It Takes A Suicide…

July 6th was a rough day for the people in my town. Many somber faces questioning, “Why? Why would she?” They were clueless. All they saw was a happy girl who had a loving family and friends. A preteen about to start the 7th grade in a little over a month.

They didn’t understand. And how could they?!

Unless you have been there or have known someone who has been there, you can’t fathom what would make a person want to take their own life. I understand because I have had that mental pain before, I have suffered from suicidal ideation before. I know what it is like to want to leave the world.

It’s hard hearing when it is a grown adult. Harder when it is a teenager. Definitely the hardest when it is a 12 year old.

My daughter did not know this girl personally. Sophia is a grade ahead and never had any classes or extracurriculars with her. When I showed her a photo, she commented that she had seen her in the halls but that was it. Sophia was saddened to hear about this girl and wondered what we could do.

I, like many others… friends, family, community members, teachers… donated a bit of money to her funeral expenses.

But what more could I do?

How many times I had read articles recently about teens and even preteens in our area taking their life… too many. What could cause this? What could change to prevent this?

I had decided even before this child ended her life to speak to the school about further mental health education at the start of the next school year. Being a huge advocate, I was curious last year when my daughter discussed health class what she was learning. She told me that other than stress and coping techniques, there wasn’t much. We had discussed her anxiety disorder at the beginning of last school year with her guidance counselor. He expressed to us that he would meet with Sophia once a month to check in with her. How many times did he meet with her?

… Zero!

That was when the anger in me started to boil. It was beginning to rapid boil, a pot about to overflow with lava hot water. I was furious. Not necessarily in the case of my daughter because she had a therapist and parents who could recognize her anxiety. But what about the next child? What if that child had no support system at home? What if their parent(s) didn’t believe mental illness is real? What if their guidance counselor was their only support? What then?

That child could have easily taken their own life because no one checked in with them.

We received an email from the school superintendent on behalf of her and the middle school principal regarding the recent suicide of this young girl the day after she took her life. At the end of the email it stated that we should not hesitate to contact either one of them.

I immediately wrote them both an email.

I told them my story about how I was diagnosed at 14 with major depressive disorder but probably had it earlier. I reiterated what Sophia told me about lack of mental health education and wanted to know what the schools were actually doing aside from the one 2-hour grief counseling session. I really didn’t think I would get a response. To my shock, the superintendent wrote me back that same day, a Sunday, saying she would like to discuss this further with me. After much back and forth, we agreed to meet one weekday morning. My daughter came with me.

Prior to the meeting, I was pretty angry with school system. This was solely based off of what happened with Sophia’s guidance counselor and the lack of mental health education in health class. But I went into the meeting with an open mind. I highly doubted the schools did nothing, but I wanted to know what resources, if anything, were available. I was shocked to learn that aside from the 3 guidance counselors (1 for each grade in the middle school) there was a school psychologist and a social worker just for the middle school. All the teachers were learned in mental health first aid. They were using a Tier system model:

  • Tier 1: Mental Health Awareness
  • Tier 2: School guidance counselors, teachers, staff, school psychologist and social worker are brought in to discuss a child’s welfare
  • Tier 3: Police and/or Mobile Crisis Intervention is called

I was glad that was all in play. Very important. Then I asked:

“But what about the kids? What are the kids learning? Do they know where they could go if they are suffering? What resources are available to them?”

Both the superintendent and middle school principal agreed that this was an area they were lacking in. They did teach about stress and feeling “off” in health class but did not come right out and name the conditions (Anxiety, Depression, Bipolar, etc.) which of course feeds the stigma. The principal did express that they were focusing this year on mental health awareness (last year was bullying). They wanted to know if I had any ideas.

Oh boy, did I!

I first told them the story of Sophia and her guidance counselor. Both seemed annoyed that the counselor did not check in with her and were going to make sure that didn’t happen again. They did express to Sophia that she should not feel like she is a burden and to come and see him (the principal) or her guidance counselor whenever she needed.

I said there should be some way to let the kids know that there is a suicide hotline and a crisis text line. They agreed.

I suggested having mental health first aid training for interested parents by supplying a place for it to be held.

I proposed having people who have been diagnosed come to speak to the schools via assembly. I had no shame, I will happily tell my story.

I asked that they let the parents know what resources were available as I, a parent advocating for youth mental health, had no idea. They agreed they would.

And then they hit me with something, a truth, but a big shock: Parents. How do we get more parents involved? After this young girl’s death to the time I met with them (about 2 weeks) I was the only parent to contact the superintendent. I was one of maybe 4 to contact the middle school principal. The dilemma is as simple as what the superintendent stated, “If it is not my kid, it’s not relevant to me.”

The superintendent suggested I sign up for the District Safe School Climate and Wellness Committee. This committee is comprised of parents, teachers, administrators, Board of Education members and even students. They meet about once a month during the school year. I quickly signed up. I am very excited about this and can’t wait for the first meeting.

At this point I was given homework. I am still trying to find answers to my homework. How do I get more parents involved?! How do I put the word out that their kids might be struggling and they might have no idea?! How do I get them to take suicide and mental health seriously when it is not “their kid”?!

And then, when all of the above is answered… how do I get these parents to interact with the schools in finding a cohesive mental health education program that can be used in school and at home for our kids?!

This child that ended her life… it shouldn’t have come to this point to create a year geared to mental health at the middle school. It shouldn’t have come to this point in asking parents to be more involved. This child should not have had to die for the rest of us to wake up. All this said, because of her, I will keep advocating for our children.

Rest in peace, sweet girl. May you not be in pain anymore.

1200px-Lifelinelogo.svg    Crisis Text Line

They Should’ve Warned Me… The PMAD Addition

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I recently read a blog post (written in 2015/revised in 2017) by Jenny Studenroth Gerson on the Huffpost which left me slightly angry and annoyed. Actually, ‘slightly’ is an understatement. I was pissed. In the post, They Should’ve Warned Me, Jenny explains that throughout her pregnancy, she was told to “sleep while you can”, “enjoy your husband now”, and “You’ll never have time to shower.”

Then she proceeds to explain how ‘they should’ve warned her’ about the immense love she would have the second her child was born. About how crying is happy thing. About how you would love your husband so much more. About how eating healthy would create enough milk to nourish your child. About how even being extremely exhausted, waking up in the middle of the night to take care of your child is so rewarding. About how the little cries and screams wouldn’t piss you off but make you feel like a rock star… and so on and so on.

As someone who suffered from two PMADs (Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder), I was angry after reading this. First off, you do not need a ‘warning’ about loving your child. Everything she lists in this post are happy things (and frankly I can’t buy that all of them are true). Who needs a warning that you are going to cry at your child’s birth because you are happy?! Really?! With all this anger, I decided I needed to counteract this post with one of my own that deserves the word ‘warned’ in the title:

They Should’ve Warned Me: The PMAD Addition

12 years ago, I suffered. I suffered first from severe postpartum anxiety that slowly morphed into severe postpartum depression. This is what ‘they’, whoever ‘they’ are, should’ve warned me and, in turn, you about:

  • They should’ve warned me that my anxiety would start right after birth. That I would constantly worry if my daughter was getting enough colostrum. That I would have anxiety attacks in those first few hours in the hospital about why after 2-3 hours she wasn’t brought to me for a feeding.
  • They should’ve warned me that the anxiety would only grow as I had to identify the color of her poop. Is it green? Is it mustard in color? Is it brown?
  • They should’ve warned me that breastfeeding is hard work and sometimes it is not the right answer to feeding your child and that that is okay. Why is she falling asleep on my boob after 5 minutes? Is she eating enough? Oh God, what’s wrong with her?!
  • They should’ve warned me that although crying is normal, keep an eye on it, it could develop into something more than Baby Blues. I cried from day one. Sure it started out being 3-4 times a day but it slowly grew in excess of six times a day.
  • They should’ve warned me that sleep is important and to push for it. Yeah, I get it, you’re not going to sleep much when you have a newborn, but if you have a prior mental health condition (such as myself with depression) then those around you should know the importance sleep plays in your life and allow you to rest for a few hours.
  • They should’ve warned me that my anxiety would worsen that no matter what I tried to eat, it wouldn’t stay down. That vomiting would become my new way of life. That Ensure won’t cure it all and that the smell of chicken cooking would have me running to the bathroom.
  • They should’ve warned me about how my love for my infant would grow into hatred. That with each shriek, I would want to pull out my hair or bang my head against the wall.
  • They should’ve warned me that I would become hysterical enough to make plans to run away, that my husband and daughter would be better off without me. That the whole world would be better off without me.
  • They should’ve warned me that I would scare my family and friends with my hysterics.
  • They should’ve warned me that I would see myself as useless, unworthy and undeserving of love.
  • They should’ve warned me that all this would occur in the first month postpartum and would culminate into admitting myself into short-term psych.
  • They should’ve warned me I would have to be inpatient for 12 days.
  • They should’ve warned me that I would go through many therapy & psychiatry appointments after my stay.
  • They should’ve warned me that I would go through multiple medication changes that first year to find just the right combination.
  • They should’ve warned me that it would be a few months before I loved my child again.

And…

  • They should’ve warned me that it would be a year before I would smile for real.

PMADs deserve warnings. The things Jenny Studenroth Gerson mentions in her article do not. It took me to one year postpartum to feel like myself again. To fully embrace my daughter with infinite love. To know my life is the way it was meant to be. For some women it is longer. Although most women will not be affected by a PMAD, there is a high percentage that are. About 1 in 5 women will experience postpartum depression. That’s just one PMAD. Let’s not forget about postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, postpartum PTSD, and postpartum psychosis. These are things to be warned about.

If I could tell Jenny Studenroth Gerson one thing it would be:

Research your definition of ‘warn’. Most women understand and have the immense love for their partner and child at birth. Most women will successfully breastfeed. Most women will cry tears of joy when their baby coos or cries. But you need to realize that over 20% of the postpartum population will not feel that. They will not see these items as warnings (and they didn’t, I took to my Warrior Mom community with this one). Some will find your article cruel, like if they didn’t feel what you did, they weren’t as loving as a mother as you are. And, if they read this while going through a PMAD, it would just make them feel worse. I understand you enjoyed your postpartum stage (and around 80% of mothers will) but please show compassion for the rest of us.

If you are someone you know is suffering from a PMAD (Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder) resources can be found at the sites below:
The Bloom Foundation for Maternal Wellness
Postpartum Support International
2020 Mom
If you know a mother or are a mother considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at
1-800-273-8255
or text 741741

This Time is Different

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“I feel different.”

I wake up most days and this is the first thought that pops in my head. Since my depression has returned like a cyclone attacking a house this January, I have not felt like me. Most people with depression will understand this. I mean, I’ve been through this countless times before. Why is this time different? Why am I struggling so much? Why isn’t it over yet?

The last diagnosis I was given by my therapist happened about a year ago before depression became a guest in my head once again. He had told me when I asked that he considered me as having, “Persistent depressive disorder (PDD) with episodic major depressive disorder (MDD).” At the time I agreed. Even though I was content with life, I wasn’t ever fully happy. I had immense amounts of love for my husband, daughter, family & friends, but there was always something missing… small, tiny, minuscule as it was, it was a constant reminder that depression was still lurking in the back of my mind awaiting its next visit.

This was PDD. The constant low-level depression that I have lived with over the last few years once my MDD episode #6 was over.

And then January occurred. My husband broke down, broke a few cups by slamming the top rack of the dishwasher and cried. He expressed his anger toward me about everything that happened with my former foster son 4 years ago. The event that sent me into MDD episode #6. I listened. I felt compassion for him, empathy. And while he was shedding tears (which he had every right to) it suddenly hit me that I wasn’t.

Damn Lexapro! A drug I have been on since January 2014. A drug that has stabilized me. A drug that kept me sane. It stole something from me that did not bug me until then. It stole my expression of emotions. I honestly have not cried in 2 years and it has slowly gotten worse to where I can’t even express my compassion and empathy. I just look cold.

While my husband felt better by the next day, I did not. I felt worse. So much worse that I took up the art of cutting. Ashamed the first few times I did it after the act, it was a way for me to feel, for me to know I wasn’t an empty void, that I was human. If I cut and bled, that meant I was human.

Each month, the cutting has been less often. I thought I was done with it. Only 4 times in April, but May has proved me wrong. Because this time is different.

This depressive episode has not been classified by my therapist as “Major”. My psychiatrist is not sure she agrees or not with my therapist’s diagnosis. I would call it moderate to major, only throwing in the word “major” because of the cutting. But it is different. Very, very different.

It has become cyclical.

One week I will be so happy, almost euphoric, and the next I am down in a shit hole. It will be days of not wanting to get out of bed, not wanting to eat, and not caring about anything. Then there will be days when I can function but that emptiness and funk is still there. Until one day, I wake up happy and elated. And the cycle repeats.

I had started to Google cyclical depression which led me to cyclothymia. I read the description and thought, “Hmm, this could be me, but maybe not.” My therapist did not agree with my self-given diagnosis because I did not show anything that was related to hypomania and I hadn’t had this cycling for over 2 years.

Yet, still, I complained about the cycling. I have no hope whatsoever that I will get better because every time I have a good week and get slightly hopeful, it is ruined by the bad week.

Through all this, I have consulted my psychiatrist. She put me on Wellbutrin along with my Lexapro to see if that would help with my emotions returning and wake me out of my intense brain fog and lack of concentration and motivation. I took it for 2 months and recently stopped with her blessing. It was not working. In fact the brain fog and concentration has gotten worse. I can’t think of the right words for objects. I switch words around when I speak sometimes. I’ve stood in front of cabinets wondering why I went over to them when I knew 2 seconds prior.

This Wednesday, I asked her, “What now?”

I had 2 options… go back on a anti-psychotic or try a mood stabilizer. After living with almost 2 years of constipation because of the anti-psychotic (Seroquel) I was on, I had no desire to relive that again. I opted for the mood stabilizer. Commonly used for those with biopolar disorder, I wondered why she suggested it. Then I asked her, “Do I have bipolar disorder?”

“No,” she said, “You have never exhibited anything related to mania or hypomania, but what you are explaining to me is cyclical, like bipolar disorder, so I think this will help to stabilize your moods.”

Last night, I took my first dosage of Lamictal (or the generic version). As with all the SSRIs I have been on (every one of them through the years) I will have to wait 4 – 8 weeks for it to fully kick in. This will be months 3 and 4 of my trial-and-error phase with medications. An issue I never had before.

All because I feel different. All because this time is different.

You Don’t Have PTSD, You’re Not In The Military: Redefining Our View Of PTSD

My husband told me a story the other day from work.  He forewarned me that I may be a little upset by it.  Uh-oh.  I was a bit worried but once he mentioned the words “Mental Illness” I instantly knew why I would be angered.

“Who said something stupid now?” I asked him expecting some noneducational comment about Mental Illness not being real.

It wasn’t a who this time, but someone’s calendar that offended him.  A calendar?!  Odd, but I had him proceed.  The calendar was created and distributed by the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars).  It was in a coworkers cubicle.  Okay, nothing wrong displaying a calendar from the VFW.  I fully support our Veterans.  My father is a Veteran.  How can a calendar from the VFW anger me?!

He went on to explain that the calendar had pointed out that that particular day was PTSD Awareness Day.  I looked at him oddly, “Okay, and?  Not seeing the offensive part…”

“It wasn’t just PTSD Awareness Day, it was Veteran’s PTSD Awareness Day.  I don’t know, it just made me feel like they only think those in the military get PTSD.”

I thought on this a moment.  I actually viewed it as the opposite.  The VFW created a whole separate day dedicated to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Veterans.  This is big to me.  Actually acknowledging that the illness exists is huge.  A ginormous step in eradicating the stigma behind PTSD.  I relayed my thoughts to my husband.  He understood but still felt that it ignored the many people who suffered from PTSD and were not in the military.

This I understood.  When someone mentions PTSD, most people will instantly think of someone in the military and mainly a male who was in war.  I did this for the longest time until these four letters were labeled to me.  I have never served (many thank yous to those who have).  The closest I have gotten to the military is wearing my father’s dog tags as a teen because that was in style.  So, how did I, a full time working mom develop PTSD?

Trauma.

Trauma is defined as “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience” on dictionary.com   The definition does not limit it to one group of people.  Trauma can impact anyone at any moment.  One can experience trauma from war, trauma from abuse, trauma from rape, trauma from birth, or like mine, trauma from loss.  I cannot say my trauma was as horrible as those that have seen war, but it still deeply affected me and those around me.  To have an experience that distresses you to complete exhaustion and removes you from reality is serious and can affect anyone.

The ‘T’ of the acronym should be highlighted for all to understand.  While the military makes up a large percentage of those diagnosed with PTSD, there are many people with this diagnosis that have never served.  My trauma came in the quick (extremely quick) time frame of fostering-to-adopt, falling in love with this child, and then losing this child because of my Generalized Anxiety Disorder.  What resulted in these less than 3 months was a depleted being who had lost a ton of weight and frankly, her mind.  After my former foster son went away, I fell into the deepest (and darkest) episode of Major Depressive Disorder of my life thus far.  I grieved.  I grieved for him, I grieved for myself.  For fear that I would hurt myself, because honestly I was worried to be alone with myself, I became inpatient at the local hospital.  After being discharged a whole 5 days later, my PTSD symptoms started.

Everything triggered me.  Driving to my psychiatrist was the worst.  I would pass the Department of Children and Families and start sobbing and having flashbacks.  Then I would pass the hospital and cry more.  It didn’t end there.  Once I arrived at my psychiatrist the tears continued to flow.  Songs made me cry and have more flashbacks.  I couldn’t listen to Adele’s Hello or Ed Sheeren’s Photograph for months.  I would find things at home that were Tyler’s and left behind and once again I was thrown back in time.  Trigger after trigger.  It was an endless game.

But the flashbacks were not my only symptom.  Because of them, I tried to avoid anything that would trigger me.  This led to alternate routes to my psychiatrist which just caused me to be late and feel more shame.  I would try to hide in my bedroom or in my cubicle.  I became isolated, not wanting to be around anyone.  I couldn’t concentrate and had insomnia.

Eventually both my psychiatrist and my therapist at the time gave me a PTSD diagnosis, but a mild one.  It took a new form of therapy (God Bless EMDR), a new therapist and time (over 2 years) and I no longer have this diagnosis.

 

 

 

Thank You!

Call it part of a Depressive’s “12-Step” Program, but I feel the need to say thank you to the people in my life that have contributed to my better health and wellness.  Considering the decades that I’ve struggled, this list can become rather lengthy but I will narrow it down to my latest and greatest (note sarcasm) episode of Major Depressive Disorder.  Some people listed may shock you, but all have helped in bringing the strength trifecta back to me.  I now feel strong.

Thank You To:

My Parents:  You have never given up on me.  Although we all struggled to understand exactly what was going on with me in my teenage years, you never pushed my thoughts and feelings aside.  You never told me to “suck it up”.  You never told me to “just get over it”.  From the beginning you both have sought out ways to get me help starting with group therapy, to Cognitive Behavior Therapy and even medication.  You helped when I was a few states away in college.  You both have cried with me, constantly worried about me but never ever left my side.  I am extremely thankful to have you two as parents as many others do not have such caring and understanding parents in their lives.

My Husband: Oh, what we have been through… first and foremost, thank you for never taking me up on my offer to leave me.  I must of told you dozens of times to go, take Sophia and run.  But you didn’t.  You stayed and took our wedding vows seriously.  You loved me when I was “crazy”.  You sacrificed so much when I was hospitalized.  You never gave up on me.  Although now you are unsure of what to say or do when my illnesses make themselves present, I know you care.  As Bon Jovi said, “Thank you for loving me”.

My Sophia, my baby girl:  How did I get so lucky?!  You are the light in my darkness.  So compassionate, kind and empathetic.  You have never made me feel guilty or unloved by you.  You worry about me to extents you shouldn’t but I appreciate it.  You are always there for a big hug.  Thank you for being  you.

My Therapist:  Hmm… I don’t think I would be here without you.  I came to you in the darkest moments of my life.  Lost and completely hopeless that I would ever recover this time.  CBT therapy wasn’t working this time.  I needed something more.  It was fate that all I did was Google EMDR Therapists and narrow it down to who was more convenient in location.  It just so happens that the most convenient turned out to be my saving grace.  I had huge doubts that EMDR would work.  Highly emotionally draining in the beginning, you helped me to reprocess the loss of Tyler and in turn, the loss of Sophia’s infancy, my Postpartum, loss of more children and even the loss of my former self.  Thank you!

My Friends: From visiting me in the hospital to checking in on my through social media and texts, I am grateful for each and every one of you.

My Gym:  Again, another choice of convenience to work and home, the gym has been a wonderful addition to helping me get strength in all areas of life.  Aside from building up my physical strength (I can barbell squat 135lbs currently!), all the trainers, instructors and the owner have made me feel welcome, like I belong.  I am not just a number lost among many.  It is a close knit family that I am thankful to be a part of.  Thank you!

My Medications:  Although the stubborn weight gain and selective side effects are an annoying pain in my ass, I am completely grateful that they exist.  I used to hate taking these tiny pills to feel ‘normal’ but now I am thankful they help me to feel like myself.  We have a strong bond that will never be broken.

And lastly…

Myself:  I think this was the hardest person to thank.  I spent years hating myself, years internally abusing myself.  I didn’t matter.  I didn’t deserve love.  At points in my life, I thought I didn’t deserve to live.  I have come a long way.  Battling Depression and Anxiety both physically and mentally, sometimes draining myself into complete despair…  I’ve finally learned acceptance and because of this have become kinder to all aspects of myself.  I am now happier and understand I cannot change the past.  I am starting to live in the present, enjoying the little things in life… my daughter’s smile, a chirping bird, pretty flowers.  I want to live.  I want to see what the future brings.  Thank you Stephanie, for learning to live.  You are truly an amazing strong being!

 

Living With Someone Who Is Mentally Ill: Interview with My Daughter

My daughter has seen it all. From her oceanic blue eyes in her cherub baby face to now, almost 12 years later. She is a remarkable child who has not only witnessed her mother’s hysterics (& panic attacks, drastic weight loss and days of not getting out of bed) but also her own diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. My daughter, given the name Sophia Faye at birth, is the epitome of the meaning… “Wise Fairy”. Sophia is an old soul and understands so much for such a young person. Many words can be used to describe her but at the top of the list are definitely compassionate, empathetic, caring and loving. There are days I may miss her little toddling body and cheeky grins but I love watching her blossom into the amazing young lady she is today.

When I decided to do this interview series, I knew I had to interview her. I have not hid much from her. In fact 3 years ago I was so foregone I couldn’t. She learned about suicide at the tender age of 8 and questioned me often about it. She knows I grew to hate her as a newborn. I’ve always explained things to her in an age appropriate manner and often worried about her reactions but she has always listened, digested and never ever judged. I am amazed by her and couldn’t of asked for a better child.

Sophia’s Interview

Lounging in her preteen abode full of textured pillows and dozens of Stitch stuffed animals early in the evening, we both relaxed on her bed. There were many giggles beforehand as she pictured this interview as a video recording and not just a vocal recording. She was a little nervous, as was I, and we both tend to laugh a lot when we are nervous:

Me: How did you feel when I told you I grew to hate you when you were a baby?

Sophia: Fine.

Me: How come you were okay with it?

Sophia: Because I knew you didn’t mean it.

Concerning 3 years ago

Me: What did you feel and think when I left the house 3 years ago to stay with Bubbe & Grandpa (my parents) because Tyler (former foster son) was triggering me?

Sophia: I don’t remember that.

Me: It was only 3 years ago!

Sophia: Didn’t I come with you?

Me: You did.

Sophia: It was when he left?

Me: Yes.

Sophia: Oh, I mean, I was… I didn’t even notice anything was wrong with you. Like, I… I don’t really know. I felt fine because I didn’t know you were triggered.

Me: I left the house because I couldn’t stay there.

Sophia: But wasn’t I there too?

Me: I don’t think you came the first night.

Sophia: Oh. I don’t remember. I’m getting old!

Me (after rolling my eyes at that last statement): How did you feel when I admitted myself into the hospital?

Sophia: Scared.

Me: Did you know why I was there?

Sophia: No, I’m not sure. No.

Me: What did you think when you couldn’t visit me in the hospital and had to stay in the cafeteria with Grandpa?

Sophia: I wasn’t happy about it. I mean, I wanted to see you.

Me: You weren’t allowed to see me because they were worried about what the other people might say to you, what you might see.

Sophia: Oh, okay.

Me: Were you scared when I was released from the hospital?

Sophia: No, because I was happy you were going to leave and come home.

Me: You’ve been protecting me since the hospital stay. How come?

Sophia: Because I don’t want you to go back to the hospital.

GAD, PPD, Depression, & Suicide

Me: Do you blame me for your Generalized Anxiety Disorder and it is okay if you do?

Sophia: No.

Me: Do you blame anyone for it?

Sophia: No. Why would I?

Me: Do you wish you were ‘normal’?

Sophia: Sometimes.

Me: If you didn’t worry about the things you worry about?

Sophia: Sometimes, because sometimes it is good to worry.

Me: Do you fear you’ll have Postpartum Depression and Anxiety because I had it?

Sophia: Sometimes.

Me: Do you worry or fear you’ll have a Depressive Disorder because I have one?

Sophia: I don’t usually think about it. I guess, but that is only when I think about it.

Me: Do you know when I was first diagnosed (with Depression)?

Sophia: You were 14.

Me: And how old are you?

Sophia: I am 11.

Me: So you are close to that age.

Sophia: Yeah.

Me: That’s why I watch you a lot.

Sophia: That’s not creepy.

Me: Not in that sense Sophia. I’m not stalking you… Are you worried I will commit suicide?

Sophia: Very much.

Me: How come?

Sophia: You told me how you took that can cutter thing (a case cutter) and almost cut your hand off (almost slit my wrist).

Me: I was 18 then.

Sophia: So?

Me: That was 20 years ago.

Sophia: You also said that if you go off of medicine you’re probably going to want to commit suicide the next time you have an episode (of Major Depressive Disorder).

Me: Are you worried I will hurt myself?

Sophia: Yeah.

Me: Do you think there will be a next time?

Sophia: Yes, just because of events that can happen in the future.

Me: Like what?

Sophia: Like Bubbe & Grandpa dying or like the kitties dying and stuff.

Me: Do you think because of what I have been through that I am too overprotective with you about Mental Illness?

Sophia: Sometimes. There is no reason you should be.

Me: Do you understand why I am?

Sophia: Yeah. Because you don’t want me to get Depression and stuff.

Stigma & Advocacy

Me: What have I told you about stigma?

Sophia: What does stigma mean again?

Me: Hard to define but how people think the Mentally Ill are a danger to our society, that you should be hush-hush about it because people may not hire you, people may not want to be your friend, people don’t believe it is real.

Sophia: You’ve told me.

Me: And what do you think about that?

Sophia: I mean if that’s what they think, that’s what they think.

Me: Because you know that one of your grandparents thinks that way.

Sophia: Well, yeah, but…

Me: How do you feel knowing that you have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and you have a grandparent that doesn’t believe it exists?

Sophia: Well, that’s what he can think.

Me: Do you understand why I advocate for this?

Sophia: What does that mean, advocate?

Me: Why I share my story. Why I try to teach others.

Sophia: Yes.

Me: Do you see yourself doing that?

Sophia: I don’t know.

Thoughts on Me, Her Mom

Me: Do you think I am a bad mother?

Sophia: No. Not at all. Why would I think you were?

Me: Do you ever wish you had a mother that wasn’t like this?

Sophia: No.

Me: Did you ever think I was a bad mother?

Sophia: No.

Me: How do you characterize your mother?

Sophia: Worried, anxious, fun, caring, loving, sometimes depressed.

Me: Do you always related Mental Illness stuff to your mom?

Sophia: Like different things other than Postpartum?

Me: Well I have had Depression since I was 14. There have been others thrown in there.

Sophia: When I think of Depression I don’t think of you as ‘Oh, she’s depressed’, I think ‘she is still alive and she is strong’.

Me: You see me as strong and a fighter?

Sophia: Yeah.

Me: What traits do you hope you get from me or do you see you already have gotten?

Sophia: I want to get your determination and your strength and sometimes your empathy because a lot of times empathy is good and I want your mental strength.

Me: Any last comments on me, your mother?

Sophia: I love her.

Me: Would you want any other mother besides me?

Sophia: No.

Me: How much do you love me?

Sophia: To infinity and beyond!

I am truly grateful for this kid!

Living With Someone Who Is Mentally Ill: Interview with My Husband

I was approached by a friend of mine who offered up the suggestion on doing an interview series with family members on what their thoughts and feelings were concerning my Mental Illnesses.  I have to admit, I had been toying with this idea for a long time and at this request, felt it was the time to actually commit to the series.

Since it is May and Mental Health Awareness Month, I knew that I wanted to publish these now.  As much as we (those of us diagnosed) feel and think about when we are deep in the depths of Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Borderline Personality Disorder, etc., what do those close to us feel?  Do they feel as hopeless? Do they feel frustrated with us? Are they so angry they are wondering why they are with us?

I interviewed my husband this past weekend (my daughter and parents interviews will follow).  This is a man who has been with me for almost 22 years, since we were teenagers.  He has witnessed 5 out of my 6 episodes of Major Depressive Disorder.  He has been through my hospitalizations, my self-loathing, my hysterical thoughts.  And he stays.  A lot of what I asked him, I knew the answers to (I mean, hey, we’ve been together for over 2 decades!), but he did shock me with a few.

I present below my interview with my loving husband, Jimmy.

The Interview

Picture it, Master Bedroom, a late Saturday afternoon in May in New England.  I greet my husband and thank him for participating.  He nods.  He is not a wordy person which is shocking by some of his answers:

S. Paige:  What were your 1st thoughts and feelings after witnessing my episode of MDD in college where I slammed doors and pushed you out?

Jimmy:  I felt I had done something wrong to make you feel, like, the way you were feeling.

S. Paige:  Were you angry? Were you upset?

Jimmy: Defeated.

S. Paige:  What made you call my parents then?

Jimmy: I don’t remember doing that.  (He did in fact call my parents and filled them in on what was going on with me.  I received a phone call from my therapist that evening and then the campus psychologist the next day.)

Episode 4: Postpartum Depression & Anxiety

S. Paige: Okay, let’s go to something more recent. What did you think and feel when you got the phone call that I was at the hospital after Sophia was born (for severe postpartum depression & anxiety)?

Jimmy: … I don’t know.  I didn’t know what to think or feel.  I didn’t feel.

S. Paige: Were you worried? Were you wondering what the heck was wrong?

Jimmy: No.  I just thought that is what happened (after childbirth).  You had a hormone crash.  You had baby blues.  I didn’t realize you weren’t sleeping well.  I didn’t realize it was a thing.

S. Paige:  Did you realize I was vomiting all the time?

Jimmy:  No, I knew you were taking Ensure.

S. Paige:  Were you and I living in the same house at that time?!  You went to therapy with me.  You went to the psychiatrist with me.  You weren’t concerned at all?

Jimmy:  I don’t recall going to the therapist.

S. Paige:  This is proving to be a really valuable interview (sarcasm)

Jimmy:  I blocked these bad memories out.

S. Paige:  How were those 12 days when I was in short-term psych (I admitted myself exactly 1 month after our daughter was born)?

Jimmy:  Non stop.  I didn’t have time for, like, myself.  I was always visiting you or taking care of Sophia or with your parents or at work.  I had no time for me.

S. Paige:  Did that strain you?

Jimmy:  I’ll never eat at a KFC ever again.

S. Paige: (perplexed) Why? What does KFC have to do with this?

Jimmy:  Because that is where I would eat from the train station on the way to the hospital.  The KFC on North Street.  And I just can’t eat at a KFC ever again because I link the two together.

S. Paige: So it is a trigger?

Jimmy:  Yes.

S. Paige:  How were you able to continue with that schedule?

Jimmy:  Because I knew it would end eventually.  There was light at the end of the tunnel.  I know you didn’t see the light, but I could.

S. Paige:  I feel guilty for that (putting him in this position).  Do you know that?

Jimmy:  It’s what I am here for.  I’m the husband.

Episode 6: My 2nd Hospitalization / A Next Time?

S. Paige:  How did you feel when I went back to the hospital?

Jimmy:  I had gotten used to it.  It’s just like a part of you.  Every decade or so, you’re going to have to spend a couple of weeks in the hospital.  I don’t know.  I’ve just accepted it.

S. Paige:  Are you okay with that?

Jimmy:  Okay-ish.  I would rather you not have to do that.  But, it is part of who you are.  That every time some major event occurs in your life and for whatever reason you can’t adjust to the change it is always a possibility that you could end up in the hospital for a week or two.

S. Paige:  Do you worry about a next time?

Jimmy:  No.

S. Paige:  Do you think there will be a next time?

Jimmy:  Probably.

S. Paige:  Do you ever fear I won’t recover?

Jimmy:  Depends on your definition of recover.  So like hopped up on mega does of anti-psychotics for your life type never recover?

S. Paige:  Yes.

Jimmy:  Yeah, that’s a concern.

S. Paige:  What would you do?

Jimmy:  I don’t know.  I don’t want to think about it.

S. Paige:  Do you fear I will take my own life?

Jimmy:  No.

S. Paige:  How are you so sure?

Jimmy:  I… don’t know.  I’m not so sure, but I am pretty sure.

Stigma

S. Paige:  How did you feel about having your wife in the psych ward?  Did that seem normal to you?  Seem weird?  Did stigma play into it?

Jimmy:  No.  Because… its… its… maybe for the people of the older generation than us.  I might not tell them directly that my wife is a ‘nut job’ and she’s spent time in the psych ward but people our generation and younger are much more accepting of medication and therapy and needing inpatient stuff but I might not be as open to the older generation.

S. Paige:  Taking the older generation into account, how do you feel when your father says…

Jimmy: (cut me off) He’s an idiot.

S. Paige:  I didn’t even get the question out.

Jimmy:  It doesn’t matter.  But he’s my father and its not like I can say anything bad to him because he’s a Catholic father and because you haven’t grown up in a Catholic family you don’t know.

S. Paige:  No, I don’t know.  But you have a wife and daughter with Mental Illness diagnoses’.

Jimmy:  I’m not going to change him so I just accept the fact that he’s and idiot and ignore him as best as I can.

Our Daughter, Sophia

S. Paige:  As a parent, do you worry that she’ll be like me?

Jimmy:  I worry she is going to be like me.

S. Paige:  Why, what’s wrong with you?

Jimmy:  I’m an antisocial, geeky, anxiety riddled ‘nutto’.

S. Paige:  You do not have a disorder.  You have moments of anxiety.  She has one already.  With teenage years and hormones do you worry she’ll follow in my footsteps?

Jimmy:  No, you’re still alive and you’re 38.  She’ll make it through.  It’s part of who you are, it is part of who she is.  I wouldn’t want to change either of you two.

S. Paige:  Do you think because of what I went through, we’re better equipped to deal with Sophia if she does fall victim to depression?  I know we have definitely done better dealing with her anxiety.

Jimmy:  I just hope we’re not biased.

S. Paige: That concerns me.

Jimmy:  I mean you’re super biased towards never going on medication.

(FYI, I am medicated and fine with it)

S. Paige:  It’s not that I’m biased, it’s just…

Jimmy:  … like it’s a sign you’re headed down that slope.

S. Paige:  Yeah.

Jimmy:  And I’m just like yeah, whatever, if it makes the slope less steep than who cares?!

Changing Me

S. Paige:  Did you ever just want to ‘slap’ the anxiety and depression out of me?

Jimmy:  No.

S. Paige:  Do you wish I didn’t have either one?

Jimmy:  Interesting question.  It’s hard to answer.  Because it’s part of you and I love you.  But would not having it make you better or different?

S. Paige:  Do you think we would have had more children if I didn’t have anxiety & depression?

Jimmy: Yes.

S. Paige:  How do you feel overall with this (pointing to self)?

Jimmy:  It’s interesting.  What’s the point of living life if it isn’t interesting?!

S. Paige:  Why do you stay?  Times I’ve said go, leave me, take Sophia.  I’m a disaster, you deserve more.

Jimmy:  I need you.

 

And lastly…

 

S. Paige:  What would you say to a husband/father who was going through this with his wife or child for the first time?

Jimmy:  Persevere, because there is light at the end of the tunnel and it isn’t an oncoming train.  It is really the end of the tunnel.  It will get better.

When All You Can Do Is Blame Yourself For Your Daughter’s Diagnosis

I tried to hold my tears back as I stared into my daughter’s oceanic blue eyes.  I could feel them welling up, feel the moisture increasing.

Not here, not now, not in public, Stephanie.

But, to be cliché, the dam was about to break.  A tear or two escaped.  My daughter was concerned and relayed this to her father on the phone.  She handed my cellphone back to me and my husband proceeded to ask, “Are you okay?”  No, no I wasn’t okay, but do I tell him that?  The silence was broken as he asked again.  I told him the truth because even if I lied and told him I was okay, he knew I wasn’t.

I am about to cry,” I uttered quietly so the other patrons could not hear me.  My daughter and I were waiting for our dinner order to be ready at our favorite sandwich shop in town.  It was last Friday evening, the start of the weekend, and my husband’s Friday to geek out and play Magic.  He wanted to stay home with me.  I told him no, I didn’t want him to blame me for not being able to play (even though he wouldn’t, it was all in my head).  I told him this knowing full well that I wanted his support but feeling I didn’t deserve it.

Our food order was ready and we went home passing my husband’s car on the way.  When we pulled into the garage, my tears flowed like a high pressure hose.  My daughter wanted to know what was wrong although she could somewhat guess as she has been a witness to me, her mother, for the last eleven years.

“It’s my fault, it’s all my fault.”  My lamentation increasing as these words escaped my mouth.

“What is your fault, Mommy?”

“That you are the way you are.  It is my fault.”

My daughter has been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder since she was 6 and has struggled off and on with it over the last 5 years.  This year has been extremely hard on her and because of it, hard on me.  She has been in therapy since the fall and because of some reactions she has had during her anxiety attacks the past month, it has recently been suggested that she get evaluated by a psychiatrist.

When the recommendation was first made to me by her therapist, I have to say I was a bit shocked.  I guess I never thought that her Anxiety warranted a psychiatric evaluation.  After a few hours, I have to admit the stigma against Mental Illness set in; her seeing a psychiatrist would really mark her as someone who is mentally ill.  I hurt for her.  My husband and I discussed the evaluation with her.  She has learned about the stigma, has learned to stand up to it (from her Mom of course).  But even this, having the word “psychiatrist” associated with her name, caused her to want to hide.  She instantly thought she would be medicated.  Eventually, she became okay with the evaluation that is set to be done in another week and a half.

All this got to me.  It pulled at my heart, tore holes, ate away at it.  The biggest fear I had when becoming a parent is that I would pass on my Depression and Anxiety to her and I have.  Her being in therapy never bothered me.  I am a firm believer that most people would benefit from therapy regardless of a Mental Illness diagnosis.  It was the mention of “psychiatrist”.  To me, like my daughter, I associate “psychiatrist” with “medication”.  Throw in the word “evaluation” and I was losing it.  I held back my emotions for the sake of my daughter, but I knew eventually they would become very visible.

I spoke with my therapist about it.  He told me it wasn’t my fault.  I said, “How?  How is it not my fault?!  She suffers the way I do.  I never wanted her to and now she is.  It’s only going to get worse.”  He logically said that this is something I did not give her on purpose.  There was no way of knowing whether she would be Mentally Ill or not.

“But I gave it to her.  It is my genetics that did this.  She is becoming me.”

No matter how many people tell me it is not my fault (heck, even my intelligent daughter tells me), I still cannot stop blaming myself.  I can’t kick this feeling.  She is already experiencing more than I ever did at her age.  I mean, I wasn’t even diagnosed until 14 and here she is at 11 with 5 years of Anxiety under belt.  Maybe I am transferring myself onto her to an extent, already predicting more suffering in her future getting worse and worse as she ages like it has for me.  No parent wants to see their child endure pain and illness.  In this case, I didn’t want her to endure the thoughts that I have felt, the fear I have felt, the hopelessness that I have felt.  I didn’t want her holding a case cutter to her wrist.  I didn’t want her desiring to stick something in her brain to end the constant negative thinking.

And yet it is beginning.  The fear is already inside of her.  And it was all my fault.  How could I, someone who has battled Depression and Anxiety for over 24 years, not feel blame?  More importantly, how can I stop feeling blame?

When You Fear Yourself

There were brief moments, tiny myopic moments, seconds that I could see my reality. In these moments of lucidity, I became scared.  I was frightened at what I was becoming and how fast my body and brain were transforming.  Fortunately (or unfortunately) these moments of clarity were scarce because my body was failing me so rapidly, my cognizance was minimal.

 

I was healthy. Off medication for a few years. Actively working out at least four times a week.  I was confident, loved how I looked and felt, a rare time frame in my life where I wasn’t self-loathing and highly pessimistic. It was a euphoric high that I never imagined I would plummet out of.  I was wrong.  Oh, so wrong.

 

The severe Anxiety hit first. I couldn’t sleep and I tried, I tried so hard.  Listening to my Therapist, I got up, left my bedroom, and went downstairs to watch TV.  I thought watching TV in the dark with the comfort of my cat lying in the crook of my body on the loveseat would do the trick.  I would be able to return to my bed and the act of slumber.

 

But, the sounds came next. My foster son would cough, my daughter would cough and it would echo through the house.  A neighbor’s car alarm would go off.  The heat, even the sound of the damn heat turning on would shatter any hopes of sleep.  Most nights, I gave up around 3am and just cried quietly.

 

It didn’t end there though. The mornings brought me Panic Attacks.  I would be short of breath and my heart would be beating so fast that it felt as if I just finished a marathon in record time.  Nausea would riddle my body and I would run to the bathroom dry-heaving.

 

Then, I started to become delusional, spewing forth ridiculous ideas that my children would be taken away from me (which in the end our foster son was removed from our house), that my in-laws would take me to court to obtain sole custody of my daughter, that I was going to die. These thoughts were constantly in my head and I couldn’t keep them there.  They came out of my mouth easily and I believed every one of them.

 

Finally, Depression and Grief set in, a split second after our foster son was removed. I was experiencing a death not only at losing this little boy who I still think about every day, but at losing myself.  It wouldn’t have been so bad if it wasn’t for those damn moments of sanity.

 

Ugh, they constantly reminded me of what I once was, so healthy and vibrant, and showed me what I had become. I felt defeated. I didn’t understand how all of this happened.  I didn’t want to go on, the fight was so hard.  I feared how much worse I would become; how much worse my family’s lives would be.  I was so scared, so scared that this episode of Major Depressive Disorder and Severe Generalized Anxiety would kill me.  In fleeting moments, I wish it would have.

 

Through all this fear, when I was lucid enough, I knew I needed to get help. I started the hunt for a new Psychiatrist.  I made sure I kept up with Therapy.  I asked for medication even though it was heartbreaking for me to go back on them.  I even fought to be hospitalized again because I knew it would help me.  I wasn’t going to let my fear kill me.  I couldn’t let my daughter lose her mother at such a young age.  I couldn’t let my husband lose his wife.  I couldn’t let my parents lose a child.  I fought for them.

 

It was a long rough journey, so bad, that I believe that the next episode will probably kill me. I’ve taken precautions though.  This time I will never go off my antidepressant.  I will continue to look for the signs, to seek out my fear.  I will be more mindful of my body and listen to it instead of fighting it.  Most importantly, I will remind myself that I have defeated Depression and Anxiety before and that looking at my track record, I am likely to win again.

___________________________________________________________________________

Yesterday was the 3 year anniversary of entering myself into the hospital.  Taking advice from several people (Therapist, family & friends) I do not dwell on how bad I was anymore.  When I think of that time, I acknowledge how far I fell, how bad I became and then, then I think about how far I have come.  I am healthy again, still medicated, still in therapy and still kicking ass.

Teaching My Daughter To Rise Above The Stigma Of Mental Illness

My daughter has seen me. She has seen me throughout her eleven years of life.  She has seen me lose touch with reality several times, seen me cry uncontrollably many times, seen me at a handful of Psychiatric and Therapy appointments.  She has even seen me become hospitalized.  Throughout all of this, she has stood by my side supporting me any way a preteen can.  She will get me my medication and water when I have an anxiety attack.  She will tell me she doesn’t want any other Mommy when I say she deserves better.  She fights the stigma behind Mental Illness for me to “infinity and beyond” (A Toy Story line that defines how much we love each other).

 

But, even with all that she does to help me, she falls victim to the stigma when it comes to herself.

 

My daughter was diagnosed at age 6 with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, a diagnosis that she deserved even at age 4. She feared doctors or, honestly, anything medical.  She catastrophized thoughts in her mind constantly thinking that she could catch diseases such as Ebola and Rabies just by breathing it in.  While these medically induced anxieties faded through the years she still tends to get overwhelmed and will have minor Panic Attacks over things that she can’t control.  She is easily frustrated.  She cries. She’s a worrier, and a huge Empath like myself.

 

There have been several occasions where school was a trigger. When she started elementary school, they placed my daughter in the Special Friends program at my request.  It was a program dedicated to giving young children a place to relax for an hour and talk about their feelings.  I loved this program.  She aged out after 2nd Grade .  At this point we started therapy for her to learn coping skills for when anxiety attacks hit.  This helped for a while and she was able to stop therapy for a year or two.  Enter a few major life events, moving and entering Middle School, and her anxieties came back full force.  Insomnia set in.  Panic Attacks over homework became present and therapy sessions returned.

 

Through all of this, I have been her advocate. I do not want to see her suffer the way I have.  There was a brief discussion last year with the school nurse about possibly getting her further help, such as a 509 report, within the school system.  She had been sent home because she threw up.  The nurse knew right away after seeing my daughter through the years that this was related to her GAD, but due to the rules, I had to pick my daughter up and keep her home for 24 hours.  The nurse said that if this was in her file, she could return to school the next day bypassing the required 24 hours.  I thought heavily on this and suggested to my daughter that we get the school more involved.  Her response:

 

“I don’t want special treatment. There are kids that need it more.”

 

I respected that answer since the school year was almost over and we were switching school systems. She started Middle School and things were okay for a short period of time.  Then I noticed her getting heavily overwhelmed, crying and panicking.  I brought the subject of getting more help from the school with her again.  She hesitated and replied:

 

“I don’t want special treatment.”

 

I explained to her that it wasn’t special treatment. Her diagnosis, which is in her medical file at the school, would be more known so that if she did have further issues, she could receive the help she needed, whether it be visits to the school Psychologist or extra time on a test.  Then she started to tear up a bit and said, “No, I don’t want it.  The kids will make fun of me and my friends won’t like me anymore.”

 

Oh boy. Enter the Mental Health stigma.  Because I have been fighting it so long, the huge advocate in me came out and I may have reacted a tad too intimidating for an 11-year-old.  I was angry.  I thought the world has become slightly better with Mental Illness, but I was wrong.  I spoke, with a seething rage inside my head, sternly to my daughter:

 

“Do not feel that way at all. Do not, for one second, be ashamed of your diagnosis.  So, you have an Anxiety Disorder.  You have no idea what other kids at your school may have.  Most likely a few of your friends have one too.  All that, all that you just said, that is the stigma talking.  You do not have to hide like I did.”

 

She began to cry a little. She knew I was right especially after being such a support and advocate for me.  She nodded her head, apologized, and went upstairs.  I didn’t know if it really sunk in, the words I said until one afternoon she came home from school and was excited to show me a video she was working on in school in one of her classes.  I sat and watched the video and was so enamored and proud of this child.  Here she stood, in the crowded hallways of her school talking about her Anxiety Disorder.  She didn’t care if anyone heard her.  She spoke confidently about coping skills and therapy.  My daughter isn’t hiding anymore.  She’s kicking the stigma to the curb just like her mom.