Last year I wrote here about my initial experience with the VA during my pregnancy with Austin. So many of you reached out and helped me make my voice heard online and the VA eventually heard me and decided to treat me throughout my pregnancy again. Dealing with their mental healthcare system hasn't been easy since I gave birth a year ago. It's been manageable, but it's been a process that has challenged me significantly.Read More
Confession: My greatest fear is that I will lose my life to suicide.
I don't say that to be melodramatic, I simply state it as a fact. As a person living with bipolar disorder, it is a fear that silently stalks me, always watching for a misstep to expose a weakness it can take advantage of, a crack it can slide itself into. Once inside it starts searching for the gaps serotonin has been unable to fill, settling into each one, and methodically goes to work on eroding my mind's defenses.
Sometimes the process is slow, my mental erosion, building up to a collapse. Others it is swift and jarring, flinging me from the light of life into a plunging darkness that swallows my soul instantly. And then there are times when it's an excavation of my insides, a scooping and hollowing out of my personhood designed to leave me as nothing more than an outward shell of a woman.
When I was 13, years of abuse at the hands of my father gave birth to a despair that swiftly engulfed me one Saturday afternoon while my belly was empty from hunger and my father was out on a golf outing. That time it was pills. It was an amateurish and desperate attempt at escaping the hell I lived in that lead me to a drugged sleep but not death.
At 20 it found me after a series of rapid changes over a short amount of time and the hormonal shift that comes with miscarriage. Becoming an airman, being stationed at my first base, the dissolving of a tech school relationship that had left me pregnant and then suddenly not, surrounded by people I did not know, working a job that wasn't what I had envisioned or hoped for when I swore an oath to protect and serve my country, being estranged from my family...it found me in my dorm room and I went to work at my next shift, telling my supervisor I couldn't arm up and that instead, I needed to be taken to the mental health clinic on base to be seen.
It started feverishly raking its claws on the walls of my mind daily just shy of Alex's first birthday. I was constantly triggered by anxiety and depression, guilt over not being the mother I thought my kids deserved, feelings of overwhelm when he would scream inconsolably, and my thoughts dancing with sudden desires to just leave and never come back. I started seeing a therapist who specialized in treated women with postpartum mood disorders like PPD and its grasp on my mind unclenched just enough for light to enter in again.
In July 2011 I woke up on a Monday, found it staring me steadfastly in the eyes and just knew: I wouldn't make it past the next two weeks alive if I didn't get help. Even with the help I had been getting, my symptoms had been getting worse. I was dancing with what I know now was hypomania and plummeting into gravity wells of depression hourly. It was constant and unrelenting, its devouring and feasting on my mind. It's appetite was insatiable and if I wasn't crying from the burn depression's cold grip had around my heart, I was screaming from the rage flashing through me...if I wasn't bounding off the Earth from the energy vibrating through my body and bursting out of my fingertips, I was pressing my sweating, anxious body into the coolness of my bathroom floor, praying each inhalation would quell the panic trying to claw it's way out of my skin. My mind was too loud, full of thoughts that spun and splintered into chaos at a pace that often left me nauseated. Two days later, I found a sitter for Brennan, put myself on a bus with Alex wrapped to my chest in the Moby, and walked into the VA Behavioral Health Clinic in Philadelphia, with whispers of death roaring in my ears. The intake psych diagnosed me with rapid cycling bipolar disorder type 2 & OCD and put me on a mood stabilizer. Within a week it kicked in and I embarked on a new treatment journey for an illness that I could more accurately name.
Treatment has helped, and while other times it just shows up to flirt, every Fall has become hunting season. Suicide is the predator, my life and sanity the prey. No matter how well I've been taking care of myself and compliant in treatment, it hunts me down, licking its chops as it circles me, watching...waiting.
Two years ago I had to go inpatient to stay safe from its advances. I slowly paced the halls of the VA Mental Health psychiatric ward in Waco in my green, floppy, foam sock shoes desperately wanting to go home to my boys and my life but at the same time stay hidden, monitored by those who whose job it was to not let Death have me. "Do you really want to die?" the doctor had asked me. No. I didn't. I just wanted relief and couldn't find it in living with a mind designed to self-destruct...fray at the edges...unravel...erode...become my enemy.
It's found me again as I'm nearing one year postpartum. It's been a year that's come with it's difficulties as I've adjusted to mothering three while living with this illness, but joy has found me at various points throughout, grabbing my hand and saying, "dance with me, Addye. Be free."
This is the freest I've ever felt in my almost 32 years of living and yet here I am again staring at the whites of Suicide's eyes and searching desperately for a gun to shoot it with...
I want to keep dancing in the light.
But my marriage is barely breathing as my husband and I scour the landscape for a path that brings us back to each other. Each of my sons has An Issue that demands every ounce of my mental capacity daily that leaves me exhausted and specialized attention that is straining our finances. Writing here has brought some success this year, but exposure saw my inboxes become inundated with vitriol from those who'd rather the Other stay silent. I look at my baby as he screams and cries like babies do and brace myself against the panic that floods my system. Images I'd rather not see flash through my mind, unwarranted and unwanted. Overwhelm asks me repeatedly throughout the day if I'm done and my breath is labored when I whisper "No." Worry fills me. Depression courts me. Anxiety ravages my insides, ripping me open, exposing where my heart and resolve are weak.
I want to keep dancing in the light.
So I tighten my grip as my mind cycles from one extreme to the next. I expand my ribs out as far as my bones and skin will allow and I drink in the morning air as I take Alex to school. I concentrate on the laughs bubbling up and spilling out of my infant son and use it to anchor me to the present. I respond when Brennan asks me if I know that lions are the only big cats that live in packs, and beg him to tell me more so I can marvel at how much information his brain clamors to hold. I take their pictures on my phone and use them to dig in and root deeper when the darkness pulls at me. I paint my lips with my favorite shade of purple lipstick because it makes my heart beat a little faster and my hips sway with power and allure when I walk. I text my friends. I use the internet to distract. I read the words of others, press my hands in paint, go away for a weekend retreat to hold onto myself. I call my psychiatrist and resolve to hold on until December 9th when I can sit in her office and say "help me."
And I come here. Today. To find my way back after struggling to see Why My Words Matter in the hopes that it will help me remember why my life does.
I'm here to dance in the light even in the seasons when it can't be found.
When I came home bone tired and emotional from Climb Out of the Darkness 2014 on Saturday, my husband met me at the door, wrapped his arms around me and held me tight. As I let myself sink into the embrace, going soft in such a strong place of comfort, I heard him say, "Addye...this is you. Art and advocacy...this is it. This is what you were meant to do. After today? Don't doubt it. This is YOU. I'm proud of you." Among my writing community, Story Sessions, there's a call that's given when we're encouraging each other to embrace and embody our artistry and voice. "Pick up your keys," we say. It's almost like a battle cry, really, a battle cry to rally and go forth...do...be...
Looking back, that's what I see happened on Saturday as I began to climb up the steps of Mt. Bonnell with my team. I officially picked up my keys and led an amazing group of women on a journey of hope and healing that I'm hoping will just keep growing and evolving over the years.
I felt the shift that's been stirring in my bones over the last 2 years finally happen. I crossed over. I made the leap.
It was hope.
It was power.
It was stepping into purpose and embodying the call.
It was realizing part of my life's work in a new way.
It was healing.
It was living.
It was picking up the keys and feeling the call pulse with life as I felt them pressed in between my fingers.
It was preparation for what lies ahead calling me to come yet even deeper into living waters that run deep.
It was leaping and landing on the other side, feeling joy spring up from the soles of my feet, and escape through raised hands.
It was being rooted in the belief that nothing is impossible for those who fight and dare to get in that arena.
A few months ago, I wrote a letter to Miriam Carey, the mother who lost her life after a chase with police at our nation's Capitol. After her death it was revealed that she suffered from some form of mental illness, possibly triggered by postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis. In that letter I made her and her daughter a promise: that I would do better, do everything in my power to make it so that mothers like her, like myself, don't suffer in silence, nor fall through the cracks of the healthcare system in our country. I promised her that I would continue to be a voice crying out for those in our communities to take our mental health seriously and to seek treatment-even if it felt like I was speaking in a silo, into the wind, and no one was listening. I promised I'd do better so her daughter wouldn't be ashamed to seek mental health help if she ever needs it as she grows older.
I've been working very hard since then to live up to that promise, even if it just involves me being completely honest here about where I'm at mentally. I haven't erased my YouTube videos, even though I haven't updated it in months and regret that I haven't seen that project through like I wanted. I do, however have other projects in the works that hopefully I will see through and that will help me carry out my promise to her in tangible, impactful ways.
I WILL be a change agent.
When I was thinking of writing this post-what I wanted to say about why I volunteer my time and resources to Postpartum Progress, and why I'm asking for your support, I thought of Miriam, my promise, and then I thought of myself.
I thought back to January 2011. I don't remember the exact date but I remember it was nighttime, and I was sitting in the dark, crying as I sat in front of my laptop typing words into Google search. I had spent the previous hour sitting on my bathroom floor, envisioning my family coming in and finding me bleeding to death in the bathtub. I'd been having suicidal and intrusive thoughts for over a week, and was exhausted from the mental strain and impact of severe shifts and cycles in mood. I remember thinking about the people in my life who had told me that either nothing was wrong with me or that I was suffering because I wasn't "living right." No one could explain why I was feeling insanity dance within me, and no one understood because I could barely articulate what it was that was happening to me.
I remember feeling the exhaustion settling in deep within my bones, overtaking any resolve that remained. So there I was, Googling what I thought were my symptoms. The first link in the search results was Postpartum Progress. I spent the next 3 hours reading everything there: posts, comments, the "Plain Mama English" guides that outlined the symptoms of perinatal mood disorders. I remember crying as I read everything, realizing that I finally had an explanation for what I had been enduring since even before I gave birth to Alex. The rage...the sadness...the anxiety...the compulsions...the intrusive thoughts...the guilt...there it all was, laid out for me in black and white on the screen.
I emailed Katherine Stone, the founder. She emailed me back, encouraging me to seek help and telling me that no, I wasn't crazy, and yes, I would get better, and there as hope for me. She directed me to the Postpartum Stress Center in PA where I eventually started treatment.
Hope and a lifeline. She and Postpartum Progress had given me both.
Postpartum depression and related illnesses like postpartum anxiety, ocd, and psychosis, are the most common complications of childbirth, impacting 1 in 7 women, and at a higher rate of 1 in 4 women in minority, lower-income, & impoverished communities every year. Suicide is among the leading causes of death among new mothers every year. (As I mentioned above, it nearly took MY life) With these kinds of grim stats in mind, Postpartum Progress has grown from just a blog, to a non-profit laser focused on improving the maternal mental health of women worldwide through a variety of programs.
For example, in the next 24 months, Postpartum Progress will be updating and expanding the blog including a Spanish language version, creating a video PSA, and starting the development of a mobile app that supports moms through PPD and related illnesses.
These are the kinds of initiatives that Climb Out of the Darkness is designed to help fund. Climb Out of the Darkness is THE first event of its kind: one designed to spread awareness of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and help fund Postpartum Progress' efforts to reach every mother, in every community, on every socioeconomic level.
I'm joining mothers all over the world-there are climbs in London, New Zealand, Canada, and South America-to raise money over the next 48 days that will help Postpartum Progress help every mother and their families have the strong start they deserve.
I did it last year to honor my experience and ascent out of the darkness I found myself in that night in 2011. This year, I'm leading a team of survivors here in Austin, and I'm doing it for Miriam. I'm doing it for the other women who have lost their lives in the last 12 months to suicide. I'm doing it for the mothers in communities that lack access to adequate mental health resources, for the mothers who have no insurance, who are at risk and don't know there's hope and help. For the mothers who are ignorant of the facts and range of their symptoms because their OB doesn't have adequate information in their brochures on PPD. For the mothers who just think that PPD is nothing more than being sad and doesn't understand why she has scary thoughts or full-blown rage she's never in her life experienced up until this time in her life.
Some quick facts on PPD and related illnesses:
- PPD and related illnesses happen to ONE MILLION WOMEN in the US alone each year.
Only 15% of moms with PPD and related illnesses ever get professional help. That means there are more than a half a million mothers (in the US alone) each year who have not gotten any help.
The National Research Council reports that untreated PPD is associated with impaired mother-infant bonding and long-term negative effects on the child’s emotional behavior and cognitive skills, lasting into adolescence and adulthood. The Urban Institute says the biggest tragedy of this illness is that it is treatable and thus we could be preventing the damage it has on so many mothers and children.
The annual cost of lost income and productivity in the US of not treating mothers with depression is $4-5 billion.
Let's not lose any more mothers to these very treatable illnesses. Let's eradicate the shame associated with these illnesses that keep so many from seeking treatment. Would you consider a $10 or $20 donation this week? Team Austin's goal is to first raise $500, and then stretch to $1k. We're over 60% of the way to $500. Help us get there?
Thank you SO much for your support. Seriously. You're helping us save lives. You're helping us save the other Miriams & A'Driane's out in this world.
To join a climb in your area, click this link: https://www.crowdrise.com/COTD2014
To donate to our team here in Austin, click this link: https://www.crowdrise.com/addyeB-COTD2014/fundraiser/addyeB
To read my latest post over at Postpartum Progress, go here: http://www.postpartumprogress.com/postpartum-anxiety-comes-back
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, you are not alone. Please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), and you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.
"And everybody know the story of David and Goliath But this is bigger than triumph This is for the warrior, this is for you and I This is for euphoria, give me a piece of mind God is recording this! won't you look in the sky? Tell him you got the behavior of your neighbor Even when stability's never in your favor Fly with the turbulence, only last a minute Land on your dreams, and recognize you live it Walk through the valley of peace, with bare feet Run through the flames, thats more passion for me I passed that, this morning just so the world can see Got them wolves on me, no watch me like em clean I know, I know, my pride, my ghost, my eyes My lows, I know I know, its mind control I know I could prosper, no impostor Prosecute my posture I stand up and I stand by it what?"
(Kendrick Lamar's verse from "It's On Again," by Alicia Keys)
It's been a tough week. I've been so consumed with other things (depression, kids, BIG project) I've done next to nothing to feed myself creatively this week; I've been too tired from fighting scarcity tooth and nail for my worthiness and sanity. Disappointment and hurt crashed into my heart like bricks breaking through glass. I forgot that my soul is a creative one; an artist, a writer, an intuitive dreamer with her feet rooted in firmly in the ground seeping in between her toes. My brain is an idea factory. I envision. I speak and my words have grown to have impact where impact is needed. My eyes see paint everywhere. My eyes and being can catch the faintest glimpse of possibility in the seemingly impossible. I spent this week allowing my mind to believe the lies that all of these things about myself are invalid, lacking tangible substance and worth and value. Stumbles, wobbly knees, falls and failures left me staring in the mirror unable to recognize myself.
I think that's what depression does to you-it slips you into a subtle amnesia that blocks your mind's eye, inhibiting you from really seeing and remembering who you are. It sends you spinning into this thick, foggy darkness where you spend your moments trying to gain some sense of orientation.
"I am a freedom fighter, the name that history wrote
And even through disaster, eye of the tiger for hope
I'm trying to find my way back, there's no day off for heroes
And even when I'm tired, go is the only word I know
And the night is takin' over, and the moonlight gets exposure
And the players have been chosen, and it seems like fate has spoken
When it seems your faith has broken, by the second, losin' focus Ain't no way to get off, get off, get off, get off Unless you move forward
I bet they wonder how I go on
I'll simply say "it's on again, it's on again," whoa-oh The world don't stop, it's on again, it's on again, whoa-oh
I am a lonely hero, trying to fight my battles
LiIn the midst of all this darkness, I sacrifice my ego There ain't no room for selfish, we do it for the people
Say the work don't stop, cause they don't stop
and everybody here tryna get on top
everybody from the burbs down to the block
Gotta hold on tight and don't let go let go
Huh, so you think you hot?
Gotta grind hard, give it all you've got
You can have or you can have not
You see that a lot in the ghetto (ghetto)"
Sometimes other folks can say it better, what you're feeling, what you're processing as you're stumbling through the fog, searching for a way through. This song was that for me today. This is why I love music and am always in awe of its universal power. It's been a rough week, but just in time for Easter, I feel resurrection stirring in my bones. I remember. My vision is clear. The fog is rolling back and I'm remembering that I don't have to wait or compete for a spot at the table. I am a creative-I have the vision to lay the blueprints and construct my own.
It's on again.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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) .
One of the writing communities I'm a part of holds weekly write-ins via video conference. While I've been a member of this community since early last year, tonight was my first time participating in one as it was happening. By the time I joined the conference, everyone was reading their responses to the first prompt "When do you feel heard?", and blowing. my. mind. like. WHOA.
We were given 30 minutes for our 2nd prompt and here's what I finally word vomited after wanting to throw my paper, pen, and laptop out my back door.
Prompt: "Show Me Your Brave"
I hold them in the palm of my hand never knowing if they'll be enough to keep me through the next 24 hours. I stare at them intently, as if my gaze alone can make it so that they do. I tilt my head back, close my eyes, and pause as this unknowing whispers my own doubts back to me, louder than the why I must in spite of. It's in this nanosecond of a moment that fear always roars its loudest, reminding me of what exists within, and its capacity for destruction. I feel the darkness, I smell the fire, I hear the frantic call of madness, the hollow wail of despair and I wonder if 150mg is enough for 24 more hours. My hands shake as I swallow each one and bring the cup to my lips to further assist them on their way down.
It's the only way to find out.
*to learn more about The Story Unfolding & Story Sessions writing community, click here*
Dear Miriam, My head and heart have been reeling since your death. Upon seeing your picture and hearing details emerge about your struggles mentally and hospitalization, I sat crumpled in my bathroom, sobbing for you, your daughter, and for myself. You see, I saw your face, your brown skin, and I saw a reflection of myself-a mother battling a mental illness. Having lived in the darkness of postpartum depression I know the hopelessness, fear, confusion, and pain that consumes you from the inside out. Although I've never experienced psychosis, I have and do experience the chaos, scattered and fragmented thoughts, paranoia, and such that comes at times with having bipolar disorder. I know that my having such a mood disorder puts me at a much more significant risk of psychosis postpartum, and that terrifies me. Like you, I've been hospitalized, trapped in my own mind, wandering the halls and monotony of the psych ward, getting help, but also wanting OUT and have some sense of normalcy back...whatever's left of it in your life at least.
I know how triggering and taxing an unplanned pregnancy can be on your psyche, even when you've accepted and embraced the new life growing within you. I know the disconnect you can feel once you're holding that new life in your arms minutes after delivery and long after you've been sent home. I know how difficult those first few months can be, and even that first year. And I know what it's like to need help, be in treatment, but not have anyone you can really talk to about it, no one who "gets" the upheaval your mind and well-being is in. I know what it's like to have to live with mental illness for the rest of your life. I know what it's like to have to make a conscious choice to fight for your life daily, and being too tired to make that choice most days. I know the stigma that comes with being sick, and taking medications. I know side effects and having to rely on meds is exhausting and at times can chip away at your feelings of self-worth, and leave you doubting your capabilities to mother, to accomplish goals and dreams...to LIVE.
I know all of these things and that is why I sat in my bathroom crying for you...for me...for your daughter, and for my unborn son squirming in my belly.
After my tears came questions: were you getting help after your hospitalization? Were your boyfriend, mother, and sisters supportive? Did they encourage you to stick with treatment-were they themselves educated on your meds and illnesses? Did you have a therapist and adequate access to other mental health resources? Did you have anyone, ANYONE to talk to? Were you afraid to talk to anyone? Were you compliant in your treatment? Did you decide to stop treatment because you figured you could do it on your own, or were you pressured to by those around you? Did anyone tell you the dangers of quitting meds cold turkey or talk to you about weaning? Were you given speeches about bootstraps and soldiering on? Did your doctor think you were getting better and miss something? Were you even properly diagnosed and given the right kind of treatment? What led you to DC that day? WHAT HAPPENED?
I know that because you are no longer with us to tell your story, we won't ever really have the answers to these questions-we won't ever know the full truth. My heart aches with this knowledge. My heart breaks that the events that took place unfolded the way that they did and that your life was taken.
Since your death I've seen lots of discussion in the media about the state of your mental health, and lots of misinformation and a lack of distinction between postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis, which is what it appears to be that you might have suffered from, or possibly some other form of mental illness. I've seen anger and outrage over how the police responded to your actions, and calls for an investigation on their use of force policy. I've seen what happened to you become politicized and I've seen people make ugly, disgusting comments about you, a woman they've never met.
I've seen all of this and all I can think about is your precious daughter. When I do anger wells up in me and boils, but not for any of the reasons I see it embodying others. My anger is with our community, with our people. I'm angry that within the black community there is no focus placed on our mental well-being and on mental illness. We fight to quell violence and hardship in our communities but do little to nothing to fight for resources that can help us deal with the mental impact violence, abuse, and hardship has on us. We don't talk to our children about mental illness, other than to point to "Crazy Ray" who lives down the street and further cement stigma about mental illness in their minds. We are misinformed and uneducated. We are ignorant. We think therapy and medications are for whites only. We are held hostage by a code of silence that throughout our history has kept us safe and helped us survived but is now killing us. Our churches tell us to pray more, have more faith, live right, strive for prosperity...but say nothing about the mental illness that is often quietly sitting amongst us in our congregations.
We will fight for Trayvon and for our black boys. We will march against those who believe it's better to close our schools and build more prisons. We will rage at police brutality and systemic racism across the board. But when it comes to our mental health and the facts on mental illness, particularly for the WOMEN'S mental health, we are cold...silent...apathetic...hushed...disbelieving and ignorant of the science and biological roots of mental illness and how vital a role environmental factors play in the manifestation of illnesses like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
Our national black leaders and organizations speak little on this issue and make no demands for change. I would go as far as to say it's not even on their radar or list of priorities. Narratives and dialogue on mental health in our communities is driven and dominated mostly by white advocates. Those of us who live with mental illness and choose to face the stigma within our community and society at large often aren't given the same platforms and amplification as white advocates. Our outrage and concern for other issues drown out suicide prevention and mental health awareness. Campaigns and efforts are not targeted at us, in OB offices we don't see our faces on pamphlets on PPD or other perinatal mood disorders, and our doctors rarely screen us effectively for it. Medicaid provisions often keep our single mothers from being able to get adequate treatment and access to resources on the mental health front. (I speak from experience)
All of this...has me angry. Has me raging on the inside, and pushes me to do more with the space I have here. As a woman and mother of color with bipolar disorder who has survived PPD, I look at you, your daughter, and what happened, and the role mental illness might or might not have played in this, and I rage and I feel a responsibility. To your memory and most importantly to your daughter who witnessed such horrific violence that day, I feel an obligation to do more, say more, fight for better within our community. Others can rage and decry the actions of the police if that's what they feel is most important. Speaking from experience I can say that law enforcement officials are not adequately trained on how to respond to situations when a possibly mentally ill person is involved. But I will rage and decry the lack of education and honest dialogue about mental illness on a national level and within our own community. I will rage and push for you so that your daughter and other women of color get educated and aren't ashamed to get help. I will rage against the "strong black woman" archetype that keeps so many of us from acknowledging we need help and treatment on this front. I will speak up, I will fight, I will advocate for you so that your death will not have been in vain.
I will do this because I know, Miriam, what it's like to be touched by madness and struggle to survive in its death grip. I will do this because your story and your death have shown me that its past time we rise up, get real, and take responsibility for our mental health....and take action. I will step up Miriam. I will continue to speak in the vacuum until our stories and experiences with mental illness are heard and taken seriously instead of dismissed or trivialized.
I'm so sorry we lost you. I'm so sorry you lost yourself. I'm so sorry your daughter will no longer have you. I'm sorry we couldn't do better by you both. But know that now? We will.
It's okay to have a mental illness... ...to need medication, even more than one, to manage it.
....to see a therapist for it.
.....to feel weak for having such shitty brain chemistry.
....to hate it for the impact it has on you, your relationships, your quality of life, your self-esteem, your perception of yourself and your worth.
....to be grateful for it for what it has taught you about yourself, your limits, your capabilities, your strengths...and for how it's changed you.
.....to be scared because you have it, and to worry about everything that comes with it from the stigma it carries to the side effects of the medications you take.
....to be a parent with one. To want to have children, and have one, or many, despite living with one.
.....to take the safest medications possible for it during pregnancy and breastfeeding if that's a choice you and your psychiatrist make.
....to be jealous of those who don't have one, of their "normal" states.
.....to be resentful of your spouse because they don't understand what it's like for you to live with it daily.
.....to hurt for your spouse or loved one because you know what it's like to live with it daily and you wish you could shield them from that part of you, spare them from seeing how deep your darkness can go or how high your brain can fly, and spare them the hurt the difficulty and weight of how heavy and distressing it can be to witness.
.....to love your spouse or loved one for standing by you as you manage the ups and downs, the nuances, the cracks and crevices of it.
....to be honest with your kids about it.
....to be yourself, to live your life fully, to create the life you want to live despite having it.
......to not let it define you.
......to embrace the parts of it that can help you grow, and learn, and empathize.
.......to feel strong because of it.
......to love yourself in spite of it.
It's okay to have a mental illness. Don't let anyone shame you for it. Don't let stigma keep you silent and held hostage by it. It's okay. As hard as it is, as dark as it can get, it doesn't diminish who you are or what you're capable of. It's okay. It's not your fault. Ever.
So take a deep, full breath, and say it out loud: "It's okay."
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.
To learn more about Climb Out of the Darkness, what the donations are funding, and to donate to our hike on Saturday click here
Sorry I haven't stopped by here since May 20th. Life's been pretty consuming as of late, and I'm not as good about writing my way through periods like this as I was a year ago. Things are busy busy busy and I'll be honest-sitting down to write has proved to be more difficult than I would like it to be. The words are there, waiting to be given life, the stories are stacked up on shelves in my brain, the desire is there, but it all just becomes a jumbled mess when I sit down to type or even write in my journal. Part of it is because my brain is so scattered, thanks to my disorder and my recent hypomanic episodes and cycling. Part of it is because I become to preoccupied by my compulsions to clean, organize, and rearrange everything in our apartment. Part of it is because I'm fatigued and the energy I do have is poured into being pregnant, mama, wife, housekeeper, cook, errand runner...the desire to create or give anything back to myself lingers quietly in folds of my heart, but never finds its way to execution. My mind is scattered and my hands feel inadequate, empty, unable to form the words or images that are mixed in the chaos.
Part of it is because I've become completely immersed in a new parenting approach with Alex and in implementing new routines and techniques I hope make like easier for him...and for all of us, really. I'm seeing how different and significant some of his needs are and in a lot of ways re-learning this whole parenting thing. From how I discipline, to the words and tone I use when speaking to him, to even how much pressure I apply when I touch or hug him, my whole posture towards parenting and mothering him has changed. Most of my days are consumed with being engaged with him in ways I wasn't before. Learning about sensory processing disorder, autism, and what we're learning from his therapists since April has given me new ways to engage and interact with him that are different from how I did before. It's been quite the learning curve-there's so much more to be aware of these days! I'm more watchful, taking note of the slightest change in attitude or behavior (positive or negative), more apprehensive and mindful about how changes in routine, however slight, will impact him from moment to moment. In some ways I feel like I'm on high alert from the time he wakes up until he finally falls asleep after I've put him back in his bed and given him a deep pressure squeeze for the fifth or sixth time. I've had to become much more patient, learning to move at his pace, and how to move him along faster in a way that he can understand when we're short on time. I've found that all of this has taken an energy that I, especially being pregnant, barely have the reserves for. The simplest things from washing his hands to getting dressed to helping desensitize his facial muscles before his speech therapy sessions is all a process; exhausting and consuming, but one I'm committed to helping all of us navigate and learn as best we can.
Part of it is because I'm committed to being well during this pregnancy and am forcing myself to focus on self-care. This becomes increasingly difficult when pregnancy is kicking my ass, particularly when migraines attack, and my blood pressure is low. The migraines have been pretty frequent this pregnancy; during a good week I only get one, during my worst I've had them for 4 days straight. Functioning when I'm a wreck physically feels impossible, but I somehow get through making sure the kids have what they need for the day and that's about it. Aside from eating and taking my medications, taking care of myself takes a backseat and I have to fight to make things like taking a shower, combing my hair, getting in any kind of exercise or leisure activity a priority. Overall I'm doing better on the self-care front than I have in the past, especially during my last pregnancy.
All of this focus on concentration on these other areas of my life leave little for my writing here and painting....advocating even. I had all of these plans for my creative pursuits this year but the mental and creative bandwidth I need to execute them isn't what I'd like it to be. For some reason I can't seem to find space for those two to fit in my life as of late and this does sadden me. Frustrates me. Leaves me to wonder how I'll fit them in when there are THREE children to give my time and attention to. I'm hoping I can find a way....I'm in awe of those who've found a way to balance and navigate it all.
At any rate, while I find it hard to write and paint these days, I have found it easy to keep up with vlogging-probably because I can just do it on my phone while I'm on the go and have a few minutes alone. So I think that's just what I'm going to have to do for now because it's the one thing that I can keep up with that fits in best with everything else. It's the one thing I feel I can keep up with right now on this front. I'm hoping to write here during the summer, but know that if you don't see me here, you'll be able to find me on my YouTube channel, addyeBeesWorld, where I'll mostly be sharing the nitty-gritty of navigating bipolar disorder while being a pregnant mama. Feel free to watch and subscribe-I've done videos for weeks 15, 16, and 17 so far (I tell you what we're having in my second video for week 16!) And of course, I'll always be on Twitter :) (@addyeB)
So that's where I've been, what I've been up to, what's going on. I'm still here...I'm just consumed is all.
Maybe I just need to Lean In...anyone have Sheryl Sandberg's number?
I decided to take "My Bipolar Life" in a new direction and turn it into a video diary of sorts for this pregnancy. As with my other videos, this one goes against all vlogging rules-it's just me, talking, unscripted. I hope you don't mind the lack of editing, the "ums" and my losing my train of thought at times :)
My goal is to do at least one of these a week. There might be more-just depends on what's going on, if I have some thoughts I want to share, where I'm at mentally, etc. Hold me accountable? Oh and subscribe? Thanks.
It's been a long week. It's kicked my ass, but rest assured I've been fighting back. Monday, as you know, I learned that the VA (the Central TX VA healthcare system in particular) does not provide psychiatric treatment for women veterans during their pregnancies. They don't provide treatment because a pregnant veteran who requires (or at least wants to utilize) medications as part of her treatment during her pregnancy is carrying a potential lawsuit in her womb.
It doesn't matter if the medications she's on are deemed safe by reproductive psychiatrists, obstetricians, and maternal mental health experts in the civilian sector. It doesn't matter if the risks of the potential birth defects associated with those medications are significantly low, and the benefit of the mother being treated outweighs the risk. How the mother's illness affects her and her child during pregnancy does not matter to them. In their mind, the risks associated with a mother's untreated mental illness during pregnancy and its effects on her child in the womb aren't that important.
The VA made it clear to me on Monday that by discontinuing my medications, they could care less about my mental health and they are far more concerned with being held liable for an incidence that the research and my obstetrician says is less than 1%.
The stupidity of this whole situation is they failed to see that by discontinuing my medications, especially without notice, THEY ARE STILL LIABLE if something were to happen to myself or the baby. Discontinuing medications during pregnancy for a woman with a mood disorder can exacerbate her symptoms and puts her at risk for relapse. (For more, read this from Postpartum Progress) Discontinuing a patient's medications and psychiatric treatment-especially without their knowledge-is dangerous and unethical; to so do during a patient's pregnancy not only puts the patient in grave danger but also the developing baby-you know, the one they are so concerned about being held responsible for when it's born.
Stopping meds cold turkey and without supervision can have serious, and even deadly consequences. My illness is hard enough to manage with medications-without them my ability to function and care for myself and my family is significantly impaired, and the risk of my falling prey to suicidal ideation increases significantly.
The VA has been in charge of my mental health care since my diagnosis in July 2011; for them to just decide to "drop" me and try to dump their responsibility on my obstetrician, (not knowing if he would even be able to continue my medications, as they had never spoken to him about my mental health or OB care)? Yes. I took it personally and the desperation I felt about the situation only deepened my anger. The thought of continuing on in this pregnancy without comprehensive psychiatric treatment (medication + therapy at a minimum) terrified me, as did knowing my risk of developing postpartum psychosis is 25-30% higher than others just because I have bipolar disorder. I felt and still feel that I shouldn't have to fight to find and pay for treatment through a private psychiatrist and therapist when the VA has already been treating me. (For the record, Austin lacks psychiatrists who treat pregnant women AND who offer affordable care. Trust me, I've called 38 of them.)
If you follow me on Twitter you probably witnessed my emotional and enraged tweets to the Dept of Veteran Affairs' national account. Sure, I made phone calls to voice my anger and search out an answer and resolution, but I threw caution to the wind and let my anger do the talking tweet after tweet in the hopes they'd answer. I knew it was a long shot, but as desperate and fed up as I felt, I figured I didn't have anything to lose. So I unleashed my fury. I ranted. I wrote a post here and cross posted it on BlogHer.
Guess what? They listened. The social media manager for the VA's twitter account responded to one of my tweets Monday evening and Tuesday morning DM'ed me asking for my last name and last four of my SSN to pass along to the patient advocate in Austin. I don't know what was said during their conversation, how many people they called or who on the VA totem pole here in Central TX they got ahold of, but at 4:30 on Tuesday, the director of the VA mental health clinic in Austin was issuing me an apology. AN APOLOGY. From the VA. Y'all. This just doesn't happen. If it's one thing I know from dealing with them since I separated from the Air Force in 2006, it's that they don't apologize for shit, no matter how royally they screw things up for you.
So next Tuesday, I will be seeing a new psychiatrist-one who is a "clinical pharmacologist who is well versed in medications and can assess your treatment plan with [my] OB," since my OB "doesn't have a problem with you taking these medications and deems them safe." (But I thought the VA here didn't have anyone "well versed" in such matters? They must have hired someone pretty quickly if that was the case up until Tuesday!) I'll also have my own therapist and will FINALLY be getting the psychotherapy I've been requesting since I moved here in August.
I also called my OB and informed him of what was going on. Naturally he was both hesitant to prescribe me my meds and confused as to why the VA was refusing to treat me, yet expecting him to. Although this upset me, I didn't blame him-I'm a new patient, he's not the one who originally prescribed me the medications or diagnosed me, and the VA didn't even call him to discuss my mental health history! Nevertheless, he DID prescribe me my Lamictal and refilled my Prozac, saying he would call the VA clinic himself and advocate for me. "We will FORCE the VA to be responsible, and threaten malpractice if they don't. They're still liable for your care. This is unheard of!" (Have I mentioned how much I love my OB?)
So. Tuesday I find out if this is all legit. I'm hoping it is. I'd really like to be done with this and be able to work toward my goal of being well this pregnancy, hell even enjoy it. I haven't been able to do that so far because physically it has sucked, and mentally I haven't had the tools I need to manage my illness. Hopefully now I do. I have my meds, and hopefully Tuesday I find that I have a medical team dedicated to overseeing my treatment. Cross your fingers for me?
Last thing: This isn't the end of this issue for me. Sure, I got their attention and pressured them to take effective action to fix this for me and they did (which, I'm telling you is a miracle), but now that I know that I have the power to get their attention? I plan to advocate my ass off until their approach to maternal mental health changes and they incorporate it in their efforts to serve and care for women veterans. As I stated in my last post women veterans account for at least 10% of the veteran population and are affected by mental illness. Why should their mental health care be discontinued or pushed off on an outside agency during pregnancy? In my opinion, if the VA wants to truly care for women veterans, then maternal mental health MUST become a priority. It's not enough to contract out and cover a woman's prenatal care-the VA needs to ensure that psychiatric treatment continues for those who rely on them for their mental health treatment as well. I don't have the answers on how they can do this, but I have some ideas ranging from collaborating with obstetricians, hiring and working with reproductive psychiatrists, to support groups for pregnant veterans with mood disorders, to ensuring psychotherapy services are accessible and utilized.
Women veterans with mood disorders deserve comprehensive psychiatric care and support during pregnancy-maybe I went through this to help ensure that this becomes a reality for us. I will work my ass off for years if I have to, to see such a systemic change happen.
After all, aren't women veterans Warrior Moms, too?
Oh and this right here? Made all the hell of this week worth it. I'm so glad I fought for us.
The pregnancy test flashed a positive sign on a Wednesday. Two days later, a Friday, I was sitting in front of the nurse practitioner at the Cedar Park VA Outpatient Clinic, waiting patiently for the lab to confirm what EPT had already told me. When the confirmation came, there was a congratulations, a D.O.D standard "Guide to Pregnancy" book placed in my lap, and instructions from my primary care doc to stop all of my medications immediately. No Clonazepam, no Fluoxetine (Prozac) and no Lamictal. I left the clinic with these words and a promise from the nurse practitioner: "I'm going to see Dr. A once she's done with her current patient and find out what she recommends, ok? She'll be able to give you the proper guidance on what to do about your medications, being that she's your psychiatrist. I'll call you as soon as I speak with her."
Friday afternoon came and went. No phone call.
Sunday afternoon came and I had already started to notice my mood shifting and withdrawals setting in.
Monday morning: I called and was put on hold. Left a voicemail. Called two hours later, left yet another voicemail with the nurse for the my primary care doc. Called back and tried to leave a voicemail for my psychiatrist and was unable to-the phone just rang without an answer. "She's in the office, ma'am, how about I take the message for you?" said the vet volunteer working the front desk. Ok. Left the message. Checked my phone obsessively for the rest of the day-nothing.
Tuesday morning: Called back-left more messages. Nothing.
I spent the rest of that week freaking out from med withdrawal and anxiety over what to do. Fed up with the lack of response on the VA front, Bertski and I decided that finding outside, non-VA care was the way to go, even if we had to pay out-of-pocket until I was verified as a dependent under his insurance at work. A recommendation from a friend led me to Austin Area OBGYN and my new OB. I made an appointment, and even though it was weeks away, I was able to speak to a nurse about my medications. Within an hour I had more informed guidance: "Dr. S says you can continue to take the Prozac, but not the Clonazepam. He says that while Lamictal is relatively safe to take during pregnancy, he would prefer you to try to stay off of it until the end of your first trimester-the incident of a birth defect like cleft palate forming with Lamictal is very, very low, but he always advises staying off of it the first 12 weeks just to be even more cautious. HOWEVER if you feel yourself start to struggle and you feel you need to start taking it sooner, just let us know, and we can work with that, ok? Come in for lab work tomorrow so we can see how far along you are, ok, honey?"
I don't think I've ever breathed a larger sigh of relief than I did when I hung up the phone with her. Later that day, when I checked my mailbox, there was a "CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR PREGNANCY!" package from the Women's VA Health Clinic in Temple. (Note: all of the VA outpatient clinics & hospitals in Central TX are all spread out-there's one in Austin, Cedar Park, Temple, Waco and Bryan College Station.) There was nothing from my primary care doc or psych in Cedar Park, and I still had not received a phone call returning my messages as promised 7 days prior. I threw the package in the trash, completely disgusted.
That next Monday it came-an appointment card from the clinic in Cedar Park telling me I had an upcoming appointment with my psych. I laughed-it wasn't the first time this had happened-her just scheduling an appointment instead of actually returning my messages, but I thought being pregnant would have warranted her actually making the effort to call me. (What's faster-a phone call or the mail? The mail, OBVIOUSLY!)
I went into that appointment on March 28th ready to give her the benefit of the doubt. I left vowing to no longer allow her to be in charge of my care.
Um...why didn't you call me back? I've been waiting to find out what to do.
"I did call you-I didn't get an answer."
Um...no you didn't-I don't have any voicemail from you and I've watched my phone like a hawk waiting to hear from you.
"Well, I called, if you didn't get it, that's not my problem. Anyway, in my opinion, someone in your condition getting pregnant is just irresponsible."
"I'm sorry, but you shouldn't be on any medication-you need to give your baby the best & healthiest start possible. Taking medication in my opinion is causing your baby harm."
What if I have an episode during the pregnancy? What about postpartum psychosis? My OB said Lamictal and Prozac are safe!
"Well, I don't agree with that. All of the research says otherwise...these are things you should have considered before getting pregnant."
WHAT research? Everything I've read and what Dr. S has told me is the complete opposite of what you're saying. The incidence of the birth defects associated with these two meds is very low, I've read this myself...there are women with epilepsy who take Lamictal at much higher doses-
"So are you just going to go with what he's saying? Fine. Do you need psychotherapy? Individual therapy isn't available through the VA here, but I can see if the social worker here at this location is available-I doubt it though-she doesn't do therapy."
I left that office shaking from the anger surging within me. That was it. Bertski and I agreed that day to no longer have anything to do with her-I'd try to find a private psychiatrist or have my care transferred to a new one at the Austin clinic. Her misinformation and lack of knowledge just wasn't acceptable, and besides-it wasn't the first time I'd had problems with her lack of communication and dismissive attitude. It's what played a significant role in my being hospitalized back in October. Fed up with her neglect and lack of professionalism? Yeah, understatement if there ever was one.
I've spent the 6 weeks since then struggling to manage my symptoms while dealing with the yuck of the first trimester, Alex's autism and SPD diagnosis and entrance into therapy, searching for a therapist who accepts our insurance (or has an affordable self-pay option), and pushing myself to hold on until the 12 week mark, which is tomorrow. I've also been working with the women's health outreach specialist to get a new psych through the VA, at the Austin clinic. They're so backed up, she put in the consult 6 weeks ago, and it's still pending. (She was, however able to secure the authorization necessary to have the VA cover my prenatal care and delivery so I don't have to pay out-of-pocket or use Bertski's insurance which only covers a certain amount-so at least that's a win.)
I called the VA pharmacy in Waco to have my Lamictal and Prozac refilled today (since I only have a 10 day supply left of both) ONLY to find out that they've been discontinued thanks to Dr. A. DISCONTINUED. She discontinued my medications and did so without informing me. No correspondence, no phone call, no explanation. NOTHING.
Needless to say I'm enraged. Even more so than I was before because instead of just jeopardizing MY health, she's jeopardizing that of the baby's and that has me wanting to FIGHT. Fight for my right to better treatment, and fight because, well, WHO THE FUCK IS SHE TO DO THIS TO A PATIENT?! Maybe it's just me but I don't see how any of this is ethical.
I've spent the morning making phone calls to file complaints and to even try to get ahold of her and the director of the clinic to no avail. She's not answering her phone (of course) and the director is on vacation until May 17th. The women's health specialist is aware of what's going on and assured me she's going to do something to "fix" things, but honestly, I don't even TRUST anything VA related anymore. This infuriates me because as those of you who have been reading here since 2011 know, my psych at the VA hospital in Philadelphia was AMAZING, as was the mental health clinic and psychotherapy services there.
I'm a 100% service connected disabled veteran. I'm pregnant. I have a mood disorder. I shouldn't have to deal with this kind of treatment. I shouldn't be scouring Austin looking for a therapist because the VA here doesn't offer separate, individualized psychotherapy therapy for women in my situation. (Or women period-When I discharged from the hospital in October, I was told repeatedly that they just have general support groups-nothing specialized or one on one for women.) I also know that I can't be the only woman vet in the Central TX region who has had to deal with this pathetic system and its inadequacies. But outside of reporting her, what else can I do? I don't just want her reported, I WANT HER AND OTHER VA DOCTORS HERE INFORMED. Informed on medications and treatment for women with mood disorders during pregnancy. Trained. Educated. I want better for my fellow women vets. Since moving here I have encountered nothing but poor treatment and bureaucracy. The Central TX VA Healthcare System has done nothing but inhibit my ability to have consistent, quality, and effective mental health care.
What can I do y'all? How do I fight this so that they stop failing myself and others?
Update: I spoke with the women's health outreach specialist, and she informed me that my meds were discontinued because the VA doesn't want to assume any liability if something happens to the baby as a result of my being on psychiatric medications. Per the Chief Medical Director of the Women's Health Clinic in Temple, TX: "The VA can't assume responsibility for anything that may happen as a result of her staying on these medications during her pregnancy. Our psychiatrists are not experts in this area whereas a private obstetrician is. If he says these medications are safe for her to take during her pregnancy and he will write her a prescription for them, then she can bring that prescription to the VA pharmacy in Austin and we can fill them that way. If something were to happen, then this private OB is the one responsible, not the VA. Unfortunately this is what we have to do in situations such as this."
So. There you have it. The VA has practically rid themselves of me during my pregnancy due to my having a psychiatric condition and I'm suddenly a liability concern. Question: WHY aren't VA psychiatrists educated in reproductive psychiatry when women veterans comprise at least 10% of the veteran population and have children and are suffering from mental health issues like PTSD, Military Sexual Trauma, Depression, Anxiety, and others as a result of their fighting in combat and service?
Update #2: Several of YOU helped me flood The Department of Veteran Affairs twitter feed, sharing my angry tweets and this post with them and others like the local Fox News station here and even Rachel Maddow! At 5:29pm I received this response from their Twitter account: "
@addyeB Dismayed by what happened. I'll make sure the patient advocate in Austin hears about this." Not sure if this will actually lead to effective action, but I'll keep putting on the pressure until it does. If you'd like to help me apply that pressure directly to this patient advocate at the Austin clinic, comment here or email me! bconfessions at gmail dot com. Thank you for supporting me through this!
Before I spill my guts here today I want to make sure you understand something from the very beginning: What I'm going to talk about speaks solely to MY experience as a mother who's lived with antenatal depression and PPD and who has a child with developmental delays and is on the autism spectrum. I can't speak for other women and their experience or how their illness-treated or untreated-may or may not have had an impact on their child's development. I'm choosing to share this because honestly? I'm having a hard time processing it on my own. I don't have a therapist to talk with about it right now, and keeping it all to myself is only allowing shame to breed ugly thoughts and emotions; thoughts and emotions I definitely don't need right now considering I have a family to take care of, am currently off of 2 of my meds until my 2nd trimester, and I have a new baby growing within me. This is how things have played out for us-I'm in no way claiming this is how it will play out for others.
11 months ago, I wrote a post about Alex's 2yr well visit and how his pediatrician at the time had expressed his opinion that the developmental delays we were concerned about were linked (at least in part) to my untreated antenatal depression, PPD & anxiety. You can read it here; doing so will give you more context.
When I wrote that post I was hurt, wracked with guilt and defensive. I was confused-I didn't know what to make of what he had said and I honestly didn't want to believe it. I didn't want to believe it because I was afraid to. Allowing myself to acknowledge he may have been right would've just ripped the band aid off of the wound I had worked like hell in therapy to stop bleeding.
But like I mentioned in my post last year, I had read the studies, the articles, what the experts had to say about untreated depression in mothers and it's effects on their children. I had read the stats about low birth weight and premature labor and caught my breath every time, knowing how small he was, how I'd gone into labor 3 weeks early-but I secretly hoped he wouldn't "fit" the others about developmental struggles. (Again, links to some of those studies and articles are in the post linked above.) The knowledge pulled and gnawed at me every time I struggled to engage with Alex. The shifts in mood, the struggles to get him to do simple things like eat, wash his hands, or even just accept hugs and kisses from Bertski and I without withdrawing first. Every time I watched him shut down around people, or scream in terror when approached by children on the playground, my insides, my heart twisted. When he stopped eating nearly everything and would only touch hard, rough textured food....when we were told by early intervention he was delayed at least 25% in speech and possibly more in other developmental areas....as I watched his symptoms become more pronounced over the course of the past 11 months, my mama gut begged me to turn a deaf ear to fear and just face reality, listen to what it was trying to tell me. I wasn't going to be able to help Alex if I didn't. I wasn't going to be able to be the mother he needed me to be if I didn't.
So I did, and I started talking to Bertski about it a few months ago. He expressed that he had been watching Alex and having the same thoughts about his behavior and development and what had possibly caused him to develop the way he had. We agreed that in addition to my illness being untreated for so long possibly being a factor, the instability of our relationship during Alex's first two years was likely a factor as well. It was a tough set of conversations...thinking about them still makes me cringe. But I'm glad we had them because it enabled us to move forward in seeking help. We knew Alex needed more help than we could give him and WE as his parents needed help parenting him. His issues had started to become beyond us and the daily struggle of trying to navigate them was overwhelmingly frustrating and discouraging.
His 3 year visit was two weeks ago, with a new pediatrician here in Austin. We told her everything, with her interjecting a question or two every now and then. She listened attentively until we finished spilling our parental guts out to her. She was quiet for a few minutes and then started to give her thoughts: "It's obvious he's very smart-I can see that for myself in just the short time he's been in here. But from my brief observation and what you've told me I would go ahead and say he's definitely on the autism spectrum. My initial guess would be high functioning but he does have significant speech and socialization deficiencies. Further evaluations will give us more information. The good news is we're catching it now-early intervention is crucial. We'll get him into various therapies and by kindergarten I'm confident he'll fit in just fine with other kids in a regular classroom environment. He'll catch up, he'll excel. I'm sure even within just 6 months we'll see significant improvement."
We walked out of that appointment with an answer, with hope even, but also with some sadness. A heaviness rested on us for the remainder of the day. Even though we had been preparing ourselves to potentially hear such a diagnosis for Alex, the reality of it still hit us pretty hard. I can't speak for Bertski, but I know for me, the guilt was excruciating that day. I called and talked with the pediatrician about it some more, explaining my illness and how it impacted my ability to bond and interact with him during my pregnancy and his first year and a half. I expressed to her what my difficulties had been and she didn't shame me for them:
"Based off of the research, your history, and where he is developmentally, I'd say it is highly likely that there's an association. Being depressed and not having effective treatment can definitely have the kind of impact on a child's development and behavior like we're seeing in Alex. But you don't have to blame yourself for it. You're helping him now-he's older and you're recovered and managing your Bipolar as best you can-that's what's important. Yes, this happened, but it's ok, you're getting him help just like you sought help. It's not your fault, Mrs. Nieves."
No, being depressed during my pregnancy and struggling with PPD and anxiety the first 2 years of Alex's life wasn't my fault.
I would even go as far as to say that not being treated for so long wasn't my fault either-there was so much I just didn't know, and when I did express what I was enduring to those around me and my OB, I was told it was all "normal,"...given time, I'd be "fine."
You know, they say we can only do better when we know better. Given my circumstances, I know I did my best and when I couldn't, I fought to.
I don't think I failed Alex. I do think my illness failed both of us-it robbed us of having a strong start and that's what hurts me the most when I think about how it's impacted him.
But I'm learning now how to use the hurt to lay a new foundation for us to build upon. I'm learning how to advocate for him and learn all I can to help him like I've done with myself and my illness. Alex has started ABA therapy and is already showing progress. He has upcoming evaluations with speech therapist to work on improving his language and an occupational therapist to help with his autistic and sensory related struggles.
Accepting that there's possibly an association between my illness during pregnancy and Alex's development struggles is a hard truth to stare in the face y'all. I know it's not everyone's truth, but it's MY truth and I'm working hard once again to process it, heal from it, ditch the guilt over it, and move on now that I know where he's at. I'm not sharing this to say that what's true for me and Alex is true for all moms with untreated antenatal depression & PPD. It's not at all. But I am sharing it to say that you know those effects they talk about in those studies? I'm watching my son live with them. It DOES happen. It's in the minority, but it does happen-I wish it was talked about more-not to shame anyone, but to help women understand that they don't have to BE ashamed that this happens. Does that make sense? I hope it does.
I'm not here to scare anyone or have you think that you and your child are in the same boat as we are. Definitely not. But I am here to say that if you ARE in the same boat we are-It's ok. It's not your fault. Illness may have robbed you and your child of a strong start, but don't let guilt rob you of anything else. I know it hurts like hell, and you feel like you could've done more, but you did your best with what you had and don't let shame deceive you into thinking otherwise. You're still an amazing mama to your child. You're not a bad mother. Our children will be okay because they have us and they have others to help them get to where they need to be.
If your child is showing signs of delays-don't let shame keep you from getting help. Ask for evaluations and resources. Talk to their doctor and ask about Early Intervention. Be open. Be honest. Be their advocate just as you've been for yourself.
I hope this made sense. It's late and I've had a rather emotional day. Also? I could REALLY use a friend in this particular boat.
I mentioned in one of last week's posts that I submitted two pieces for BlogHer's Voices of the Year and explained why. I submitted them knowing full well that I had no plans of attending the conference this year (or desire to); as I explained in that post, I was submitting them just because I felt like taking a leap forward and opening myself up to opportunity, really. On the same day I submitted those pieces, I found a surprise greeting me in my inbox at the end of the day-an unexpected opportunity. It was an email from Shannon (@mrlady), BlogHer's conference programming manager, and I couldn't peel my eyes off of the subject line:
When I was finally able to read the rest of the email, I put the phone down and immediately started pacing back and forth in my living room, my mind flooded with thoughts....
I'm small potatoes...how'd I get on the radar for something like this? What about [insert name here] or [insert name here]? THEY should be the ones doing this....
How will I get there?
I'm not a speaker....
What will I say?
I'm not worthy of this...there are SO many others who I know deserve this and are better advocates and have bigger platforms than me.
What will Bertski say?
Of course when I called him, he left no room for doubt-I was going to accept the invite and we would use this opportunity to take the boys on a family vacation. He's so damn supportive, especially when he knows I'll talk myself out of something great like this.
I hung up, emailed Shannon back, and yesterday I officially accepted my speaker's invitation to BlogHer's HealthMinder Day. I'm being afforded the chance to do what I do here on the blog-talk about mental health and what it's like to share my experiences with it with all of you-the rewarding, the hard, the reasons why I continue to do it, etc.
I'm excited. I'm humbled. I'm honored. I'm scared shitless. I've never spoken to a room full of strangers on this level, EVER. I don't feel worthy, especially when I consider what amazing writers and bloggers my co-panelists are, AND when I think of the other amazing writers and women who blog about mental health and deserve an opportunity to share in a forum such as this.
I don't feel worthy of it, but I know that it's the right opportunity for me to say yes to-does that make sense? It feels authentic to the kind of writer I am, and what this space is...I don't feel worthy of it, but at the same time I realize that playing small when opportunities such as these present themselves to you serves no one, least of all yourself, so I'm choosing to be grateful and enjoy every part of this. Besides, when I asked Kelly (@mochamomma) if she had any advice and told her how nervous I was, she had this to say: "Remember why you write. Speak your truth. Drop the fucking mic." Pretty much the kick in the ass I needed to step into the moment and accept the gig. Yep.
Do I hope to gain anything out of this? Sure-I hope to gain connection-connection with others in a healthy, constructive and empathetic dialogue about sharing our experiences with mental illness and wellness. I want to encourage others to share their mental health related stories and I want to also be encouraged to keep doing the same-Lord knows I've almost nuked this space at least once a week since the new year began.
Also, moral of this story: Always leave a little room for opportunity-you never know what it has waiting for you.
Also, also: Marriage. Baby. Speaking gig. 2013 better stop blowing my mind with all of these surprises.
I gots some thangs to say.....forgive me if this just kinda tumbles out, I'm not in the mood to filter much today. Here we go: Yesterday I listened to a heart whisper and submitted two pieces for BlogHer's 2013 Voices of the Year, one visual, one written.
I submitted them because one of my words for this year is "pursue," and when it comes to my writing and art, my intention this year is to pursue opportunities for them to be showcased. Why? Why the hell not? I write and paint for myself first and foremost and will always do so even if I have zero readers and the world thinks my art is a travesty, BUT I'm also a storyteller who believes in the power of sharing your experiences with others. Writing and painting save me from the parts of myself that thanks to illness are hell-bent on destroying me-and so does sharing about my life through the written word and visual art. Sharing my stories here and through paint are my way of giving back-I hope that at some point, what I share and convey in what I create helps someone on some level, in some area of life be it motherhood, mental illness, abuse, or just life in general.
I also submitted because hey, who doesn't like to connect with others and be heard? And who says it's wrong to be proud of what you've created? What's wrong with just going for it, JUST BECAUSE you never know what will become of it? YOLO! Am I right?
I said all of that to say that I didn't submit my pieces because I think other people will find them moving and valuable, worthy of attention. I shared them because I FIND THEM VALUABLE, MOVING, AND WORTHY. Maybe if my piece on being bipolar and a mother is selected, maybe another mom who was just diagnosed will find it and find some comfort-or find a way to contact me so she can find someone to talk to or ask questions. Maybe if my piece is selected people will stop believing people with an illness like bipolar disorder are incapable of being quality parents and raising healthy kids. But if I had decided to NOT submit that piece, then the chances of that happening are significantly reduced considering how "small" I am in the blogosphere. So I saw an opportunity to be an advocate, be a storyteller, honor MYSELF for owning my story, and took advantage of it-Like Nike, I just did it. Insecure, vulnerable, and all, dammit I sat my ass down, read through my stuff and submitted.
Maybe for you, it's not about any of this. Maybe you just want your work to be heard, be seen, be validated, be recognized. Maybe you wrote some funny shit and you want others to recognize you're the next Richard Pryor or Sarah Silverman. That's OK. It really is. Go ahead-submit! Honor your work. Pat yourself on the back, man. Be proud.
For those of you who are discouraged by this whole VOTY thing, hear me: STOP WAITING FOR OTHERS TO VALIDATE YOU AND YOUR WORK AND VALIDATE YOURSELF. STOP DRINKING THE DAMN VOTY KOOL-AID. I'm watching so many of you flog yourselves and doubt your self-worth and value as a blogger, writer, and fucking human being because no one is nominating your work. I get why it's a downer, and trust me, I think the voting aspect of the process is asinine and I know that's what's discouraging so many of you from submitting. But I learned a couple of years ago that sometimes you can't wait for others to celebrate and honor you, you've got to do it yourself, fuck everyone else. THROW YOUR OWN DAMN PARTY. Stop waiting for an invite. NO ONE will take pride in you or what you're putting out there if you don't.
96 of the pieces that will be selected as VOTY will be selected by the committee-guess what? They are reading each and every piece submitted whether it has 500 votes or 0. So even if you're small potatoes like myself, your work will still be seen. Shouldn't that matter more than some damn votes? Even if your piece isn't selected, you never know who will become a fan of your work just because they were on the committee and read your piece. You don't know what kind of opportunities could come out of this. And even if nothing comes out of it, shit, pour a drink and cheer yourself for having the balls to do something so many people wouldn't.
I know when you're a small fry in the blog/writing arena it's easy to get intimidated and feel left out because those with bigger platforms are being nominated, called out, read, and recognized-and recognizing their own peers. But hear me: SMALL DOES NOT EQUAL INSIGNIFICANT and is in no way an indication of the value and worth of your work and your story.
So STOP DRINKING THE VOTY KOOL-AID. Submit something if it's on your heart to do so. (Heart whispers are meant to be listened to-unless it's telling you to go kill someone. If that's the case, get a new fucking heart ASAP.) Go find a favorite piece from someone you read and submit it to honor them-if they're a fellow small fry, I can guarantee you it will make their day and probably encourage them to keep writing, sharing, owning their story.
So. What are you still doing here reading this? GO. Bye!
If you've been a reader here for at least the past year, or know me personally, you know how huge this is considering how much he and I have been through the past three and a half years. If you had walked up to me exactly a year ago today and told me that I'd be planning a wedding to the man I was separated from at the time, I would've shaken my head and walked away not believing any of it. We were so broken a year ago...barely able to speak to each other, both of our hearts raw from the emotional turmoil of a rocky relationship and dealing with my mental illness. I remember how I sat across from him and fought back tears and words that begged to be spoken as we ate dinner with the boys last New Year's eve in Philly. I remember sitting in my car afterward, staring at myself in the rearview mirror at a red light, and seeing nothing but pain and loneliness in my eyes...it actually felt as though a knife was cutting through me and all I could think about was how I needed to let go of what was, and enter 2012 with open arms, forcing myself to embrace whatever it brought my way. "Let go...move forward," were the words I used to describe my plans for the year when my therapist asked. "Well, I think that's a good approach-you can't embrace anything new if you're still holding on to what was....and you can't move toward anything if you're focused on what's behind you," she replied.
I should call her and tell her how right and necessary her reply to me was at the time. As painful as they were to live out, her words helped me face the heartbreak I had been trying to ignore and parse my way through it, cleaning out all of the junk I'd let pile up in my heart in the process. It hurt like HELL, you hear me? HELL.
But I got through it. I let go. I forgave him. I embraced being his friend, and learned to love him unconditionally.....10 months later, here we are, living as a family in Austin....and getting married in March-the same month we decided to give our relationship one last try back in 2012.
I'm still trying to wrap my head around all that's happened, and as I sit here thinking about it all, I just feel so much gratitude for the life we're living at this moment-it's a far cry from the devastation we had spent the last three years trying to just survive and recover from.
8 weeks from now, we'll be standing in an outdoor chapel, in front of those who have always supported us whether we were together or not, and vow to spend the rest of our lives with each other.
Needless to say I'm in full-blown wedding planning mode. (check out my pinterest wedding board!) Even though we're keeping it a small and simple affair, there are still about a hundred "to-do" items and I've spent the last two weeks making reservations, emailing invites, talking to dress designers, looking at rings....it's been a whirlwind, but I'm doing my best to not be overwhelmed and enjoy this process because it's exciting and I want to be present for every part of it.
Both Bertski and I keep saying how much we want that day and the coming weeks to be time of celebration, and every time I think of this, as corny as it sounds, my heart just swells with a joy I haven't allowed myself to feel in a very, very long time.
So I'm spending the first 3 months of this year celebrating. Dancing, laughing, smiling...I'm giving myself fully to the freedom that's found in it, and I'd love for you to join me!
How? Well, it's simple, really. Our friends and family (and some of YOU) have asked us about wedding gifts and such, so we created a gift registry....
What we would really love, far more than an appliance, box of wine glasses, or the Big Bang Theory 400 question Trivia Game, is for people to help us celebrate our marriage by helping us give back. We feel like we've been given a tremendous gift, and yes, have been blessed beyond what we imagined these past months, so we've made it our goal this year to pay it forward in various ways.
This is where you come in....We have a list of charities and nonprofits that work to address issues that are personal to us or have affected us in some way. They are:
- Cathedral Kitchen in Camden, NJ
- Charity Water
- Nothing but Nets
and the last one....the last one is Postpartum Progress, which many of you know pretty much saved my life after I had Alex, in more ways than one. It directed me to therapy and the treatment I needed, gave me a community of support I didn't have, and introduced me to women who have become my best friends over the last two years. I honestly would not be here, Bertski and I would not be together if I hadn't found Katherine Stone and the work she does with Postpartum Progress.
Would you consider making a donation to one of the above charities, especially to Postpartum Progress? It would mean so much to me and would help me give back all that I've been given as a result of Katherine's dedication to making maternal mental health a priority....as well as help Bertski and I support organizations we feel are working hard to address hunger and disease prevention both here in the U.S. and abroad.
I know you probably think I'm crazy or tacky for doing this, but if you do make a donation of any kind, PLEASE email me and let me know. (dudley dot adriane at gmail dot com) I'd love to send you a card or something thanking you for celebrating with me, with us!
So...yeah. I'm getting married. I'M SO EXCITED! Be excited with me!
To learn more about any of the charities/nonprofits listed above, and make a donation, please visit these links:
Postpartum Progress: http://postpartumprogress.org/donate-postpartum-depression-2/ (you can also read the blog here: http://www.postpartumprogress.com/)
Cathedral Kitchen: http://cathedralkitchen.org/
Charity Water: http://www.charitywater.org/
Nothing but Nets: http://nothingbutnets.net/
The holidays are always hard for me to get through for varying reasons, as I know they are for a lot of people, particularly those of us who live with mental illness. The one thing that I've been focused on amidst all the frenzy of the holiday season and my own erratic moods is simply being grateful that life for the boys and I is not what it was this time last year. Bertski and I weren't together and it was our first time navigating the tricky process of splitting the holidays with Alex. I hated it. It was lonely...I felt awful that I had contributed to my boys not being able to spend the holidays together, with both of their parents. Christmas was especially difficult for me, and also for Brennan. He kept asking when Alex was coming back, why Alex and Bertski were in Philly and not with us, and I kept fighting back tears and despairing thoughts. I felt hollow, emotionally cold, my mind was dark, and I just wanted it all to be over with. I was angry...bitterness had started to settle in my heart.
This Christmas, however, things are COMPLETELY different. If you've been reading along these past months, you know this. Instead of trying to navigate the ups and downs of co-parenting while forging lives independent of each other, Bertski and I are finally finding our way down a path that allows us to be parents AND a couple, building and living a family centric lifestyle-a first for both of us.
This Christmas I also find myself being grateful to say goodbye to life as a single mother and preparing myself to experience the holidays in the years to come as a wife. I don't regret having to learn the ins and outs of parenting and how to balance the responsibility of it on both of my shoulders. The past 5 1/2 years have taught me a significant amount about myself...about life. It changed me into a new person, someone capable of doing things I didn't think I'd be able to handle on my own. I'm grateful for the life I lived as a single parent, but I'm also ready to say goodbye to it. I'm ready to move forward with someone not only willing to share the responsibility of parenting, but also willing to build a life with me. That's huge for me. I'm used to people walking out of my life and removing me from theirs in one way or another, for varying reasons. I don't always blame them, but it's always left me feeling abandoned and unworthy of so many things-like having a family and a partner. To have someone see the value and worth I see in myself and decide to embrace and cherish it, cherish me, is the one gift I've begged for since I was a child and never received-until now.
When Bertski asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I told him I wanted nothing and it was the honest truth. There is nothing material he would've purchased at a store that would've meant more to me than the gift of love I've found in our family and in my friends this year-my heart is too full to hold in anything else.
I hope that if you find yourself feeling lonely or down for whatever reason today you will be able to at least find one thing you can fix your mind on to get you through today and even into the new year just a few days away. I hope that no matter what you find yourself struggling with in life today, that at least in one way, no matter how small or trivial it may seem, you are better than you were last year. Take some time to reflect on what that one thing make this day a special one for you, one that allows grace and gratitude to abide in your heart...it's working for me :)
Merry Christmas y'all. Now...enjoy the brilliant weirdness that is Cee-Lo Green's Magic Moment. Seriously.