When I Learned To Accept My Depression Diagnosis

I am not a woman who hides her age.  I will admit it, I am 37.  I don’t look it and that is probably why I will fully cop to my actual age.  I have a young (very young) face and I am short (incredibly short).  Throw these two traits together and I might as well be 20.  I still get gawkers and non-believers when I correct people on my age.  I am 37 and for the last 23 years, I have been a sufferer and survivor of Depression.



My first diagnosis was at age 14.  With all the rapid firing, teenage emotions, who would’ve known that Depression was there too.  I certainly did not.  I just blamed normal teenage angst.  The signs were there though… crying uncontrollably, hating myself, hating others, wanting to run away, wanting to remove myself from this crazy world (although not by suicide… that would come a few years later).  Once my parents realized there was something not quite right with me, I was brought to a therapist where I received my diagnosis and then to group therapy with other troubled teens.  Major Depressive Disorder.  I was angry.  I was so angry.  Why me?  Why couldn’t I just be ‘normal’?  And then there is the infamous stigma.  Back in the early 1990s, being labeled with a Mental Illness had people envisioning you in a strait jacket, talking to yourself and banging your head against walls.



I could not accept this diagnosis.  Being a teenager, I fought it like I fought everything else.  I barely paid attention at group therapy.  I still was mad at my parents.  No, nope, I would not be a Depressive.



A few years later, almost 18 and a legal adult, my 2nd episode with Major Depressive Disorder hit.  This time I was suicidal.  Group therapy was a thing of the past.  I was now seeing a therapist one-on-one.  I was deeply immersed into CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy).  Even with wanting to die, holding a case cutter to my wrist, and seeing a professional, I could not accept living a life with Depression.  Nope, not for me.  I didn’t want it.  Someone please, for the love of God, take it from me.



My 4th bout of MDD was one of my worst, it was my battle with Severe Postpartum Depression and Anxiety, an illness so taboo in the mid-2000s.  I felt so alone.  I knew no one.  I became hospitalized.  Now, Stephanie, now would be the time to accept your circumstances and push past the trauma to live a fulfilling life.  Nope!  In the fight or flight aspect of Anxiety, I was and will always be a fighter.  I couldn’t understand why I had to go through this… hating my daughter, the panic attacks, crying spells, being an empty void for almost a year.  I couldn’t accept that I would never experience a typical postpartum and be the doting new mother.  I missed so much of my daughter’s first year of life, it just wasn’t fair.



My latest episode, brought on by taking care of and eventually having to give back my former foster son, was probably the worst.  I grieved for the loss of him for a good year and a half.  I was struck by several panic attacks, another hospitalization, and the realization that I was meant to only mother one child.  I lost myself, hopes and dreams I had for myself.  It brought back the trauma of my postpartum experience and ultimately gave me a PTSD diagnosis.  While dwelling so much in the past with the “Why me?”, “It’s not fair”, “I miss him”, I once again missed out on a big chunk of my daughter’s life, the child I did have.



It’s interesting though. I think we begin to learn acceptance with age.  After all, we are not as young and virile as we used to be.  I accept that I cannot run as fast I could before.  I accept that I can’t eat the foods I could eat before and maintain my weight.  I accept that my hair grays quicker after each coloring appointment.  So why couldn’t I accept my Depression diagnosis?  I have been living with it for over 2 decades.



Yes, I will never get that first year of my daughter’s life back.  I have so many pictures of my robot self from then, bad memories of myself caught on a piece of photo paper.    I will never get that year and a half of her life back from grieving the little boy who left our house.  I sat with this, after a year of EMDR therapy, and it came to me.  A light bulb literally appeared in my head and turned on.  By torturing myself with fighting my Depression, I was missing out on so much in life.  I took hold of a phrase my EMDR therapist would tell me:



“Invite your Depression in for a cup of tea.”



This time, after decades of being at war with my brain, I took his advice.  When I would find myself in pain over the past or self-loathing, I sat back and talked with my Depression, letting it consume me for that moment.  In time, I have learned to live in that moment, whether with my Depression or with my Anxiety, inviting it in for tea, and after a short time let it go.  My Depression no longer devours me.  The lies it tells me, no longer control me.  I have finally learned to live with this illness.



Twenty-plus years later, I have learned acceptance.


Struggling To Help My Daughter…


My daughter is a bright, caring, empathetic, preteen girl.  Most days she has a smile on her face that melts her mom’s heart.  She is typical preteen, mostly caring about binge-watching shows on Netflix or catching up on her friend’s latest YouTube videos featuring her fave, Beanie Boos.  She does well in school, is friendly to everyone, and is respectful of others.
She also has Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
When she was diagnosed at age 6, I did everything I could to help her.  I got her into a special group at her school, inquired information from her doctor and read up on anything I could get my hands on.  I have plenty of experience with adult GAD, but I haven’t a clue on what to do for childhood Anxiety.  The school group helped immensely and then she aged out of the program.  She was doing well until a major life event occurred in our household.  We were fostering-to-adopt but had to give this child back to DCF because of my declining mental health.  Her GAD came back full force.  This time we sought out therapy.  While she got help, so did I for my Depression and Anxiety.
In the last 2 ½ years, my daughter has been doing great with only minor hiccups.
Then we decided to move to give her a better education as she starts Middle School, another major life change.
My husband and I do not hide things from her and she knew from the beginning about the move.  She helped us in choosing where we would live (ultimately her input was minor).  We wanted her to embrace this change.  She was excited as she will be in school with her best friend now.  We thought she was handling this well.
And then sleep disturbances set in.  
My daughter has always been a good sleeper; I have never experience this before even with her past episodes of GAD.  As the moving date approaches, her sleep disturbances have become full fledge episodes of Insomnia and I, as her mother, feel completely helpless.  Here I am, a woman who has struggled with Depression and Anxiety for most of my life and I can’t help her.  For me, the solution comes in the form of medication that I take nightly.  For her, at age 10, there is no medicinal help.  At first we tried simple solutions by telling her to read, it will tire her eyes.  That didn’t work.  
As night 3 was approaching, I became extremely concerned.  I could vividly remember what I felt like and how I reacted to night 4 of Insomnia for me.  I remember the tears and the strong desire to sleep.  I remember the immense amount of thoughts that bounced in and out of my mind.  I remember the extreme irritation and delusional thinking I had during the day.  I was desperate to give my child relief.  
I suggested she use my weighted blanket.  She refused.
I suggested mindfulness meditation.  She refused. 
I suggested my Therapist’s 4-square breathing technique (breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds, repeat 4 times) which has worked for me a few times.  She was hesitant but decided to give it a shot.  It didn’t work.
Night 4 brought on the only pseudo-medicinal thing I could try with her… Melatonin.  I cut my 3mg pill in half.  Nope, still didn’t work.  She was in tears.  She just wanted to sleep and I completely understood this all too well.  I explained that she needed to distract herself, try not to just lay in bed.  I suggested reading, writing, journaling, drawing, coloring and lastly, watching stuff on her Kindle (which I set to the night mode that turns off the harming blue light).  She slept only 7 hours that night, barely enough for an adult.
Last night, night 5, I finally convinced her to use my weighted blanket.  I thought we may have found the solution as all was quiet.  Then I heard her come downstairs at 11pm.  After about 15 minutes, she returned to her room.  This morning she said that she sat crying in her room and eventually fell asleep around midnight.  She woke up at 6:10am.  6 hours of sleep.
I don’t know what to do.  She is declining rapidly.  The recommended amount of sleep for a child her age is 9-12 hours.  She has not had anywhere close to this in five days.  My sleep is becoming disturbed worrying about her.  I do not know how to help her anymore.  I am struggling as I feel the sense of blame coming back… she is like this because of me.  My GAD worries that she will never sleep again, always jumping to the worst conclusion.  I cry for her.  I blame myself for her struggles with this illness.  I am pondering therapy again, but that isn’t going to fix her problem quickly.  How can I help my daughter?  

Lamenting Silverbelle 

It all seemed to happen so quickly.  I knew something wasn’t right with you.  First it just seemed like you were coughing up fur balls.  Typical for a feline who constantly cleaned herself.  Then something changed.  The vomiting occurred every time you ate and for the most part lacked fur.  This was not just typical hair balls anymore.  Then you stopped eating altogether.  A trip to the Vet was imminent.
After about a month of seeing you get progressively worse, I finally took you to the Vet.  Frankly, I didn’t care if Daddy didn’t agree.  He held his stance that the Vet wasn’t needed until I told him the visit would be covered under the Senior Care Plan we bought for you.  That was Tuesday last week.  The physical exam didn’t yield anything but I opted for a bloodwork panel and X-rays.  Something was wrong.  A Mother knows.  It would be 1 – 2 days to get the results back.  We opted to board you for the night and pick you up the next day, Wednesday.  In the meantime, the Vet gave you and Anti-nausea med via injection.
Your X-rays came back normal.
When you got home Wednesday evening, you were back to your old self again.  Eating, although not as voraciously as you were known to eat.  You laid with us, head butting us all for pets and head scratches.  In the back of my mind there was a thought, that maybe, just maybe this was a virus that has finally run its course.  Similar instances with past pets should have told me otherwise.  Thursday morning, I fed you like normal expecting to come home to an empty food bowl and a multitude of meows for more.
I was wrong.
The Vet said the med was only good for 24 hours and she was right.  Where were the blood test results?!
Impatient, Friday morning I called the Vet asking about your blood work.  I was told that everything came back normal with exception to your liver enzymes which were elevated to 350 when the normal was 10 – 100.  There was no concern in the Vet’s voice.  They recommended the next step, and ultrasound.  Although a high expense, we agreed.  Friday, late afternoon I picked you up at home and drove the Veterinary Hospital a few towns away.
And waited.
And waited some more.
They brought me into an exam room, told me you were handling things well, and then I waited some more.
When the Vet returned, I could tell something was wrong but I couldn’t tell just how grim the results would be.  There was this look of sincere sadness.  She sat down in the chair next to me and said, “I have bad news.”
I looked at her and realized that when I said to my boss earlier that day that I needed to leave work because my cat is most likely dying, I now spoke the truth.
She continued, “We found a large mass in her intestines.”  And she proceeded to draw a diagram on a dry erase board she had in me.  Tears were beginning to well up in the corners of my eyes.  I remained strong.  Then, “She has intestinal cancer.”  That phrase sealed your fate.
She spoke gently and continued to tell us the measures we could take (we… I was sitting there alone absorbing all this).  The highest level of care, also the most expensive, required a biopsy of the lump to see if it was lymphoma or carcinoma and then chemotherapy and possibly surgery.  There was no way we could afford this.  I hated thinking this, but it was true.  I would’ve wanted to do anything to save you.  The next level of care was hospice care.  This required medicating you to make you more comfortable while you were dying.  And lastly, was humane euthanasia.
The Vet and I discussed what was reasonable in your situation.  She knew from my telling her and then her trying to do the ultrasound, that you were a bit stubborn and didn’t like ingesting pills.  In fact, it was nearly impossible to “pill” you.  There was a brief discussion on us learning how to inject you with medications.  She said, she would either go the hospice or euthanasia route.  At this point, the tears started flowing.  I hated being there alone.
I chose to bring you home and to discuss the options with Daddy and Sophia basically knowing what we would choose.  It wasn’t a hard decision, but it wasn’t an easy one either.  We didn’t want you in pain.  We didn’t want you to get worse.  We wanted you to be pain free and relieved of suffering.  Friday evening, we chose option 3, humane euthanasia.  We also knew, we didn’t want to wait long.  The longer the wait, the harder on all of us.
Saturday morning, we called your Vet and plans were made.  At 3:10pm we would all go with you and be with you as you faded away.  It was so hard to look at you that day knowing in only a few hours you would be gone.  I was not ready to let you go, my Furry Princess, my Princess Fuzzybutt.  I held you, rocked you, kissed your head.  You licked me one last time.  I cried incessantly.  The cat that made me love cats.  The cat that helped ease my anxiety.  The cat that was one of the family.
Saturday afternoon came and the three of us walked somberly to the car, me holding your carrier.  You meowed the whole way there.  The candle was lit already when we walked in, marking the death of a beloved pet.  They led us the cat room, explained everything to us and took you back to put a catheter in.  We picked an urn, chose to get 3 clay pawprint hearts and then waited for your return.  We were told that you had to be sedated to get the catheter in (no surprise since you hated anything medical).  They brought you back and gave us a few moments.  We all kissed you.  I held you and already because of the sedation you felt like a dead weight.  But I noticed your chest rise and fall.
The Vet returned with the syringe filled with an overdose of anesthesia.  We laid you back on the cat bed and sat the bed on Sophia’s lap at her request.  With one hand, I held Sophia’s and with the other I held your paw.  The syringe was administered and almost instantly your chest ceased to rise and fall.
You had crossed over the Rainbow Bridge.
Finding it terribly hard to let go, I held you for a few moments longer and rocked you and kissed your smooth head.  Then I gently placed your lifeless body back on the cat bed, kissed your once more, whispered for you to go chase the rabbits like you used to do in your dreams, and left.
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday… 5 days, and you were gone after 7 years with us.  It is still debated how old you really were, somewhere between 8 – 12.  Too young for death.  Saturday and Sunday, Depression hit… 2 days full of tears and emptiness.  It is easier now, the grieving.  I still talk to you like you are right next to me offering you bits of smoked salmon and a shred of steak.  I still imagine you curled up between Daddy and I on the loveseat downstairs at night.  I still expect to wake up and hear your meowing and scratching at the door for food.
Silverbelle, we love you immensely and miss you so much. Please know that one day we will all be together again.  RIP my furry child.

A Letter To My Former Foster Son As You Turn 5

 

My Sweet Little Boy,

I can hardly believe it has been a little over two years since you left our home. I can still remember your toddler-self walking in circles around the house. I can still hear your voice so vividly as I would come down the stairs in the morning, you pointing at me, saying, “Look, it’s a Mommy!”. I can still feel the soft skin of your cheeks as I would hold your face in my hands right by your dimples and then place my lips on them.

And then I remember what happened next. I never wanted you to be a trigger for me. Countless hours as I would hear you talk yourself to sleep or cough made daggers pierce my heart. It was as if I was falling down, out of an airplane with no parachute, into another episode of Postpartum Depression. First, the severe anxiety that left me emaciated and riddled with shaking and hyperventilating. Many days towards the end, as you sat in the living room watching TV with Sophia, you remained oblivious of the delusions my mind and body played on me. Once you left, Depression set in… Badly.

Oh, my sweet boy, it was never you. You were never the problem. I was. Every day since you left, I wake up with you on my mind. You are also one of my last visions when I go to bed at night. Please know, I never stopped loving you since the moment I met you in August of 2014. I still love you that much now.

And now you are turning 5. I am completely in awe of this. In my eyes you are still this toddler discovering the world. I remember seeing you learn how to eat real food, how to interact with children your age, learning the true meaning of love. You made friends, you experienced holidays, you finally had a family who truly loved you and in return, you learned how to love back. I can only imagine the little boy you’ve turned into, with your tousled dark brown hair and deep sienna eyes.  This big boy who will be starting Kindergarten in the fall.  I wonder how much taller you’ve grown, if your reading, what you are into.

Everyday my heart yearns to see you, to know you are okay, cared for, loved for certain.  And other moments, just when I think I would be okay seeing your face, my heart reminds me of my longing for you, the pain, the ache, the realization that you will never come back to me.

My Tyler, on your 5th birthday, I want you to know how loved you are. I don’t want you to ever feel abandoned. You are still adored by us. You are cherished by your forever family. You are cared for and loved deeply.  You will always be special, especially to me.  I did not birth you, but in those few months I had the pleasure of interacting with you, you gave me a new view on life and compassion.

Today, we will light 6 candles on a cake for you… five for your age and one more for good luck because Tyler, you deserve all the luck in the world and so much more.

Happy 5th Birthday my boy!

Love eternally,

Your Former Foster Mommy

What My Daughter Knows

My daughter knows I hated her just two weeks after she was born. Pure hatred, where using the actual word ‘hate’ is valid and not taboo. She knows I wanted to leave her and never ever see her again. She knows I wanted to turn back time and never have her, completely obliterate her existence.

My daughter knows what suicide is. She learned this at age 8 because she overheard something on the radio. She knows that I have thought about committing suicide a handful of times and that one of those times I came very close to slitting my wrist with a case cutter I stole from work (and still have). She knows I was a teenager then, almost 18, a legal adult, only 8 years older than she is now. She knows that these ideations have blown into my mind like a breeze and have quickly left several times in the last twenty years.

My daughter knows I am sick. She has seen me at my worst, a vision I never wanted her to lay eyes on. She has seen me shaking, rocking back and forth, nails digging into my head spewing delusions out of my mouth left and right. She has seen the tears, witnessed the dry-heaving runs to the toilet, heard my self-loathing.

My daughter knows I have been hospitalized, twice. She accompanied my parents this latest time when they visited me, being forced to stay in the cafeteria with my father because she was deemed ‘too young’ for the short term psychiatric ward. The hospital feared the patients there would hurt or scare her by saying or doing something. This means they feared I would hurt or scare her too. She knows the emotional pain one feels when the only communication we had was through a phone… a phone that would cut you off if you moved wrong, a phone so desperate in need of replacement. She understands that the hospital is my safe place, when our home is unable to be just that.

My daughter knows she is an Only child because of me. She knows I was barely able to raise her in the beginning due to Severe Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. She knows at times I have been unable to care for her in the episodes of Major Depressive Disorder since. She knows that she lost her little brother, my beloved former foster son, because my illnesses prevented me from being able to function, let alone parent. I became a third child for my husband then, a childlike creature in an adult body that my daughter started to take care of, becoming a Mommy to her own mother.

What I didn’t expect for  this wonderful, kind, and loving child to learn was acceptance. Every time I had to explain these things, every time I hurt her, I expected anger and rage in return. I expected her to ignore me, shout “I hate you Mommy”, rotating the knife deeper into my back.  I expected extreme tears over losing her brother, many more than she shed (and she cried quite a bit).

Instead, she shocked me by becoming my protector of sorts, a role I never asked her to take and tell her now she can relinquish.  She truly cares if something will affect me, triggering me back to those dark dismal days.  She has true compassion and empathy, two traits I am happy she learned, although I wish she learned them with something other than me as the subject.  She is the Wise Fairy that her name, Sophia Faye, connotes.

There are so many things she has had to learn at the tender age of 8, 9 and now 10.  These things I would have liked to have postponed.  I have been called out by a select few saying she was too young for these strong topics.  Yes, I know.  But, I have to say, if by telling her about being mentally ill, suicidal & hospitalized has made her into the awesome kid that she is today, I am happy she knows.  I am happy she knows, because she won’t have to live in the shame and stigma of it if it happens to her.  She knows she has a loving mother who has been through hell and back that can help her.  And she knows that although at one point I hated her, wanting to leave, I couldn’t bare to live without her now.  She is my heart, my strength, my love, my Sophia Faye.

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.

A Depressive’s Day Of Feeling Depressed… And What It Means…

Everyone has days where they feel sad, hopeless, empty.  A day here and there when nothing seems to be going right. A day where getting out of bed is a struggle you don’t mind losing.  The good news is most people, typical people, wake up the next morning and are ready to take on the world.  They woke up on the “correct side of the bed”.  They can easily carry out their normal routines and enjoy things.

This, unfortunately, is not the case of a diagnosed Depressive.

I’ve been unwell for so much of my life, that sometimes I am unsure if I am actually better, if I have overcome the latest bout with Severe Depression and her sister, Severe Anxiety.  I can easily tell when I have clawed my way out from the quicksand, my head finally above the surface, but the last few inches seems like an eternity to rise from.  Living with these two, even when well, is a constant battle and a huge drain on my battery.

I fear mornings when I wake up and know I’m off.  I feel the melancholy taking over.  My heart is a void, all emotion down it’s drain.  I don’t want to move.  I want to remain in my bed.  Soft, yet firm mattress.  Warm blankets.  A cozy cocoon.  If I stay there, I will feel safe.  I know though, that I can’t.  Years of therapy and battles has taught me I need to force myself out of bed.

So I rise.

I walk, slow, feeling the weight of my body all pushed down to my feet.  It’s an extreme struggle to take a step, but I push onward.  Dragging myself to the kitchen, I carry out my routine starting with feeding the cat.  After, I climb the steps trying really hard not to crawl up them and enter the bathroom.  I plug my flat iron in and start it and brush my teeth.  The routine is killing me on the inside.  As I gaze at myself in the mirror, those horrible negative thoughts come back:

“Why get ready?  Why go to work?  They will be just fine without your worthless self”

“You’re look horrible”

“You don’t deserve love.  You don’t deserve your husband, your daughter, your family, your friends.”

I hold back tears, repeatedly telling myself that this is my Inner Bitch talking, not the real me, the real Stephanie, ultimately failing at convincing myself.

Somehow I manage to get dressed and somewhat care about my appearance for work, hiding my inner dialogue and turmoil from those around me with the elusive faux smile.  In 20+ years, I have become an expert at it.

I get to work, still sporting the fake grin, but once in my cubicle, it is shed away.  I become quiet, a recluse.  I do not want to leave the cubicle.  I do not want to interact with anyone for fear that they may see what is going on with me.  I just desire to sit in my chair all day.  On and off, I will fight back tears.  Sometimes a few will make their way down my cheeks.  I don’t care if the sun is out, if the weather is beautiful, I want to stay hidden, be invisible.

When I get home, I am exhausted.  Heart still empty.  Body still drained.  Mind still double-crossing me.  I permanently erase the smile as I walk through the door.  At this point, my 10-year-old daughter instantly notices and says to her father who is in the kitchen preparing dinner, “Mommy is having a Depression day.”  Yes, baby, Mommy is.

Dinner is spent with me looking down.  I play with my food.  Some of it makes it into my mouth.  I am not hungry.  I just want to go into my room and hide.  I have no desire to watch TV, read, pay games on the Kindle.  Even scrolling through my Facebook feed doesn’t appeal to me.  I just want to be alone, alone with my hopeless self.  When I finally am, at the end of the day, tears fall… and every negative thought I have or action I’ve done feeds them.

I take a deep breath, swallow my pills, and eventually fall asleep hoping that tomorrow will be “normal”.

A day that most people have once in a while, but I am not the typical person.  Most times, I do not wake up the next morning feeling better.  It can take me a week or more to wake up “normal”.  This frightens me.  Experts (Psychiatrists & Therapists) say that after two or three weeks of feeling like this, that you are entering a Depressive state, that you are clinical.  I am already clinical, so what is the big deal, right?  I am scared of another episode with the Severe sisters, Depression & Anxiety.  My episodes have only gotten worse as I get older.  This last one took just about 2 years to get through.  What would episode #7 do?  Would I survive episode #7?

This most recently happened to me in December (one of the reasons there were no new posts from me).  For over a week, ten days, I woke up likes this.  Over a week, I didn’t exercise.  I didn’t even take my daily walks at lunch that I love so much.  I was getting worried.  I saw my therapist during this time.  Even he looked a little worried.  He assured me that I could contact him whenever, day or night, if I needed to.

Then on the morning of day 11, I woke up fine.

 

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.