ppd

Universal Mental Health Screening for Pregnant and New Mothers is a MUST

Every mother. Every time.

pregnant mother of three drove her minivan into the ocean at Daytona Beach yesterday. She was reportedly incoherent when questioned by police and is undergoing a mental health evaluation at a local hospital. She is believed to be suffering from psychosis. 

Every mother. Every time.  

A mother in Chicago is being held on $1 million dollar bail today after she tried to kill herself and her 8 month old son by causing head on collisions with other vehicles, not once, but twice. 

Every mother. Every time. 

Out of ignorance I used to judge mothers who committed such acts. But during my second pregnancy, I started experiencing symptoms of antenatal depression and had fleeting thoughts of suicide. After I gave birth, I spent the first year of my son's life crippled with anxiety, despair, and found myself planning suicide 2 months before his first birthday. I wanted to be free of what my mind had fallen prey to. I wanted relief from the intense mood swings, frenzied OCD, and graphic intrusive thoughts that flashed in my mind unwarranted and unwelcomed. (Full disclosure: Driving my car into a body of water or into oncoming traffic? I've had those thoughts. Learn more about intrusive thoughts here)

Thankfully I found hope and help after a google search led me to Postpartum Progress, and I read about the full scope of perinatal mood disorders and their symptoms in "plain mama English." I sought and began treatment;  my diagnosis eventually changed to rapid cycling bipolar 2, OCD, and anxiety, and when it did, I began a medication regiment that included a mood stabilizer instead of just an antidepressant.

I don't judge anymore. Instead I recognize and question if these mothers recieved adequate help and support. I wonder if they felt safe enough to reveal their struggles or if the stigma surrounding mental illness in motherhood choked them into silent suffering. I wonder if  their obstectricians were taking them seriously if they disclosed struggling with the mood swings hormone fluctuations during and after pregnancy trigger. I wonder if their obsetricians and children's pediatricians screened them for depression and anxiety during pregnancy and beyond the 6 week postpartum check up. I wonder if they were told that depression and anxiety during and after pregnancy can manifest as rage, obsessive thought patterns and behaviors, and if they were made aware of the symptoms of postpartum psychosis, and told what to do if they began to hear voices or have delusions. I wonder if anyone told them that having an intrusive thought doesn't make them a bad mother, and doesn't mean they will harm themselves or their child. 

I wonder. 

I wonder what it will take for the medical community and our society to take maternal mental health seriously. I wonder when we'll give just as much care to women's minds as we do their bodies during and after pregnancy. I wonder how many more women and their children have to die because we aren't making a mother's mental health our priority when we care for and treat them.  

Every mother. Every time. 

What will it take for every obsetrician, every pediatrician, every insurance company to screen mother's during pregnancy and their infant's first year? Suicide is THE leading cause of death among women in their first year after childbirth, yet we stop screening for PPD, PPA, and postpartum psychosis after 6 weeks-if we screen at all. At least 50% of the 1 in 7 women who suffer from a PMAD go untreated, whether it's due to lack of screening, or access to support and mental healthcare. 

What will it take to screen and care for every mother, every time? What will it take to offer our mothers and their babies treatment and hope? 

 

There is hope. Women don't have to listen to the siren call of despair. Treatment makes recovery possible. We don't have to leave women to suffer silently on their own, trapped in their minds, unable to free themselves. But too often, we do. Women are being missed and overlooked. 

Every mother. Every time. We must screen. We must be louder than stigma's voice. We must enoucrage our mothers to seek treatment. 

If you believe universal mental health screening for pregnant and new mothers should be mandatory, please consider signing this White House petition. If you or someone you know is currently suffering, please know you are not alone. You are not a bad mother. There is hope and there is help. You can find information and resources at Postpartum Progress, and you can find a community of support on Twitter through the #PPDChat hashtag, and Postpartum Progress' private support forum. 

To read some more about my experience with PPD & Bipolar Disorder during pregnancy, you can type "ppd" in the search box here to find some older posts, and you can read guest posts I've written here and here

 

(addyeB)

My Bipolar Life: My Pregnancy Video Diary Begins

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.

 

[youtube=http://youtu.be/FbuD1hG3z-I]

 

My Hard Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(sigh)

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

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

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

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

I'm Getting Married! Help Me Celebrate, Would Ya?

65124_10152374198665608_226119053_n Guess who's getting married y'all?

ME.

To Bertski.

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.

(deep breath)

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.

EIGHT WEEKS.

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....

BUT....

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/

50 Shades of Fabulous

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

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

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

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

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

Ever seen a whirling dervish? Yeah. That.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love in the Time of PPOCD

Finding support and the unconditional love of a significant other when you are suffering from a mental illness can be difficult. My darling friend Lebogang Xolo is here today to talk about how she found love and support in her partner during her battle with PPOCD, (Postpartum OCD). Please show her some love and support y'all.  When I was a teenager I stumbled upon a movie called "A Beautiful Mind."  This is one movie that made a huge impact in my life, and I knew from then what true love is supposed to be like.  The last scene, where Alicia Nash (Jennifer Connelly) is still standing by John Forbes Nash (Russell Crowe)’s side, even in old age, through a mental illness, still leaves me in tears to this day.   Nevertheless, I was young and naïve.  As much as I grew up in a very stable and loving home (I was raised by my aunt and uncle) I never knew who my biological father (I now made peace with it).  Subconsciously I felt rejected, abandoned; I started searching for love in all the wrong places.  I said “Yes” to the first man who proposed.

To say this was an unhealthy relationship is an understatement.  And as Oprah put it “The signs are always there, we just chose to ignore them”.  A year of marriage and a beautiful princess later, I decided to walk out, with absolutely nothing but my daughter.  It was hard, really hard, but something deep inside me told me I’m enough, I deserve better, I deserve to be loved. I cried, studied ‘The Secret’, bargained with God, and cried some more.  I crawled, I walked, I ran, I flew, I grew stronger, and I healed.  Two years later, I made space in the closet for my future husband (that’s the power of ‘the secret’ positive thinking). I then looked up to God and my everyday prayer went something like this: Dear God Thank you for saving my life, for giving me the strength to survive such a painful divorce.  I think I’ve met enough rebound guys and well, I’ve had my fun and am ready to move on.  I am ready to meet the one you chose for me, but please please make sure that he loves my daughter just as much as he loves me or more if possible.

A couple of weeks later, he came into my life.  Just when I least expected it.  At 27 I got the same butterflies as I did at 16.  I remember telling God “If you just make him say hello to me, I’ll never ask for anything else, I promise.” He did more than that; he told me that I’m beautiful.  He was so different, so secure in himself.  A year later he quit his job and moved all across the world for me.  I knew he was the one the day he asked my daughter permission to marry me.  At 4years of age, she helped him chose the ring.  She held the ring as he proposed.

Fast forward 2 years later we have a beautiful son.  And with his birth was a start of horrific PPOCD.  When I thought I was losing my mind, my husband told me everything will be ok.  He held my hand and never missed a single doctor’s appointment.  He reminded me to take my meds, assured me that he loves me more now than he ever did and treated me the same way as he did when we met.

And so my mind goes back goes back to the movie I adored as a teenager….. A tale of love so unconditional, so strong and so pure…. Love that sticks with you no matter your past, your baggage, your illness or imperfections.  And my heart is full of gratitude, for having been blessed with such love.

Being Black with Postpartum Depression

Postpartum Progress has a new series! It's called "Warrior Moms of Color."

It was created by Katherine Stone to give women from various racial and ethnic backgrounds an opportunity to share their stories of living with and battling through perinatal mood disorders.

I was asked to be a guest contributor for this series and shared some of my experience there today. I'm grateful for the chance to do so, being as that Postpartum Progress was THE website that helped me find treatment and support for my PPD/PPA.

Please head on over and read what I had to say about my struggle with suffering with PPD as an African American woman, and as always feel free to share your thoughts and comments.....I'd love to hear your feedback on this one.

Dance Party Friday: Stronger Edition

"This illness won't get you...You are too strong...tomorrow holds the promise of a new day." My friend Kim's words rang in my ears as I fell asleep last night, and were the first words that I heard as I awoke this morning.

The past 3 weeks have been a roller coaster ride with more loops than I'd like, some throwing my mental health off track, others reminding me of how fragile life is, as several of my friends and even my mother are facing serious health & life issues....and yet still others have forced me to face painfully abusive memories I'd rather forget, but can't because working through them is the only way I'll heal and be able to eventually forgive.

But....

You are too strong....this life needs you

I woke up with these words pushing me out of bed and on my feet. I looked around at my apartment, at the mess that accumulates during my lows, and these words directed each step I took as I set to cleaning it all up.

This illness won't get you....You are too strong....this life needs you

I repeated them, over and over while taking a shower, combing my hair, painting my nails, eating breakfast, watching cartoons with my sick kiddo....until I finally felt strong, strong enough to keep fighting and keep moving.

A friend of mine told me on Facebook this week that she doesn't understand how I can continue to hold onto a belief in God when I've been through so much hell in my life. She then asked me a rather poignant and difficult question: why does God allow bad things to happen?

Not wanting to give a cookie cutter answer full of Christianese, I waited and directed the question at God: "Why do you allow bad things to happen? Why do you allow us to suffer if you love us so much? Why God? Why have I had to endure so much pain, so many rough circumstances? Why do I feel like I'm fighting a losing battle with this illness and everything else? I'm tired God. I'm just tired."

I spent the week telling God that I'm tired of being beat down and broken, but woke up this morning with Kim's words guiding me and an answer...or at least some kind of theory.

You might not like or agree with my theory and that's ok....but y'all I think we experience brokenness and pain in our lives as a reminder that we are human. We like to think we're invincible but the truth is we aren't.  What if we went through life never experiencing loss, pain, hurt, rejection, or a part of us that malfunctions and needs fixing? If we didn't experience these things, I don't think we would know or understand and value things like LOVE....we wouldn't know how to be vulnerable, which would render us incapable of empathy and compassion for others.  We wouldn't know how to care for one another, and be there for each other, and be able to bear one another up in times of need. Pain and brokenness....no one wants to endure or experience either, but without them as the fertilizer, seeds of courage, hope, love, empathy, and strength wouldn't grow in us and we would be nothing more than calloused, cold, stagnant beings.

So we experience things that challenge us...that break us...that remind us that life is fragile and to not take it for granted, no matter what hand we've been dealt. We only get one hand in this poker game y'all. That's it. Just one hand and one set of chips is all we get to bet with. It's up to us how we handle what we're dealt.

So no...I don't like the fact that my meds aren't working and I need yet again to keep searching for the right cocktail. I don't like that I have to live with a condition that renders me incapable of wanting to live at times. I don't think it's fair that I had to endure abuse at the hands of men who were supposed to protect me. I hate that I have to struggle my way through life....

But guess what? I'm too strong, only because I've endured these things and am still here today, writing this to you. I'm strong. Only because I have been hurt and broken. I am strong because I have known pain and am learning  to use it as the bridge to vulnerability and wholehearted living.

I am too strong. This illness will not get me. My painful past will not keep me trapped and tangled. I won't let it. Instead I'll use it; to help others, to encourage and inspire, to empower those who have been through the same to overcome and choose to keep living. I've had bad things happen to me, but I'll let them teach me how to treat and love my boys and others I encounter in this life.

I don't know what you're facing, or what you've had to endure in this life. But I do know that if you're enduring it, if you're surviving it, then I know for a fact that you are a stronger person because you experienced it. I know from first hand experience that if you spend all your time asking why, the pain will only intensify and breed more pain. Choose to use what you've been through to help someone else-let it teach you how to live wholeheartedly.

The hurt and pain won't last forever. As Kim told me last night....it's always darkest right before the dawn. So stand up. Dance your way through the rain drops. Your'e stronger than you think.

note: my video isn't perfect..I just couldn't get the syncing right for some reason today. so I apologize for my crappy editing skills. I hope you still enjoy it anyway. 

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/35775673]

Chigger (Trigger) Bites & Battle Wounds

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

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

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

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

THE BATHROOM

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chigger (Trigger) Bites & Battle Wounds

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

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

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

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

THE BATHROOM

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hindsight is 20/20....Cathartic...and Painful

I've been finishing up my 50,000 word count for NaNoWriMo this weekend. I'm about 4,000 words shy of this goal and this process has been.....cathartic....revealing, even. I thought when I did this, 50,000 words & 175 pages would be enough to contain "my story." However, it seems the more I go back and remember, the more I reflect, the more words that I type, just when I think I have nothing left to say.....more comes to the surface, overflowing and spilling onto the screen in front of me and even down my cheeks.... Because I've been thinking  a lot about my life over the past 10 years while writing, I found myself digging through my storage bins and poring over the stacks of journals I've kept since I was 19.

While reading through one of them, I came across an entry I wrote when Brennan was about 4 months old. Tears, a steady stream of them came winding down my face as I read the words of a new mother who was struggling to take care of an infant all on her own. Then came the memories....flashbacks of crying, screaming, anger, intense pain....I remembered the first 6 months of Brennan's life like they were yesterday, and knowing what I know about PPD and PPA now, I reflect on these memories and see myself, at 24, being consumed by these disorders and not even recognizing it.

In April of this year, when I finally sought and found treatment for my PPD & PPA after Alex's 1st birthday, I remember the therapist asking me if I suffered with PPD after having Brennan.

"Honestly? I don't remember...I...I'm not sure. I..I know I was sad and angry and some other things, but honestly I was just too consumed with trying to survive to even think about if I was depressed. I mean, it was just me. I was newly separated from the military and his father wasn't doing anything to help me. I didn't have a job. My unemployment was hardly meeting my expenses, and I was living with friends. If I ever considered myself depressed, I just attributed it to all of that and being a new mother. Everyone told me being a single parent was going to be tough...I...I just assumed feeling the way I felt was just part of the package."

Looking back, knowing what I know now, having been educated to the signs, risk factors, and various symptoms of PPD & PPA, and reading these words, I see it. I see me struggling through them while trying to raise my first born. And that pains me. It tears me up because not knowing what to look for, not having someone there to push me to get help put me in some very dark places those first 2 years.  The dark places I found myself wandering in during my pregnancy and after Alex's birth would have made much more sense had I been able to recognize them 3 years prior.

Reading the entries in that journal was painful as were the memories that found there way back to the forefront of my mind. (sigh) But....at least I know now, right?

Here's one of the entries I found:

There it is again

a malicious intent to harm

that’s come and gone before

I’m able to acknowledge it’s existence;

the only evidence of its surfacing,

a tiny, fragmented piece of your innocence

that’s fallen to the floor

along with expectations I’ve fallen short of.

NO.

this wasn’t supposed to happen.

Where are the loving thoughts?

What happened to the sunshine?

When did it get so dark in here?

Who put out the warmth,

Who rewrote this fairytale,

because this isn’t the ending I expected.

The novelty…..

Its worn off….how can that be?

Its origin is a mystery to me….

You’re supposed to be everything I wanted.

We’re supposed to be happy.

But now you’re crying,

and I’m trying to escape the guilt that’s

chasing after me.

I’m so sorry.

I never meant for this to happen.

But how do I tell you that?

How do I show you that I really do love you,

my sanity just caved under the pressure

and I slipped before I could catch myself.

Maybe I can find redemption somewhere in

your eyes….

perhaps you’ll forget this mistake.

(sigh)

I pray to God you will.

Father,

Forgive me…for I know not what I do.

Triggered: My Battle with General & Postpartum Anxiety pt1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

part two coming soon.....

 

 

An Initial Diagnosis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the floor. Done.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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