myself and bordered on having suicidal ideations (which I was), I had to agree to put myself on whatever medication they gave me.  I needed the help, so I desperately agreed.  That night I started on 5mg of Lexapro, 100mg of Seroquel and .5mg of Ativan, the latter would be given to me 3 times daily.  I’ll fully admit, I was a complete mess and was in dire need of the aid of medication in addition to therapy.  I welcomed these meds with open arms.

After suffering on and off for decades, I finally decided to let go of my irritation at being dependant on medications.  I welcomed it inside my ‘guest house’ for tea. (Please read Rumi’s poem ‘The Guest House’ below).

Over these last almost 2 years, I tried multiple times to taper off the Seroquel and the Ativan (yes, with the aid of my Psychiatrist – NEVER taper by yourself).  I failed on these attempts.  I realized I was not where I needed to be mentally, and although I cried when these attempts were unsuccessful, I pushed onward and took my meds.  It was only about 4 months ago that I finally, successfully, tapered off the Seroquel!

The next item on my agenda was to tackle the Ativan.  Although, I was not on the prescribed dosage from the hospital anymore, I was still actively taking .5mg in the evening for sleep.  With this last hospitalization (and the events that occurred a few months prior) my anxiety at night was excessive.  I feared bed time.  I internally fought going to my room because I knew my bed was a cause of extreme anxiety.  My therapist didn’t quite understand this anxiety.  After many visits with him, we figured out that it pertained to noise.  My brain assumed every loud noise, forget loud, every noise would keep me from sleeping and when Stephanie doesn’t sleep, Stephanie goes off the deep end.  We processed my anxiety over loud noises and although I’m still highly irritated when I hear any noise in the evening, I was able to talk myself down from the ridiculous thoughts that I would never sleep again.

I was now ready.  The time to taper off the Ativan was now.

I consulted with my Psychiatrist the best way to do this.  At this point, I was down to .25mg of Ativan at night (have you ever tried to cut that tiny .5mg pill in half?!).  I have been through tapering before but I wanted her best recommendation.  She honestly said to me, “I think you got this.  You know exactly what to do.” I started with 2 more weeks at the .25mg.  Then I proceeded to .25mg every other day for 2 weeks and then, last week, .25mg every 2 days.  By the time I got to my last dosage (Saturday night), I just said screw this and didn’t take it.

So here I am, Ativan free for almost a week now and I am doing just fine.  My bed does not scare me.  When noises pop up at night, I logically tell myself it will not last and that the ear plugs will block it out.  I’ve talked myself out of my Anxiety without forcing it.  I am proud of myself.

*****

With all that said… please do not skew my view on medication.  It is a valuable aid in Mental Illness recovery.  I only taper off meds when I know I do not need them anymore, when I know I can live typically without them.  I am off the Seroquel because I am not having a psychotic episode anymore and it was not helping me sleep anymore.  And I am off the daily Ativan because I do not need it anymore. I still filled a prescription for it because when I do have Anxiety attacks, I will take it.  I am still on my Lexapro because after battling Depression on and off for more than 2 decades, and after the suggestion of a few doctors, I have decided that it is probably a good idea to remain on an antidepressant for the rest of my life. I am more than okay with this decision.  One day, I hope to taper off my sleep aid, Trazodone, but for now, I am content and living ‘normally’ and that is what matters the most.

A Letter To My (Toddler) Daughter

While purging our house this weekend in preparation to move next summer I came across the following letter that I wrote on February 8th, 2008.  My daughter was then only about 16 months old and it was in this letter that I realized my struggles with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety were still not over.  She has read this letter, and being the kind loving child she is, apologized for not being soothed by me.  She thought I blamed her.  We had a really long heart-to-heart talk where I told her that she is in no way to blame, that this is what these Illnesses do to my brain at times.  I told her I have always loved her and will always love her… to infinity and beyond.

2/8/08
My Dearest Daughter Sophia,

I should have started this journal sooner… I should have started it right after you were born.  There are so many thoughts and things I need to say to you.  Upmost and of most importance is I love you, I will always love you.  You are the reason I was born.  You are my heart, my biggest accomplishment.

With all this said, I must apologize to you.  I feel like I am failing you as a mother on this particular night.  You have a bad cold today and you are battling cutting a molar and with this you are crying.  I am immediately brought back to when I was succumbed with Postpartum Depression 2 weeks after you were born.  Now as you are nearing 16 months I hate to admit I may still be battling it.  I already feel tremendous amounts of guilt for the 12 days I spent in the Mental Ward when you were only a month old.  Reliving these memories now only makes me feel worse.  I hope you never feel this guilt… this pain.  With this, I get anxiety attacks… shortness of breath, crying, hyperventilation.  I can’t seem to stop them at the moment but just know my sweet girl, Mommy is working on it.

There are fears I have for you whenever an attack hits.  I worry, too much, that I passed this nasty disease on to you.  Just know Depression & Anxiety are real.  Know that I am so sorry if I did pass it to you.

What I am most upset about at the moment is I feel I can’t console you.  Every time I try to rock you, sing to you, hold you… it just doesn’t seem to work.  I just don’t know what I am doing wrong.  I am happy that you are safe in Daddy’s arms but am upset that mine can’t make you better.  Is this because of my anxiety attacks that make me freeze & mentally give up?!

I just want to be normal.  I want to “go with the flow” like your father.  I want to be able to hear you cry & not freeze.  I want to not feel guilty anymore! I want to not feel like I failed you.  I want it resolved today.

You may read this years from now and think it is you who caused this.  Sophia, you are not to blame.  Don’t you dare think that.  Think about it as this, your Mommy has a disease that there is no complete cure from but it will not kill me.  It alters the way I think about things and for this I am getting help.  For this reason I had to go to the hospital for 12 days.  For this reason I feel guilty, worried & like a failure every day.

I only hope you can forgive me for the time I missed… The hugs… The kisses… The songs… I am trying because I want to be there the next time you need to be rocked… The next time you need a lullaby. 

I love you with all my heart & soul and I will until the day I have to depart from this world.  I couldn’t imagine life without you in it anymore.  Whenever you smile, giggle, reach out for me, hug me, give me a kiss, take a step, it makes me realize that the world is a good place and that we will discover it one day at a time, together.

Love Always & Forever,

Mommy

When ‘Back-To-School’ Time Is ‘Back-To-Anxiety’ Time

That time of year is back.  The time of year mothers around the country are breathing a sigh of relief as they see free time returning in their future.  The time of year where we smile at the smell of paper and sharpened pencils.  That time of year where we stock up on crayons, scissors and erasers.  It is Back To School Time!  Yes!

My daughter spent the first half of summer in camp and these last remaining 3 weeks with both sets of grandparents and a good friend of hers.  Even she knew it was time to go back and she couldn’t wait.  The words, “Can I sleep in my own bed tonight?” murmuring from her mouth as she yearned to be home and not shuffled about due to her parents work schedules.  She wants to return to normalcy.  She can’t wait to go back to school (which started Monday, August 29th).  She misses her school friends dearly and wants to catch up with them and gossip.  I mean what prepubescent girl doesn’t?!

This is her year!  She’s a 5th Grader, one of the rulers of the school.  My baby is in her last year of elementary school and while this has me teary-eyed, she is ecstatic.  I am already picturing me sobbing at her Moving Up Ceremony at the end of the school year and she hasn’t even quite begun yet.  My tears are for her and for missing a school I have come to love.  The Teachers, the Principal, the Vice Principal, Staff, Custodians and fellow parents… they have truly made these years wonderful for her.  But, I will put off my sobs until that time comes.

Back to school time, the best time of year, isn’t it?!

As normal with my daughter’s school, we do not receive teacher assignments until about 2-3 days prior to the first day.  I anxiously ran home after work checking our mailbox everyday last week.  I was more excited than my daughter to find out who her teacher was.  Nothing Monday, or Tuesday or Wednesday.  For sure it would be in the mailbox on Thursday, right?!  I grew nervous, my Generalized Anxiety Disorder was elevating.  Where the f*ck is it?!  I came home Thursday and got excited when I saw a few envelopes sitting by my chair at the dining room table.  It’s here, I can feel it!  I picked up the stack… thumbed through the envelopes and said:

“You’ve got to be f*cking kidding me!”

Nothing!

At this point, I was extremely worried.  A typical person would just brush this off telling themselves it will come tomorrow or Saturday.  Worst case, she goes to school Monday and asks in the office.  But, I am far from typical.  My Anxiety ALWAYS plays out the worst scenario.  What was the worst scenario?  I already imagined Monday morning coming.  My daughter would get to the school, the school she grew up in where many teachers and administrators knew her by name, only to find out that they had forgotten her.  I imagined them checking their list and discovering her name not on it.  Then I pictured her freaking out (she has GAD too).  After that, I would get the panicked phone call as the school scrambled to find a class for her, meanwhile she being too anxious and overwhelmed to calm down.  As this played out in my head, I had quite the anxiety attack that night with hyperventilation and muscle tenseness.

“They forgot her.  How could they forget her?! She’s been is this school for years!”

My husband looked at me and muttered, “Stop.  You know they didn’t forget her.  Do you need me to help with breathing exercises?” (He knows his wife well.)

I debated taking an Ativan but I am trying coping skills that are not medication as I am attempting to slowly wean off the Ativan.  How have we not received her teacher assignment yet?  Everyone else we know got theirs!  Desperate, I decided to abuse my PTO position.  This will be my 3rd year as PTO Treasurer and my 6th being a member of the PTO.  I texted my neighbor who is PTO President and asked for the Principal’s phone number.  After receiving his number, I texted him.  He was concerned and told me to call the office the next day.

I did one better.

Friday, the PTO was sponsoring a “Welcome Back” Staff Appreciation Breakfast.  I volunteered in the morning before work helping to set up.  I had a goal in mind.  I was not leaving the building until I got my daughter’s teacher.  I was still fully convinced they forgot her and I would rather that play out in front of me than in front of her on Monday.  Stupid Anxiety Disorder!  If I had to, I would go into work late.  It was close to 8:00am when someone noticed the Vice Principal walking by.  She stopped in to check out the spread and I ceased my opportunity.

I grabbed her attention and asked if she could tell me my daughter’s teacher.  She said, “Sure,” and we walked to the office.  I admit, I was getting nervous.  Confirming the spelling of my last name (she knows me because of PTO), she scoured the list.  

“She has Mr. Fairchild,” she said, and with that I breathed naturally for the first time in almost 24 hours.

How My ‘Sleep Divorce’ Has Kept My Marriage Strong

I don’t sleep with my husband.  

We have tried for a few years to survive in the same bed at night to no avail.  We just can’t make that part of our relationship work.  We have what now seems to be termed a “Sleep Divorce”.  In fact, aside from separate beds, we have separate bedrooms.  It works, it makes us work.
From the beginning of our living-together-relationship we have always had trouble sleeping in the same bed.  He constantly suffers from Restless Leg Syndrome and every suggestion his doctor has given him to ‘cure’ it hasn’t worked.  Nightly, I would be awoken to the whole bed shaking thinking there was an earthquake occurring because earthquakes are just so prevalent in the Northeast, USA (note sarcasm).  Nope, no earthquake, just my husband’s leg.  He must be dreaming about running a marathon again.  Ugh, sleep did not come easily those years and when I don’t sleep, my Anxiety and Depression take hold very quickly.

I am not completely innocent either.  Because of my work schedule I could stay up later.  Being years before the invention of Netflix and tablets, this usually involved binge watching Frasier and Golden Girls episodes on my portable DVD player.  Problem was, I was in the bed with my husband and tended to fall asleep during episode 2 or 3, but the sound kept him awake.  I solved the sound issue by wearing headphones but now the light kept him awake.  In addition to my DVD habit, I am told I also snore a bit and chomp in my sleep, but since I have not been given proof of that, I find that hard to believe.

So when we moved into our 4 bedroom house 8 years ago, the excitement came.  I could have my own room again!  I think I was more ecstatic then my toddler child at the time.  I looked at the remaining 2 bedrooms and declared the bigger of the two mine.  It had 2 windows and a ceiling fan.  Yes, I had my own space.  I could snore, I mean, sleep in peace.  On rare occasions, when guests visited, I would vacate my room and sadly enter my husband’s room to sleep.  Luckily, those nights were few and far between.  

I know many will not see this as normal.  Let’s rewind to more than a decade ago.  My husband (then fiancé) and I were sharing an apartment with friends.  This was right after we graduated college.  We had a queen-size bed and a whole mess of issues between his Restless Leg Syndrome and the fact that I was the one who had to wake up early.  Constantly, I vacated the bed to either sleep on the den floor or the living room floor.  Our roommates did not like this and ultimately I had to return to that bedroom I shared with my husband and sleep in the maybe 18″ wide space between the bed and the dresser.  I would argue with our roomies to just give me one space to sleep in that wouldn’t inconvenience them.  There was no give and only the following response:

“How are you two going to be married if you can’t sleep in the same bed together?!”

Ah… interesting.  This response struck me.  What does sleeping in the same bed have to do with a happy marriage?  Isn’t a marriage based on love and friendship?  Where in the marriage license is there a box that we have to check that says “Thou Shall Sleep In The Same Bed Every Night”?  Where is there a vow we are forced to take in the wedding ceremony that promises we will always sleep in the same bed together?  My husband and I didn’t quite understand this necessity.  We both grew up with parents who didn’t.  Most nights, my mother would leave their bedroom to sleep on the sofa because my father’s snoring became too loud and obnoxious.  Once us kids left the roost, my parents had their own bedrooms for awhile.  The same happened with my husband’s parents.  My in-laws still have their own rooms.  And you know what… my parents have been happily married for over 50 years!  Yes, you read that right, 50 YEARS!!!  And you know what else, my in-laws aren’t that far behind them.

My husband I have been married now almost 12 years and we have been together almost 20 years.  This ‘Sleep Divorce’ keeps us happy and sane.  We are able to sleep more solid and more continuous alone.  Because of the better sleep I get, my Anxiety is lower and my Depression is kept at away.  And you know what, my mental health is more important than the stereotype of married couples sleeping in the same bed, right?!

A message to all those men and women out there, those married or about to be, it is OKAY to not sleep in the same bed as your spouse/fiancé/significant other every night.  There is no authority that says you have to.  Remember the first season of I Love Lucy where Lucy and Ricky had separate beds.  Remember the Kings and Queens of long ago who had separate wings of their castles.  It is okay.  Both of your sleep is way more important than sharing a bed.  Getting  healthy sleep keeps you mentally and physically healthy.  If your spouse/fiancé/significant other is keeping you from having healthy sleep you can make a change in the sleeping arrangements.  ‘Sleep Divorce’ is more common than you think and is way cheaper and healthier than going through a regular Divorce (so I’m told).

“I Hate You, Mommy!”

​I would have to say it was around age three when Sophia first yelled at me that she hated me.  Being so young, she had not learned just how hurtful the word “hate” could be.  I know a lot of women who have gotten upset, practically in tears, when their young toddler spews forth, “I hate you, Mommy!”  For me the tears didn’t come.  I knew she was just mad that I told her “No” for doing something wrong, or for not buying her something.  Was I wrong not to care?  How come I brushed it off so easily?  How come the bridge of emotional stability did not collapse me into tears at the uttering of “I hate you, Mommy!” like with other mothers?

As an adult, I understand how hurtful the word “hate” can be.  I continuously tell Sophia to never say that word, to always replace it with “dislike” or, in certain circumstances, “extremely dislike”.  “Hate” implies bigotry and prejudice.  We can’t hate something anymore, the word has become a swear word, something evil.  

But, I can say without a doubt, I hated my daughter in her infancy.  Only three weeks after she was born, I had racing thoughts through my head on how I could rid myself of her.  I never wanted to hurt her, I just wanted to remove myself from her presence.  I thought over and over again about running away.  Leaving in a car, train, plane or even a Greyhound bus… something that would take me far away where her cries didn’t echo in my head like a Mandrake plant from Harry Potter and the Chamber Of Secrets (See video here).  I pondered hurting myself so that I might have to be in the hospital for weeks or even months.  I even dreamed of being put into a psychiatric hospital (which would occur).  Anything to get me away from her, because my hatred of her was so strong.

Of course I was ill.  

My daughter is my only child.  She is the child I suffered severely from Postpartum Depression and Anxiety with.  She is the child I grew to hate in her first few weeks and I have told her this.  I have sat her down once she reached age eight and explained why Mommy is, well, a bit different.  She had seen my crying outbursts, my running sprees to the bathroom to dry heave, my clawing at my head, the constant rocking back and forth and my 2nd hospitalization.  I didn’t have to go back to the history of my Postpartum days, but I did.  I wanted her to know everything.  I wanted her to know about how an illness can change the way you think.  And I wanted her to know that now, I love her, as I constantly tell her, “to infinity and beyond!” (Thank you Toy Story!)

But when she uttered those words, “I hate you, Mommy!”, it didn’t faze me in the slightest way.  Why?  It was so easy for me to hate her but so hard to believe that she could actually hate me.  Believing that she had innocence on her side at age three.  The moment she said this, I instantly thought of the 7th Heaven episode (Season 2, Episode 9) where Ruthie tells her mother “I hate you” for the first time.  She’s around 4 or 5.  The mother loses it.  She’s crying her eyes out.  She seriously believes her child hated her… and for what, yelling at her for coloring the walls.  It made me wonder if a child so young could actually understand the affects of saying the word “hate”.   But the episode continues to teach us about the connotation of the word “hate” with the story of a WWII Concentration Camp survivor.

I haven’t  thought much of “I hate you, Mommy” since, until someone I know recently was in this situation and because it was the child she suffered from a Postpartum Illness with, she took it more to heart and was deeply upset that that due to their rough first few years, there was indeed still a separation amongst them.  I thought about this.  With all of Sophia’s knowledge of my Mental Illnesses, when she tells me she “hates” me now, does she really mean it?  I’ve been so honest with her that I am sure there will come a time when she really does hate me.  Who is to say she doesn’t now and, in some ways, she has every reason to.  She knows I have actually hated her.  She knows my presence in the first year of her life was more robotic.  She knows she was ignored while we were fostering a child, my Tyler.  She knows I have missed moments in her life because I was stuck shaming myself for what happened with Tyler.  I have hurt her.  I have hurt her so much.  Am I wrong to assume that eventually she will hate me?

“I hate you, Mommy!” has been said to me so many times in Sophia’s almost ten years of life.  It is usually followed an hour or two later with “I love you, Mommy!”.  At what age does that change for us?  At what age does our innocence fade and we learn how hurtful words really can be? 

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.

I Had A Son…

I had a son.

When I met him, he was barely 2 1/2 years old with an adjusted age of about eighteen months.  All I saw were his deep dark sienna eyes and his messy brown-black hair.

I had a son.

He was all mine from the first day I saw him anxious to give him a hug as I heard him “read” a book.

I had a son.

Soon after he moved in, scared about this new life, he began not to eat or drink, and worried for him, I began not to eat.

I had a son.

I watched him slowly develop with a curiosity a toddler is supposed to have.  

I had a son.

With each new discovery he made, I grew more love for him and more worry.

I had a son.

In that short time he was with us, we taught him how to eat, play, love.  We taught him family.

I had a son.

And when I left him, I was severely broken, pieces all over the floor.

I had a son.

I loved him so much, I craved to keep my family together, as I slowly killed myself.

I had a son.

And after he left, and the negative comments came from a certain person, my guilt grew… I was told I didn’t love him, I didn’t care for him, I acted selfishly, I ruined everything.

I had a son.

And every morning I wake up with his face in my mind, sad for him leaving, happy he was ours.

I had a son.

And I always think about him.  There is never a day in my mind where his dimpled cheek smile does not appear.

I had a son.

A little boy that looked so much like a certain baby picture of mine, he could’ve truly been birthed by me.

I had a son.

I have celebrated his past two birthdays with a candle lit cupcake and later on tears.

I had a son.

Now he lives with another Mommy and Daddy.  The hardest decision ever made, but the best for him.

I had a son.

Each day I yearn to see him, to hug him, to kiss him.

I had a son.

Often, almost two years later, I am still smelling the clothes he came with.  Inhaling everything about him.

I had a son.

My Tyler Rocco.

*****

I wrote this during a bad day recently.  Crying, full of tears. Shame and blame for Tyler leaving weighed heavily on me.  

When I wrote this, I wasn’t sure whether it was a poem or just a normal piece of writing. Still am not sure.

“When Will You Be Done?!”

I’m sitting in silence rocking slightly back and forth.  I’ve been threatened and my survival instincts are kicking in.  Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.  I am stuck… in my cubicle at work.  My stomach is repulsed by food and if I didn’t force myself not to, I would vomit anything that was in it.  My Anxiety is high.  I want to go home, I want to escape to my room and pull the covers over my head shrinking my existence.

I am being harassed, bothered on a project just given to me that I gladly accepted helping with.  I like to help people.  I tend to be a “people pleaser”.  Suddenly with a question asked by an equal, “When will you be done?!”,  I am spiraled into a whole other time and place, my last office.  Those words constantly asked over and over like a broken record…

“When will you be done?!”

“When will you be done?!”

“When will you be done?!”

Like I have a definitive answer.  Who does?  With these words come the visions of my former employment and then my body becomes restless.  I am quickly agitated and can’t sit still.  I rise, leave my cubicle and circle a couple of laps downstairs returning to my desk.  This has not cured the movement desiring beast in me and I still rock back and forth, my hands clenched in tight fists.

Slowly my body begins to release the tension and the rocking lulls.  I am completely exhausted.  I could sleep if I had a bed.  Still working, I notice I receive an email from another associate:

“When will you be done?!”

I am told in that email that I am to respond to another person with:

“When will you be done?!”

I’m overloaded, overwhelmed to the extreme.  I become restless once again, this time my legs swing back and forth, back and forth.  I respond with an email on when I thought I would be done and why it has taken me two days, two days to do almost a complete set of drawings.  Did I mention I was given this two days ago?!  I am a helpful person but not superwoman.  

Suddenly, I am being reprimanded by the “email equal”.  I am being told that my email was unacceptable and should have never been sent.  I am being made to recall said email and being threatened with the possibility of a higher up finding out.  I am beginning to feel stupid as I still do not know what in the email caused this response as all I did was answer the question:

“When will you be done?!”

There was no foul or condescending language (I know better, my parents did not raise an idiot). There was no “I’m not doing this project anymore!” There was nothing but an explanation on when I would be done and the fact the drawings would then have to be reviewed. 

Other equals are telling me there is nothing wrong with the email and not to worry about it.  That what was said to me was harassment.  I was being bullied.  Here I was trying to teach my daughter not to let kids make fun of her, not to let them bully her, and now I was a victim.  I was a hypocrite.  I was stupid.  I was shameful.  I was back to blaming myself for everything.  All the positives, everything I was complimented on, quickly vacated my head and all that was left was Depressed Stephanie, a part of me that was lying mostly dormant these last few months.  

I am still sitting here, still nauseas, body running on only a single-serve Greek yogurt from breakfast (and it is late afternoon).  I still don’t want to leave my cubicle because I don’t want to see these people.  I don’t want to be required to interact with them, at least for the rest of today.  I am now blank, empty and void listening to the drawings for this project  print. I am usually not affected like this at work but today I am.  I have finished, like I said I would, but the damage done to me is not over.  I will be okay, I always bounce back.