anxiety

Moving Toward the Sun

I've been in a depressive episode for nearly 8 weeks. The decline has been gradual. There have been good days scattered throughout, but I've been edgy, tense, fatigued....my mind has been too loud some days, eerily silent during others. I've been crying off and on in my bathroom to hide my breaking from my kids...in my car as I drive from one errand to the next. I've had to shift to auto-pilot to just get through hard moments, root myself in detachment to keep from getting swallowed up by the stress. I've spent the last two weeks cycling rapidly between hypomania (marked mostly by agitation and a mind packed with too many thoughts), and a dragging depression that swallows me up and sends me into its belly for a few moments then spits me back out into the sun and air where I can breathe again. And then everything's still and quiet...I feel "normal" and then the cycle repeats itself hourly, daily, weekly....and so it's been for nearly 2 months now. Rinse. Settle. Repeat.

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I'm still in that critical postpartum window. I just weaned nearly a month ago. My body and hormones are in flux and adjusting as a result. I hate it.

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Stress is both motivating and crippling for me. I can handle 10 things going on all at once with ease. It's once the 11th shows up demanding my attention that my mind starts to split and scatter off into darker corners. I think about my life these days and chide myself with all kinds of "should" statements for feeling and being overwhelmed by all I manage on a day-to-day basis: baby is teething & raging,  middle child with special needs, oldest was just diagnosed with ADHD and his enthusiasm for school has waned significantly, trying to overhaul our home and parenting lifestyles to accommodate and support their needs (like increasing structure and making our home more sensory friendly), supporting my husband while he deals with stress at work. New therapy schedules, trips to the pediatrician, and comprehensive psychometric testing have dominated our lives over the past month. Up ahead there is more testing to be done, and meetings with the school district to discuss accommodations for Brennan and evaluations and placement for Alex who is gearing up for preK this fall...

It's not all stressful. I'm involved in birthing great projects. I'm taking my mom's advice on avoiding burnout by feeding my spirit so I don't fall prey to losing myself, you know? I've joined writing & art communities online,  I'm painting at 11pm, I've signed up for retreats and writing eCourses, done a couple of write-ins with groups, and I've done a juice cleanse to try to reset my body and mind. I'm re-reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown as well as books on painting, sensory processing disorder, creativity, and feminism. I'm trying to find my way here still, in this space as far as my writing is concerned. I'm trying to learn how to embody all the parts of myself that have come alive over the past few years-artist, writer, advocate-in the midst of the daily demands on my person and time as a mother and wife. I'm trying to bloom where I'm planted. At 31, it's still a stumbling process though.

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I'm searching for my flow amidst the rhythms, rocking and swaying as the ebb and flow of my life's current carries me throughout my days. But the stress of everything gets triggering and I find myself cycling with the ebb and flow as a result sometimes. That's when my knees buckle and my head spins. My chest constricts and my brain starts to feel like it's suffocating. My grip gets weak. Fatigue sets in and my steps forward get heavy. Taking care of myself gets harder, and usually becomes the last checked off item on my must do list-if it's checked off at all. I end each day feeling as though I have no safe place to come up for air and just process my thoughts, fears, and anxiety...I end most days feeling unsettled and bottled up, stuffed to capacity and as I close my eyes to sleep I've found myself starting to pray like Jabez, asking God or whoever is listening for an increase in capacity...in ability...in might...

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My hair is pink again with some blue added for extra fun. My hair and color are always my first lines of defense against the disorder of my brain chemistry and mood.

IMG_5687

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I visited my psychiatrist last week at the VA. This is another area that I can't seem to find solid footing. We've lived here for nearly two years and I'm on my 3rd psychiatrist. Obtaining talk therapy has been a fail. The appointment scheduling system here is confusing and useless to me because I have very little say in what days and times fit into my schedule that's already inundated with the kid's school and therapies. I've had to fight to get treated, and I'm constantly having to say "but if you read this and go here, research and experts agree that....". I feel lost in a system that I'm constantly told is for me to use and that I should trust. But the bureaucracy I face with nearly every interaction chips away at that trust. I have no confidence in my mental health care these days, in the professionals assigned to my care. And yet, at my appointment last week, I sat in front of her desk and allowed myself to become undone. Completely and unapologetically. I unloaded nearly 24 months of thoughts and stress right there in her office in 20 minutes while my smiling baby squirmed and cooed in my arms. She listened to every word. Asked some questions that dug a little deeper. Apologized for all the trouble with the system I've had and for not really hearing me 6 weeks ago when I told her my anxiety was becoming a problem. She admitted that lack of knowledge about medications while breastfeeding restricted her ability to really give me what I was needing. We decided now that I'm no longer pregnant and breastfeeding we could get more aggressive with my meds again-go back to finding a more therapeutic dose. So over the next two months I'll be doing that-going up on lamictal and prozac and trying out an additional med for anxiety. I started the increase yesterday. I'm hoping by the end of the week my brain and mood will start to grab ahold and adjust accordingly.

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I've struggled today to pick everything back up and keep walking. To push past and through. To square my shoulders and lift my chin. To turn a deaf ear to the tape playing in my head that has all kinds of lies and frenzied talk on a loop.

But I'm doing it-picking up and pushing. I'm moving forward. Slowly. The sun is shining outside despite the cold front that's moved through. I'm working my way out into the sun, breathing in deep as I go.

Real Talk: I'm F---ing Sick of Suicide and Mental Illness Killing Our People

I just need to get this out because it's burning hot in my bones like fire, my soul wants to just scream and wail but it can't because doing so will terrify my children. I've been thinking all day about how we've lost another person, another woman of color to suicide and mental illness. The more I've thought about how we lost Karyn Washington to suicide, the angrier I get. I'm talking SEETHING. I'm talking a white-hot, blinding rage that just wants to go tearing through things as it travails in mourning. I'm talking a rage that causes my teeth to ache from a clenched jaw and gnashing.

I. am. ANGRY.

I. am. MOURNING.

 

I. am. HEARTBROKEN.

I didn't know her, but I didn't have to. She was my sister, a fellow woman of color, a writer, a voice, a human being dedicated to uplifting her people. And she is gone. Suicide came and took her from us and I'm here grieving like she was my own daughter gone from me.

I'm fed up with the stigma that permeates minority communities and takes the lives of our people-as if we already don't have enough fucking things that are killing and destroying us. I'm enraged at the lack of resources available to us. Our people are living and suffering from all types of 'hood trauma all across this country, and have been for decades, centuries, even and our mental health isn't taken seriously and addressed.

Our people are left for dead and to waste away in their minds.

Our churches-the cornerstones in our communities don't adequately address mental illness-we keep perpetuating this "I'm too blessed to be stressed" bootstrappin bullshit that's basically the equivalent to handing us a razor to slice our wrists open with.

Black men are conditioned to believe they have to be hard, and in reality, it's true-they MUST be and live hard because society views them as inhuman and unworthy of even being able to walk to the corner store or listen to music in their cars in peace.

Black women are conditioned to bear a resilient silence-our mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, and grandmothers have to be so strong for everyone else without a not so much of an utterance as to how such a burden is eroding at our thought life and well-being.

I'm disgusted that the mental health advocate community has a major diversity problem. I'm tired of POC not being seen and heard on mental health platforms like our white counterparts. I'm tired of seeing awareness campaigns full of nothing but white faces, and quality treatment facilities and practices in the white neighborhoods, with even sliding scale fees only white people can afford.

I'm tired of hearing our people say that therapy and medication "are for white people." I'm tired of our mamas not knowing what perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are and how they can manifest over the first year of their baby's life-ON TOP of all the other shit they're dealing with that can contribute to depression, PTSD, and anxiety. I'm tired of our mamas not knowing the risk factors for developing such disorders during and following pregnancy-especially when previous trauma and violence are the top risk factors.

My heart bleeds for the Karyns. The Miriams. The Ebony Wilkersons. The Don Cornelius'. The Lee Thompson Youngs. My heart rages for them, and I wonder when their mental health will become a priority. When will the psychiatrist or licensed social worker graduating from school decide to go set up shop where our people live and listen to their stories. Educate us. Chip away at the stigma that has become a death sentence?

Who will help us? People of color, when will we speak up about our own struggles with mental illness and light the way for our own? Can it be today?

Please tell me we can start today. I can't bear the pain of losing any more of you to this selfish son of bitch.

If you are struggling today and having thoughts of suicide, please DO NOT hesitate to call your local suicide hotline immediately. Call 800-SUICIDE (800-784-2433) or 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) . 

I'm...Climbing...Out...

I am a Warrior Mom. I have sat in the darkness of postpartum depression and anxiety feeling hopeless and lost. I have felt them rip my identity as a mother and a woman apart, leaving me feeling like a shell of a person, empty.

I've hid in closets, and cried on my bathroom floor because being near my children felt impossible to handle.

 

I've endured thoughts so intrusive I still can't speak of them to anyone, let alone myself.

I lived with guilt over my inabilities to play, laugh, and hold my children-it feasted on my insides for months....and still comes back for more when I find myself on the low end of the bipolar mood spectrum.

I still live with shame over the rage that engulfed me for over a year, often over the trivialest things, in the most unexpected of moments. The screaming, the yelling...If there's one part of my experience I wish I could erase it would be that.

And yet, in spite of the darkness I lived in after Alex's birth, despite how sick I was, I survived. With support and treatment I overcame. I climbed out of that darkness. I became a Warrior Mom.

Tomorrow, I'm celebrating that accomplishment with over 100 other women across the United States and in 6 other countries.

My family and I will be heading to Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve here in Austin for a 2 mile trail hike. With each step I'm sure I'll be emotional as I look at my boys and my husband around me and reflect on my experience with PPD...and I'll again be overwhelmed with gratitude for Postpartum Progress and Katherine Stone.

If you've been a reader for any amount of time here, you know how much I credit Postpartum Progress and Katherine Stone with essentially saving my life and helping me come into my own as a mother. In January 2011, it was THE lifeline I needed that started to pull me out of the darkness of PPD & anxiety and eventually led to my diagnosis of bipolar disorder. You can read more about how Postpartum Progress helped me here and at the end of this post if you haven't already.

3 weeks ago I joined fellow survivors and even those still fighting PPD in a campaign to raise funds for two very specific projects Postpartum Progress is working on. In those 3 weeks, we've managed to raise over 36K, and basically create a movement to honor our experience and give hope to others still finding their way out of the darkness Postpartum Progress helped us come out of.

We are Warrior Moms. We are climbing out and pulling others up with us today, the longest day of the year, to stand tall in the light of hope. I'm honored and humbled to be a part of something so significant with the most amazing women I've met in my life.

Let's do this.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/F-mjl63e0ms]

To learn more about Climb Out of the Darkness, what the donations are funding, and to donate to our hike on Saturday click here

 

50 Shades of Fabulous

I know I haven't posted anything in awhile. An intense semester and a little writing/blogging crisis are to blame and I apologize for the lack of posts....BUT today I return to 'Confessions with a gift for you, a special guest post from a woman I have an immense amount of love & respect for. Lauren Hale is the founder & moderator of #PPDChat on Twitter & Facebook, shares her PPD story over at My Postpartum Voice, AND writes for The Good Men Project. When I asked her to describe herself in one word, she responded with "Fierce." I couldn't agree more.  I LOVE this post, and I think you will as well. Please welcome her and show her some love!

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Today has been a grey day. Sure it's spring, leaves have sprung, birds are chirping, the cicadas are...well, we won't talk about the cicadas because that leads to dark places best left unvisited.

Last week was a whirlwind of writing. Three political pieces, wait, four, one not so serious, and a snarky piece about Facebook and organ donation. On top of that, there was #PPDChat to host both on Twitter and On The Air, support requests to field, friendships to maintain, therapist visit, date, meals, and somewhere in there, sleep.

This past weekend I slept. A lot. Almost a full day, actually. I figured my body needed it --kinda like hitting a reset button-- showing instead of telling me to slow down.

It's okay to slow down and listen to the ebb and flow of life. If we keep tilting ahead at full speed, eventually you'll collapse, much like I did this past weekend. Everyone preaches about balance and figuring out what's right for you. While that's true, often times life tosses a left turn where there should be a right and BAM. You're upended and left spinning toward a vortex again just trying to keep everything grounded.

Ever seen a whirling dervish? Yeah. That.

Life will come at you fast and hard. If there's one thing I have learned over the past few years, life is not what happens to you. It's how YOU happen to life.

Realizing most of your issues spring from worry, concern, or otherwise unnecessary emotions in regard to the actual situation is a huge weight off your shoulders. There are a few questions which should soothe the anxiety beast when/if it arises:

1) Does this situation directly affect me? 2) Is there anything I can do to directly affect or improve this situation? 3) Is immediate action required or are my hands tied until a later time? 4) How much does this situation really affect my life?

Taking a deep breath and going through those four questions has helped me deal with several situations which could have possibly gone south very quickly. Instead, I analyzed them and often realized that no, there wasn't anything I could do nor did the situation directly affect me. In situations where it does and immediate action is required, take a deep breath, do your best, and put it behind you. Easier said than done, I know, but with practice, each new challenge becomes easier because you've been cultivating confidence in your ability to deal with the hard, making you even more fabulous with each experience.

You, and your fabulous may not mesh with someone else's version of fabulous. But isn't that what makes the world interesting and awesome? That we are all a different shade of fabulous and then some? If we were all the same shade of fabulous, we would be stuck in a grey world.

Me, I'm working on my 50 shades of fabulous every day. I can't wait to rock them all.

Confession: My House is Never Clean...but That's Okay

On Monday I wrote about what holds me together and gets me through having such a demanding life these days. I realized after I recorded the video you're about to see that I left "changing my expectations" off of that list. During my pregnancy I developed a serious case of OCD. We're talking nesting on steroids, people. It was intense. Baseboards and particles of dust feared me, ok? I couldn't rest until everything was neat, arranged, and put away, all in it's proper place. I rearranged items in my cabinets & fridge, rearranged furniture in my house, rearranged my clothes and closet....you name it I did it. Everything had to be clean and if it wasn't I felt like a failure. I felt like I wasn't doing my job. I felt that if everything was perfect around me and I had control over where everything was, then I'd be the perfect girlfriend who would make the perfect wife, and I'd be the perfect mother to my kids who could do and be all. Notice how many times I just said perfect? I was a perfectionist to the extreme and I pushed myself to strive for and meet these standards and expectations I thought would make me, well....perfect. Perfection=acceptance, being wanted, being loved, having control....pretty much everything that was the opposite of how I perceived myself. I naively thought it would go away after I had Alex, but it really only intensified and became part of my experience with PPD & PPA. I would go through days where I was so depressed and anxious I couldn't clean, and then I would clean incessantly  because I was depressed and anxious. Cleaning became my worst enemy and my best coping strategy depending where I fell on the mental illness spectrum each day. It was both a trap and a way of release if that makes sense.

Working as a social media consultant full-time. Attending school full-time. Taking care of my newborn/infant son and my three year old. Keep a spic and span house AT ALL TIMES. I pushed and pushed and pushed myself to the breaking point on a daily basis. And boy did I break. Daily. Weekly. Monthly. Depression. Anxiety. Fear. Intrusive thoughts. Pain. GUILT (so MUCH guilt!) Anger (i.e. RAGE) Highs....and lows...the pressure I felt and put myself under to appear perfect, in control, and having it all together was intense.

So my life was pretty messy. I was pretty messy. But I thought I could clean it up on my own. I was wrong.

It's taken some painful therapy sessions, hard talks with myself and medication to realize that I'm a mess....AND BE OKAY WITH THAT. It's also taken these things to recognize that what I was striving for is unattainable and very unhealthy. A huge part of my recovery process from PPD/PPA was realizing that I had some very unhealthy expectations & standards for myself...and that I needed to change them. ASAP.

Even living with BP now, I've had to change what I expect out of and for myself and my family. Doing so has helped me release the valve on the pressure cooker I put myself in and has helped me ditch my quest for perfection.

I'm not super mom and I'm not super woman. I don't have it all together and I am so far from perfect it's a joke, really. But that's okay for me these days. I've realized there are more important things to be concerned with....like my children....my homework...painting..."me" time....

So to prove to you that I've come a long way in the ditching perfection department, and hopefully encourage you to not be so hard on yourself, I'm giving you a peek at my messy apartment. Taping this wasn't easy and neither is publishing it...but hey, having a messy house doesn't make me less of a person or mother...and it doesn't make you less of one either, so cut yourself some slack, okay?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8p5DSJJJJBQ]

Dance Party Friday: Just Dance Edition

I'm going to keep this short and sweet. It's been a hellish week for myself and some of my friends in the anxiety and depression department. Both have been rearing their hideously ugly heads this week and devouring people left and right.

School has reached that point in the semester when midterms are approaching and the pace is becoming frantic....fueling the raging fires of anxiety even more for me.

But this afternoon, in the middle of a panic attack, I said 'eff this. I thought of my friends who have been struggling this week and of how much we could all just dance away our fears, panic, depression, and anxiety. I shuffled through my iTunes until I found a song that seemed appropriate and I just danced my a-- off. I played the song over and over and danced until I felt the panic and anxiety start to fade.

I don't know how to make anxiety go away for forever. But I do know how to help it subside for a little bit.

So Charity, Jaime, and Susan....this one's for you. I know it's been a hellish week. I know you've been getting beat up and have felt pretty low...but take a few minutes and bust a move to some Lady Gaga with me?

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/37346479]

A Moment of Complete Honesty

Well folks, here's the deal. My meds aren't working. At all. And while I'm tired of riding the medicinal merry-go-round to find the right cocktail, I know it may continue to be awhile before I do. So, I have to resort to some drastic measures to manage my BP until I do....which means I have to enact a more regimented lifestyle and adhere to a pretty strict daily routine. It's the only thing I can think of at this point because I've tried everything else. I have so much riding on this semester of school; starting and finishing strong is crucial this go 'round and I'm terrified I'm losing all the ground I've covered thus far.

Moving closer to recovery and manageability by finding the right meds and implementing a more aggressive treatment plan is also incredibly crucial at this point y'all.

Why? Because I am not well. I can barely sit still long enough to type this...my mind has been scattered and all over the place for weeks now and I'm barely hanging on at this point. My grip on this is weakening and I'm pretty scared about it.

The general and social anxiety alone is crippling me.

I'm going to try to keep writing here...but forgive me in advance if future posts are all over the place, or if I just can't write as much as before.  But I'm going to try.

Just wanted to give you all a heads up........it feels like I am completely losing my mind. Seriously.

 

 

Chigger (Trigger) Bites & Battle Wounds

Ok, how many of you are country bumpkins like me? If you are, then I'm sure you know all about Chiggers....and if you know about Chiggers, I'm fairly sure it's because you've been bitten by a good amount of them, like I have.  Pesky little things, aren't they? Barely visible, they can cause a serious bout of irritation and make you uncomfortable. As a matter of fact you rarely you know you've been bitten by one until you've started to itch and you see little red dots staining your skin. For myself, since developing PPD/PPA after Alex's birth, and now living with BP & anxiety, being triggered is like being bitten by a chigger: I rarely notice it's happened until after the irritating itch has already set in, and I'm scrambling for ways to relieve it. Like the small, tiny, invisible little things that crawl up and under your skin til the find the perfect place to take a bite, triggers can make your life  freaking miserable. At least they do mine..the itching becomes unbearable. I've battled depression & anxiety since I was a teenager, but for whatever reason, since Alex's birth, I've become far more susceptible to certain things that make me "itch"....like noise...

... Loud noises in fact. I can't tolerate them. Haven't since April 8, 2010 at 6:37am. It's the crying, that grates on my nerves and sanity. It literally feels like I'm being raked over with metal spikes. When it happens, everything in me goes into Deafcon 4 and the heart races. The thoughts scatter like roaches in the light, scurrying for some dark corner to hide and fester in....only coming out after the onslaught of anxiety is over, when I'm most susceptible to depressive moods. The tiny noise chiggers, they move rapidly across my body, setting off my sweat glands...the sweat literally pours from me like rain that refuses to let up. Fatigue creeps in and reaches for the shut off button-it usually finds it and I collapse, even if it's just mentally until I can do so physically.

It seems like the minute he came into the world, my ability to withstand kid-induced noise exited-stage left.  It's like some kind of secret inside trade went down between my body and the universe, and I don't really think that's fair....I mean didn't Martha Steward go to jail for doing something similar?  It's just not cool. Shouldn't even be legal, if you ask me.  But for whatever reason, no matter how much preventative maintenance we do, we just don't get much of a say as to what the trade-off for having children will be.

It sucks. I wish I could say that I've mastered it. I have coping strategies, breathing exercises, medication, and Jesus. But there are moments....there are days....when the meltdowns, the screams, the always-being-peppered-with-questions, the "Mom, mommie, MAMA, MOM, MOOOOOM, mommie..." the whining, the neediness, the tantrums have me running for the only place I find refuge:

THE BATHROOM

Yes. The bathroom...it shields me from the demands of motherhood, and provides a nice, comforting cold floor to rest my sweaty body on. It's like a spa I have an unlimited membership to, that's open and offering respite whenever I need it, no matter the time of day. I sit in there, cool off and distract myself with tweets & FB statuses. Everyone always wonders why I have so many FB status updates and go on tweeting sprees...well, it's not because I think I have something beneficial to say, it's simply because they offer a solid distraction while my body attempts to restore me to homeostasis...and some semblance of sanity.

I found myself hightailing it to El Bano yesterday after an ER visit resulted in an exorcism-esque meltdown courtesy of Alex. Screams, flailing arms, wrestling, body contorting, AND an always questioning and Power Ranger yelling 4 year old set off every alarm bell in my being. It was all I could do to keep from cowering in a corner somewhere. I spent the rest of the day trying to breathe through the edginess and irritation...tried with everything in me not to scratch, scratch, scratch the itches that just wouldn't stop coming.

Just writing about it is making me sweat and my heart to feel panicky...so let me stop here.

My point? Trigger bites suck the big wad. Period. I hate that no matter how much self-care I do, the itch from this particular trigger bite won't go away. It sucks feeling like I'm at it's mercy...I wish there was some kind of OFF-like spray that could shield me from being bitten so easily.

I may have survived my battle with PPD & PPA...but this is one battle wound that's still scabbing over, still itching every time a scream or cry erupts.

What about you? What "bites" or triggers you?  Any PPD battle wounds that are still healing or have left an ugly scar?

 

Chigger (Trigger) Bites & Battle Wounds

Ok, how many of you are country bumpkins like me? If you are, then I'm sure you know all about Chiggers....and if you know about Chiggers, I'm fairly sure it's because you've been bitten by a good amount of them, like I have. Pesky little things, aren't they? Barely visible, they can cause a serious bout of irritation and make you uncomfortable. As a matter of fact you rarely you know you've been bitten by one until you've started to itch and you see little red dots staining your skin. For myself, since developing PPD/PPA after Alex's birth, and now living with BP & anxiety, being triggered is like being bitten by a chigger: I rarely notice it's happened until after the irritating itch has already set in, and I'm scrambling for ways to relieve it. Like the small, tiny, invisible little things that crawl up and under your skin til the find the perfect place to take a bite, triggers can make your life freaking miserable. At least they do mine..the itching becomes unbearable. I've battled depression & anxiety since I was a teenager, but for whatever reason, since Alex's birth, I've become far more susceptible to certain things that make me "itch"....like noise...

... Loud noises in fact. I can't tolerate them. Haven't since April 8, 2010 at 6:37am. It's the crying, that grates on my nerves and sanity. It literally feels like I'm being raked over with metal spikes. When it happens, everything in me goes into Deafcon 4 and the heart races. The thoughts scatter like roaches in the light, scurrying for some dark corner to hide and fester in....only coming out after the onslaught of anxiety is over, when I'm most susceptible to depressive moods. The tiny noise chiggers, they move rapidly across my body, setting off my sweat glands...the sweat literally pours from me like rain that refuses to let up. Fatigue creeps in and reaches for the shut off button-it usually finds it and I collapse, even if it's just mentally until I can do so physically.

It seems like the minute he came into the world, my ability to withstand kid-induced noise exited-stage left. It's like some kind of secret inside trade went down between my body and the universe, and I don't really think that's fair....I mean didn't Martha Steward go to jail for doing something similar? It's just not cool. Shouldn't even be legal, if you ask me. But for whatever reason, no matter how much preventative maintenance we do, we just don't get much of a say as to what the trade-off for having children will be.

It sucks. I wish I could say that I've mastered it. I have coping strategies, breathing exercises, medication, and Jesus. But there are moments....there are days....when the meltdowns, the screams, the always-being-peppered-with-questions, the "Mom, mommie, MAMA, MOM, MOOOOOM, mommie..." the whining, the neediness, the tantrums have me running for the only place I find refuge:

THE BATHROOM

Yes. The bathroom...it shields me from the demands of motherhood, and provides a nice, comforting cold floor to rest my sweaty body on. It's like a spa I have an unlimited membership to, that's open and offering respite whenever I need it, no matter the time of day. I sit in there, cool off and distract myself with tweets & FB statuses. Everyone always wonders why I have so many FB status updates and go on tweeting sprees...well, it's not because I think I have something beneficial to say, it's simply because they offer a solid distraction while my body attempts to restore me to homeostasis...and some semblance of sanity.

I found myself hightailing it to El Bano yesterday after an ER visit resulted in an exorcism-esque meltdown courtesy of Alex. Screams, flailing arms, wrestling, body contorting, AND an always questioning and Power Ranger yelling 4 year old set off every alarm bell in my being. It was all I could do to keep from cowering in a corner somewhere. I spent the rest of the day trying to breathe through the edginess and irritation...tried with everything in me not to scratch, scratch, scratch the itches that just wouldn't stop coming.

Just writing about it is making me sweat and my heart to feel panicky...so let me stop here.

My point? Trigger bites suck the big wad. Period. I hate that no matter how much self-care I do, the itch from this particular trigger bite won't go away. It sucks feeling like I'm at it's mercy...I wish there was some kind of OFF-like spray that could shield me from being bitten so easily.

I may have survived my battle with PPD & PPA...but this is one battle wound that's still scabbing over, still itching every time a scream or cry erupts.

What about you? What "bites" or triggers you? Any PPD battle wounds that are still healing or have left an ugly scar?

Strong Start Day 2011: How Postpartum Progress Saved My Life

As I write this, I'm laying  in bed, a feverish mess, trying to win the war against The Plague that has invaded my body: strep throat & tonsillitis. So far, it's had the advantage, but my atomic Penicillin bombs are starting to turn the tide my way.

So why take time to write a blog post in this condition? Why not just veg out watching TV or just lie here letting every medication known to man knock me out? The reason is simple:

It's Strong Start Day 2011. It's October 5, 2011, a day where more babies are born than any other day of the year, and Postpartum Progress is asking for our help. Who is Postpartum Progress? In official terms it's the most widely-read blog on postpartum depression and all other mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth.  It's also a non-profit organization, Postpartum Progress Inc dedicated to raising awareness & improving support & services for women who suffer from PPD & other perinatal mood & anxiety disorders.

In my own unofficial terms, it's a safe haven founded by a woman with unbelievable compassion, Katherine Stone. It's a place that provides answers, insight, and a community of women & mothers just like you & me. It's a place where you can ditch perfection & be free of judgement....and the icy glares of stigmas.

For me, it was everything I mentioned above but far more. It was a lifeline for me. Here's my story:  In January and February of this year, I hit rock bottom. No, scratch that-I descended into the 7th circle of hell and was swallowed whole by despair. I didn't want to live. I hated myself. Hated the monster of a mother I had become. I had gotten to the end of my rope & realized I had nothing left. I didn't understand why I was feeling this way. I didn't understand why no matter how much I prayed, went to church, took my Zoloft, exercised or talked to my doctor, I wasn't....ME. I was me but I was the worst aspects of me I didn't know existed. I have battled depression since I was 13 and was diagnosed with generalized anxiety in my early 20's while in the military, but I had NEVER felt like this. I spent my pregnancy with Alex totally depressed-there were days I physically couldn't move. I was also experiencing anxiety but didn't recognize it as such-it was so severe there would be times all I could hear was my racing heart pounding in my ears. I was obsessed with cleaning & organizing things-if things were out of place, if a baseboard was dirty I couldn't rest until it was fixed. My ex told me I was obsessive-I told him I was "nesting" and to mind his business-this was all a perfectly normal part of pregnancy, wasn't it? Wasn't it?! When Alex was born, my first night in the hospital was a disaster, but I figured it was still normal-I had just spent the previous 5 days in active labor & had finally pushed him out of my body for Pete's sake.

I should have listened to my instincts-or my ex's observations about my behavior. Instead I watched as anxiety, uncontrollable rage, irritability, crying fits, and other symptoms of PPD & PPA take over my life for the next 10 months. I talked to my doctor and was put on Zoloft-but I was just told that it was all no big deal-once my hormones settled I'd be ok. I tried talking about it with people from church and even a couple of therapists paid for by my state insurance-I was told repeatedly that there was nothing wrong with me, that everything I was experiencing was a result of my being a single mother raising two kids, going to school, dealing with a tough relationship, blah blah blah. The Zoloft didn't help. Well, I'll put it this way: I wasn't sad. What I was instead was constantly swinging between anger, rage, & guilt. I was living on the edge, the slightest, most trivial thing making me want to scream or crawl out of my skin. But everyone kept telling me there was nothing wrong with me while my gut kept telling me there was. I was so confused....and tired.

Then in January of this year I finally started my deep descent into hell. Into not wanting to live. Into hating myself. Hating my kids. Resenting my ex. Into being swallowed alive by guilt, fear, loneliness, shame, more anger, disappointment, & hopelessness. By February I was thinking of ways to kill myself. I remember laying in bed one night feeling heavy. Heavy as in a two ton boulder was laying on my chest. I thought about my kids. What would happen to them if I overdosed on Zoloft or released the tension & pain I was feeling by cutting myself and couldn't stop. I picked up the phone and called my ex. Told him I wanted to die and I needed help. He made me promise to let him get me some help. I did. The next day we were both surfing the web & making calls. While I was surfing the web looking for postpartum depression treatment & resources, I came across Postpartum Progress. I cried and yelled and felt relief flooding my mind as I read the articles posted there, read the comments posted by women who were describing exactly what I had been feeling for the past year, year and a half. I read about the symptoms of PPD, PPA & other perinatal mood disorders in "Plain Mama English" and found my symptoms laid out in black & white on the screen in front of me. I learned that mamas who have a previous history of depression, anxiety or childhood trauma are more at risk for developing symptoms like mine during pregnancy & after giving birth. I found a place called the "Postpartum Stress Center" and called to set up an appointment. I posted a couple of comments on the site describing my emotional state & symptoms, asking for some kind of validation. Any kind. Katherine emailed me. Encouraged me. Empathized with me. Embraced me. Pushed me to seek help. That day and her emailed changed my life.

In the months that followed my symptoms worsened, but I was able to talk them out in therapy at the Center.There I received answers, encouragement, & coping strategies. I started pushing my doctors for answers, for better treatment options. I jumped back on Twitter and found #PPDChat, Lauren Hale, Jaime, Susan, Erica, Cristi, and an ARMY of other mamas who I could lean on, gain advice & insight from, & share my experiences with. I found blog after blog written by women who wrote about their experiences, their challenges and so much more. I found Kimberly whose post about her diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder 2 made me ask myself some hard questions, evaluate my worsening symptoms & finally gave me the courage to go to the hospital in July for more aggressive treatment & help....and I got a new diagnosis: rapid cycling Bipolar Disorder 2.

I shared all of that to say that in a nutshell, Postpartum Progress & Katherine Stone's advocacy saved my life. Saved Brennan & Alex's life. It opened my eyes to the reality of women's mental health and educated me in a way talking to my doctor never had. It helped me find the support I so desperately needed.

Today, this organization needs OUR help. They need help to achieve the work that mamas everywhere so desperately need. Every mom wants to be a good mom, and they need our help & support to ensure mothers everywhere have a Strong Start. Please donate. If you are unable to donate, please email your friends, family, co-workers & neighbors, facebook them, tweet them, whatever it takes, & ask them to donate and spread the word. Raise awareness. Reach out today and do something tangible for someone else.

Right now there's a mama out there who is just where I was at the beginning of this year. Right now, there's a mama out there who is either unaware that help is available or is struggling to find it because of insurance or financial reasons-like I was. Please take a moment and do what you can to support this cause.

It helped save our lives & helped me win the fight.

I know it can help save others.

Cocktail Parties & Trying to Stay the Course

Nearly everyone experiences depression & anxiety at some point in their lives. For some it only lasts for a short time and it goes away. Some people develop great ways to manage & cope on their own or through some kind of therapy or counseling. Other people, like myself, experience depression, PTSD, anxiety or both combined & mixed up in a mutated mashup of hormones & chemical imbalances, and it doesn't go away. Counseling helps. Possibly some form of therapy is beneficial. Exercise and eating well enhance the journey to recovery and support of loved ones & friends is crucial. But even with all of that, for some, part of the recovery process requires even more assistance in the form of medication. I'm one of those people. I've come to finally accept that even if I work the other parts of "the plan" I STILL need medication to help the part of my being that is malfunctioning function. When I first started taking them back in July 2010, I struggled & wrestled with that decision for the next 12 months.  Some of my wrestling & unease stemmed from the regular stigmas that are associated with having to take medication for a mental illness. Taking meds for a physical illness is one thing-people encourage it.  Take it for a malfunction of your brain & body chemistry and all of a sudden folks start looking at you out of the corner of their eyes, or sizing you up, questioning everything they thought they knew about you. All of a sudden you're less capable of executing sound judgement & making rational decisions. Start taking meds and you become.....different. At least to some people-I'm speaking in general terms here.

My rocky road to acceptance also came from grappling with my faith about it. I tried to pray it away-the depression & anxiety. Maybe I wasn't being "Christian" enough. Maybe I was too sinful.  I quoted Philippians 4:6, " Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;"  several times a day, especially when I would feel my body break out into a full sweat at the slightest trigger....Alex crying, bathtime, doctor's appointments, phone calls with my client, Brennan being a 4yr old, driving through a busy intersection or heavy traffice....Name the trigger I was fanning it with that verse. I laid myself on the altar on Sundays, even took the "just pull yourself up by your bootstraps" approach and you know what? I kept getting worse. So I stopped fighting it and realized back in July of this year that yes, I have to take medication. I just do. And I'm finally in a place where God's given me peace about it because I know He doesn't have an issue with it. Do I believe God will heal me and make my life with bipolar disorder type 2 manageable? Yes, yes I do. But I believe that adding meds to the recovery & management plan is part of how He's going to do it.

Descriptions of my meds & directions on how & when to take them

 

 

 

 

 

So. I take medication. I started with Zoloft....that didn't go so well. It took away some of the sadness, but did nothing to calm the rage, irritability, anxiety, & even suicidal thoughts & ideations I was having. My mood swings were beyond severe. I was switched to an anxiety med, Lexapro. Didn't really make a dent. By the time I took myself to the hospital in July I was afraid I was going to really end it because I was in such dire need of symptom relief.

I was put on Lamictal and given Clonezepam for immediate relief and boy was it immediate! When I saw my psychiatrist two weeks later, I felt like I was finding something that was going to work. She agreed, so I stayed on Clonezapem but was weaned off of the Lamictal, just to see how I managed. Next visit I explained that I was starting to feel edgy again and couldn't sleep before 2am-I was cycling through hypomania. We switched to Lorazepam, added a sleeping aid, and an anti-depressant, Fluvoxamine.

The sleeping pills worked well-as long as I went to bed very shortly after I took it. A month

later, I feel like on one hand the meds are working because my moods don't swing as much. The rage & irritability is gone. Anxiety is there,but it's bearable. But on the other hand I've been VERY tired. I've even noticed that I either feel overwhelmed or indifferent, almost apathetic. I've also been feeling sad & wanting to sleep constantly. So when I talked to my psych today, we both agreed that taking the anti-anxiety med as frequently as I had been was probably too much-and that the dosage for my anti-depressant was too little. So we knocked one down a bit and boosted the other.

Yesterday a friend of mine said, "I don't know how you do it. I wouldn't have the patience to sit through trying different ones to see what worked."  Hearing that made me realize two things: 1) For those of us who need it, taking meds is like going shopping. Whether you're buying clothes, shoes, a car, or a house, you often have to try on or test drive several before you find what fits, what feels comfortable. The search for the right place to call home can be a tedious and frustrating one, and it's the same with medication. Finding the cocktail that does the hokey pokey the best with your body chemistry isn't easy, but it takes time and necessitates some patience & commitment on your part.

Patience. Commitment. Discipline. Execution. Kindness. Forgiveness. All of these need to be a part of your thinking and habits when it comes to living with an illness that requires meds to help you function. At least that's what I'm learning, cause I don't know about you, but I want to function! I have a life to live man! Who has time to just exist and be overtaken by something? Life is hard enough on it's own without our bodies getting all wacky on us. So if you're on meds, give yourself a pat on the back, be proud, and hold your head high. Meds are just help. That's it. Don't we need all the help we can get in this life?

So my cocktail has been switched up again, but I'm determined to stick it out til I find what vibes best with my hormones...my brain...my body...ME. Oh and realization #2 I had? I'm so freakin proud of myself for having the patience, kindness, forgiveness, discipline & execution I have so far with this. So proud. It feels wonderful to listen to my body & to be aware of what's going on with it. My journey to recovery & manageability isn't perfect, but I'm still trekking along, picking up resources & nourishment along the way :)  Your journey to find the cocktail you need won't be perfect either, but I just wanted to share my story to encourage you to stay the course. You can do it. I'm living proof it's being done.

Be encouraged!

Triggered: My Battle with General & Postpartum Anxiety pt1

Last Friday, my evening turned upside down in a matter of seconds. An anxiety attack triggered a flashback which triggered a panic attack, which left me completely undone the rest of the night....and it all started with a scream.... Piercing. Shrieking. Shrill. Excruciating.

My 16mo is screaming. At the top of his lungs. Standing in the middle of the floor in the living room, tears streaming down his face, mouth wide open, lips trembling from the force of the energy it takes to. just. SCREAM.

His screams are sharp, slicing through me, and the reserves of patience and calmness meds, self-care and God have helped me store the past week or so.

Scream. Slice. Scream. Slice. Scream.....this one cuts me to my core, its razor sharp edges cutting a clean, precise gash through which all the anxiety stored up within me could just bleed out....and it did. So much so that it crippled me. Crippled me because I had a flashback and with that flashback came all the emotions & physical sensations associated with it.....

No, please no....not this....not now....I'm hiding in the bathroom, on the floor, soaked in sweat, my heart is pounding, he's still screaming, and I'm triggered. All I can feel is despair sweeping over me, fatigue overwhelming me...and panic. Frightful panic. Before I know it, in my mind I'm back there, revisiting the day I first heard him cry...and felt like this.

It was the evening of April 8, 2010. The day Alex, my 16mo was born. After nearly nine months of a physically & mentally rough (ie depressing)  pregnancy, FIVE days of ACTIVE labor, numerous hospital & doctor visits, finally being admitted & getting an epidural, and 5 pushes, he finally made his grand appearance. When he was placed in my arms I remember looking at him, being glad he was finally here, but I remember feeling hollow. The previous 6 hours and his quick delivery had been a blur, a frantic rush, and then there was.....nothing. Of course my son was here, but somehow the experience felt so anti-climatic. Even though in my mind I knew he was mine, I felt....he felt (Oh I know this sounds so bad, but it's the truth) foreign to me, like I knew he was a part of me, had come from me, but he didn't feel like he had. I don't know how else to articulate it. I just attributed it to my being overwhelmed & tired from giving birth and brushed it off.

That evening instead of sending him to the nursery I kept him with me all night. It was a long night. At first I was fine, he was fine. And then he started crying. That's when I felt it deep down in my gut: the panic. My face grew hot, my hands were shaking as I pulled him out of his "crib" and into the bed with me. I fumbled trying to get him to latch-he screamed louder. After a few minutes he was happily eating and I was holding him tightly in an attempt to calm my nerves. Again, I just thought it was just nerves. "I'm just a little rusty," I told myself, "I can do this, I've done this. I'm a mother. This is my second child. It's cool, just have to get used to things again. Babies cry. It's no big deal." But it was. I had barely fallen asleep when he woke up crying again an hour later.

That cry. There was something about that cry that pierced right through me, and left me feeling like I was being ripped apart. His cry. It triggered a physical response in me-one that was normal & motherly & one that felt very violently NOT normal. It scared me. Jarred my senses. His cry. It grated on me and I didn't understand why.

On the outside I appeared perfectly calm as I tried to soothe him. The inside was a different story. On the inside I WAS FREAKING OUT. His cry evoked a heart pounding, pulse racing, nauseating fear in me that I don't remember experiencing with my oldest. It made me nervous. What made it worse was my inability to soothe him. He didn't want to eat, he was dry, I couldn't tell if he wanted me to hold him or put him down, no position seemed to settle him....all he did was cry. Each one he vocalized felt like needles on my skin, each one seemed to scream "YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING!" "EVERYTHING YOU'RE DOING IS WRONG!!!!!"

I finally laid him on my chest and after a few minutes his crying stopped. A few minutes later he was sleeping. Me? I was crying. Silently. i looked for the nurses button, to have them take him to the nursery, but the remote was out of my reach and I was too scared moving would mean he'd wake up and cry again. I couldn't take that-not yet. I looked at the clock. It was 2:03am.......

my experience Friday night left me feeling like I did my first night alone in the hospital with Alex. I was a wreck then and I was a wreck Friday night. The screaming stopped, but my response to it didn't for the rest of the weekend. As bad as Friday night was, I'm glad it happened, because it made me realize that I need to accept & acknowledge what I felt & experienced those first days so I can understand how it has shaped & impacted the last 16mos of my life. So this is me, telling my story. OWNING IT. hoping it heals me and help someone who needs to know it. 

part two coming soon.....

 

 

A Tumbling Out of Thoughts

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhI4CpAH8wM]

It's been a rough couple of days.....it seems like for every forward step I take, I have a day or two where I take three or four steps back...sometimes it's a series of events that trigger the relapse or regression....more recently it seems as though I'm hyper sensitive; the slightest touch triggers me & sets the pendulum in motion, even if it's just for a few hours....or a day.

Being triggered and having an anxiety attack or falling into a "mood state' reminds me of three things: how fragile my own strength really is, how important it is that I stick to my wellness plan & keep finding coping strategies to add to it, & my need for God....for His love.... It reminds me that He's really the only one who can really bear the full brunt me when I'm like this, and it reminds me that even when I'm at my lowest, He's still there, walking with me, "fixing me" along the way.....

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TsR1yiAe9g]

(you should definitely go to youtube to watch this...trust me it's worth the click)

Taking care of myself & believing in someone outside of myself are the only ways I know I'll make this "manageable" & be able to put it in it's proper place. Under control. So I can live. So I can mother. So I can be the better parts of me more often.

I'll get there. Until then, I'm going to do my best to just.....breathe & keep moving.

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

Thank you #PPDChat mamas (every single one of you-those I talk to consistently in The Twitter & those of you I've never met who sent me hugs & love last night), The Band, & Katherine Stone for being there and reaching out these past two days. Thank you for being that safe place I can go to when I need to just say exactly how I'm feeling without worry or fear of someone thinking the worst of me. You all are seriously the best therapy :) And also to my Pastor....thank you for reaching out, for your prayers, and for your words of encouragement this week. They are always timely & invaluable.

Table Talk Tuesday: College Mama pt 2

Last week I posted about my then upcoming Weekend of Welcome at my university & my concerns about how immersed I felt I could or should be because I'm older & a mama. Well, my ex agreed to stay at my place and watch both boys so I could attend all the festivities I wanted. (I know, even though he's my ex, he's awesome) So I attended various events last Thursday-Saturday. The mandatory ones were tedious & boring, my academic meeting was informative & gave me the dose of reality I needed (I'm going after a dual degree program), & some of the fun festivities were pretty rad.

Thursday night,  I wrestled over mattresses Steal the Bacon style with people 10 years my junior, got rained on repeatedly, & leap frogged the entire length of a soccer field during a crazy long relay race. My thighs started cussing me out halfway and were dead by the time I low-crawled over the finish line. (My team came in third place-GO BLUE! AUGUSTIVUS WOOOOHOOO! PBU! PBU!)

Friday there were more meetings and I was still barely able to move from the night before. When it came time to go home, I stayed home with the boys instead of going back out for that evening's social activities. Besides, Irene was on her way, so I had to prepare, grocery shop, you know, do Mama stuff.  Speaking of Irene, I should have listened to my gut Saturday morning when it told me to stay home instead of go to Philly with the rest of my incoming class. It was just a bad idea. Irene started pre-gaming in our area with lots of rain that left us all soaking wet....which pissed me off. Plus I've been to center city plenty enough this summer-I was less than enthused to be staring at the Liberty Bell & slogging my way to Reading Terminal dripping wet. The icing on the cake and perhaps the biggest indicator that I should have stayed home was the fact that I was in a reflective state of mind. Not really anti-social, but just withdrawn. I wanted to read & stew in my own thoughts....not really what I needed to be Socialite Sally for the day.

All in all I'm glad I was able to partake in pretty much everything. It gave me the chance to meet people & myself the chance to exercise some gut following. I automatically started to see what would work for me, what I could be involved in, & what I couldn't. I learned that when it comes to something like this, it's always best to follow your instincts-I know mine will tell me where to navigate to as I move forward this year.

Speaking of moving forward, let's skip over Irene & just stop at yesterday: my first day of classes. It was hectic, it was usual first day stuff, it was even surprising-some of the classes I thought would be heavy hitters & require hundreds of hours of writing this semester actually aren't. I was able to tie up loose ends around campus (like parking passes & financial aid)...but here's the thing. It all felt like a blur. Like it wasn't really happening. By the time I got home and fed the boys dinner, I couldn't even remember how I had managed to do so. It was only then that I realized my heart was pounding and that my thoughts were racing-had been all day. That I had been moving (and probably speaking at) the speed of light. The frantic pace and anticipation that came with the first day of classes had raised my anxiety to a certain level & I hadn't even realized it, because I felt so great the whole day. (Which, sound a tad like the euphoric feelings of mania, does it not?) And even though my body was tired, my mind was wired & in a very weird space, a little panicky, but I don't even think I can articulate it actually. I just know that I didn't feel right. I could also tell immediately that I wasn't going to be able to sleep. But that's just what I did. I put the boys to bed and then forced myself to sleep....at 6:30.

This morning I woke up and realized that I'm a little scared about what it's going to take to tackle this semester. It's going to take me being on my A game, and I know I'm not. Not mentally. I'm still trying to get there. Medication is starting to help, and I start therapy next Tuesday....but trying to manage college life, motherhood, life in general, AND trying to get a manageable hold on a mood disorder (meds, exercise, therapy, etc)? MAN. That's alot. And I didn't even mention blogging.....

Can I do it. I believe I can. But the question, is how? I think my therapist will be able to help me develop some strategies (she's a cognitive behavioral therapist), but do you have any suggestions on how I can approach this? How do you balance it all & stay afloat? Especially you readers who do or have battled a mental illness, how did you take care of everything but also manage to take care of yourself at the same time? Any advice you can offer a mama?

 

Pendulum Swinging

Yesterday I was high. Not so high that I felt manic, but high enough to knock out a slew of errands and have a pretty productive day. I could feel them in the shadows, the hypomanic feelings "waiting in the wings" to see if a door would crack open they could slip through. No opening came and I was grateful for it. Today I'm low. A mix of severe PMS symptoms (UGH!) and meds have me tired, a step above lethargic. Its been hard to concentrate this week, but excruciatingly so today. Focus is off, and even though I enjoyed parts of my day with my boys, my spirit is quiet, a little sad, although I'm not 100% sure why. My ex kept asking me all day if I was ok, which signals to me that he can see a drastic change in my mood...swings.

Swinging moods. High. Low. High. Low. Swinging back...and forth...back...and forth...the cycling continues, the pendulum swings me from one extreme to its opposite, leaving me wanting like never before to rest in the middle. Just for awhile. God-please hear this small prayer I have tonight. Please help me get back to the middle.

Stable. Balance. Structure. Consistency. Rest. For me. For my boys. The middle.

I'll get there as long as You help me. This is something that can't possibly be done in and of my own strength. So I'm leaning on You. Putting my faith behind my works, my wellness plan, laying it all at Your feet so you can breathe life and strength into it. Into me.

Yes. I'll get there. (Sigh) But only by trusting in You and taking it moment by moment.

addyeB

On Medication: Reason # 1

After fighting myself, going back and forth over it, and dispeling my own stigmas about it, I chose to take medication to help me deal with my depression and anxiety. One reason I made this choice was so my thoughts can just stop racing...settle...quit clamoring for my attention...slow down enough for me to be able to talk to God.

The past year and a half I've struggled in my prayer life for two reasons. Discipline is one and the other involves my struggle with keeping my mind from wandering. It doesn't wander lazily, as if uninterested in the material or as if I lack the desire to sit before Him. It races, quickly zipping from one thought to the next. Focusing, concentrating, being able to quiet my mind and soul-these are things I'm often unable to do because my mind moves at the speed of light. The result? I'm a fidgety mess with a raucous mind at God's feet and my prayer life sucks.

An Initial Diagnosis

"A'Driane, what is it that you fear the most? If you could name one fear that you have, right now, that brought you here, what would that be? Can you name it?"

In my mind I screamed "SHUT UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!" at the thoughts that are never quiet and always racing these days. I wanted to answer the question honestly and give my full attention to it, but I needed at least 30 seconds of silence in my brain to accomplish that. Surprisingly my rambunctious, bouncing thoughts obeyed long enough for me to formulate an answer:

"My fear?" I swallowed slowly, feeling my mouth going dry & sweat trickling down the back of my legs, making my decision to wear jeans a regrettable one. "Fear....I'm scared that I'm just going to check out, you know, mentally. You know, just become this zombie who functions on the surface, but (more swallowing & sweating) who isn't emotionally available for my kids or able to nurture them. I'm just scared that I'm going to give up on life."

Tears, a flood of them, started making their way down my face as I looked at the social worker/psychologist. Through blurry eyes I could see his gaze was fixed on mine even though his hands were scribbling notes at a furious rate. On my lap he placed a box of tissues.

"Give up on life...Do you think about hurting yourself or have you made any plans to hurt yourself?"

"It's crossed my mind, but not because I don't want to live. I want to live...I just....I just need relief, need a break from this....this constant wackiness, this feeling like I'm losing my grip, this fine one minute, a total wreck the next existence I've been living. I'm tired. So no, I haven't made any plans to hurt myself, and besides I wouldn't do that any way-I couldn't do that to my kids. I have to take care of them . I want to take care of them. And myself. And enjoy my life....but....I can't function like this anymore. I can't start school next month like this-I won't make it."

More notes. More questions. Some advice. More notes. More questions. A squeeze of my hand and a gaze that told me he got "it".  Minutes later I had an appointment set up with the doctor who would be my new psychiatrist & was in another room, trying to keep Alex calm while the intake psychiatrist asked me another round of questions.

"Do your thoughts race?" OMG yes. Constantly. All the time. Nonstop. Sometimes I can't even pray because my mind is all over the place, in so many different directions, my concentration really sucks sometimes.

"Do you find yourself talking faster than usual?" Yes. I am, after all trying to keep up with the frantic pace of my thoughts.

"Do you ever have days where you feel super energetic, full of ideas & feel more impulsive than usual?"  Yea I have like 1-2 days where I'm ripping & running, on the go, being productive, knocking out things I have to do for work, school, home, etc & then I'll have 1-2 days after that where I don't want to do anything at all. Like. NOTHING. Feel totally demotivated, the only thing I can do is just take care of the kids-like feed them, naps, you know, mama stuff. If I didn't have any kids, I'd be in the bed during those times, sleeping, zombied out. Impulsive? I pay my bills and I don't go on shopping sprees, but I do find it hard alot of times to resist the urge to buy things. Like, Target & Wal-Mart can be a problem, even if I'm buying stuff I actually need. I've gone overboard sometimes, definitely.

Silence. Some more questions, Alex goes into toddler meltdown mode, I break out into more sweats, I answer the psych's questions. Silence. Then....his initial diagnosis: Bipolar Disorder 2 triggered by my pregnancy, depression & anxiety following said pregnancy & taking Zoloft, which it turns out is something he said is pretty common these days. Given my childhood & history of depression, he said I most likely already had the uh, "bipolar biology" (his words)-me being in my 20's and battling PPD/PPA just "brought it out."

The anger. irritability. moods swinging without even given a reason to. the anxiety. the lack of focus & concentration. the depression. the "I just don't feel like myself" feelings. the " I was just laughing, why I do I want to cry" sensation. You mean I'm not crazy? Like I feel like I am, but I'm not? I'm not losing my mind? This is treatable? I can feel "normal" again? I can get off this rollercoaster & be able to cope with life again? Wow.

As he answered my questions & discussed treatment options & next steps all I could feel was relief-sweeping me over like a wave. And then more tears. But this time, instead of tears of desperation, they released the exhale I was slowly letting out.

I don't know why I hadn't thought of going to the VA hospital's behavioral/mental health clinic before this week. I guess I just thought I wasn't doing enough to manage on my own. I guess I thought it might take too much to get an appointment. And what would I do with the kids?  How would I get over there, cause I hate driving in Philly? I guess I thought I wasn't being strong enough, or "Christian" enough, or something along those lines. I guess I thought I was imagining it all, even though my instincts & my body were telling me I wasn't. I don't know why I didn't utilize this resource before today, but I'm glad I put myself on the 42 bus & went, Brennan at home with a friend, & Alex Moby-wrapped to my body. I'm glad I didn't lose my nerve & leave when I walked the halls or spoke to the receptionist. I'm glad I didn't tell anyone about it or talk myself out of it, like I have other treatment options. I just went. And the relief I'm feeling knowing I'm doing something to improve my quality of life & mental health (as well as that of my kids) is my reward.

I start this new mood stabilizer tonight. I know meds aren't a cure, but the psych said it should bring me the relief I need so I can do things that ARE a cure-like self-care, exercise, read, spending time with my boys without being distracted, PRAY.....you know, things that make me ME. I see my new psych in two weeks & meet my therapist then too.

My goal: To be in a much better space mentally & emotionally by the time the semester starts. With all of this in place & God's help-I know it can happen ;)

Also, It pays to serve your country. Thank you VA.

I'm Not Strong Enough....But I Don't Have To Be

You ever wake up with a song in your head? I've got one a new one every day. This morning was no exception:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCjIM7-aLmg]

The chorus is what kept replaying over & over in my mind. By the time I started making breakfast I had figured out why: Summer vacation is here and I'll be home with my boys ALL summer.

With my 4yr old finishing pre-K next week, and my 14mo already having been home with me for the past two weeks, I know that despite my best efforts, being with my boys 24/7 has the potential to make me lose it. Not because I don't want to spend time with them, not because I don't love them, not because I don't want to take care of them, but simply because I have a serious anxiety problem, and just the thought of being with them nonstop makes me edgy. Every time I spend extended periods of time with them, I don't handle it well. It's taken me therapy, medication, A LOT of conversations with God, A LOT of crying, some anger, some frustration, talking to my partner, a basic psych class, and reading tons of information about postpartum & perinatal mood disorders to recognize & accept this fact about myself.

It took me realizing that some of the physical symptoms I've been having the past few months only happen after certain "triggers" occur, the most difficult one to handle being when my youngest, Alex cries...or voices his frustrations the only way he knows how-screaming, shrieking, throwing things...you know, being a toddler.  I know what he's doing is normal for a widdle person his age, but what I had to realize wasn't normal is how I respond to it:

Physically, I break out into sweats. I'm talking looking-like-I-just-got-out-of-the-pool sweats. My heart starts racing. Sometimes I shake and my throat feels tight or like something's stuck in it. After his screaming/crying fit is over I'm tired. Not "oh let me take a power nap" tired, but "I could sleep for 20 years Rip Van Winkle style" tired. I can literally feel the energy draining from me while it's happening, it's crazy. Emotionally & mentally I feel drained, my mind feels scattered, and I'm usually so edgy that if you tapped me I'd fall right over.  And if my 4 yr old comes along and decides he can't hear me tell him to put his shoes on because I MUST be talking Greek, asks me to play the Wii when I've said no already, or how to spell words like "Timberwolf" ? Forget it. It's like a solid right hook just landed squarely on my jaw-the Mama in me is knocked out.

On the floor. Done.

And so I break. Snap. Scream. Yell. Get miserably irritable. Cry sometimes. Swim in guilt. Listen to the voices that tell me I'm a bad Mama and I'm ruining the self-esteem & development of my kids. And I go to bed early. Tell myself that when I wake up, tomorrow will be a new day and I can start over. I fall asleep praying & asking God to help me make it, help me to be more patient, less anxious, a better Mama....

While I was in school this mostly only happened in the mornings trying to get out the door, or in the evenings, kicking off as soon as we got back home. I can't tell you how many nights I rushed the boys through dinner, baths & off to bed, teeth clenched & fighting back tears in an effort to keep my edginess from spilling out of me and sweeping all of us away.

Last summer when Alex was just a few months old and Brennan wasn't in daycare, I thought what I was feeling was just me trying to adjust to meeting the needs & demands of two kids. My doctor & I both thought maybe it was just depression, so I started taking Zoloft. I even thought it was more of the same when I was feeling burnt out & feeling very low back in February....but the more research I did, the more I talked about my discomfort with motherhood with my therapist, the more convos God & I had, the more I recognized my responses to my boys behaviors, the more I've come to realize what I really need help with.

And that's why this morning, when I came face to face with what this latest round of anxiety is about, I just started singing the chorus to that song....

"I know I'm not stong enough to be everything that I'm supposed to be,

I give up, I'm not strong enough...Lord I'm asking You to be strong enough for the both of us."

And just told God, "I want this to be a great summer. I want to enjoy my kids. I want to enjoy being a Mama, but God the honest truth is that I'm just not strong enough on my own. I wish I was, but I'm not. I can't handle this, being with them all the time while (partner's name) is at work. I know this probably isn't an issue for other Mamas, but it's one for me. I know You say not to be anxious about anything...but I am. Okay? I just am. I'm terrified that I'm going to screw this up and let hormones & stress & anxiety just overtake me, allowing whatever's going on in me to keep me from being the Mama I want to be. Ya know, the one who doesn't sound like a lunatic? The one who doesn't cringe or resent her son when he cries? Yea...I would really like to get back to being her. But I can't do it own my own."

Right after I said those words (in my head, cuz I didn't want my boys to think I was talking to myself-I'm sure they already think I'm wacky enough these days) the response came:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” ( 2 Corinth 12:9)

Right then I knew He got "it", that He understood just where I was, and admitting I can't do it in & of myself relieved me of the pressure I was putting on myself.. It also activated my faith to help me believe even stronger in the One who I know IS strong enough to handle my weaknesses....and the overwhelming demands of motherhood that make me want to jump off a cliff. I just have to remember to reach out to Him. I knew then that all I have to do is keep working the plan He gave me months ago to deal with my "stuff':

Prayer. Medication. Exercise. Eat healthier. Read the Word. Take Breaks. Self-Care. Repeat

and He'll take care of the rest, like helping me enjoy Mamahood. Just gotta keep working the plan.

So here's to a summer vacation not riddled with anxiety but filled with good times spent with my boys. And Yoga...lots of calming, relaxing, deep breathing Yoga...hahahaha.

Got anxiety in the Mama department? How do you cope? I'm taking any & all suggestions!