Confessions

Paradigm Shift

“Who is this Black woman wearing blue lipstick and clothes that don’t match? Don’t worry-I’m just as perplexed as you are as to why I’m standing here, but hey. Let’s trust that Rachel and Sarah knew what they were doing when they signed y’all up for this.“

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I served and took communion for the first time in 7 years yesterday at the Evolving Faith conference in Montreat, NC. That’s how comfortable and affirmed I felt being in that space with Christians who are actually...well the Christians I’ve desired to have connections with, but didn’t believe existed anymore. 

I got on stage and told the crowd that I could feel the presence of my great grandmother and Prince there with me too. I told the audience I have conversations with them. That I have an altar in my house. That I honor my dead. Use candles with my prayers, as well as set intentions and manifest what I want to see develop within myself, family, work, and life. That I reclaimed and learned how to listen to my intuition by practicing tarot. That I have friends who worship Orishas, do root work, who are Hindu and Buddhist, who celebrate Samhain and solstice, and am married to a man who is a futurist and desires to be preserved by cryonics upon his death. That I read my horoscope according to my natal chart, follow the planet’s transits throughout the sky, and the monthly cycle of the moon. That I believe in energy work. That painting is a form of divination for me. That I am married to a cis man and am in a heteronormative relationship but I am also queer. That my children are neurodiverse, I use people first language, and I have a responsibility to advocate for and equip them to move within a world that is not inclusive, but not to change them-they are whole beings, not broken. That I was abused as a child and sexually assaulted as a teen & young adult. 

I dropped a few f-bombs. Told them to face themselves. To abandon the frameworks and constructs they’ve built through conditioning, experience, and trauma over the years in  exchange for whole living. To burn shit down. To open themselves to exploration and curiosity. Told the POC especially to study, connect, and expand their faith to be inclusive of spiritual practices and tools rooted within their own cultures. That they might be hurting and weary but the only thing fragile about them-about all of us-is our ego. That if I can withstand this moment with all I’m carrying, they can too. 

The response was unexpectedly positive. It knocked my ego on its ass, because I walked into this experience thinking I couldn’t possibly connect to what was happening because I’ve spent the last 7 years deliberately removed from this...culture. From the institution. From a faith I no longer recognize or live out as I used to. That I question and reject for its racism, misogyny, sexism, patriarchy, oppression, bigotry, phobias, erasure, and violence.  I walked into it cynical, thinking I’d be pilloried. Instead I was embraced. Thanked. Seen. Heard. Respected. 

The fact that I was able to serve in this capacity alongside scholars, artists, writers, pastors, activists, and thought leaders I learned from and admired heavily in the past and even from afar over the last 7 years, was the icing on the cake. It was humbling. 

It helped my spirit heal in ways I didn’t realize were needed. It released me to continue expanding and moving forward in my spiritual development. I hope I continue to learn from it in the months & years ahead. 

Am I Enough?

I've been reading through think pieces, texts, and comment threads the last few days and while somewhat enlightened and challenged to think a bit more critically about the systems of patriarchy and oppression, I've also questioned if I'm "feminist" enough. From what I've been reading, (and quite possibly, according to bell hooks and other 2nd wave feminist ideals and theory) the answer is no. 

I wonder, then what would it take, to be enough...of anything? Of every identity I embody? I honestly don't know. What I do know is that I've spent nearly every day of my 33 years not feeling

"Safe" enough

"Good" enough

"Black" enough

"Feminine" enough

"Thick" enough

"Thin" enough

 "Smart" enough

"Nice" enough

"Pretty" enough

"Woke" enough

"Radical" enough

"Progressive/Liberal" enough

"Woman" enough

"Mother" enough

"Wife" enough

"Christian" enough

"Mentally stable" enough

"Old" enough

"Strong" enough

"Brave" enough

"Educated" enough

and on and on and on the list goes.  

In this moment of frustration and weariness I feel like lead in my bone marrow, I just want to know when will I be enough? Is enough attainable? Is liberation attainable? If so, for whom? Is it for the Black, straight, able bodied, cis woman and stay at home mother living with bipolar disorder who enjoys sex when she isn't exhausted, being feminine, wearing make up, and looking fly as hell for herself and her man, who ALSO grew up with abuse and dysfunction in her childhood? If I'm not able to be enough, and I can't get free, how can anyone else who's far more vulnerable and has less privilege than I do?

I don't mean to whine or complain as much as simply express my exasperation with these standards that seem to always be out of reach...with this constant barrage of messaging both within patriarchal systems and academic schools of thought that imply nothing I do or am will ever be enough. Nor will anyone else unless you got their ideals and standards and live out the "truth" according to how they've constructed it. (Or maybe this is just a big whine. Whatever. I'm being honest. Snark away. These are the thoughts ruminating on a loop in my anxious mind as I attempt to fall asleep at 12:04am.) 

There are just these moments when it is overwhelming to take in and the tension of bearing it suffocates. I'm committed to working to disavow myself of as much bigotry, bias, and conditioned bullshit as possible...but I have to be honest and admit that there are moments when I question if it'll ever be enough-for myself or for anyone else and their freedom. How CAN we get free? When will women (all who identify as such) have the grace, compassion, space, autonomy, and agency to simply just B E? 

It feels like a pipe dream.  

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On Being at Odds With That Which Has Made You Whole

On Being at Odds With That Which Has Made You Whole

I never planned on having children, so the fact that I have 3 almost feels like I've been punked by one of those "never say never" situations. I remember being 18 in the women's underwear section of Target with my mother and sister, arguing with my mother that I didn't "owe" her any grandchildren. I had absolutely nothing to do with the physical event that led to my conception; that was purely her choice and I was determined then that mine would be absolutely no biological children. I preferred adoption, if I decided to have children at all. The aspiring world changer in me, freshly graduated from high school, had her sights set on joining the Peace Corp and from there, who knew where life would take me. I wanted to be free as a bird, on the front lines of a cause, making my voice heard, putting my hands to work for others, advancing justice while rocking out to Prince. Children? Pfffft.

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I'm Here...Just Consumed By Life

Sorry I haven't stopped by here since May 20th. Life's been pretty consuming as of late, and I'm not as good about writing my way through periods like this as I was a year ago. Things are busy busy busy and I'll be honest-sitting down to write has proved to be more difficult than I would like it to be. The words are there, waiting to be given life, the stories are stacked up on shelves in my brain, the desire is there, but it all just becomes a jumbled mess when I sit down to type or even write in my journal. Part of it is because my brain is so scattered, thanks to my disorder and my recent hypomanic episodes and cycling. Part of it is because I become to preoccupied by my compulsions to clean, organize, and rearrange everything in our apartment. Part of it is because I'm fatigued and the energy I do have is poured into being  pregnant, mama, wife, housekeeper, cook, errand runner...the desire to create or give anything back to myself lingers quietly in folds of my heart, but never finds its way to execution. My mind is scattered and my hands feel inadequate, empty, unable to form the words or images that are mixed in the chaos.

Part of it is because I've become completely immersed in a new parenting approach with Alex and in implementing new routines and techniques I hope make like easier for him...and for all of us, really. I'm seeing how different and significant some of his needs are and in a lot of ways re-learning this whole parenting thing. From how I discipline, to the words and tone I use when speaking to him, to even how much pressure I apply when I touch or hug him, my whole posture towards parenting and mothering him has changed. Most of my days are consumed with being engaged with him in ways I wasn't before. Learning about sensory processing disorder, autism, and what we're learning from his therapists since April has given me new ways to engage and interact with him  that are different from how I did before. It's been quite the learning curve-there's so much more to be aware of these days! I'm more watchful, taking note of the slightest change in attitude or behavior (positive or negative), more apprehensive and mindful about how changes in routine, however slight, will impact him from moment to moment. In some ways I feel like I'm on high alert from the time he wakes up until he finally falls asleep after I've put him back in his bed and given him a deep pressure squeeze for the fifth or sixth time. I've had to become much more patient, learning to move at his pace, and how to move him along faster in a way that he can understand when we're short on time. I've found that all of this has taken an energy that I, especially being pregnant, barely have the reserves for. The simplest things from washing his hands to getting dressed to helping desensitize his facial muscles before his speech therapy sessions is all a process; exhausting and consuming, but one I'm committed to helping all of us navigate and learn as best we can.

Part of it is because I'm committed to being well during this pregnancy and am forcing myself to focus on self-care. This becomes increasingly difficult when pregnancy is kicking my ass, particularly when migraines attack, and my blood pressure is low. The migraines have been pretty frequent this pregnancy; during a good week I only get one, during my worst I've had them for 4 days straight. Functioning when I'm a wreck physically feels impossible, but I somehow get through making sure the kids have what they need for the day and that's about it. Aside from eating and taking my medications, taking care of myself takes a backseat and I have to fight to make things like taking a shower, combing my hair, getting in any kind of exercise or leisure activity a priority. Overall I'm doing better on the self-care front than I have in the past, especially during my last pregnancy.

All of this focus on concentration on these other areas of my life leave little for my writing here and painting....advocating even. I had all of these plans for my creative pursuits this year but the mental and creative bandwidth I need to execute them isn't what I'd like it to be. For some reason I can't seem to find space for those two to fit in my life as of late and this does sadden me. Frustrates me. Leaves me to wonder how I'll fit them in when there are THREE children to give my time and attention to. I'm hoping I can find a way....I'm in awe of those who've found a way to balance and navigate it all.

At any rate, while I find it hard to write and paint these days, I have found it easy to keep up with vlogging-probably because I can just do it on my phone while I'm on the go and have a few minutes alone. So I think that's just what I'm going to have to do for now because it's the one thing that I can keep up with that fits in best with everything else. It's the one thing I feel I can keep up with right now on this front. I'm hoping to write here during the summer, but know that if you don't see me here, you'll be able to find me on my YouTube channel, addyeBeesWorld, where I'll mostly be sharing the nitty-gritty of navigating bipolar disorder while being a pregnant mama. Feel free to watch and subscribe-I've done videos for weeks 15, 16, and 17 so far (I tell you what we're having in my second video for week 16!) And of course, I'll always be on Twitter :) (@addyeB)

So that's where I've been, what I've been up to, what's going on. I'm still here...I'm just consumed is all.

Maybe I just need to Lean In...anyone have Sheryl Sandberg's number?

My Hard Truth

Before I spill my guts here today I want to make sure you understand something from the very beginning: What I'm going to talk about speaks solely to MY experience as a mother who's lived with antenatal depression and PPD and who has a child with developmental delays and is on the autism spectrum. I can't speak for other women and their experience or how their illness-treated or untreated-may or may not have had an impact on their child's development. I'm choosing to share this because honestly? I'm having a hard time processing it on my own. I don't have a therapist to talk with about it right now, and keeping it all to myself is only allowing shame to breed ugly thoughts and emotions; thoughts and emotions I definitely don't need right now considering I have a family to take care of, am currently off of 2 of my meds until my 2nd trimester, and I have a new baby growing within me. This is how things have played out for us-I'm in no way claiming this is how it will play out for others.

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11 months ago, I wrote a post about Alex's 2yr well visit and how his pediatrician at the time had expressed his opinion that the developmental delays we were concerned about were linked (at least in part) to my untreated antenatal depression, PPD & anxiety. You can read it here; doing so will give you more context.

When I wrote that post I was hurt, wracked with guilt and defensive. I was confused-I didn't know what to make of what he had said and I honestly didn't want to believe it. I didn't want to believe it because I was afraid to. Allowing myself to acknowledge he may have been right would've just ripped the band aid off of the wound I had worked like hell in therapy to stop bleeding.

But like I mentioned in my post last year, I had read the studies, the articles, what the experts had to say about untreated depression in mothers and it's effects on their children. I had read the stats about low birth weight and premature labor and caught my breath every time, knowing how small he was, how I'd gone into labor 3 weeks early-but I secretly hoped he wouldn't "fit" the others about developmental struggles. (Again, links to some of those studies and articles are in the post linked above.) The knowledge pulled and gnawed at me every time I struggled to engage with Alex. The shifts in mood, the struggles to get him to do simple things like eat, wash his hands, or even just accept hugs and kisses from Bertski and I without withdrawing first. Every time I watched him shut down around people, or scream in terror when approached by children on the playground, my insides, my heart twisted. When he stopped eating nearly everything and would only touch hard, rough textured food....when we were told by early intervention he was delayed at least 25% in speech and possibly more in other developmental areas....as I watched his symptoms become more pronounced over the course of the past 11 months, my mama gut begged me to turn a deaf ear to fear and just face reality, listen to what it was trying to tell me. I wasn't going to be able to help Alex if I didn't. I wasn't going to be able to be the mother he needed me to be if I didn't.

So I did, and I started talking to Bertski about it a few months ago. He expressed that he had been watching Alex and having the same thoughts about his behavior and development and what had possibly caused him to develop the way he had. We agreed that in addition to my illness being untreated for so long possibly being a factor, the instability of our relationship during Alex's first two years was likely a factor as well. It was a tough set of conversations...thinking about them still makes me cringe. But I'm glad we had them because it enabled us to move forward in seeking help. We knew Alex needed more help than we could give him and WE as his parents needed help parenting him. His issues had started to become beyond us and the daily struggle of trying to navigate them was overwhelmingly frustrating and discouraging.

His 3 year visit was two weeks ago, with a new pediatrician here in Austin. We told her everything, with her interjecting a question or two every now and then. She listened attentively until we finished spilling our parental guts out to her. She was quiet for a few minutes and then started to give her thoughts: "It's obvious he's very smart-I can see that for myself in just the short time he's been in here. But from my brief observation and what you've told me I would go ahead and say he's definitely on the autism spectrum. My initial guess would be high functioning but he does have significant speech and socialization deficiencies. Further evaluations will give us more information. The good news is we're catching it now-early intervention is crucial. We'll get him into various therapies and by kindergarten I'm confident he'll fit in just fine with other kids in a regular classroom environment. He'll catch up, he'll excel. I'm sure even within just 6 months we'll see significant improvement."

We walked out of that appointment with an answer, with hope even, but also with some sadness. A heaviness rested on us for the remainder of the day. Even though we had been preparing ourselves to potentially hear such a diagnosis for Alex, the reality of it still hit us pretty hard. I can't speak for Bertski, but I know for me, the guilt was excruciating that day. I called and talked with the pediatrician about it some more, explaining my illness and how it impacted my ability to bond and interact with him during my pregnancy and his first year and a half. I expressed to her what my difficulties had been and she didn't shame me for them:

"Based off of the research, your history, and where he is developmentally, I'd say it is highly likely that there's an association. Being depressed and not having effective treatment can definitely have the kind of impact on a child's development and behavior like we're seeing in Alex. But you don't have to blame yourself for it. You're helping him now-he's older and you're recovered and managing your Bipolar as best you can-that's what's important. Yes, this happened, but it's ok, you're getting him help just like you sought help. It's not your fault, Mrs. Nieves."

No, being depressed during my pregnancy and struggling with PPD and anxiety the first 2 years of Alex's life wasn't my fault.

I would even go as far as to say that not being treated for so long wasn't my fault either-there was so much I just didn't know, and when I did express what I was enduring to those around me and my OB, I was told it was all "normal,"...given time, I'd be "fine."

You know, they say we can only do better when we know better. Given my circumstances, I know I did my best and when I couldn't, I fought to.

I don't think I failed Alex. I do think my illness failed both of us-it robbed us of having a strong start and that's what hurts me the most when I think about how it's impacted him.

But I'm learning now how to use the hurt to lay a new foundation for us to build upon. I'm learning how to advocate for him and learn all I can to help him like I've done with myself and my illness. Alex has started ABA therapy and is already showing progress. He has upcoming evaluations with speech therapist to work on improving his language and an occupational therapist to help with his autistic and sensory related struggles.

(sigh)

Accepting that there's possibly an association between my illness during pregnancy and Alex's development struggles is a hard truth to stare in the face y'all. I know it's not everyone's truth, but it's MY truth and I'm working hard once again to process it, heal from it, ditch the guilt over it, and move on now that I know where he's at. I'm not sharing this to say that what's true for me and Alex is true for all moms with untreated antenatal depression & PPD. It's not at all. But I am sharing it to say that you know those effects they talk about in those studies? I'm watching my son live with them. It DOES happen. It's in the minority, but it does happen-I wish it was talked about more-not to shame anyone, but to help women understand that they don't have to BE ashamed that this happens. Does that make sense? I hope it does.

I'm not here to scare anyone or have you think that you and your child are in the same boat as we are. Definitely not. But I am here to say that if you ARE in the same boat we are-It's ok. It's not your fault. Illness may have robbed you and your child of a strong start, but don't let guilt rob you of anything else. I know it hurts like hell, and you feel like you could've done more, but you did your best with what you had and don't let shame deceive you into thinking otherwise. You're still an amazing mama to your child. You're not a bad mother. Our children will be okay because they have us and they have others to help them get to where they need to be.

If your child is showing signs of delays-don't let shame keep you from getting help. Ask for evaluations and resources. Talk to their doctor and ask about Early Intervention. Be open. Be honest. Be their advocate just as you've been for yourself.

I hope this made sense. It's late and I've had a rather emotional day. Also? I could REALLY use a friend in this particular boat.

I Actually Wrote This with a Pen...In a Journal.

This year I said I would get back to journaling, art journaling like I used to when I was 19...20...21...22...before I became a terrified single mom whose only existence revolved around one word: SURVIVE. So....I signed up for Chookooloonks "create.2013" e-course and have been doing the prompts delivered to my inbox every morning, in addition to writing two pages of whatever's sitting around in my brain. This is what I wrote last night after word vomiting my mania on Twitter. 

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Moving...everything is hurried, frenzied, congested like commuters getting off the subway train in a rush to make it to some meeting at some corporate job they hate feeling so restricted in. By everything I mean my thoughts, my words, emotions in conflict with each other; they slam into one another pressing themselves against the walls of my mind and against my tongue. The pressure that comes with attempting restraint always proves to be a force I can't reckon with, and they come spilling out, tumbling over each other and onto the people I interact with daily:

My fiance

My friends

My Twitter feed

I would say the "friends" on Facebook too, but I officially broke it off with my dealer Zuckerberg a few weeks ago in attempt to kick my 4 1/2 year habit; a habit that went from being a job requirement to becoming my sounding board and my lifeline. It became the what I barely had in my "real" life-support, understanding, acceptance, help, community. But after 4 years and it's no longer a lifeline and I need to extricate myself from it. Social media addiction is a real disease...or at least that's what WebMd told me. It also told me this zit on my face is really a rare disease not even that House guy on TV has heard of and I'm going to die within a week. Thank God it's not a real doctor...

The only people who aren't affected are my kids. Sometimes they see Mommie less patient with a sharper tongue and a low tolerance, but what parent doesn't have these moments, right? When it comes to restraining the symptoms of my illness I do my best to stuff them WAY. DOWN. into the deeper parts of me and quickly sit on top of them as you would a trunk or luggage case overpacked and bulging against its zippers. I try to take the less destructive parts of it and use them to my-our-advantage. I allow it to explode just enough so it amplifies the best parts of me that enable me to love and nurture my boys to my fullest capacity, doing things that my very BOY boys like to do:

Yell...

Run around the house giggling and laughing until I'm begging air to please come back into my lungs...

Jump on the couch...

Watch cartoons....

Eat peanut butter and jelly and PopTarts and have breakfast for dinner...

Trains....

Lego Star Wars and Kung Fu Panda on Xbox....

Shooting my imaginary hot pink laser gun at the red berries on the trees we pass by every day on our walk back from school...

Singing and dancing on the sidewalk caring less about the cars driving past us and more about taking the time to create a memory I hope they hold on to when life doesn't treat them so nice and they need to be reminded that they are loved beyond measure and matter to someone....to ME.

Was that a run on sentence? Not sure because grammar rules go out the window when your thoughts spill out of you faster than you can type, leaving you with no choice but to chase after them....panting....yelling "WAIT-slow down, you're going too fast, I can't maintain this speed."

Do they listen? No....never. Not in this state. Even if I manage to keep it together on the outside so no one can see the chaos dancing gleefully behind my eyes, my thoughts always find a way to betray me and find their voice in the words I speak....

I don't know what the point of all this is, my writing it down. What I do know is that it's jumbled and erratic, nonsensical even. Hello, welcome to a mind hijacked by mania. I guess I should be technical and say "hypomania" but if you ask me, mania is mania and when you're experiencing it, you don't feel a textbook distinction. You feel your grasp on your mind and energy weakening and your willpower caving to mania's seductive allure. You can't see that it's deceiving. You don't realize it distorts your vision and perception of yourself and the world around you. It's "fun" I guess at first, but always leads to agitation, uneasiness, restlessness, and paranoia eventually...at least for me. In the midst of its chaos I can always hear a small part of me whispering "this is temporary-it will end, so prepare yourself." It does, it does indeed end, but not until you've (I've?) lost control of your (my?) mind and it's racing at a dangerous speed the human brain isn't designed to handle and it sends you (me, definitely)flying off a cliff.....soaring...then free falling to the ground below, a ground that is unforgiving and jars you (again, ME) back to reality. It's painful really, like smacking your (my) face into asphalt.

Ok, maybe that was a dramatic description but I don't find it to be an exaggeration....

Do any of the metaphors I used in an attempt to paint a picture of my manic thoughts make sense? I'm guessing not...I'm not as good at describing and tying thoughts together in a cohesive way like I used to be....you know when I prided myself on proper grammar and "technical" writing. But this isn't a research paper I'm turning in for a grade, so it doesn't really matter does it? So go f---yourself grammar police. Go nitpick someone else's sentence structure.

I can't sleep. I need to, but of course my inability to control my compulsions during these episodes has me checking Twitter on my phone every 45 seconds and letting my crazy come out in 140 character sprints. I always regret this later, feeling ashamed of letting people see this side of me. I've tried staying away, but you know, OCD goes hand in hand with my mania and I suck at saying no. At restraint. Obviously. I try to use Twitter as a means to distract me from what I'm experiencing...but I always end of being swept away in the excitement and euphoria, especially when something great happens (like getting my engagement ring and wedding band! Yep, that happened tonight. The sales lady cried when he put it on my finger. So did we in the van later on the way home.), and I let them speak for me. Then I come down from the high just enough to realize I was Socialite Sally-you know the person at the party who's had too much to drink and can't shut up?-and I feel foolish for making an ass out of myself.  When I go back to college I'm going to ditch social work and just major in being bipolar and minor in embarrassment.

Do I have anything else to say? My hand hurts. I should really scrawl my words more on paper than across a computer screen. I've missed this, the feel of paper, the smell of ink as it emanates from its tip, forever encapsulating my words on the page in front of me. I guess posting my words digitally is permanent too, but it doesn't feel the same, it's not as....personal? Is that the word? Not sure, but  that's as close as I'm going to get at this point.

My heart feels like it's about to burst. This clonazepam hasn't kicked in yet. It usually does. Maybe I'm building a tolerance to it. Which sucks because that means eventually, maybe next week, maybe 10 years from now I'll have to be on a bigger dose and it'll stop working.

I should post this, even though I said I'm going to take a break from the blog. I still intend to....I just keep finding things I want to share. I have to force myself to wait and just write them down elsewhere because I do indeed need a break to focus on other things....like actually writing on paper.

I'm going to post this...because I feel obligated to, that whole transparency thing. People should know this is what it's like, at least what it's like for me, being bipolar, being manic. More importantly if I share it there then maybe someone who needs to remember that they aren't alone will come across it, find themselves in my words, and be able to feel less hopeless...because they aren't alone...

So that's it then. That's all I've got. 5 pages of erratic nonsense.

I'll take it...it's my life after all.

Yes, I'm Scared of the Dark. Terrified, Really.

I have a lot of fears. Well, maybe not a lot, but at least two or three that seize my body with terror & fill my mind with awful images & scenarios whenever I think of them.

Like drowning.

The thought of not being able to draw in a breath without choking on water & being submerged in a body of water petrifies me.

And snakes...my toes curled up & my heart nearly flew out of my chest just typing that s-word...so I think it's best we just move right along to my final fear:

I'm terrified of the dark.

Yes, I'm 29 years old and I'm afraid of the dark-have been since I was a kid. Even as grown woman & mother of two kids, a small part of me is always convinced something will emerge from it to "get me," even though my rational mind knows this isn't the case.

But that's the thing about fears, right? They aren't always rational, are they? (Follow me, I'm trying to go somewhere, I promise.)

I think what scares me the most about darkness is that it places everything it covers into The Land of the Unknown...what was sure & recognizable in the light becomes shadowy, fuzzy & unclear in the dark. For a control freak like myself, I'm sure you can imagine why this freaks me out. I wish I could tell you that I don't stay awake some nights wondering if the shadow in the closet is really from the ironing board that I KNOW is there...or from some horrific figment of my imagination it's put there to f-- with me. Seriously, I wish I could but I can't. I don't do it much when I'm with someone else but if I'm by myself? Forget it. I'm cowering under the covers trying not to think about how unsafe I feel...Sometimes, just to shut up & shut down the fears screaming in my mind I have to actually get up, turn on a light, and go physically touch objects around the room I'm in...just for reassurance.

Crazy, right? Weird, right? Yes I know. Stupid? Probably...but as I lay here in my bed typing this and trying to tell myself I'm not going to wake up with some stranger laying next to or on me, and that the boys & I are VERY safe, I'm realizing that my fear of the dark is really just a fear of uncertainty. I hate not knowing. Ambiguity and I are not friends. Not being able to see & know everything around me leaves me in a very unsettled place emotionally...which disrupts me mentally, and manifests itself physically into agitation, irritability, paranoia, and crippling anxiety. I even get intrusive thoughts sometimes. My mind smells any hint of fear & just takes off in about 20 different directions, all of which lead to something horrific happening. If I can't see or know everything there is about something, a person, or where I have to go, I'm a wreck and not too pleasant to be around. This is one of the reasons I hate getting lost. Can't. Stand it.

And it's one of the reasons why even though growing up a military brat acquainted me with change & taught me the importance of adjusting & adapting to it, I'm not very good at embracing it like I should be. I know, you're thinking to yourself "The chick who changes her hair color every time she blinks is afraid of change? What the hell?" But seriously, while I may not be afraid of changing how I look, I am terrified of how change impacts my life in other areas.

I like change...There are times my restless and adventurous little soul yearns for it...but then when it shows up ready to deliver I promptly begin to freak the hell out. I know-I don't get the contradiction either, trust me.

So even though I was dying to pack up & move across the country...am giddy at the thought of marrying the nerd of my life...am relieved to be taking a break from work & school and looking forward to just being MOM....here I am, laying in a hotel room in Austin, TX, (IN THE DARK!) absolutely paralyzed by my fear of the uncertain...of what's unknown...imagine Usain Bolt running around at record speed inside my head waving 500 "what if?" flags stirring up a fear tornado. That's my mind right now.

A fear tornado. I'm dead smack in the center staring wide eyed at all my fears & questions swirling furiously around me.

What happens if Bertski doesn't come back from PA next week because his train derails and crashes and I'm forced to be here by myself? How would we survive & live without him?

What if someone breaks in here or attacks us while he's gone? How would I defend us?

What if he changes his mind & doesn't want to marry me?

What if he hates it here?

What if I hate it here? And the boys? What if this was a mistake?

We haven't found a place yet-what if we don't? How long can we stay here at the hotel? Will they kick us out? Where will we go?

What if by choosing to "just" be Mom, I lose the other parts of me that make me...ME? What will happen to my passions, my goals, my ambition? What if I don't go back to school & I regret it? Will my children think less of me if I don't have a degree? Will I be setting the bar too low for them if I don't go back?

Can we survive off of just one income?

What if the boys get sick or need to go to the doctor? Or me? Or Bertski? We don't have health insurance...

What if I'm not strong enough to handle all of this change & I sink into an episode or my illness rages out of control again?

I could go on...but I'll stop the list there. I know some of these fears are irrational, slightly silly & maybe even stupid-I know this, I do. But there are others that are valid & real and they're the ones that cause me the most unease. I'm incredibly happy we moved. Grateful for the people we've met here & the connections we've made despite being states away from family & friends who have supported us for years. Thrilled that I'm doing this with the man I love dearly and my boys...

But I'm also scared shitless over the unknowns of this venture, of everything that sits in the dark, and restricts my vision of the future. We've executed a plan that brought us here, but large amounts of that plan have been rooted in uncertainty & our desire to just stick together & "make it happen"until we're settled.

I'm afraid of the dark, because not being able to see what's in front of me leaves me feeling very unsettled...uneasy...uncomfortable. I'm trying to take it all in stride & just learn to be okay with not knowing. I'm trying to embrace the nuances of change without trying to control it too much. It's not easy, but I'm trying.

Well there you have it. I told you some of my fears, what are yours?

Changing Seasons & New Beginnings

"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change." -Charles Darwin Change. The past 6 months of 2012 have all been about change.

We left for Austin Tuesday night. Excited & full of adrenaline over FINALLY being able to enter this new season of our lives, we drove close to 900 miles.

We made it all the way to Nashville without any major meltdowns from the kids, or heavy traffic. We found a pretty decent hotel to rest in for the night, giving the boys their first hotel experience. They LOVED it, jumping on the beds, begging to ride the elevators repeatedly, explore the lobby & pick up swag from the gift shop.

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Changes. New beginnings.

When Bertski & I sat down to talk over pancakes & coffee on that cloudy Thursday back in April, we talked a lot about change, and realized we shared a desire for it and a sense that it was on the way. We both felt stagnant...stuck...tapped out and feeling like we needed a change of scenery.

Since I had just visited Austin and fallen in love with it, and it's a place Bertski's always wanted to visit, it seemed like the most logical choice for a fresh start & a good city for us to raise the boys in, with its laid back vibe being a welcome respite from the fast & frantic grind of the northeast.

With the decision to relocate came other major decisions.

We traded in both cars & purchased our first minivan, a symbol of our commitment to being & building a family. It was also a symbol of the end of Bertski's batchelorhood....something he embraced with open arms & a bottle of Merlot. :)

We both made a commitment to live our lives again instead of just survive them. The roller coaster & trials of the past 3 years took a heavy toll on us and had us both living in survival mode, forcing us to abandon things we're passionate about. For Bertski that's pursuing a career in neuroscience, artificial intelligence & robotics; thus scaling back on his work in the IT sector.

For myself, while I thought my passion was for school & pursuing a degree in counseling & a certification in dance movement therapy, I started realizing this year that what I truly have a passion for is helping people and writing...being creative in general. I also realized that while I enjoy academics, the stress & pressure of a full-time course load were just too much for me, mostly because of my illness. This year I found college very triggering for me. I had two severe manic episodes and 3 pretty dark depressions that had me contemplating suicide. Sure I was growing & my mind was expanding, which I loved, but it was starting to take a toll on my mental health & ability to be engaged with the boys. I wanted to quit but was scared doing so meant I was failing myself & more importantly, the boys. Besides, if I wasn't in school, what would I do? My disability from the VA wouldn't be enough to live on...As a single parent I couldn't afford not to work, but without a degree my chances of getting a good enough job with benefits able to sustain us was slim...and while Medicaid & food stamps were a huge help, I didn't want to have to rely on them as our only means of being able to make it from month to month. But then Bertski & I got back together and suddenly I wasn't on my own anymore...and then something my social work professor said during class one day helped me make my decision. "Some of you," he said, " will get your degrees, your credentials & be great social workers, counselors, and be able to make a significant difference in people's lives. But some of you won't have to have the degree & credentials to do that-your life experience and desire to serve & help others will be enough to make as much of an impact." That hit me hard, and I spent the rest of that class realizing what he said was true. I decided that day that I was taking a break from school.

I've decided instead to do something I haven't been able to in 6 years: stay home with the boys...and pursue my desires to focus on writing & volunteering. If I'm going to be out of the house I'd like to spend my time volunteering at a crisis center, working a suicide prevention hotline, mediating a support group for others with BP, or helping veterans. I'd like to finish my book, explore my love for painting, and get back into dancing. I also want to give myself time to have more periods of stability & fewer manic & depressive episodes.

So...I feel as though I spent my 20's gaining my independence (military), becoming a mother, healing from my abuse, and finding myself...now that I'm turning 30 in a few months, I just want to take some time to take care of & enjoy the person who's emerged from the ashes of the past few years...and enjoy my family.

We both know that making these changes include a certain amount of risk and that it won't be easy starting over and changing our approach to life...choosing to live life instead of just surviving it (especially in a new city) is a huge leap of faith for us, but a choice we're hoping brings us a lot of reward.

I'll post later this week/weekend about what makes me nervous & even a little fearful about all of these changes...until then, tell me about the last BIG change or transition you & your family made.

And Then My Heart Exploded & All I Could Do was Cry

I want to say this in a way that's eloquent & inspirational. I want to use all the right words, and craft this into a beautiful piece of writing, that carries the weight of my thoughts & emotions, and helps you fully grasp how much this moment means to me....and even though they don't know it yet, to my boys. But I can't. Words are failing me. There are only tears....sobs, actually, as I lay here in the boy's empty room, eyes closed, heart bursting with gratitude...

...and love. For the first time in my 29 years of living I feel loved and whole instead of unworthy & broken. I feel peace where there used to be agony, and joy seeping through the cracks of my deepest sorrows.

12 months ago I was obsessed with death. I spent my waking moments torn between not wanting to leave my boys without their mother & wanting to rid them of the one who felt like she had failed them.

I'm glad to say, a year later, I'm not in that place, and I'm not looking to find relief in death. I've found it instead in 200mg of Lamictal, .25mg of Xanax, and 2mg of Pimozide, taken at 10am, every single day...and in a diagnosis that's forced me to make myself and my well being a priority-a first for me.

It's been a year full of growth & healing thanks to therapy.

If you would've told me last year I'd be right here, laying on the floor, free from nearly all the shit I've been carrying since childhood, I would've just smiled politely, said thanks, and walked away not believing a word of it.

But here I am. Loved and whole. Healed and stronger than before. Embracing life instead of plotting to escape it...focused on LIVING it instead of just existing & surviving it.

My boys have their mother, their parents back together, and they have each other...a far cry from what they had just a year ago.

So I'm just laying here, in my almost empty apartment, marveling at how far we've come...excited for the new beginning that lies ahead...Tears streaming down my face as I whisper "thank you" over & over again, my heart exploding in joy each time.

I've come full circle.

On The Creflo Dollar Case & Why I'm Choosing Not to Spank My Children

As I was sitting down at my kitchen table to do some journaling and write my posts for this week, an article in my Twitter stream grabbed my attention. As I read it, a flurry of words rushed to my lips in response, and I knew I had to push aside my original post for today to share my thoughts on this. The article, which you can read here, articulates a lot of my feelings regarding the Creflo Dollar child abuse case. For those unaware, mega church pastor Creflo Dollar was arrested last week after an altercation with his 15 year old daughter. From all of the reports I've read, a few things appear to be consistent

  1. His daughter wanted to go to a party and Dollar said no
  2. An argument ensued and escalated
  3. A physical altercation took place; In his statement to police, Dollar claims he grabbed his daughter by the shoulders when she became disrespectful, wrestled her to the ground, and spanked her. Both the daughter involved in the altercation and his older, 19 year old daughter who witnessed the altercation claim Dollar grabbed, choked, and hit the 15 year old.
  4. The daughter who witnessed the fight initially gave contradicting stories to police, with her written statement differing from what she verbally told police. When confronted on the discrepancies, she rewrote her statement, saying that her parents being with her at the time caused her to give a statement corroborating Dollar's claims about the incident.

Now....there's a lot that bothers me about this, and let me start by making one thing perfectly clear: this is NOT a smear campaign against Creflo Dollar, I am not "hating" on him because of who he is, or attempting to vilify him in any way. I personally could care less about the man or what he preaches. I don't listen to his messages, buy his books, or ascribe to his particular brand of gospel. But what I DO care about is the fact that a grown man is  justifying whatever his behavior was that night because his daughter was being "disrespectful."

This is where the article I read this afternoon comes in. (Again, you should read it here) It pretty much summed up what bothers me about this case: in Black Culture there is a prevailing and acceptable perspective that letting loose on your child when they disrespect you is ok, and that getting a back hand to the face or some other form of physical force is the same as disciplining your children.

In our culture, disrespect is just not tolerated. At all. No back talking, sass,  attitude,  lip smacking, none, zilch, nada. We're brought up in a culture that says if you even THINK about pursing your lips to say something out of line to your parents or an elder, you're catching a world of heat. And that heat will land anywhere from your behind to your face, depending on how close within reach you are to the one you've offended. Slaps & smacks to the face are common, as are spankings or "gettin beat," as we call them.

For me, growing up, I learned early on if I even looked like I had something negative to say, there would be hell to pay. My father was one of those people who took spanking to the extreme. He didn't just swat me on the behind when I told a lie or looked like I was rolling my eyes (which I never dreamed of doing I was so petrified of him) or didn't do something to his liking. He literally did whatever he could to beat the life out of me. And his punishments? Forget it. Textbook child abuser, that was my father.

But aside from being out of his mind, that's how my father was raised. He was raised getting beat for whatever he did wrong or for being disrespectful. He grew up "old school" as the older folk call it. He lived under that whole "spare the rod, spoil the child," mentality that older generations of (black) parents took as license to discipline their children however they saw fit, even if it meant excessive physical force.

Even when I moved in with my mother and step-father, I wasn't abused but spankings with a belt did happen as did a back hand or two if any disrespect was given or even perceived.

So it's no surprise that when I became a parent, I thought discipline equaled physical force...after all, that's what my background and culture had taught me.  Brennan didn't really go through the Terrible Two phase, but when he did have a meltdown or tantrum, I spanked him. Not more than a swat on his behind but I spanked him nonetheless. I remember my parents telling me that I needed to "keep a firm hand" on him and make sure he knew I was the parent, and that there would be consequences for getting out of line...consequences that involved physical contact. I even remember being told to spank him if that's what was needed to get him potty trained.

So I did. I spanked him from time to time when he was acting up, but every time I did, I just didn't feel right. All it seemed to do was make him scared of me, which I hated. And it didn't seem to correct anything. So I had a very honest talk with myself and decide that while I wanted to establish healthy boundaries and rules for him to abide by, I didn't necessarily want to make physical contact a part of my discipline strategy. The same goes for Alex.  As he's entered toddlerhood and is proving to give Terrible Two's a new meaning, both myself and his father have had to find creative ways to discipline him and not let him "rule" us without spanking him.

I regret spanking my children because I know that coming from my background it's just not a good idea.  I'm adamantly against perpetuating the cycle of abuse in my family, and for me, that means I have to go against my cultural norm and choose to discipline my children in other ways. And while I'm finding that it doesn't work for me, I'm not judging those parents who feel it does. I'm not the one to question how you choose to discipline your child....

Until something like what happened with the Dollar family takes place. As I read numerous responses & comments from his supporters and those who claim you have to "do what you need to do to keep your kids in line," I can't help but wonder how healthy it is for parents and their children to think that physical force is an appropriate way to deal with someone who's disrespected you.  And even if you do think spanking is appropriate, is it at 15? I don't know if he choked or punched his daughter as it's being claimed, but he openly admits that things "escalated" and that he wrestled her to the ground and spanked her. Is wrestling your children to the ground because they are upset you won't let them attend a party the best way to handle "disrespect?" Is that really teaching them how to respect anyone, especially those in authority?

Somewhere along the line, we've started to equate force with discipline and fostering respect. I think that too many of us as parents (especially black parents) forget that in order to get respect you have to give it, and that our children model what we do, whether or not we're willing to admit it.

How we treat our children impacts not only how they treat others, but how they will treat their children when they become parents as well...This incident with Mr. Dollar leaves me wondering how this will affect how his daughter treats her own son or daughter when faced with the difficult aspects of parenting.

I think it's time to start sending a different kind of message....do you?

You can read more about the alleged incident here, and listen to Mr. Dollar's statements regarding the case below...

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mcgKDPeDt0Y]

Pausing to Readjust

I had a lot of plans for today, this first official day of summer vacation. Bertski started his new job today, so it's my first day home with the boys all. by. my. self.

I gotta say, it's been a relief and a huge comfort having Bertski home to help with the boys the past 4 weeks....Fun, even.

But now it's just me....and the rambunctious, rowdy, raucous energy that encapsulates 2 & 5 year olds. It bounces off the walls, off the couch and off of our dining room chairs as squeals of delight and laughter burst from their little bodies...As loud as it gets and as chaotic as they can be, their shenanigans prove an effective way to quiet the noise and chaos in my own mind.

Last summer, the thought of being home by myself with them was overwhelming and my anxiety was through the roof. This summer, though, I find myself feeling much different. I've moved from beyond the grip of PPD, and no longer feel as disconnected & detached from them as I used to. Incorporating new meds and increasing the dosage on others has left me feeling about 75% better than I was 3-4 weeks ago.

I could feel a twinge of depression about an hour ago, and instead of being swept away by it, I felt mentally strong enough (thanks to my meds) to pause and figure out what it was stemming from.

Expectations. I had a lot of plans for today which led me to expect a fun-filled, productive day with the boys. I had a lot of expectations for today and for this summer because I want for it so much to not be like last year. I expected to start off our first day trying to make up for all the time I've lost from being too sick or too busy with school to really engage & just play with them.

I wanted to prove to myself I could take care of us, and handle being home without freaking out or being overwhelmed. I wanted to get up early, go for my morning walk/jog, make breakfast, take the boys out, and have them do more than just watch Nick Jr. or game on the XBox and iPad. I wanted to cook & have a hot meal on the table when Bertski gets home. I wanted to do yoga and write...

I had all of these fabulous "I'm going to be Wonder Woman today," plans but I'll be lucky if I can do more than move from the corner of the couch I currently occupy. My laptop is dead so any writing I do either has to wait or be done from my phone, with one hand. While doing a downward facing dog last week during my oh so glorious yoga routine, I strained some tendons & ligaments in my left arm and pulled a muscle in my chest. In other words I can't move the left side of my upper body unless I want to die from pain or I've ingested a Motrin the size of my head. (Which is why, for the first time ever, I wish I had what they call a "peanut" head) Even turning my neck is painful. Docs orders? Rest for two weeks, follow up with an orthopedist. Oh & have I mentioned Brennan's ringworm? Yea. That.

So here I am, with Whitney Houston's version of "I'm Every Woman," blasting in my head, stuck on the couch, my plans to tackle our first day of summer useless. No exercising. No yoga. Limited writing. Tired from pain & meds. A bouncy mattress, graham crackers, and Nick Jr. have been keeping the boys busy while I just sit here and watch to make sure they don't kill each other. I did make the pot of pinto beans I wanted but learned cooking with one arm just isn't a good idea....not if you don't want your kids to find you passed out in the kitchen from pain.

Plans. Expectations. I had a laundry list of them today, thinking that accomplishing them all would ensure I'd be a "better mom" & woman than I have been in the past. So when I realized I was going to have to lay all of them aside, I started to get down on myself. The negative self-talk and guilt tape started to play in my mind...anxiety kicked in and set the "worst case scenario" snowball in motion. As my mind started to spiral into OCD mode and my emotions took a dive, I felt myself pause, just for a second, and I remembered something I learned in therapy:

"Change your expectations. Work within your limits, use what you DO have...Choose kindness. Be compassionate with yourself."

That one second, filled to the brim of that crucial thought, was enough to stop depression in its tracks.

I changed the tape. Laughed at how ridiculous I must have looked as I hustled my way around the kitchen, thinking that home cooked food would cement my worthiness to my family. We may not be crafting and doing some of the activities I wanted but we've had a blast this morning singing Fresh Beat Band songs, getting angry at Dora (she sucks as a pirate), and watching these two bounce around and wrestle is downright hilarious.

Taking that brief pause allowed me to readjust and reframe. It wasn't a lot, but it was enough to keep me from slipping over the edge. Expectations are tricky-give them too much power and they can set you up for failure. That hasn't been easy to remember but I'm learning managing them in a healthy way makes a huge difference in how I see and treat myself.

My plans for today and the first two weeks of summer got tossed out the window, but I'm okay with that for once. We'll figure it out and on the days I can't, I'm perfectly fine with lounging around the apartment bra-less, in sweats, tapping my toes to "I'm Every Woman," like I am right now. All that matters is that I'm here, being present and trying to enjoy the moments as they come. Sounds pretty productive if you really think about it :)

MADE: I Want to be a Roller Derby Girl

It's been a rough 2-3 weeks. Things have been pretty heavy, and of course, that means things here on the blog have been heavy. I'm kinda weary of writing about the heavy things in my life, so today I thought it would be nice to take a break from that and spend my time writing about something else...something completely random...

Like....

Like....hmmm....OH!

Did you ever watch that show on MTV called "Made"?  The one where they take high school kids & young college kids and help them accomplish some secret desire of theirs?  No?  Here's a refresher:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qoPM7NGxx90]

MTV would come to your hometown and help you be "made" into something that your friends & family wouldn't expect, something you've always wanted to be but hadn't told anyone. For example, if you were a 10 grader who was into the goth scene,  but had a secret desire to be a beauty pageant queen, MTV would hook you up with a coach who was a beauty pageant veteran and they would "train" you for 30 days. At the end of the 30 days, you would compete in a beauty pageant to see how well you could do and really find out what it was like to be in one.

I used to watch this show religiously. Over the years, I watched nerdy guys be "made" into rappers, goth girls "made" into cheerleaders, non athletic kids "made" into volleyball players or skateboarders, shy guys "made" confident enough to ask out their dream girl,etc. What I enjoyed about the most was watching the growing process these kids would go through as they trained during those 30 days. It was always pretty inspiring to me, especially because you could see they really benefited from the experience and boosted their confidence in themselves. I know it was kinda corny, and maybe some of it was scripted (who knows) but I actually really liked it.

I even sent in a submission video when they had a casting call once, but I can't remember what I wanted to be. (and NO I don't a copy of the video!)

If I were to send one in now, I  know EXACTLY what I would want to be made into-I even think I put in on my Life List. Are you ready for this?

A Roller Derby Girl.

" I wanna be confident! I wanna be fearless! I wanna be a badass skater chic! I wanna be MADE into a Roller Derby Girl."

That would be the voice over  intro to my episode. Like it?

Why Roller Derby?  Watch and learn:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMnAmNNYCbM]

Seriously. Who wouldn't WANT to do this?  To take all of your frustrations, inhibitions, stress and whatever else and leave it all on the track? And get to tackle and hip check a few people in the process?

The only other sport I could really see myself being able to do this with would be football...but since I'm not a man, and they only seem to let women in lingerie play in leagues, I'd rather whip it around a track on a pair of skates and get my adrenaline-I-want-to-body-slam-someone-fix this way.

So I secretly want to be a Roller Derby Girl. Have a slick alias that's full of badass, "I am WOMAN hear me roar"-ness. What kind of name would I give myself? Hell if I know, but I'm sure after learning the ropes of Roller Derby I could find something that suits my personality on the track.

So what's stopping me from throwing on a pair of skates, attending a derby bootcamp, and trying out for a team?

I don't know how to roller skate.

You know those people you see at the rink who never leave the wall? The ones who crash into the wall instead of using their brakes? The ones who weeble and wobble until they bust their tail and clock themselves or someone else in the head with their skates?

That's me. I'm one of those people.

For years I've envied the people who fly around the rink dancing, beebopping, crisscrossing, spinning and weaving their way through the skater traffic that's peppered with kids and klutz's like me.  I've always tried to stay out of their way, secretly wishing I could dance-skate my way to my favorite grooves like they did.

(sigh)

But alas, when it comes to coordination, God didn't see fit to grant me the ability to be groovalicious or even graceful on wheels.

Not being able to be sure of myself on a set of wheels seriously undermines my confidence as well, which only makes me even more of a dunce on skates.

I can be a badass on my own two feet, but on skates? I think I'll just leave that to the professionals and the women who can whip it like no one's business.

So....as much as I would LOVE to be a Roller Derby Girl, I think I'll just settle for trying to cheer on the league here in Philly (shout out to the Philly Roller Girls! KICK SOME ASS THIS SUMMER! )and of course catching some matches when I move to Austin-the birthplace of Roller Derby Revival.

I won't get "made" into a Roller Derby Girl...but I do plan on being one hell of a fan :)

Would you ever try Roller Derby? What would your name be? What should mine be?

Have My Struggles with Mental Illness Caused Developmental Delays in My Son?

We took Alex to the pediatrician today for his 2 year checkup. Alex has always been on the small side when it comes to his weight,(even though he weighed 6lbs 7oz at birth) so I was expecting a conversation about how much he's gained, what we can do to help him gain more if needed, where he's at on the growth curve, etc.  I was expecting to talk about he's gone from eating nearly everything as an infant to close to nothing as a toddler and has redefined the term "picky eater." I was expecting to talk about his Early Intervention evaluation and the 25% language delay he has. I was hoping to talk about constructive and healthy ways to handle his tantrums when he doesn't get his way and his moodiness.

What I wasn't expecting was a conversation about how my mental health was to blame for a decline in his growth back when he was 9 months old....back when I was battling PPD & severe anxiety.

I was not expecting to be told that my mental health has been having a negative impact on my son's development.

There I was, sitting in the pediatrician's office, stammering and trying to defend myself.

"I was on medication...I...there were days I was sad, but...I did my best to make sure all of his basic needs were met...I mean, yes I did struggle with bonding with him, but...I...I tried to push through it...I did my best."

There I was, sitting in the pediatrician's office, having my worst fears confirmed and exposed.

Despite everything I've done to prevent it, I've damaged my child.

Of course he's moody and temperamental.

Of course his language is delayed.

Of course he's not doing as well as he should.

Of course he was a fussy baby.

I was depressed during my pregnancy.

I was depressed and anxious for the first year and a half of his life.

PPD & anxiety dominated me.

I didn't bond with him the way his dad did.

Out of the two of us, I was the parent who was unhealthy.

It's my fault.

I tried to get help. At my 6week checkup I told my OB how I was feeling. He sent me to my primary care doctor who said I was just a tired new mother of two kids. She said she doubted I'd feel the way I did for very long and said she thought I was fine. But I pushed anyway and she reluctantly wrote me script for a low dose of Zoloft. I took it for a year. I sought counseling. The first two therapists I talked to told me what I was experiencing was normal because I was a single mother. "Nothing is wrong with you, who wouldn't be stressed?' I kept hearing. I kept getting worse. When Alex was 10 months old I found Postpartum Progress and started getting treatment at the Postpartum Stress Center.  I found the #PPDChat Army and started talking to other sufferers & survivors. Getting help enabled me to start emerging from PPD's grip, but my anxiety and mood swings became more drastic. I read a blog post about something called Bipolar Disorder 2 and cried because I knew that I was having the same symptoms. Two weeks later I was diagnosed and started seeking treatment.

Since then I have been doing everything I can to get better and get healthy. I have fought my way out of the darkest corners of my mind and done my best to still provide a healthy environment for my sons in spite of my struggles with motherhood and illness.

But even though I know all of this, I can't help but think that Alex's pediatrician is right. I can't help but read the research on various websites like womenshealth.gov that says

Researchers believe postpartum depression in a mother can affect her baby. It can cause the baby to have:

  • Delays in language development
  • Problems with mother-child bonding
  • Behavior problems
  • Increased crying

Or this post from Postpartum Progress back in 2008 that says a study finds antenatal depression can contribute to developmental delays. Or this one from 2011 that discusses the risks of not being treated for depression, anxiety, or another mood disorder.

I've read post after post about the impact my mental illness during pregnancy and postpartum could have on Alex as he develops and have hoped and prayed he'd still be healthy.

Back in December I had spent a 2 therapy sessions letting go of the guilt over not being treated for my depression during pregnancy, and forgiving myself. When I was pregnant with Alex, I had never heard of antenatal depression, and my OB never mentioned it. Whenever I talked about my mood swings and sadness, he said it was normal and just because of changes in my hormones-"don't worry too much about it," he said. "Once you have the baby, you'll feel better-this is just a  physically challenging pregnancy and it's stressing you out. Try to take it easy," he had reassured me. It took me until this past December to forgive myself for it.

And then there I was, sitting in the pediatrician's office today, listening to him,  feeling all the shame, pain, fear, guilt, and negative emotions of the past 2 years wash over me.

I've spent the afternoon and this evening being angry and ashamed of myself for just taking everyone's word for it. For being sick in the first place. For going untreated. I feel like I should have done more, even though I know in my heart of heart's I did all I could.

Maybe the pediatrician was just voicing his concern and opinion. Maybe he's right. Maybe my mental health during the first two years of life is to blame for the delays in development and his mood swings. Maybe it's not to blame and Alex would've been like this if I had been happy and healthy. Maybe Alex will grow out of this and be just fine.

I don't know what to make of this, really. I'm trying to process it all and not let what happened today settle in and take root, making me question my self-worth and value as a mother. I'm doing my best to keep in mind that I'm doing everything I can now and getting him the help he needs to keep thriving. I'm trying not to blame myself.

But it's so damn hard y'all.

The guilt is suffocating.

Vlog: My Bipolar Life 1-3

"My recovery from manic depression has been an evolution, not a sudden miracle."

-Patty Duke

My psychiatrist has been telling me since I was diagnosed last July that  for me, a person with Bipolar Disorder, recovery means stability, having less episodes, and being in control of my illness. She says while there was no cure for this illness,  it's possible to find stability and live a healthy life...it's just going to take some hard work and patience on my part.

I believed her back then and I still want to believe her now. One of the hardest parts of this journey has been trying to find the right cocktail of medicines. I thought  once I found that in March things would get easier. I think that's why I've been so disappointed lately-my latest round of medication has helped significantly...but I'm still struggling and recognizing new symptoms that I need to learn how to manage.  The setbacks have been hard to live with...there are days I'm overwhelmed and just want to give up.

I thought instead of writing about some of the things I've been struggling with lately, I'd talk about them in a video. It was WAY harder than I thought, and pretty emotional-totally wasn't expecting that.

So forgive the tears...I apologize up front if my thoughts seem disjointed. My mind has been a wreck lately, all over the place. I talk about this in the video as well as my struggle to connect with others, and some fears I have.

I had to break it up into three parts...forgive the poor editing. (I recorded it on my phone)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dq-tFJZPiTo]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8QH9ip5R9TA]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-xL8wtv5_8]

Secret Mommyhood Confession: I'm Getting Owned by My 2 year Old

You've seen it before... You're in the mall, at a restaurant, in line at Target,  at the grocery store, shopping or eating in peace when all of a sudden it sounds like an animal is being slaughtered. Ear piecing screams shatter the peaceful atmosphere as everyone stops wherever they're at to ascertain the location of the disturbance. As the commotion gets louder, your eyes scan the area around you back & forth, you step out of the aisle, perhaps try to peer over at the next register, and then you zero in on a painful sight.

There's no animal being sacrificed, no demon being exorcised...it's just some kid going bat s*it crazy on their poor parent. Embarrassed and red in the face, the parent tries to calm their little terror down by employing all the SWAT team & verbal judo tactics they learned in those parenting books. This only seems to fan the flames of the meltdown as the child resorts to more animistic sounds and flailing about on the floor, face purple from the rage boiling over inside of them.

At this point I've only ever seen one of two things happen: either the parent scoops up the kid and flees the store while being pummeled by tiny fists of fury, crushed & mortified, OR the meltdown and failed attempts to squash it tip the parent over the edge of their sanity and they resort to either screaming right back at the child, or lowering their voice to just above a whisper and starting to issue threats that range from bodily harm to being left at the store.

I've witnessed this countless times. Before I had children, I used to be one of those people who just stare in disapproval, shaking their heads and whispering to the person next to them how THEY would handle the situation. Yea. I'm ashamed to say I was one of those people. The ones who just stare & cast judgement like they've got some kind of  f*cking degree in child rearing that you, the one who pushed the little barbarian out, don't.  "Oh I wouldn't have that. Nope. My child would know better than to embarrass me like that, shoooooot." (Insert finger snapping & neck rolling here, if you'd like.) " I wish they would. I'd snatch them up in a heartbeat! There's no way I'd let my child get that out of control."  (Yea, I was pretty stupid before I had kids, but in my defense I was young and childless-my middle name was Naive.)

Once I had Brennan though, my attitude changed of course. It went from thinking I knew how my child wouldn't act, to asking God to get us in and out of public places without incident. For the most part, God heard my supplications & was merciful. Brennan was the model toddler. No public scream fests, I never had to exorcise any demons at Target, and thankfully, any tantrums he did have were easily subdued.

Then I had Alex. I knew within months he was going to be that kid, and I would become that mom... you know the one trying to desperately talk down a two year old who's losing their s*it because he ran out of milk in his sippy cup? Yea, I knew that was going to be me.

How did I know, you ask?  Well, there were clues. As an infant, he cried all. the. time. He despised car rides and never let us get through one without unleashing his wrath. The older he's gotten, the more independent he's become. I mean fiercely independent. He has to do things his way, and in his time. You can't feed him. Changing his diaper is a WWE match punctuated with screams. My boy is so picky he's gone from eating whole Chic-Fil-A nuggets (no other nuggets will do) to only eating the corners of them.  If he's not happy about something, trust and believe he's going to vocalize his discontent over it. Change the channel? Tantrum. A commercial comes on? Ear piercing screams. Tell him he has to wait until after dinner for his daily PediaSure hit? You're getting cussed out in toddler speak. Catch him dancing to the Fresh Beat Band and say "yay! Go Alex!" and he's prostrate on the floor, hands covering eyes, face distorted in a scowl.  Tell him it's time to go bye bye and take too long to get to the door? Tasmanian devil-sized meltdown.

Screams. Scowls. Body flailing. Fists of fury. Anger. Aggression. He's full of all of it, and I'm completely lost as to how to handle any of it. Do I fall out on the floor with him? Discipline him? How? Since he turned 2 in April we've been treated to shouts of "NOOOO!!!!!" while either hitting one of us, pushing Brennan, or launching something across the room. Sometimes it's whatever's next to him or in his hand, others it's his actual body.

It was manageable when he was 1. It's become hell now that he's 2. His father and I have been trying everything to keep from resorting to how our parents dealt with us...you know, with a back hand. These days, if you were to eavesdrop outside our door, you're sure to hear lots of "NOOOOOOOOO!" "Do you want timeout?!" "NO! NO! (more toddler gibberish) NO!" I'm buying a special "time out chair" next week. We'll see how effective it is.

Yep. I've become that mom who has that kid. Maybe we'll just become a family of recluses. Stay inside until he's 10...or 30. Or maybe we'll be the family the entire store is staring at as we try to navigate the Terrible Two's without losing our sanity...or going to jail.

Just do me a favor: If you happen to see me fleeing Target with a screaming, purple-faced Alex, be a friend. Chase after me and tell me it's going to be okay and he'll grow out of it eventually. Also? Bring Tequila. Patron if you can swing it.

*Note: Alex is an awesome kid. Full of laughter and rambunctious energy. I love him to death, but I had to vent about this Terrible Two nonsense. It's testing the limits of my sanity*

**This post is part of All Work & No Play Makes Mommy Go Something Something's Secret Mommyhood Confession link up. You can read the rest of these posts, add your own,  and more by clicking here**

Something Something Button

On Having a Blogger Identity Crisis & Changing Directions

*WARNING: there will be rambling due to the fact that I have no idea how to articulate the emotions & thoughts I'm having*

I've been blogging since November of 2010

You'd think by now I'd have some kind of indication as to what purpose this blog is supposed to serve.

By now, the social media & blogging "experts" say I should have found my "niche" or "voice" in the blogosphere.

The honest truth though, is that I don't and I haven't.

In the year and a half I've been posting, you have read about my struggles with motherhood, some of my battles with postpartum depression, my Bipolar Disorder diagnosis, and my up & down relationship with my ex (who by the way, is no longer my ex, but that's forthcoming in a future post).

You've watched me dance, seen me cry, I've shown you my dirty house & my stretch marks, and you've traveled with me on my self-love journey.

I've shared all of that with you and my goal throughout it all has been to be as open, real, and transparent as I can, even if it terrified me to do so.

So now the question is....what now?

Where exactly do I go from here?

Should I be a PPD blogger? A Bipolar Disorder or Health Activist blogger? A faith blogger? A "mommy blogger"? (I hate that term by the way...and to be honest, I've never really been a huge fan of labels anyway)

I don't know the answer to these questions. I don't know what this online space is supposed to be for me anymore...or what it should be for you even.

I started off just wanting, needing to write...feeling compelled to get outside of my head and into tangible words in black & white. I started off vowing to share my struggles, my hurts, my joys & triumphs...

Then my social media consulting background pushed me into the "mommy blogger" machine : what will get me more readers? Vlogging? Giveaways? How do I brand myself? How do I increase traffic to my site? This stumbleUpon campaign should do the trick! Should I do reviews & pitch myself to brands? How can I maximize my SEO? Should I monetize my blog? I must be published on BlogHer! Getting syndicated or featured on a larger platform will get me more readers! Maybe I should feature ads? Awards, it would be nice to win a few awards wouldn't it? Maybe if I subscribe to & comment more on other blogs...guest post over there....or get a fresh new design...I need a Facebook page so I can keep my readers engaged! I need to join this directory, and get linked up in this linky....

All any of that did was frustrate, discourage, confuse, and convince me that while I may be a half-decent writer, despite my background in social media, I am NOT good at the above mentioned aspects of blogging.

It also led to my constantly comparing myself to others. From fretting over my blog design to comparing its contents and my writing style to others, the comparison game has been a brutal one for me these pasts months. I've gotten so wrapped up in comparing myself as a writer to others that I've completely lost any sense of who I am and what my little space on the Internet is supposed to be. Instead of continuing to carve out my own identity as a blogger, I just put more pressure on myself to fit a mold...I hate molds! I despise labels! Yet I found myself eyeing the glitz and glamour of blogging and wanting so desperately to be a part of it.

And as a result I've lost my voice and my confidence as a writer....I also lost sight of why I love writing in the first place.

The past few weeks I've been wrestling with whether or not I want to fight to get it back. I've been undecided on what direction, if any I should go in.

While I still don't know what this blog will eventually evolve into, I do know that I want to get my voice back, but that means I'm going to have to make some changes.

No more stress over how many people read my posts, sign up to receive them via email, or leave a comment.

No more freaking out over page views or other stats. (They were never that impressive anyway)

No more comparing.

With the college semester behind me and the summer ahead of me, I'm looking forward to just going back to my basics and just doing what I love to do-write.About any and everything. The good, the bad, the awesome, the ugly. Sharing & owning my story, even the parts that seem meaningless or boring. I want to actually enjoy writing again, and not have it become a chore. I also love to help people and I've always wanted to do that with my writing in some way. I'm hoping that I have up until this point and I hope I continue to moving forward...

So what does this mean for you, the reader? Well, it means some days I might post a thousand word entry...others I might post a sentence. I might post once a day or be inspired to share two things in one day. It means no format. There may be a Dance Party Friday or Self-Love Saturday post sprinkled here or there, but I can't promise one every week. It means for the next 3-4 months, you should expect the unexpected. It means I'm going to talk about whatever's on my mind or heart...there may be a few rants...I'll probably talk more about my faith and what kind of Christian I've been evolving into these past months....most importantly it means I'm writing with abandon, not placing any limits on myself or this space for awhile.

I know this may lead to you not reading every post. This might mean you won't stop by here very often. You might even unsubscribe for fear I'll bombard your inbox. If that's the case, I completely understand. THANK YOU so much for reading up until this point. Thank you for all the comments you've left, the encouragement you've given me, and your love and support. Thank you for being with me the past year and a half...

So there you have it. This post is 1063 words long, so I guess I've gotten it all out....and if you've made it to the end of this post, you're a trooper. Thanks for reading these jumbled up thoughts.