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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…FAIL.

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

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

…FAIL.

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

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

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

What do you want to be when you grow up?

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

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

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

…No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I rise.

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

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

“You’re look horrible”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

“Yes, Sure, You Were ‘Sick’!”

I’ve heard this so many times.  I am not coughing.  I am not sneezing.  I am not complaining of chills.  I am not home ‘sick’ in the term that I have the flu and need to be in bed.  I would not spread my illness if I came into work.  I would not pass germs that would in turn get you ‘sick’.
But I am sick.

Dictionary.com defines the word ‘sick’ as one who is “afflicted with ill health or disease; ailing.”  Although I am not hacking or vomiting on you, I am in fact sick.  I am afflicted with ill health or disease.  I like to call them hidden diseases.  These mental illnesses, Anxiety and Depression (and at one point PTSD and OCD).  There are further definitions on Dictionary.com that include mental ailments but it shocks me that when a person calls out sick it has to be seen as a ‘real’ ailment to be deemed a ‘real’ sick day and not ‘playing hookie’.  The matter is, when I use a sick day at work, I am sick, but it is my Anxiety and Depression that are center stage.

The last time I took a sick day where I was what is considered sick to a typical person was January of 2014 when I acquired the flu.  For days I was bedridden, sleeping, going through chills alternating with being too hot, running high fevers and completely depleted of all energy.  You know what, those ‘fake’ sick days, my body wants to be bedridden.  I am usually dizzy and nauseas and it is my brain that makes me feel this way, no bacteria or virus I can fault.  My brain, an organ I will live with all my life… not a bacteria that will take up residence for a week.  How can you not call that sick?

Through the years, I have learned to mask first my Depression because I have lived with it for such a long time, more than half my life.  I have just recently perfected the fake smile and faux happy personality when it comes to my Generalized Anxiety.  This little devil has been present in my life for the last decade and I never know when it will go on a nice vacation and I never know when it will return.  Little bugger!  Recently, it has decided to become the dictator of my being.  It took over me a week and a half ago making my body rigid and me mute.  That day was the start to me feeling, well, off.  The work week following that incident, I spent most of my days hiding in my cubicle not wanting to interact with anyone.  Many times I wished I could just go home and hide in my room.  I wanted to be alone.  If I did have interact with my coworkers, I was the smiling funny person I usually am.  All I have to do is put on that fake grin and all of my inner turmoil is hidden.  Viola!  I look perfectly fine.

This past Sunday night I slept awfully.  Even pumped up on .5mg of Ativan and 2mg of Lunesta, my body would not fall asleep.  After watching the 2 hour premiere of Return To Amish because well I had nothing else to do, I decided to try and fall asleep again.  It was 1am.  Luckily, sleep came quick but my body awoke at 5:00am.  Insomnia was back.  When I finally decided to wake up for the day and not continue a fit of tossing and turning in bed in hopes I would fall back asleep it was 6:30am.  I gave in.  Brain, you won.  With a rush of dizziness and nausea, I felt it best to call out sick.

Upon returning to the office the next day, some comments were thrown at me about being ‘sick’.  Sometimes it gets to the point where I feel like the boy who cried wolf.  I have all these physical symptoms but I do not look sick.  I am on day nine of going to bed with such pain in my neck and shoulders because they have been tense all day.  I am highly unmotivated to move and feel out of it.  I don’t quite feel depressed as I do not feel hopeless or worthless, but I do not feel like myself.  Some negative thoughts are returning to me… thoughts where my husband and child deserve better.  I am frequently apologizing to both of them for being so irritable all the time.  “I don’t want to be mean, I am so sorry.”  As I am saying this, I imagine my daughter sitting in therapy in her adult years talking of her mother who snapped at her with anger all the time.  It’s not what I want, but I can’t control it.  Anxiety has taken the reigns.

And then, with the comments and the demons I live with, I begin to wonder if I am imagining these symptoms… maybe I am not really ‘sick’.  This feeling only fuels the craziness I live with… now I am debating with myself if what I feel, mental and physical, is actually real?  Am I just saying this stuff for attention?  I mean, I am the youngest child.  Youngest children usually crave attention, but that was never me.  I also am known to complain a lot, but not about my health.  I have a high pain tolerance and usually wait until the last minute to get help with any ailment.  Still, is this all in my head?  Do I just feel ignored and want to be heard?  

And then I take a step back and breathe.  Stigma.  Damn that stigma.  Just when I think I have broken through its barrier, I am sucked back into the vortex.  This stigma is the reason people do not believe me when I am sick.  I can’t fall victim to it again, it will only hurt me.  This is the reason I share my story all the time.  This is the reason I explain to people what it is like to suffer with a condition that plagues your brain, that interferes with your logical thinking.  

I am sick and some days the pressure builds up mentally, causing physical symptoms and I need to take a day off just like when having a fever.  I need to rest.  Any person deserves that without sarcastic comment.  You deserve to be trusted.