Mommy’s Sick… Does Anyone Care?!

A few days ago I stayed home sick.  No, I didn’t actually have a fever, but my nose was constantly draining as if someone forgot to turn the shower off and my body was achy everywhere.  I was involuntarily stretching because of these aches and knew that I would accomplish nothing, zero, zilch, nada at work.  I was lightheaded and nauseas.  From the moment I woke up, I knew I was doomed.  I texted my boss and informed him I would be out apologizing because I have a project deadline approaching.  I then crawled up the stairs and informed my husband that he would have to drive our daughter to school.

“I’m sick.  Can you please drive Sophia to school?” I voiced weakly, “I’m dizzy, achy, and my nose needs to be permanently attached to tissues.”

I should’ve known what his response would be, after all I have been married to the man for over 12 years and with him for over 20, but I was still a bit awe stricken…

“Ugh, do I have to?!” he whined.

Really?!

I love my husband, really I do.  He really is my rock.  So many times my Depression and Anxiety have told him to leave, that he would be better off without me.  But he never did.  He stepped in as primary parent and let me get the help I needed whether in the form of visits to my therapist or psychiatrist, a phone call to my parents or even a couple of hospitalizations.  He truly is my best friend and an awesome man with exception to this one thing.

During my hospitalization for Severe Postpartum Depression and Anxiety 10 years ago, I finally learned I am not Wonder Woman, I cannot do it all.  I mean ALL is a considerable amount.  The media will have you believe that mothers can do everything.  I haven’t met a mother yet that does everything and those that come close usually have large quantities of coffee or wine in hand.  Once I arrived home from this hospitalization, I put the phrase, “I need help” to use.  I mean, I honestly needed help.

“Jimmy, can you help me with this?” I asked my husband.  For awhile, he did (remember, this was a decade ago).  Then he would get whiny.  Once he started to get whiny, I stopped asking for help.  Without asking for help, my Mental Illnesses got worse, but I kept them relatively under control.  After all, I was forever in debt to him for being hospitalized and leaving him with a newborn to take care of for 12 days… at least I thought I was.  Then, I was hospitalized again and once released, he and my daughter questioned me how they could help me.

Ah, finally, they were asking how they could help, not waiting for me to beg them.  This, unfortunately, didn’t last.  I was once again asking them for help, not a lot, and I was using “please” and “thank you”.  They are the magic words you know.  My daughter usually obeyed, but lately, with prepubescence, it is becoming more difficult.  My husband…

And we’re back to… “Ugh, do I have to?!”

I tried not to get angry by this response.  I was completely drained anyway, but inside I was beginning to boil.

“Yes.  Thank you.”

He proceeded to do as asked.  I then called him at work around noon, after a nap and forcing some food into me, to make sure he was going to pick her up from school.

“You’re picking Sophia up from school, right?” I inquired.

“What? Me? Why me?  You’re home.  You pick her up.”

“I’m sick.  I’m not leaving the house.”

And once again… “Ugh, do I have to?!”

When this is a response you constantly receive, it makes it hard to ever ask for help.

Then, he added, “What are you making for dinner?”

What?!  Yes, I know I am home, but really, I don’t even have a desire to eat.  After explaining if he would like his food with snot on it (because, hello, drippy nose), I hoped he would understand that dinner making was not happening from me.  That wasn’t the end of it though… somehow he did guilt me into marinating the steaks I wasn’t going to eat.  With tissues stuck in both nostrils and my hands lathered in antibacterial gel, I got the steaks marinating.

It didn’t end there.  When these two people I love to infinity and beyond arrived home, their understanding of Mommy being unwell left the house.  I was constantly needed for something.  I don’t understand… the two of them functioned fine when I was away on business a couple of weeks ago.  But somehow they can’t understand the idea of me becoming sick.  To them, if I am present in the house, I should be able to function at 100%.  This, too, was the case 3 years ago when I had the flu.  They both couldn’t fathom why I wasn’t cooking and cleaning the whole house since I was home.  At that time, I put myself in quarantine… for 3 days all I did was sleep, go to the bathroom, and munch on toast.

And now, the tables are turned.

Hubby left work early 2 days ago feeling icky, deep into a case of the ‘Man Cold’ with the symptoms I had.  For those who are questioning what the heck ‘Man Cold’ is, I am pleased to tell you.  ‘Man Cold’ is the common cold when it presents itself in male humans.  Instead of acknowledging that they have a cold, they think they are dying.  They believe their sneezes and coughs are much more than a common everyday germ.  They somehow get the idea that this germ, the germ us females have just had, has mutated into a superbug.  They will continuously whine about how awful they feel and try to make you believe that they deserve to sit on the sofa and binge watch Star Trek and Mythbusters.

He stayed home yesterday to nurse said ‘Man Cold’ and mainly because school was canceled due to a couple of inches of slushy snow and ice.  He questioned why I wasn’t staying home too so I could take care of him and our daughter. I just looked at him oddly.  Home all day and he didn’t even salt the walkway, driveway and sidewalk.  Made for quite a theatrical performance for me getting to my front door last night after work.

This is the same person that only a few days ago was having me drive my child to school, make dinner, clean, pick up the child from school and wanted to know why I couldn’t go to work.  But I don’t whine when he asks for help.  Why?  Because I am Mommy.  I am the caretaker and my heart aches when those that I love are ill.  I just want to help them feel better.

I am sure there are men out there that do not act like they are on their death bed, that do not suffer from the dreaded ‘Man Cold’.  But, I haven’t met one yet.  Anyone who is married or with one of this special men, hold onto them tightly.  They are a rare species.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…FAIL.

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

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

…FAIL.

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

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

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

What do you want to be when you grow up?

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

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

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

…No.

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

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

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

November 16th… How Far I’ve Come

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

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

When Specific Dates Are Excessively Triggering

I’ve been a Depression sufferer for most of my life. Because of this, I tend to live in the past.  At the moment I am coming up on certain months in my life that cause me guilt, anxiety, regret, and deep sadness… 

October 26th (2014): The day Tyler moved into our house

October 31st (2015): The day I left my new job early to rush my little boy to the Pediatrician because he wouldn’t eat or drink.

November 12th (2014): The day Tyler got kicked out of the first daycare because he wouldn’t follow their schedule. 
November 16th (2006): The day I admitted myself into the hospital for Severe Postpartum Depression and Anxiety 
December 5th (2014): The day at work where I had my cell in one hand talking to Birth to 3 about Tyler and my work phone in the other talking to the nurse at Sophia’s school about an anxiety outburst. 
December 30th (2014): The day I went to the ER for a severe panic attack. 
December 31st  (2014): The day I moved out of my house to my parents waiting on Tyler to be removed from our house.  The day my psychotic break started.  The day I didn’t want to leave work early to go home.  The day the delusions took over. 
January 2nd (2015): The day Tyler left us. 
January 3rd (2015): The first day I started to die inside. 
January 14th (2015): The day I went to the Behavioral Crisis Center at the hospital and spent the night there. 
January 15th (2015): The day I knew I could not be left alone by myself.  The day I went back to the Behavioral Crisis Center.  The day I laid on the bed there and tried really hard to come up with a way to removed a screw from a table and jam it in my head.  The day I admitted myself again to short term psych. 
I try hard every year to look at how far I’ve come, but these dates and the images associated with them instantly pop into my head if I don’t keep my brain busy.  It’s amazing how quickly I can forget the good.  How images of my daughter’s euphoric birth are pushed aside with memories of the postpartum months that followed.  I sit with them, the hurt, the pain, the shear agony, ignoring the good.  Each year it does get slightly better.  EMDR therapy has made a world of difference in how I process these memories.  
Then the dates quickly approach.
Somehow, even with all my effort to push away these negative moments, there is always a moment where I find myself sitting with the anger and the frustration, and of course the guilt, and it seems nearly impossible to focus on the good.  So many happy memories.  
… An intensely cute little cherub of a boy, a dimple in one cheek… instead my focus goes directly to how in the end he was a huge trigger for my Anxiety and Depression. 
… Hearing him speak, seeing him learn how to eat solid food, seeing him discover how to love and loving him back…  to the point it hurt so much to let him go.  To the point I put my Mental Health aside again to try to save my family of four.  To the point I almost sacrificed my life as I admitted defeat, as I raised my white flag and surrendered to my Anxiety and Depression… 
The struggle is in how long I let the negative memories sit with me.  How long to let them dwell in my house, eat my food, drink some tea.  The longer they sit with me, the more deeply rooted they become, and the harder the struggle to pull myself out of them.  I am still working on this step.  Still having issues letting the guilt I have for myself over these events go completely.  After decades of dealing with Depression, I am learning how to live with it, instead of fighting to remove it from my body, mind and soul.  That latter battle is pointless.  It will never fully leave.  I am learning to control it, instead of it controlling me.  
As each of these dates approach, I will let in all the emotions and memories and will work my hardest at not letting the negative ones become permanent house guests.

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).