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.

Mommy’s Time Off… (Because That Will Ever Happen!)

Moms, stand up for a moment.  Identify yourselves!  We all deserve medals.  Scratch the medals.  Just bring us coffee, wine, ice cream and leave us with a nice comfy blanket on the sofa binge watching the latest and greatest on Netflix.  Oh, wait, is that the baby that just cried out?  Is that the toddler whining for Goldfish crackers?  Is that the preteen rolling her eyes at me because I said no?  Is that my husband screaming about having no toilet paper even though he was told to buy some earlier this week because we were out? And now the cat is kneading her claws into the blanket which in turn is scratching my legs and the dog is running from the sofa to the door deciding if he wants in or out.

Sound familiar?

Add in a bit of, “Mom, what’s for dinner?” and, “Honey, can you hand me the remote?  It’s too far away.”  (Really dear, it is 3 feet away from you sitting on the coffee table.  Move the damn cat and get it yourself.)

Mothers are the most important figures in a household.  Sure, I will give dads credit.  They do a lot… well most of them… okay, 50% of them?  I know, that might be a stretch.  But, it is us Mothers who have to deal 100% with all the Mental Shit that goes on.

A couple of weeks ago, I read the most enlightening article about Mothers and their Invisible Workload called The Invisible Workload That Drags Women Down.  This article made such and impact on me that I am still thinking about it today.  It discusses that although women will work outside the home just as much as men (hubby and I work full time jobs and make about the same give or take 1%), women take on a WHOLE lot more then their male partners.  It isn’t that men do nothing.  Their share at home tends to be physical (think laundry, dishes, taking out the trash).  While us Mothers, aside from doing roughly equal amounts of the physical labor at home, take on all of that Mental Shit.  We know when Johnny has little league, when little Sarah has her dentist appointment, and of course, when the dreaded toilet paper has run out.  We are the ones who have to buy the milk, even if we don’t drink any, because our husbands forgot they have two arms, two legs and a driver’s license.  We are the ones that know where the passports are, the birth certificates, the car titles.

All of this is a HUGE drain on our brains, the brains that were already sucked dry from being pregnant (google pregnancy brain).  Ten years later, my brain is still not the same.

We become sick, and are still seen by society, to be workhorses.  Have the flu?  It doesn’t matter, you have a household to run.  Why is that?  Why has society taught us that if we are “under-the-weather” to just “suck it up”?  Why are our needs so minor?  Why is our care not as relevant?

This needs to change.  All you Mothers out there standing up, it is time we take back ourselves.  I am not saying abandon your family.  For sure, you wouldn’t be able to leave the house without a child attached to a leg.  It’s time we tell our hubbies, “I need a break.  You all are mentally draining me.  Please give me a couple of hours, just a couple, to sit and be lazy on the sofa reading a book with a glass of wine (or coffee, tea, hot chocolate).”  Don’t back down.  Then make sure these couple of hours are truly kid (& hubby) free.  Have him take the kid(s) to another part of the house, or heck, out of the house.

Of course, I am a bit hypocritical.  I have yet to have this happen in my household of 1 lazy, but loving, husband, 1 moody preteen daughter, and 1 precious and beastly furry child.  I started writing a book about two years ago chronicling my struggles with Depression and Anxiety.  I asked my husband to take our child to see her grandparents (his parents) once a month giving me the day to write.  Two years later… I am still waiting for this to happen.  Even tonight, I begged my daughter without giving me a guilt trip, to let Mommy write a blog post.  All I needed was 1 hour of quiet time.  I was not in my room 5 minutes and she was on my bed showing me drawings she made using pictures of me, her father and the cat, pulling my attention away from writing the post after I spent most of the day cuddling with her on the sofa.

But this changes today.  2017 will be the year I take back myself.  The year I recognize I am not just a mother and a wife (and an Architectural Project Manager).  I have my own hobbies and interests.  I will take my Mommy Time every weekend, a couple of hours each day, and recharge my batteries.  I will convince myself that this isn’t selfish, that this is truly necessary to keep this household running.  I will do this to deal with the Mental Shit us Mothers deal with all the time.

Because I matter.

Moms matter.

You matter.

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.

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.

Birthplace 

​My 22 year struggle with diagnosed Depression started at 14 (although I believe I suffered earlier than that).  Just barely a teenager, my family had moved from the only place I ever knew, the city of Brooklyn NY, to suburbia Western CT at the start of high school for me.  Being a teenager, I decided to suffer alone for as long as I could.  I expressed myself through poetry which when struggling with Depression now, I still do.  Below is a poem I wrote in 1995: 

Birthplace
Leaving the place

where you were nurtured

And where you were raised

Leaves a whimper or a

tear,

As if the tear was a brief

memory escaping.

As if God is crying for you

Sending a sign of hope and

luck,

Upon your departure.

Dependent on the feelings

around you

Can cause brief sorrow

Leaving much melancholy.
For you will never visit

the same structures

Or recline in the same bed

Or love the same place

that you still enjoy.

You will never see the sights

of tired-some people

Calling for a ride,

You will never feel the same

traffic

Or breathe the same air,

filled with your life.
The clothes will never

quite fit the same

The languages will be forgotten

And your friends will be remote

to your pathetic living.

The new companions will never 

feel your pain

Or understand where you come from

Or who you are

your heritage.

They will never be your

true friends

Or anything else

Just simple comrades to replace.
Hands will never waver

amongst the harsh winds,

Bodies will never stand

Awaiting the arrival of a bus

or the arrival of spirit

And when people begin

to ask where you are from

You stutter in reply because

Though you know where

you were born,

You are reluctant to answer

your home.

And you don’t dear reply

Where you are situated now

for you don’t belong.

You are not one of them

nor are you one

Of the people who you were.

You become confused

crying inside

Solitary confining yourself

to be a loner.
©11/15/1995 Stephanie Paige 
Please talk with your children at an early age.  Talk to your teens.  Depression tends to manifest itself differently in the younger population.  Research the symptoms and clues and watch for them.  Most of all, be a strong support to your child.  I was and still am lucky to have the immense support of my parents.

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