Why I Do Not Shop Black Friday

Every Thanksgiving I awaken with a huge grin on my face because I know that somewhere outside in my driveway is the large roll of Black Friday ads. I love looking at them. I dive in each year looking at items I would love to receive for the holidays noting a few to put on my list for this year and storing other items in the back of my mind for my winter birthday. I find good deals that I think my family members would like. I even have a distinct order in which I look at my Black Friday circulars, starting with my least favorite stores and ending with Target. I would be an expert shopper if…

… if I actually shopped on Black Friday (or Thanksgiving for that matter with how the retail market has been the last few years). But I do not. I went once with my mother when I was fifteen and found it overwhelming then. More than two decades later, I refuse to do it now. Why?

My mental health is worth way more than any bargain.

You see, I do not step out into these sales because of my Anxiety. Weekly grocery shopping gives me anxiety attacks. The bright lights, loud noise and people are just too much. Going out on Black Friday would be sensory overload. People waiting in line for that “I just got to have it!” deal, willing to plow through anyone that gets in there way. The attitude of “I had it first!” while playing tug-of-war with an another irate person over an item. No, I just can’t go through that. It isn’t just the fear of being trampled on that occurs in several locations or being shot at. People get mean and manners fly out the window.

Black Friday brings out the worst in people. If I can’t get through a shopping excursion during any other time of year, I definitely cannot handle Black Friday. But the circulars are so tempting. Deals on technology, clothing, toys. Marketing at its best. Which retailer will win the title of first to be open this Black Friday?! (It was Big Lots in my area which opened at 7am Thanksgiving Day). But I do not have to ruin my mental health for this modern American-born “holiday”, not with the creation of Cyber Monday. Cyber Monday, another modern American-born “holiday” where I get the same deals and save myself several anxiety attacks by just sitting at my computer alone in silence. A day similar to Black Friday that does not actually start the Monday after Thanksgiving but on Thanksgiving itself. It is a sufferer of Anxiety’s dream.

Not to say that I never make it out to a store because I do, but I do it for another modern American-born “holiday”, Small Business Saturday. With this day I get to support local businesses without the loud noises and large crowds. It may cost me a little more, but my sanity is worth it.

I sat this morning, pouring through ad after ad for Black Friday. For some of them, I didn’t understand why people lined up the day before, the deals just didn’t look that good. Driving to my Thanksgiving lunch today we passed Best Buy and there were already at least twenty people out there waiting in line in 30 degree weather. It was only 11:30am. I know there is a thrill associated with it, but I have to admit, I even found the circulars overwhelming and had to stop and take a break.

It is for this reason, that you will never see me in a major retail store on Black Friday. I just can’t do it. I won’t do it. I will not sacrifice my mental health for a not-so-great deal. I will not support ruining a holiday, Thanksgiving, that stands for being grateful, on the latest gadget that “I must have”. Instead, I will sit at my laptop with the Black Friday ads and do my shopping here in my house where I am grateful for the internet in creating the ability to do this in addition to my family, my therapist and my medications that keep me stable.

When You Learn How Important Self-Advocacy Is

In the last twenty years, off and on, with my frenemies, Anxiety & Depression, I have learned quite a bit about living a life with Mental Illness. My first twelve years were in secret, keeping my mouth shut on anything relating to the words melancholy, empty, sad. I was told to hide, told that the stigma would ruin any chance of a career for me, would isolate me and make me feel even more lonely than I already did. I was ashamed that my differences made me plague-worthy. Who wants to be friends with a psycho?!

Eventually, I got fed up… or I should say, extremely deeply depressed. I couldn’t hide it anymore. My Postpartum Depression and Anxiety brought on my first step in becoming free of this stigma… I had to admit my illnesses to someone aside from my family. I had to tell my boss. I had no idea what would happen, if I would be let go for some stupid made up reason to hide the real dismissal of me being crazy. I had no other option though, I was hospitalized and in turn could not do the work I took home to do during my maternity leave.

I then started to tell some friends and upon seeing their genuine compassionate reactions, I realized not everyone believed the stigma behind having a Mental Illness diagnosis. It was from this point, about a decade ago, when I decided to screw the stigma and advocate.

Advocacy is defined as, “the act of pleading for, supporting, or recommending,” by dictonary.com. I dove right in, starting with Mental Illnesses that most were unaware existed, Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. I immersed myself joining up with a non-profit I found on Facebook one day. I bonded with fellow mothers who experienced similar events. Some of them proudly declared their stories while others still felt the need to hide. It was an amazing feeling to not feel alone.

By doing this I began to tell my story to anyone at any given moment. It didn’t matter if they never inquired about my illnesses. I wanted to get my story out there. I wanted to be a voice, a voice that was heard when many others were still so afraid to speak up. This was my main form of Advocacy. I told my stories and frankly couldn’t care less if someone responded negatively which was very rare. I rose up to the challenge of becoming a symbol of someone who could be successful and who lived with Mental Illnesses.

These last few years, I began to learn about Self Advocacy, the need to fight for my own care. This is not always easy to do especially when your own care involves a brain imbalance and what I like to call “thinking imperfections”. In the beginning, I even wondered who would trust me to create my own care plan… after all, that required someone with a healthy brain, not someone who was mentally ill. Now I don’t care. Majority of the time, I am in my right mind and can decide things for myself. But this was not always the case.

Three years ago, things changed. I quickly went from a stable human being to one having a psychotic break. There was no point in creating a Self-Advocacy plan at that time because the change was so rapid I could barely recognize it. One moment I could coherently tell my husband I needed to go to the hospital’s inpatient psychiatric unit, the next, I was in the fetal position scratching my head repeatedly crying for the rapid thoughts to leave me, that it hurt too much. It frightened my husband, my parents and my daughter who was 8 at the time. More importantly, in my lucid moments, it scared the shit out of me.

It was after this last episode with Major Depressive Disorder that I became extremely involved in Self-Advocacy. I needed to be. I knew how my body felt, what my brain was telling me, how the meds were working. When I needed a different type of therapy, I searched for the therapist. I worked together with my psychiatrist at the time in weaning off two of my medications. I made sure my doctors and my therapist were aware of each other. I began to practice Mindfulness and really took notice at how my body felt. There were no secrets anymore, no hiding.

And now, once again, I am advocating for myself. In the last 2 years 9 months, I have been through 4 psychiatrists/APRN’s at the same psychiatric group. They all left for some reason. The first, who saw me through my worst, left to have a baby and never came back. The second I saw once and then he retired. The third who aided me in my weaning and worked with me on medication changes left to become a head for an addiction facility. The last… I saw her once in July, just sent a letter explaining that she returned to work far too early when she had her first child and was now pregnant with her second. She decided to leave the end of the December. I was due to see her in January.

What to do, what to do? As I am waiting for my next assignment, whether it be a psychiatrist or psychiatric APRN, I am researching my other options because well, starting a 5th doctor in 3 years is kind of annoying. With my track record, the 5th is bound to up and leave too. There must be other psychiatric groups out there. Sad thing is, I am only down to seeing them twice a year just for prescriptions. I know for emergency purposes, my primary care physician would write a script for me. Problem is, my Anxiety has been worse these last couple of months and I foresee an additional medication being prescribed. As much as I like my PCP, I need someone who specializes in Psychiatry.

Self-Advocacy is a process that can be very time consuming and mentally and physically draining. When it comes down to it though, it needs to rank high in the self-care process. The only person who is going to care as much about your care and health, is you. What I have realized is that having a Self-Advocacy Care Plan is also a necessity. This can be used when you know you are not mentally stable. It is a list of things for your spouse, parents, or even a special friend to tell the doctors when you can’t. It allows them to advocate for you the way you would want to advocate for yourself.

I am currently putting mine together.

I Will Not Hide Anymore: A Letter To The Non-Believer

To The Non-Believer,

 

If I passed you on the street, would you be able to identify that I am not ‘normal’? Would you cringe and slither away from me?  Would you see me as different, weak, an attention seeker?

 

For years, I stayed hidden because of people like you. Taught to fear my diagnoses. Shh, don’t tell anyone.  I believed it.  I played into the stigma.  I did it for protection of what you might say or do.  I feared losing friends, family members, even career opportunities.

 

And then one day I said “Fuck it!”

 

It just became too difficult to hide, too shameful, too guilty. And why should I feel that way?  To hide from you and your posse?  On this particular day, many years ago, I stood up proud and said, “I have Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.”  I would hide no more.

 

And you laughed because to you, these illnesses did not exist, do not exist. To you I was weak, finding life’s normal stressors to hard.  To you I was seeking attention, because you thought I felt ignored.  It never once crossed your mind to believe me because hey, you can’t see these illnesses so why the heck would they actually be real?!

 

It didn’t matter that there were other invisible illnesses that you can’t see but believed were real. It didn’t matter that I was someone you knew for decades.  It didn’t matter that a fifth of the population would be diagnosed with a mental illness.  To you and your fellow Non-Believers, I was making it up.  It was all in my head.

 

All in my head. Yes, in a way it is.  My head contains my brain.  Mental illnesses are disorders of the, what?  Yes, the brain.  The brain, the thing that controls everything in your body.  It tells your heart to pump blood.  It tells your stomach to digest food and make energy.  How could we believe that it could turn against us?!

 

But it can.

 

It distorts my thinking, makes me believe I am a loser, unwanted, undeserving of anyone’s love and kindness. It tells me my friends and family can’t stand me anymore.  And in some cases, it makes me ponder hurting myself or if life is even worth living anymore.  Do you know what that is like?  To fully hate yourself, everything about you, everything you were taught at a young age made you the cool unique person you are?  No, can’t be real, right?  And then more emotions creep in, more lies that Depression makes me believe… the guilt and shame to any wrong doing I thought I did.

 

I can’t wish these thoughts away. Oh, how my life would be so much easier if I could.  I would gladly take one day of a horrible depressive funk if I was guaranteed I would wake up wonderful the next day. Stay positive, you say.  One of many phrases that are far easier said than done.  Then you throw out remarks such as grow up, man up, snap out of it.  You call me selfish for thinking about self harm and suicide because obviously, to your Non-Believer clan, I am only thinking of myself in this situation.  You think I am blocking what others may think or feel if I inflicted harm on myself.  The problem is, you have never been there, have never been in that position of just yearning to shut the racing thoughts and emotions from your brain, of wanting to not feel like an empty void.

 

Oh, and the lack of physical symptoms… I laugh. My anxiety causes so many.  Where to begin?  Shortness of breath, heart palpitations, extreme nausea, dizziness, insomnia.  In extreme cases, full blown panic attacks that feeling like I am dying from a heart attack, vomiting, constant muscle tension and hours of rocking back and forth.  You tell me meditate, go for a walk and my favorite, hug your child.  Not bad suggestions, but when I am tensed up in the fetal position, unable to speak, trying to scratch my hair out, these suggestions are not going to happen.

 

And then the hospitalizations. You wonder why our government needs to focus so much resources into Mental Health facilities.  You think my two brief stays were a wasted of time and money.  Yes, of course they were… I so wanted to almost bankrupt my family to pay for these stays.  That was my desire, can’t you tell?!  My response to you now is we do not have enough resources for people like me.  There are not enough inpatient and outpatient facilities.  There is not enough coverage through insurance for psychiatrist visits, therapist visits and medication.  And there isn’t enough because of you Non-Believers and the stigma you place on my population.

 

You call me a Millennial with the way I am “overreacting”. Life is hard, you say.  Stop being so weak, you say.  Everything will not be handed to you on a silver platter, you say.  It doesn’t matter that I was clearly born on the tail end of Generation X or that my parents raised me to be a hard-working person.  You laugh it off thinking somewhere in my childhood they fucked me up.  You would be sadly mistaken.  Except for a genetic link, my parents taught me to be respectful, loving and a go-getter.  They always told me not to expect everything in my future career because we all are easily replaceable.  They taught me that working hard got you to where you wanted to be.  You know, all the same things your parents taught you.

 

And now, I am angry, so, so fucking angry. Angry that this is still an issue, that many people who are diagnosed still feel they must hide, that they would be seen as weak or a freak if they went for help.  I am angry that so many people have taken their lives thinking that was the only way out because of you Non-Believers.  Just furious, even at myself, that I thought I had to stay silent.

 

But, I am silent no more.  I will continue to advocate for my community and myself.  I will tell my story.  I will not let the stigma become me again.  And, I will not wish you to experience the hell I have even though that might ‘turn you’.  The internal suffering and the suffering of your loved ones because they can’t help is too much for anyone.

 

Sincerely,

 

Stephanie Paige

A Mental Illness Survivor & Advocate

 

 

When You’re More Nervous Than Your Child On The 1st Day Of School

Crowds of kids gathered with their parents at the bus stop snapping photos of their elated children.  Some even took video.  I stood with my daughter giving a hug and kiss on her cheek.  I did this as support, support she didn’t ask for. Why? Because today was the 1st Day of School, the first day in a new school district for her and I was worried.

I was very nervous, bordering on anxious… wondering if she had everything.  I think I was more nervous this year than she was because I can actually remember Junior High (New York’s version of Middle School) and I remember starting Junior High not knowing anyone.  I remembered the fear, the anxiety, the pure terror.  You see, I didn’t go to my zoned Junior High where I would have had friends from my elementary school, I went to a ‘Gifted & Talented’ Junior High for my creative writing abilities.  And although my daughter was starting a new school system as we moved in late spring to give her a better education, unlike myself, she already knew a few people.

I worried about my daughter.  With every new thing she would panic over… What if I can’t open my locker? What if the kids make fun of me? What if I am late to class?… my worry grew.  I only want her to be happy and to succeed.

As the days passed and the 1st Day approached, I repeatedly asked her questions:

“Do you remember how to open your locker?  Tell me.”

“What bus do you take from school to the YMCA in the afternoon?”

And then I started to make blatant statements:

“Don’t forget you will need lunch.”

“You only need a pen or pencil the first day. Why are you bringing so much other stuff?!”

I think I was beginning to drive my daughter batty as she began to roll her eyes at me and sigh.

I just wanted her to be prepared.  Middle School is not Elementary School.  You are given more responsibilities in Middle School.  You have to go to more than one classroom.  You have a set time to get to each class.  You have reports and projects.

And most important… you must figure out who you are sitting with at lunch!

This last item was what was making my daughter more anxious the last few days.  She doesn’t want to hurt anyone.  She was debating between her oldest and dearest friend (they have been friends since they were babies), our neighbor across the way and a friend from her former camp in the city we used to live in that relocated too.  She questioned me repeatedly about this.  I suggested her old camp friend as she would see her bestie on the bus and well, our neighbor lives right across the way from us.

A mass chaos of questions, things to purchase, items on a To-Do list and my brain was foggy (it has been for the last couple of months already).  I couldn’t concentrate to get everything organized, I just couldn’t think.  With that I became irritable.  With the irritability, I grew more anxious and had several anxiety attacks.  It felt like my brain was playing a hyper speed game of Atari’s Pong in my head. But I tried to keep my anxieties from my daughter. We didn’t need her GAD to start.

It was official. I was more nervous than my daughter.

As I stood at the bus stop this morning with her and the gaggle of other kids and parents, I internally told myself this is it.  She is ready and if she forgot something, there is always tomorrow.  Tell your Anxiety that she is fine.  She will make friends. She will open her locker.  She will find her classes. You know she is ready for this and so are you.

Then the bus showed up. I waved to my friend, the bus driver.  I watched her get on and smiled. I walked away feeling calm and content and whispered, “Good luck my love.”

It Isn’t All About You: The Selfish Side Of Depression

 

I am a selfless person. I always put others needs ahead of my own to the extent that I ignore my body and brain’s signals that I am not well. I want people to be happy… my family, my friends, my coworkers. I want the world to be happy ahead of me. I live to please others. Ask anyone I know, and the word selfish would never be used to describe me.

But two weeks ago I was reminded that there is always a part of you that is selfish, even when you don’t realize it.

I was going through a bit of a rough patch since my business trip early last month as usual whenever I travel. After I arrived home, I was met with several days of heightened Anxiety and even a Panic Attack. This was followed by 8 days of a Depressive state. I felt empty and alone. There were a couple of days I forced myself out of bed and many days I struggled to find anything enjoyable in my life. I knew if this lasted a few more days I would be headed to another diagnosed episode of Depression. Of course, in my mind, I was already there.

Within these 8 days I felt increasingly isolated, not from my family, but from social interactions with friends. I internally blamed myself as anxious Depressives often do. I was the reason my friends were ignoring me (so I thought). Was I talking about my Mental Illnesses too much? Was I too socially awkward for them? Did I say something? Did I do something? Was I acting too weird?

And then I got a text message from one of these friends asking me about something I have considerable knowledge on… psychiatrists. She then proceeded to tell me it was for her. There was some shock when I found out. In almost 6 years of knowing her, she never mentioned a need for a psychiatrist. I became worried and asked her what was wrong. She then requested a time we could talk face-to-face.

I went to her house last weekend where she told me why she has been so absent this last year (her story to tell, not mine). Never in my hysterical thinking did it ever occur to me that one of my close friends was going through a major life change. A mutual friend of ours was there too. She explained that she shared the same thinking I had, that we did or said something wrong. And then she said something that struck me…

“Although normal, it is such a selfish way of thinking.”

Ah ha! Light bulb moment!

And there it was, the selfish side of me, my Depression. Every question concerned only me, myself and I. I started to analyze my past Depressive episodes and the questions I always asked myself and there was one cohesive theme… I, I, I! How my life sucked. How no one wanted to hang out with me. How I was worthless. So many I’s and Me’s. It never occurred to me that my friends and family might see me differently, that they needed me, that they might be struggling. The thought of anyone else in my life having a rough time never passed through my mind. It was always about me.

Hi, My Name Is Not “Sophia’s Mom”

I was not given the name “Sophia’s Mom” at birth.  How would my parents know all those years ago that I would go on to have a beautiful daughter and name her Sophia.  I am sure they had hopes and dreams for grandchildren, but exact details as the sex and name of the child could not be foreseen in the stars.  After the birth of my daughter though, my name has gone from “Stephanie” to “Sophia’s Mom”.  When introducing myself to her friends’ parents, I always say, “Hi, I am Stephanie, Sophia’s Mother.”

And yet, almost 99% of the time when introduced at school events, or to other friends, I am always referred to as “Sophia’s Mom”.  

But I am so much more.

Being Sophia’s mother is just one piece of me and it is a major important piece of me.  Having a child changes your life.  You are no longer responsible for yourself, you are now responsible for another human being.  I would be foolish to say that being her mother was not significant.  She is one of the reasons my heart beats.  She is one of my strengths.  She is this beautiful human being.  And I love being her mother.

But I am so much more.

I didn’t grow up thinking my career would be ‘Mother’.  I played house and had baby dolls and that was a dream of mine.  But, I was taught to have more aspirations.  My mother stayed at home until I, her youngest, was six.  Then she returned to work.  Her having a career taught me that I could have one of my own.  I did not have to rely on my future spouse for income.  I could earn my own money.

When I decided Architecture would be my schtick at six years of age, I dove into the career head on, even as a young child.  I would build any Lego set I could get my hands on.  The sets progressed in size and complexity as I aged.  In high school, I took drafting classes and started to design houses.  Instead of Teen Vogue, I would buy house plan magazines.  In college, I majored in Architecture and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Architecture.  Since graduation 15 years ago (wow, I’m old), I have worked in my field for several architects and now for a prominent furniture retailer & interior design studio.  I am not just “Sophia’s Mom”, I am also a “Project Manager/Architectural Services”.

Not every title is positive though.  Since teenager-hood, I have been a diagnosed Depressive.  Through the years, I gained the title of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and PTSD.  At my daughter’s birth, I had the titles of Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety.  I am Mentally Ill.  While most see these as negative, I have turned this into a positive.  I served as a Warrior Mom Ambassador and Climb Leader for the former Postpartum Progress.  I am an Ambassador for PatientsLikeMe.com.  I stand up to the stigma of Mental Illness and contribute not only to my blog, but online to The Mighty and Stigma Fighters.  I have contributed to three different books concerning Mental Illness, Stigma Fighters Anthologies II & III and A Dark Secret: Real Women Share Their Trials And Triumphs Of Their Battle With Maternal Mental Health Illness.  I am not only “Sophia’s Mom”, I am also a “Mental Health Advocate & Mental Health Author”.

While being a mother, I knew once Sophia started school, that I wanted to be known in that school for a reason most parents would not imagine.  I wanted the teachers and staff to know who I was in case my child was a trouble maker, which thankfully she never turned out to be.  I also wanted to be aware of what was going on in the school so I joined PTO.  First I was just your typical PTO member, then I became Treasurer.  For the last three years, I served in this position and will relinquish it once the school year ends and my daughter graduated elementary school in three weeks.  I have grown close to the staff and will miss them as they have always been nice and considerate to my daughter and myself.  I was not only “Sophia’s Mom”, I was “PTO Treasurer”.

What I am saying is we as moms are so much more than mothers.  You have likes and dislikes, hobbies and other things you are interested in.  Aside from all that I mentioned above, I am a daughter, sister and loyal friend.  I love to garden, to hike, to exercise.  I like hanging out with my friends painting or enjoying a nice meal.  We need to remember that being a mother is a part of us, a huge part, but not the only piece.  The next time I am introduced as “Sophia’s Mom”, do not be shocked if I correct you and say:

“Yes, I am Sophia’s Mom, but I am Stephanie Paige.”

Can I Call Myself An Author?

I have always dreamt of being a published Author.  Writing has always been a huge part of who I am.  I remember writing imagination filled stories since elementary school.  In junior high, I expanded to poetry, the easiest form of writing to express myself.  I was even in the Creative Writing talent as my school was for the ‘Gifted & Talented’.  In college, I took a poetry class and threw in some laughter on a poem about bowling that symbolized sex (might post that one day).  I’ve been published in school anthologies with both stories and poetry.

But, can I label myself an author if I haven’t actually published a book of my own?

Dictionary.com defines “Author” as:

  1. a person who writes a novel, poem, essay, etc.; the composer of a literary work, as distinguished from a compiler, translator, editor, or copyist.
  2. the literary production or productions of a writer:
    to find a passage in an author.
  3. the maker of anything; creator; originator:
    the author of a new tax plan.
  4. Computers. the writer of a software program, especially a hypertext or multimedia application.

I definitely fit the mold of #1, yet calling myself “Author” doesn’t feel right.  I guess it stems from learning all those years ago, that to be a real Author, you had to be published.  Published.  What constitutes ‘being published’?  As stated before, I was ‘published’ in anthologies put out by the Creative Writing talent at my junior high.  I was ‘published’ in an anthology in high school.  Do these count?  Only a marginal amount of people will ever read them.  And while I still possess all of these works, I highly doubt they exist beyond my possession anymore.

I write this blog.  Starting in 2015, I created my blog, Rising From The Ashes, and still keep it active (although switching platforms from Blogger to WordPress).  I bought my own website to make it official.  I try to publish a post at least once a week.  I have contributed to other blogs, sharing my work several times with The Mighty, Stigma Fighters & Postpartum Progress.

I have been published as a Contributing Author (note my use of the word Contributing as I was one of many) in Stigma Fighters Anthology II and A Dark Secret… both books helping to tear down the stigma associated with Mental Illness and Maternal Mental Illness.

But I haven’t published a book of my own yet and now I am questioning if I want to anymore.

I want to share my life with the world to help others like me.  I want men, women, and teens to know they are not alone in there Mental Health struggles. I want to give them a voice. And while I have started my memoir, my book, to do this, I’m beginning to wonder if I have to complete it because…

Am I not doing this already?  Advocating for those who feel they need to remain silent.  Have I not been sharing my story piece by piece through this blog, on The Mighty and on Stigma Fighters? Was it not published in 2 compilations of stigma breaking books?

It comes down to time.  I just don’t have the time to finish this book right now or in the near future.  I don’t have time to actively contribute to The Mighty and Stigma Fighters if I even attempt to finish my book.  Time is something I cannot buy extra of.  Working full time, being active on my daughter’s school’s PTO, advocating.  Nightly, I am left deciding if I have time to breathe or read my book for 20 minutes (the book usually wins out).

If I do not finish my book, am I still an Author?

Have I still made a longtime dream of mine come true?

I think the answer may lie in the grin on my face below.

I am Stephanie Paige, Author & Advocate.