depression

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) . 

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]

She Said It: Kathryn Greene McCreight on PPD, Bipolar Disorder & Faith

My friend Audrey lent me this book a couple of months ago and I'm just starting to read it this week. The second paragraph of the first chapter made me catch my breath as I read words that seemed to explain what parts of my experience with PPD was like.  As I continued to read the following paragraphs and discovered that the author is not just a mother, but a priest, and also bipolar, my eyes stung with heavy tears and I had to pause every now and then to process the emotions I was feeling.

When I was going through my experience with PPD I felt so alone, because it seemed no one around me had experienced it, or if they had, they didn't speak up about it. I felt confused and misunderstood, mostly because I couldn't even articulate what was going on with me, and when I tried, my words left the hearer with the impression that I either just needed to pray more, take more time, or "fix" my circumstances...as a Christian I was even told that I was experiencing the depression and turmoil because I had chosen to have a child out of wedlock...the hell and pain I was reeling from were just the byproducts of my "sin" and I needed to just endure it.

When I was diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar disorder last July, I felt my faith shaken and my first question to God was, "Can I be a Christian and be bipolar?" How was I supposed to know what was real, how was I supposed to hold on to God in my lowest and darkest moments when all I wanted to do sometimes was just die? My next question was, "Are there other Christians who are bipolar? Where are they? Why don't they talk about their experiences?"

I've ranted on Facebook and Twitter about how there's a lack of open dialogue, awareness, education, and services in the Christian community for those living with severe or chronic mental illnesses. There are even far less in the African-American Christian community....I've yet to hear of mental illness addressed in a sermon or anyone in our culture openly discuss this subject.....

So when I started to read this book, the first few pages seemed to scream what my experience and thoughts motherhood and these illnesses have been like. Her words shook me, so much so that I had to put the book down a few times because my hands and arms couldn't stop shaking, my body trembling from the force of the tears and emotions welling up inside of me.

So for today's post, I thought I'd just share an excerpt, share the paragraphs I read yesterday that spoke so soundly to me and I found myself in. If you know of someone who is struggling with their mental illness, especially as a mother or even a Christian, please share this post with them as well. I hope it helps you and them the way it has already started to help me.

When I became a mother for the second time however, the hem of my mental health began to fray. Motherhood by nature challenges the mental, emotional, spiritual and physical endurance of any woman. It is a highly over-romanticized and underestimated pressure cooker, matched in potential not only for the creation of a new family but also for the destruction of both mother and child. Think-with horror-the Susan Smiths and Andrea Yateses of the world. ......of course not all postpartum suffers are this detached from reality.

.....Motherhood, I believe, was only the precipitant for an internal agony that I had been holding back for years. Maybe God had postponed my storm at sea until I could be buyoued by the hopefulness and joy that I derived from my children and husband.The experience as a whole and the experiences that constituted the eventual illness were at least bewildering and at most terrifying. The blue sky which normally fills my heart, stung my soul. Beautiful things like oriental rugs and good food like bean soup absolutely exhausted me. Noise was amplified in my ears, and I fled sound and conversation in search of silence. Small tasks became existential problems: how and why to fold the laundry, empty the diswasher, do grocery shopping. My memory failed me. I was unable to read or write (except for sermons, by the Holy Spirit's providence, I believe.) And it went downhill from there. A back and forth in and out of darkness lasted for years. ......

....I have a chronic disease, a brain disorder that used to be called manic depression and is now, less offensively, called bipolar disorder. However one tries to soften the blow of the diagnosis, the fact remains that bipolar disorder is a subset of the larger category unhappily called "major mental illness.' By the latter of my thirties, I had sought help from several psychiatrists, social workers, and mental health professionals, one a Christian, but mostly non-Christians. I had been in active therapy with a succession of therapists over several years and had been introduced to many psychiatric medications, most of which bought quite unpleasant side effects and only a few of which relieved my symptoms to some degree. Those medications that have in fact been helpful, I must say despite my own disinclination toward drugs, have been a strand in the cord that God has woven for me as the lifeline cast out in my free fall.  The medications have helped me rebuild some of "myself," so that I can continue to be the kind of mother, priest, and writer that I believe God wants me to be. "A threefold cord is not quickly broken" (Ecclesiastes 4:12) The three cords to my rope were the religious (worship and prayer), the psychological, (psychotherapy) and the medical (medication, ECT, and hospitalization).

Yet while therapists and counselors, psychiatrists and medications abound, I found no one to help me make sense of my pain with regard to my life before the triune God. I write this book, then by way of an offering, as what I wish someone had written to help me make sense of the pain and apparent incongruity of that agony with the Christian life. Those Christians who have not faced the ravages of mental illness should not be quick with advice to those who do suffer. "Pray harder," "Let Jesus in," even "Cast your anxiety on him, because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7), which of course are all valid pieces of advice in and of themselves, may only make the depressive person hurt more.

This is because depression is not just sadness or sorrow. Depression is not just negative thinking. Depression is not just being "down." It is being cast the very end of your tether and, quite frankly being dropped. Mania is more than speeding mentally, more than euphoria, more than creative genius at work. The sick individual cannot simply shrug it off or pull out of it. While God certainly can pick up the pieces and put them together in a new way, this can happen only if the depressed brain makes it through to see again life among the living.

This is an excerpt from "Darkness is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness," by Kathryn Greene-McCreight. You can read her brief bio on her church's website here

On PPD & Mental Illness: What Would You Say?

This morning my Human Development professor asked me after class if I would like to speak to my classmates about Postpartum Depression. Is my name A'Driane?

Did I spend all of 2010 and 2011 living with and battling PPD?

Yes. Yes it is, yes I did, and hell yes I will speak to my classmates about such an important topic.

As soon as she finished the question my ear worm immediately started playing the opening lines & notes to "Lose Yourself" by Eminem....

Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity To seize everything you ever wanted in one moment Would you capture it? Or just let it slip?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xFYQQPAOz7Y]

A chance. An opportunity. To own a part of my story. To speak openly and honestly about something that leaves most women feeling ashamed and reeling from the effects it has on their lives. A chance to educate and share the facts, not the myths, misconceptions or misleading information that perpetuates the stigma.

I've been given another chance to take what I know, what I've learned and what I've experienced and share it with others, and while I'm humbled and grateful for this opportunity, I don't want to choke. I don't want to back out of it. I don't want my anxiety and fear to get the best of me and push the mute button on my voice. I know it's just a class and not some big speaking event, but I still feel a huge responsibility to do it well and help people be informed.  I'm learning that when it comes to owning your story, recovery, and healing from pain, taking advantage of the opportunities to speak about what you went through is really important. I'm learning that doing so helps strip shame, pain, and what you're battling of its power. So even though it's small, I want to make sure I do that here.

So I'm reaching out to you all. I need your help. If you could say anything about PPD or mental illness to a group of 18-22 year olds, male and female, what would it be? What would you want them to know? What should they know that you didn't? What do you wish someone had told you?  What has helped you get through it whether you've recovered or are still trying to recover?

If you would prefer to email me your response, feel free to do so: bconfessions (at) gmail (dot) com

Whether you're battling PPD or are a survivor, please help me educate and inform. Your feedback is tremendously appreciated.

Thank you.

Music That Moves: Rend Collective Experiment, Gungor, Switchfoot, & Newsboys

Five songs that are inspiring me today to push through.  It's hard to hold on to your faith when you're bouncing like a pinball between mania and depression on a daily basis; but being able to believe in something bigger than myself pulls me through the chaos that clamors in my emotions and mind...It's the only thing that anchors me to this life.

"God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains;  it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world." (C.S. Lewis)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lCYgQWLO8vY]

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

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OR7VOKQ0xJY]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_OTz-lpDjw]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ypSz8WqRc_M]

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

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful... Hebrews 10:23

Postpartum Depression: It Doesn't Just "Happen" to White Women

Today I sat down here at the computer, pulled up Google and typed the following into the search box:

how many African American women suffer from postpartum depression?

do Black women suffer from postpartum depression?

how do Black women deal with postpartum depression?

Guess what came up? NOTHING.  Not one specific thing that answered the questions I queried. The closest I got was an article that discussed a study done in Iowa back in 2008, and an article that discussed the link between domestic violence and postpartum depression in African-American women. 

What's wrong with this picture? Why is it that among the thousands upon thousands of search results returned, nothing specific, direct, and "here's what you're looking for, click here!" was featured on the first page of results? Or the second page? Why is so much of the information not recent or particularly relevant?

This not only frustrates me but it saddens me. Angers me even. If a simple Google search doesn't yield solid results, how are black women supposed to find the help they may need?

That's if women of color even think they need help in the mental health department, cause let's face it: Black people don't do therapy, medication, and definitely don't "believe" in mental illness.

I could spend all day talking about why African Americans don't seek help for any kind of mental struggle but it pretty much boils down to the fact that we don't think we need help. Ask a person of color about this and you're likely to hear the following:

  • Due to slavery, 400 years of oppression and trauma, black people feel that if we survived all of that, we can survive anything-WITHOUT help from a doctor
  • Your family is your therapist-why waste money talking to some expensive doctor about your problems when you can just talk to your mama or grandma for free? It's their advice that matters because after all, look at what they went through, at what they have survived-they made it, and so will you!
  • Bootstraps. Black people have the strongest, longest, toughest bootstraps in the world-and when faced with adversity, we pull ourselves up by them and "keep it movin."
  • Church. You can pray away any of your troubles. Seriously. If you pray and you're still having mental issues, then you're faith just isn't strong enough and maybe you did something to deserve what you're going through.
  • To admit you have a problem is to admit weakness. Weakness doesn't happen to us. We are strong. We survived slavery, remember?
  • Therapy & meds are too expensive

And the list can go on forever.  You're probably thinking that some of what I just mentioned sounds outrageous and I'd have to agree with you that it does. But these are the things that perpetuate stigmas about mental illness in the black community.

I can also tell you that for women of color the stigmas run even deeper and the expectations for us are even higher. Black women in our community are viewed as strong, capable, able to handle anything and conquer adversity  like Michael Jordan conquered dunks back in his hey day-with incredible, effortless, ease. We make do with what we have, we sacrifice what we need to, and we NEVER (I mean NEVER) complain about any of it.  We endure hardships like single parenthood with our mouths shut...our mothers and their mothers before them handled life that way, and without outside help, why would we do any different?

After I had Alex, my postpartum depression manifested as uncontrollable rage, severe swings in moods and severe anxiety. Alex would cry and I would literally want to crawl out of my skin.  Brennan would spill something and I would either explode in anger or burst into tears. Think I could talk to anyone about it? I tried talking to my mom.....I got the bootstrap, "God will work it out, " and "just give it time" speech. I talked to some women at my church...."I don't think there's anything wrong with you. I mean, look at all you have to deal with, especially being a single parent. If you're circumstances were different, you'd be fine. You're alright. Trust me," was the consensus. I even had a friend tell me that they were "giving up" on me, and that my "problems" were too much to deal with.

I wasn't fine. Not by a long shot. So I called my state funded health insurance and found a therapist. Only he wasn't a real therapist-he was a state social worker. His reaction? "Any woman in your position would feel the way you do. That doesn't mean you have PPD. Lots of women like you, who are black & single mothers with more than one child feel this way."  Lots of women "like" me? Really?

What's my point by saying all of this? It's simple, really:

BLACK WOMEN SUFFER FROM POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION TOO. 

I know they do. They have to. Because I did. I'm recovered now and I have a new diagnosis, but the fact still remains that I spent a year after Alex's birth fighting my way through PPD.  But you wouldn't know that if I didn't talk about it. And we don't know how many other black mothers are out there, suffering in silence, thinking that they "don't have time" or are "too blessed to be stressed" to properly deal with the hell they are experiencing, thinking it's a natural part of motherhood and even single parenthood.

We only hear about postpartum depression from white female celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Brooke Shields. The closest I've found to anyone in the black "celebrity" community discussing PPD is Mocha Manual author & speaker Kimberly Seals Ayers, whose PPD story you can read here.  Even she admits that PPD is more common among women of color but no one will admit to or talk about it. Essence, Ebony, and other magazines geared toward "black" audiences have yet to publish any significant articles on the subject in their health features. I can't recall reading even ONE.

I asked a friend of mine today why she thinks women of color, particularly younger women,  don't seek treatment for issues like PPD. She's a new mother whose son was born premature and has been struggling with PPD pretty badly. Her response?

I think it's real problem that more women my age (she's 24) suffer from than would admit...Black people have this mindset that going to therapy and taking meds means you're crazy instead of meaning that you're informed about your mental health & getting healthy. Until I actually went to  therapy and got meds I was one of those uneducated people who thought & was afraid that people would think I was "crazy" and would need meds to function, you know?

Postpartum depression just doesn't happen to white women. It happens to black women and other women of color too. What is it going to take to change the perception and stigma? How can it even BE changed if no one will talk about it?

I don't know what the answer is y'all but I'm determined more than ever to be a voice and to keep sharing my story and my experience because mamas of color & their babies deserve strong, healthy starts too. Here's to hoping that one day my voice encourages others to speak up and reach out too. I'll leave you with this quote from Monica Coleman, Ph.D. (click her name to visit her website! it's incredible!)

In many ways, I do think that there is a greater stigma among African-American culture than among white cultures. I live in southern California, and many white people will freely reference “seeing a therapist” in normal conversation. Black people don’t do that. Seeing a therapist is generally seen as a sign of weakness or a lack of faith. There is still an active mythos of “the strong black woman,” who is supposed to be strong and present and capable for everyone in her family – and neglects her own needs. In the midst of a depressive episode, I had a friend say to me, “We are the descendants of those who survived the Middle Passage and slavery. Whatever you’re going through cannot be that bad.” I was so hurt and angry by that statement. No, depression isn’t human trafficking, genocide or slavery, but it is real death-threatening pain to me. And of course, there are those who did not survive those travesties. But that comment just made me feel small and selfish and far worse than before. It made me wish I had never said anything at all.

Music That Moves: Let Me Feel You Shine

This song literally had me jumping out of my chair to dance about 5 mins ago....my new battle song for when I'm in the low place and I don't know what to say to God...."If I could feel you shine your perpetual night, then maybe I could crawl out of this tonight...." YES YES YES!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMPVEmC4DRw]

This place is trying to break my belief  But my faith is bigger than all I can see  What I need is redemption  What I need is for You for to put me back on my feet 

Wha ah ooooh ooooh oooh  Wha ah ooooh ooooh ooh oh 

I swear I'm trying to give everything  But I feel I'm falling, oh make me believe  What I need is resurrection  What I need is for You to put me back on my feet 

Wha ah ooooh ooooh oooh  Wha ah ooooh ooooh ooh ohhh 

If I could feel You shine Your perpetual light  Then maybe I could crawl out of this tonight  If I could feel You feel You shine  Oh let me feel yYou shine  So beautiful and warm  So beautiful and bright  Like a sun comin' out of a rainy sky  Oh let me feel You shine Oh,  Let me feel You shine 

I lift the knife to the thing I love most  Praying You'll come so I can have both  What I need is for You to touch me  What I need is for You to be the thing that I need 

Wha ah ooooh ooooh oooh  Wha ah ooooh ooooh ooh ohhh 

If I could feel You shine your perpetual light  Then maybe I could crawl out of this tonight  If I could feel You feel You shine  Oh let me feel You shine  So beautiful and warm  So beautiful and bright  Like a sun comin' out of a rainy sky  Oh let me feel You shine  God I need a Savior  O come Generous King  O God I need a Savior  To come rescue me 

Oh let me feel You shine Your magnificent light  Then maybe I could crawl out of this tonight  If You let me feel You feel You shine  Oh let me feel You shine  So beautiful and warm  So beautiful and bright  Like a sun comin' out of a rainy sky  Oh let me feel You shine 

Let me feel You shine  Let me feel You shine

Manic Mondays (On Tuesdays): Hypersexuality, Faith, & Womanhood pt. 1

Confession: This is the probably the hardest series of posts I've ever written here on 'Confessions, because it deals with a personal and often 'taboo' subject in Christian culture. But I believe in the power of transparency, and I realize that this is part of owning my story and having honest dialogue with others, so that's why I'm writing about this particular subject. Not sure how many parts there will be  this series, but I hope that this proves to be a healthy exploration for myself and whoever finds themselves in reading these posts. Bipolar Disorder: When Sexuality Is in Overdrive - Bipolar Disorder Center - Everyday Health.

I read this article today while taking a break from doing my project on the book of Philemon. I'm in the middle of finals week and the end of the semester, (hence my absence from the blogging world) but I knew after reading this, I had to stop and write about it...

...or rather about my experience with hypersexuality as a woman trying to manage BP.  About being a Christian who struggles severely with this symptom of BP and what how I believe it impacts my walk with God...

About a year ago, I started noticing that I was having very sexual dreams, which was out of the norm for me. While sex isn't something I dream about normally, that's not what bothered me about the dreams. What bothered me was that I was constantly dreaming about having sex with women, which was definitely something I had NEVER done before. I also started noticing that I would have days (possibly a couple of weeks...or a month even) where all I would think about is having sex.

Now, let me say this. (Again, I'm being transparent here, so understand my disclosure serves a purpose) I lost my virginity at 16 and didn't have sex again until I was 20-when I met my next boyfriend. While I enjoy sex, I'm not the type to have "friends with benefits," one night stands, or even casual sex with strangers or people I don't know very well. I tried having a casual sex relationship once and I hated it. (and it didn't last very long). The only other person I "casually" had sex with was my ex...but I had known him for over a year. We were friends....and then we were dating...and the sex? It just happened. In other words, if I'm sharing my cookie jar with you, it's because I know you, I trust you, and we're in a monogamous relationship.... and even then, depending on how my spiritual health is, sex might not even happen under those circumstances.Sex and being intimate with someone I care about is awesome, but I've never been the type who felt like I had to have it regularly if I was single. I had more of a "take it or leave it" attitude concerning sex...if I was taking it, I thoroughly enjoyed it with my significant other...if I was single and leaving it, I was perfectly okay with that.

So while I enjoy it and I don't mind exploring my sexuality, I've never been a slave to it...or felt like I was at the mercy of my desires....until I started having dreams about trysts with women (and liking it) and found myself getting into these moods where it's all I seemed to think and fantasize about.

These moods would always catch me off guard because after having Alex and starting Zoloft, I had noticed that my sex drive or desire for it had dropped significantly, which is pretty normal after pushing a bowling ball-sized object out of your vagina and starting an anti-depressant. I would have days or even a couple of months where I wouldn't even think about it, or it didn't feel like a need that just had to be satisfied...and then I would find myself  waking up with my hands down my pajamas....dreaming about random sexual encounters with total strangers....and wanting to jump on top of my ex every time I thought of or saw him.

If you're reading this and you're a woman, I'm sure you know how um...aroused you can get as you draw closer to your period, right?  (yep, I went there and said the p-word-go ahead, you can squirm a little more, it's ok) Well imagine those feelings multiplied by, oh I don't know, maybe a thousand or so and you'll get a picture of how I would feel in these moods. They would totally consume me, I felt like some kind of pervert or sex addict. It was so bad sometimes that even my ex would look at me and be like, "uh...yea...NO!" and would ask if I was okay. You know it's bad when you're so overwhelmed with needing to have sex that it decreases your partner's desire for it.  Yea....ouch.

One of the frustrating things about feeling so sexual was that no matter how much I had, it never satisfied the need, it only intensified it. I even took to pleasing myself which while I've known other women who do it and it's not  a big deal, it was for me because it was something I had never done. These feelings weren't just about trying to explore my sexuality or what I "liked." It was literally like a wildfire just burning out of control. I tried everything to uh...satisfy it, squash it, ignore it. It literally became a highly agitating state to be in, and I didn't really understand what was going on....

The even more frustrating part about my hypersexual feelings was the fact that because I'm an unmarried Christian, I felt endless amounts of guilt about what I was experiencing. And the shame. Oh the shame that would consume me and still does at times was all encompassing. I felt...dirty. Full of lust. A lustful, sinful woman who just couldn't control herself. I didn't know how to talk to anyone about it, let alone God. I felt guilty for wanting sex as much as I did, guilty for having it as much as I was, guilty for pleasuring myself (masturbation is a no no in Christian culture, apparently), guilty for just any and everything about sex. It was awful and the guilt and shame I felt only fueled my depressive moods, tying me down in the gravity wells these moods placed me in.

During these states my mind would swirl with racing thoughts: Was I just consumed with lust? What was wrong with me? Was God disgusted with me? Angry with me? Did He understand? I would stand at the altar at the end of service, begging God to help me stop compromising, asking for forgiveness and desiring to be and do better. Then a few days would pass or maybe a week or two and I'd find myself right back in the same state: hot, bothered, and full of this urge I lacked the ability to control...

Since my diagnosis in July, I've learned so much about BP and its symptoms I feel less guilt and shame because I know (for the most part) what's causing it. Learning that it's a symptom of my disorder and not necessarily a reflection of my character has brought me to a place of acceptance about it. I still wrestle with what to do about these feelings when they arrive and become overwhelmingly intense, but I don't beat myself up over having them anymore...

My questions to God these days are more about management and how to maintain celibacy until marriage. I'm rather frank with Him about it and I believe He's far more understanding about it than I originally gave Him credit for.

Hear me: I'm not trying to justify my behavior, so Christians don't crucify me. I'm also not trying to use this symptom of my disorder as an excuse to just be all "A'Driane Gone Wild." But I am trying to manage, understand and walk this issue out in a way that is spiritually healthy and doesn't "taint" my relationship with God.

I'm also trying to be more open and honest about this issue, which is something I don't think enough of us Christians do...

I'll talk about this and more about my faith, hypersexuality and how they impact me next week. Until then....any thoughts? Feel free to share...

You & Me: Carrot, Egg, or Coffee Bean?

Handling Adversity, Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean? A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved a new one arose.

Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water. In the first, she placed carrots. In the second, she placed eggs and the last one, she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil without saying a word. In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.

Turning to her daughter, she asked, “Tell me what you see?”

“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied. She brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted they got soft. She then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, she asked her to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled, as she tasted its rich aroma. The daughter then asked, “What’s the point, mom?”

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity–the boiling water–but each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior. But, after sitting through the boiling water, its insides became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water they had changed the water.

“Which one are you?” she asked her daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?”

Think of this: Which am I?

Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity, do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?

Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and a hardened heart?

Or am I like a coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hours are the darkest and trials are their greatest, do you elevate to another level?

How do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

~ Author Unknown

I found this posted on Exceptional Living's Facebook page and after the week & therapy sessions I had, I found this very appropriate to share & reflect upon today. 

So what are you? Carrot, Egg, or Coffee Bean?

I've been trying with all my might to break the cycle in my family & in my subcultures (African Amercian & Christian) and be a Coffee Bean.....more on this in the next post....

Confession: Falling Off & Getting Back On The Wagon

SO....I have some things to confess. I spent last week in a full blown episode of  (hypo?) mania & didn't even realize it until last night when I was laying in bed crying my eyes out, wondering why the heck I was feeling so low. I had felt so great earlier yesterday morning...but by midday the grey cloud of depression was hovering over my head, raining on my little euphoric parade.... Ahhhh euphoria. (Sigh) You know...I didn't even realize how high I had been until I had already crash landed back on Earth-or rather my couch...immobilized. Stuck. Heavy. Sleepy. Edgy. Here's the thing I've learned out being in a state of euphoria after this recent episode: it blinds you to the warning signs, the signals, the indicators that are flashing bright red, hoping you'll notice their warnings. And even if you're able to see the warnings, euphoria hits the mute button on the sounds of the sirens...they go from shrill to dull. Your inclination to care, your motivation to heed the signals loses it's edge, and before you know it you're rationalizing it away, allowing yourself to believe the lie that it's not happening-you're ok, it's no big deal, you're fine, you're just a little excited & happy & that's ok-you deserve to be happy for once don't you? Don't you?!

I should have paid attention. I should have fought harder to hold on to the edge I've gained the past 4-5 weeks. But I didn't. Instead I allowed myself to take a break from fighting.....

It started the week I was sick with the Plague. That's when I stopped fighting, mostly because I felt like pure hell & needed to get better. Problem is, I got better physically, but I started slipping in other areas. School took a hit-I missed some assignments & barely caught up. I started feeling anti-social & withdrew from people. My ex and I had an argument that led to him saying some things that crossed the line and hurt me deeply. He apologized the next day, but the damage was done-I spent last weekend struggling to cope-emotionally eating, drinking too much Moscato, & just trying to numb the hurt. Then last Monday when I got my refund from school, my excitement over being able to pay bills I was backed up on & buy some necessities for my apartment tipped me over the edge & into full blown euphoria.

Having money...getting paid...being able to pay bills, buy groceries, not having to worry about finances for a few weeks...it gives me a high I don't really get from other things. Now I will say this: I'm pretty responsible with money in the respect that I pay my bills, especially the ones that are necessary to live-rent, daycare, groceries, etc-but I'm very irresponsible with what I have left over. I can't save.  And unlike other people, I don't spend it on Gucci bags, expensive electronics, clothes for myself....I spend it on little things that add up to big amounts. Instead of spending $15o at the grocery store, I'll spend $300. Seeing my cabinets & fridge full, knowing that we have food to eat gives me a high.  A simple furniture purchase might be a necessity, but the exhilaration I feel is more than the normal person would feel. I don't spend just to spend most of the time. Getting my nails done to feel better, buying the boys clothes they may need, going out to eat or buying something for my apartment....those are the things that make my spending habits a problem. Going to Wal-mart or Target can be a major problem when I'm in a state of euphoria.  The compulsion to buy even necessities becomes too strong, my resistance to impulses is weakened...telling myself, "I don't need this," or "I can get this later," is something I've only recently been able to start doing. When I don't have money to spend, I'm fine. But when I have it, and my basic bills are paid? Forget it. My mind races with ways it can be spend-literally.  Saving? (sigh) It's a skill I used to be somewhat good at & now I just flat out suck.

So like I said, last week, having that money....I paid what I needed to, I followed my "how to spend my refund check" list to the tee. But once it was all over, I found myself wanting to keep feeding the high because it felt so good, I felt so good, I felt capable, not unworthy or unwanted like the argument with my ex & stress had me feeling.  The euphoria had me feeling fantastic, but underneath it was the ugly undercurrent of emotions that were pushing me further & further away from the progress I had worked so hard to gain. I skipped my meds a few days this week. Big mistake. Stupid mistake. I kept telling myself I'd take them & then I'd get so caught up in the boys, in midterm semester assignments, in catching up, in the euphoric bliss & forget.

I messed up. I fell off the wagon last week. And my crash back to reality began Saturday night. I passed out on my couch unexpectedly after getting my hair done. Sunday morning I still felt good, but the cloud was back...by midday it was hovering over me, darkening my mood & by evening I had fallen back into the gravity well of a depressive mood.  I cycled this past week. I cycled & didn't pay attention until it was too late to care or resist.

Here's the other thing I've learned about euphoria, cycling, & just living with this crazy beast: It's VITALLY important you have at least one person on the outside who can tell you (in love) what they see happening, what they see you doing. Someone who cares about you, but who is objective & can tell you the truth when you need it. For me, that person this past week was my ex. When I called him crying last night & feeling like crap, he confirmed for me what I had already started to realize: "Addy I've been so worried about you this week, because you've just seemed so high...and talkative....and....and a little manic...and then yesterday I could hear in your voice you were starting to dip...what happened? What are you feeling? What's wrong? Let's talk about it. I"m sorry...I think our fight helped trigger it, and I'm sorry for that. I'm sorry you've been struggling-talk to me. Have you been taking your meds? Have you been drinking too much?"

(Sigh) That's the kind of person you need in your life, and I'm glad I have him. We may not be together, we may fight, we may not see eye to eye, but I know that he cares about me and he wants me to be ok, because he can be that person for me when I really need it.  I'm also grateful for my neighbor who saw that I was upset late last night & stayed up talking to me, trying to help me smile & laugh. I need more people like that in my life.

I fell off the wagon. Today I'm trying to get back on. It's not easy. But I made a commitment to improving my mental health and despite this step back, I'm determined to regain the ground I lost. That's how recovery is sometimes: you take 2 steps forward & take one back. It sucks, but the point is to keep going in spite of the set backs. That's what I'm trying to do today.

I'm not perfect. I try but I fail sometimes ya'll. I have to do better, but I can admit when I don't. Writing this, and admitting these things were hard for me today...but I've gotta face the music.

So I'm off to go to the park & run. Gotta get back up & continue to streak my way back to the box. Here's to making it.

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!

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.

Which Wolf Are You Feeding?

An elderly Cherokee Native American was teaching his grandchildren about life… He said to them, “A fight is going on inside me, it is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One wolf is evil—he is fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, competition, superiority, and ego.

The other is good—he is joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.

This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too.”

They thought about it for a minute, and then one child asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win, Grandfather?”

The Elder simply replied, “The one you feed.”

via a heavy heart to carry..

Kissing Happiness Goodbye

My pastor brought up this subject a few weeks ago in his message and its been weighing down my thoughts ever since... What does it mean to be happy? What is happiness exactly? How do you go about attaining it? How is it maintained? What's the difference between being happy and having joy?

I've heard the phrase "level of happiness" a lot in the past 2-3 years...I even told myself and others 2 years ago, that that's what I wanted to be, HAPPY, and that's what I was setting out to pursue: HAPPINESS. I set out for this like you do with any journey: with an expected end in mind, a goal to reach, something tangible to obtain-"I'm going to carve it out, a nice slice of HAPPINESS a la mode," I told myself....but I'm 2 years into the journey and I'm not any happier overall than I was back then. That's not to say that my life hasn't improved any, I haven't grown as a person, it doesn't mean I don't have anything to be happy about. Even with the growing pains, health issues, parenting stress, some anxiety and occasional depression, and just LIFE in general, my existence and quality of life is not a miserable one. It may feel like it at times, but especially when compared to others, it is not. I haven't lost my home in a tornado, flood or catastrophic earthquake. I don't have to fear about nuclear reactor meltdowns near my home, I live in a country that despite its many problems, I am free to go, do and say as I please. I may be a woman, and considered a minority, but I still have some basic rights-like being able to drive (unlike in Saudi Arabia) and I can freely worship who I want. (Who Jesus? Yup, that's how I roll.) My children have clean water to drink and I may worry about what I'm going to cook for dinner, but I at least HAVE a dinner to worry about...1 in 5 American families can't say they have a dinner to EAT.

So when I think of all of this I'm left asking myself: "A'Driane, why the h--- aren't you happy?" As is what always happens when I ask myself something I don't know the answer to, I turn to ask God. Sometimes I have to wait for the answer...others I barely get the question formed in my brain before He's intercepting it with the mind blowing response and I'm left sitting there dumbfounded at the truth He just sucker punched me with.  Guess which time this was? (Hint: I've had the dumbfounded look on my face for weeks now)

The reason I'm not happy, (and maybe this is true for those of you paddling in the boat with me) is because I'm chasing an ideal that is ultimately elusive, one that really can't be apprehended unless you've got some things settled within you and a certain attitude adopted first. Don't stop reading, yet, bear with me, we're going somewhere I promise :)

See here's the thing about chasing after happiness, or rather something about PEOPLE who chase after happiness, people like me. We set out like conquistadors on this quest to find happiness by setting in our minds this expectation that once we find it, VOILA-we've made it, we can jump in its fountain and be magically transformed into happy people for the rest of our lives. We will smile all the time, problems won't shake us, no matter what we encounter WE WILL BE HAPPY. Is there a problem with this kind of thinking? I believe so.

You see, one of the problems with this, is that ok, let's say you get there-you reach the benchmark or level you've set as the qualifier of what you think will make you happy in this life. That's awesome, that's great, life is phenomenal, you feel all enlightened and possibly fulfilled...but what happens when you leave cloud 9 and descend through the stratosphere back to earth? Because you know that will happen right? Because we're living this thing called LIFE. And this thing called LIFE is wrought with imperfections and imperfect people we have to deal with on a daily basis. Imperfect people who hurt us, betray us, violate us, fail us...these people get sick with awful diseases, they die...You yourself are imperfect so you are bound to hurt others, possibly get sick and we all eventually die. So what happens dear friend, to your happiness then, what becomes of your precious treasure when LIFE has rocked you to your core? How do you maintain that level you worked so tirelessly and tenaciously to attain?

Here's the thing about LIFE: It eats away at your happiness. It just does. You can talk about all the rainbows & sunny skies all you want-the weather will always change, the skies will inevitably go grey for a spell and rainbows? They only come out after storms :) Sure it can enhance it, don't get me wrong, but life is all encompassing....some days it buoys  you up, other days situations and circumstances, people, and even our own tangled up insides chip and eat away at whatever happiness we work tirelessly to build up. Like hamsters we run on the wheel of life never realizing that we aren't really going anywhere...

And why aren't we going anywhere? That brings me to my next problem with this"carving out" happiness crusade-we put parts-if not all-of our lives on hold while we pursue it. I believe we unconsciously tuck away our emotions, and close off our minds to everything in and around us once we decide to chase the shadowy billows of happiness. We tell ourselves everything else can wait til we reach it, unwittingly ignoring the world around us and what's going on within us.

Maybe that's not true for you, and that's ok, but it definitely is for me. During my quest, I've put my life, my emotions, BEING WHO I AM on hold.

When I lose the baby weight, this 40lbs that I can't seem to shake or be comfortable with-then I'll be happy. Until then, I'll spend my days feeling crappy about my appearance, worrying if my boyfriend finds me as attractive as he did when I was a size 6, constantly comparing myself to other women I see who are thinner aka prettier than me. I'll never be ok with anything in my closet, getting dressed with frustrated the hell out of me, and I'll never be satisfied with how I look.

When I get over my depression, when I no longer have my anxiety, THEN I'll be happy. Until then I won't enjoy the days my symptoms aren't kicking my as-k me about it later, I won't relish the moments my mind is clear, my spirit is free enough to smile, laugh, dance & be an active participant in my freaking life. That's when I'll enjoy being a mother, when I'm happy. Until then I'll keep thinking I'm the worst mother on the planet & my children will need therapy from the botched job I'm doing because I'm a depressed, anxiety ridden lunatic.

I'll wait til I'm happy to pray again, to worship God how I really want to in my heart, I'll wait til I've gotten it all together before I allow God to envelop me in his love. I don't deserve His love, not yet-I'm not happy.....

Get the picture? See if I wait til I put everything I think needs to be put in place before I can deem myself HAPPY then I've lost out on enJOYing the road that took me there. The detours, the wrong turns, the right ones, the bridges, the valleys, the deserts, the mountains that needed climbing? What good is it to reach the top of the mountain if you don't appreciate or focus on the effort it took you to get there? And what if it rains once I get to the top? Or a crisis comes? What then? What if I get there and then realize it's not enough? The level I reached doesn't make me happy? How do I maintain?

The key is to forget pursuing happiness. It can create an insaitiable appetite that is impossible to satisfy. It always wants more, creating a space for a gnawing hunger to occupy. It's decieving-it blinds you to the value of what you already have, it creates this delusion that unless everything is in order and in it's proper place, unless you have every I dotted & every t crossed you have no right to lay claim to it. It leads you on, allowing you to think you're close when BAM life happens & it dodges out of your grasp-again. It's attainment is based solely on ideal circumstances & positivity.

SO....with all of that said....am I pursuing happiness? No. I'm taking a cue from my pastor's message and I'm working on having JOY instead. The kind of joy the Bible talks about, you know the fruit of the Spirit? The kind of joy that allows you to be happy when everything's going wrong. The kind of joy that breeds contentment, that focuses on what you DO have instead of what you don't. The kind of joy that carries you & gives you strength to face this thing called Life. ("Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Neh. 8:10) You might not be where you want yet, or things might look pretty bad, but God can give you joy to sustain you til the storm passes. ("Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me."Psa 51:11-13) Like my pastor said, joy will give you a song to sing while you're in a crappy situation, waiting for things to change: Cue the music Paul & Silas-"Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them." (Acts 16:24-26) You think they were singing off of pure happiness alone? Get real. You think they said, "we'll wait til we're in a happier situation to praise God." Um, apparently they didn't. They pushed past whatever negative emotions they were experiencing and tapped into joy to get through being in jail.

Ever met someone who had nothing to smile about but they did anyway? They had JOY-that's what I'm going after. Learning how to be present and enjoy what I've been afforded now. Focusing on enjoying the journey, who I am & the changes happening throughout it, and LIVING my life.

I'm finally kissing happiness goodbye-it's overrated & I'm tired of waiting to get there to be it. I'd rather let go & just learn how to enjoy the ride-wherever it takes me.

A Little Tenacity Goes a Long Way

I woke up this morning at 5:15am ready to fight. I knew if I didn't I would only slip further back into the pit I've spent the last 3 months climbing out of. Why the need for such tenacity? Well, the last 4 weeks have been rough physically. Really rough. Probably the worst I've ever felt since I was pregnant with Alex. Long story short, after finding out I have 2 cysts and a fibroid & dealing with whatever crazy, hormonally wacky symptoms came along with them (hellooooooo irregular painful periods! How U doin?), I started feeling like my internal thermostat was turned to HELL. I'm 28 years old-what the french toast am I doing having such intense hot flashes? Maybe I shouldn't say hot flashes...they were & still are more like periods of intense sweating. Just getting ready to go somewhere, doing routine things around my apartment, reading a story to the boys, or brushing my teeth would have me sweating like I had just run the Boston Marathon. Have you ever had rain-drop sized beads of sweat on your face, pouring down your back AFTER you've gotten dressed and put your kids in the car? If you haven't I don't wish it on you, and if you have, I empathize completely.....

Sorry for the sweat tangent, as you can tell, it's traumatized me a little...where was I? Oh yes-feeling like crap. So excessive sweating? Check. Headaches? Check. Overwhelming, narcoleptic type fatigue? Check. Hair falling out? (I comb/wash my hair and when I'm done, it's clogged my shower drain and it looks like I have a rug on my floor.) Check. Mood swings & irritability? Check & check. (I considered changing my middle name to "On Edge") Forgetfulness? I've lost count of how many times in the past month I've forgotten the simplest things, like MY NAME, or how I've wasted large chunks of time wandering around Wal-Mart, Target, and even my apartment because I've forgotten what I went there to get or was looking for. Needless to say, post-its and the notepad on my Crackberry have become my best friends, so CHECK! Nausea? Check.  Aches in my joints? CHECK. Feeling like something is stuck in my throat? CHECK. The right side of my neck bulging out? CHECK.

(sigh) Like I said, it's been rough. So in between trying to take care of myself & the boys with ZERO energy, school 4 days a week, work for my client (who is having one of the busiest months ever), and back to back doctor appointments to try to figure out what's going on, I've....had a relapse of sorts. I fell off the wagon. I stopped working all components of my "get healthy" plan.

Feeling like crap meant no workouts. As a matter of fact, I tried once a couple of weeks ago out of sheer resolve to not be overtaken, only to realize I was kidding myself. I made it through all three levels of Bob's BL Bootcamp, but paid a dear price afterwards. As a result of not working out, I'm back up to 177lbs-thanks also in part to my giving in to cravings and not cooking as much as I should be-yikes! Feeling like I could sleep at any moment if  I dared let my eyes close for more than a 1.5 seconds meant the morning prayer routine I had developed suffered; I was back to hitting the snooze button, talking to God in between snores or while I was in the car on my way to class. It took me fighting sleep/fatigue/laziness for 2 years before I finally saw victory, so to say I'm disappointed with myself over this is putting it mildly. Having moments where I felt l could snap at any sec didn't do me any good at trying to "be present" with my boys, or help me when I wanted to scream at Brennan because he asked me for the 20th time if he could wear his Toy Story 3 underwear....or keep me from wanting to cry when Alex thought his dinner served a better purpose by being on the floor instead of in his stomach digesting like I wanted it to. (sigh) My therapist was sick one week, so we've been playing phone tag, trying to reschedule ever since-between doc appointments & school therapy just got bumped down the priority list, so that's all outta wack....When I finally looked at myself in the mirror last week, I just said, "Girl you're a wreck-get it together before you lose all the ground you've gained sista."

The past 4 weeks hasn't all been bad. There have been bright moments: An A on my Psych test, Brennan getting his first pair of glasses-and ROCKIN them, Alex squealing in delight over his a toy he got for his birthday that he loves playing with, went to the beach on Easter....and a commitment better health has yielded some positive results as well: I'm getting pieces to the "what's wrong with me puzzle". Turns out my thyroid is "enlarged" but apparently functioning normally according to lab results. And that "something is stuck in my throat-OUCH" feeling? The initial feedback is thyroid nodules-completely common and according to my doc, shouldn't be causing me any issues. But she doesn't understand why I'm having the other symptoms...so more blood work, more specialists, more chipping away at the block until we find the answer.....

So in the midst of all of that, like I said I relapsed. I got consumed by how awful I was feeling  and even though I kept functioning, I went back into "surviving life" mode instead of staying in the "living life" mode I was working my way to being in the past few months.

So today, I woke up ready to fight my way back through the brush back to the path I was on before I took this detour. And fight I did. Prayer. Made breakfast. Got boys fed, dressed, & Brennan to school by 7:45. Morning run with Alex in the stroller done by 9. Client work. Lunch. Read Psalms 1-4 with Alex. Tried to teach him how to say "toes" "foot" "hand" "fingers" before we both fell into blissful sleep. Picked up around the apartment, made dinner. Picked up Brennan & some Rita's Water Ice for dessert. Dinner involved said dessert & some Yo Gabba Gabba. Baths-my client called during bathtime and needed me to handle something-two weeks ago that would've left me a little disoriented, draining my motivation to accomplish anything else I had planned for the evening-but not today. Today I did what I could and kept it moving to the boys room where we wrestled through pajamas, Alex climbed all over me during story time, and the three of us danced to Larry & Bob's Silly Songs from VeggieTales. Lots of hugs kisses, and two bedtime prayers later, they were snug in the bed and I sat down here to type this in an effort to again, attempt to write something every day.

Not everything went as planned-my kitchen is horrendously dirty for instance and I have a load of laundry to fold-but I feel awesome. I won. Yes I relapsed. But over the course of the past week, God has reminded me that it was just that-a relapse. I got overtaken by the wave, but today with some tenacity and God's help I found the strength to start swimming to the surface again.

So at 5:15 instead of hitting the snooze button this morning, my feet hit the floor and here I am at the end of my day, having made it through my day, about to indulge (just a scoop) in my reward to myself: A chocolate Oreo Blendini from Rita's while I listen to "Get Out of that Pit" by Beth Moore on the 'pod.

Aaaaah, yes this is good. I don't think victory has ever tasted sweeter.

*Note: a monumental THANK YOU goes to Bertski for helping me get through the past 4-5 weeks, especially when it comes to helping me take care of the boys. Thank you for being so supportive and for being there no matter what. You are awesome.*