Monthly Archives: January 2014

31 Days of Writing Down, Only 334 To Go

The month of January has been awash in words with some of them thrown into the public arena, others, held close to my heart. It has made a difference this flood of words. Even on nights I did not think I had anything in me, I somehow managed to dredge 500 and then more up from the very depths of my grey matter.

I started this month a writing weakling. People threw hefty words at me as I walked by them in the snow, laughing at me because I was not writing. But now? Now I get to throw the words around as if they are weightless.

Lessons learned, teeth gnashed, eyes burned by glaring white screens, space deeply analyzed as I stared into it whilst brainstorming, and my Spotify account nearly imploded as it massaged my brain with inspiring beats.

Lesson 1:

Don’t ever stop writing. So many nights, I would write 100-200 words then get stuck. So I would delete my progress and start over with something else until I broke the 350 word mark. The issue here was that instead of just writing, I was paying attention to my word count. I don’t look at my word count as I write any more. I just write. I don’t stop. I keep writing until I run out of something to say then I conclude my piece. It’s just like when I go to the gym. If I go regularly, it gets easier because my muscles are getting the exercise they need. Same with writing. I feel my brain changing (as weird as that sounds) and my thought process is more fine-tuned than it was at the beginning of the year. I find myself looking at things and wondering how I can write it.

Lesson 2:

Every single thing in your life has a story. Yes, every single thing. Even the computer, tablet, or smartphone on which you write. Or the pen & paper. Whatever you use, there was a human effort which went into creating it and wherever there is humanity, there is a story. Even where there is not humanity, there is a story. Seek the story. Write the story. Be open to the story. If you are not open to the story, you might just let the story meant to be YOURS pass you by. Always, always be ready to write. In order to do this, you must always write. See the first lesson.

Lesson 3:

Define your boundaries. What, for you, is comfortable to include as potential topics for writing? How personal will you allow yourself to get? Writing is spilling your soul to the world, it is getting on a stage in a stadium filled with millions of people (even if that many people don’t read your writing, it sure feels that way, doesn’t it?) who are waiting for your words. Choose them wisely, be ready to handle criticism, opinions, and people who will hate you for what you say. If you are not ready to handle criticism or hatred for something you want to write? Write it to get it out but don’t put it on the stage for everyone to say. It’s okay to not put everything out there.

Lesson 4:

Write with confidence, conviction, and authenticity. It’s okay if you don’t know who you are right now. All that matters is where you have been, where you are, and where you are going. Life, as Tom Cochrane put it, Is A Highway. The people going your way will find you and relate to your story. If you write with confidence, conviction, and authenticity, your story will carry the weight of truth and have an impact. Yes, you can do this even if your journey is shaky and undefined. As long as you’re honest about where you’re at in your journey, you’ll have authenticity. Writing with anything less is bullshit.

Lesson 5:

Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes better. Perfection is bullshit. Perfection is something we all aim for but always, always miss. When we practice, we grow stronger, we get better, but none of us are perfect. We may execute with skill, we may narrow the margin of mistakes, but none of us strike perfection. But wait, aren’t there athletes who get perfect scores? People who get perfect scores on the SAT’s? 100’s on tests? Yes. But I guarantee you they are not “perfect” people. We are human and to be human is to err. Accept this, hold yourself to the standard of the best you have to offer instead of one of perfection, and constantly practice to maintain the standard of the best you have to offer and you will come out ahead with less stress, less guilt, and less disappointment than those who constantly aim for perfection.

Lesson 6:

Have fun and be able to laugh at yourself. Some of the best stories come from stupidity, don’t they? When we have let our guard down completely and let ourselves do something absolutely ridiculous. Instead of getting angry, laugh at it. Write it down and flip it into funny. If it weren’t for my mother instilling the skill of laughing at everything, even the horrible no good things, I think I would have broken into a zillion pieces like the Death Star a long, long time ago in a galaxy far away.

Lesson 7:

Write what you know but research what you don’t and write about that too. The best thing about writing is that we get the opportunity to continually educate ourselves about new subjects. We get to poke around in different aspects of life and morph into subject matter experts about everything, anything, and maybe like Seinfeld, nothing at all. We are fans of the known knowns, the known unknowns, and the unknown unknowns. They are all fields of potential stories, pieces, and posts. Seek them out, write about them in your voice, and stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone.

Lesson 8:

Let the things which interest you seep into your writing. I am happiest when I relate something to another topic about which I am passionate. Like last night’s post when I related A Knight’s Tale to PPD or another post earlier this month when I took a Star Trek Episode and related it to PPD as well. Or this post where I have already mentioned Star Wars, Donald Rumsfeld (Known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns), Tom Cochrane, and Seinfeld. Letting your interests in shows the real you, directly relating back to the whole authenticity thing we have already discussed.

Lesson 9:

Write fiercely. Words are your friends, not your enemies. Repeat this to yourself a few times. It will matter at some point because sooner or later, they won’t want to cooperate and you’ll want to pull your hair out. Instead, close your eyes, put your hands on the keyboard, and type for a few minutes until it clears and you have tamed them. Find a topic which stirs your soul and dedicate your deepest pieces to it. Make a difference. Writing well is a gift, not one everyone has. Sure, anyone can write words, but only a few of us are blessed enough to be able to manipulate words in such a way which makes the reader feel as if they are sitting across from us at a cozy coffee shop. Don’t throw that gift away.

Lesson 10:

Learn how to accept compliments. As writers, we are our own worst critics, aren’t we? The grammar isn’t right here, I misspelled a word, oh crap there’s a comma out of place, I should have used this word instead of that one, etc. See Lesson #5 about practice making perfect. Practice makes perfect in this situation too. Say thank you and nothing more. Be humble. No one likes a smug snooty writer. If someone interprets something in a way you didn’t mean for it to be interpreted, remember that people bring their own language to your writing, seeing things within you may not. It’s okay – it’s what makes reading and writing such an intimate experience.

I thoroughly enjoyed these past 31 days and I hope you did too. I was going to go through my posts and see just how many words I wrote but I didn’t because it’s not about the word count. It’s about actually doing the work.

Thank you for sticking with me for 31 days.

Here’s to 28 more.

See you tomorrow!

PS. Wil Wheaton just put up this great short post about his process. I’m sharing the link because it shows that all of us are different in what we need to write and how we write. Maybe that’s lesson 11 – using your own method. Go read his post, it’s a short but good read.

Changing Your Stars

I am watching A Knight’s Tale, one of many movies I could watch several times over. As I start to write, this scene is in the background:

“He’s a real Knight, William. Watch him and learn all that you can. Now go, and change your stars!”

“But father, I’m afraid.”

“Afraid of what?”

“Afraid I won’t be able to find my way home.”

“Don’t be afraid William, you’ll just follow your feet.”

Life is full of changes and situations which evoke fear in our hearts. “Courage is being scared but saddling up anyway,” according to John Wayne. It is knowing not knowing what is around the bend but peeking just beyond despite this unknown, is it not?

For me, that bend was motherhood, and waiting around that bend was one an awful monster I had no desire to meet. But we came face to face anyway, the monster and I, not too long after my first daughter graced my arms. The monster, he breathed heavily in my face, the moisture from his open, drooling mouth specking my face as if it were drizzling. He growled at me as he snatched me, taking me back to his lair just beyond the edge of town.

This monster, he shoved me down a hole in the floor of his shack, a hole so deep there was no light. I crawled into a corner and wailed helplessly until I fell asleep. This monster, he fed me, when he could, but left me there to wallow and ruminate, lost forever from the world, away from my child, my partner, everything. Until one day, a hand reached into the hole and helped me out. The light, it burned. The leaves were greener than I remembered, the dew sparkled on them as the sunlight bounced off the fresh rain collected just on the surfaces of the just born foliage.

The face of my rescuer blurred into many faces for it was not just one person, it was many, working together, which brought me back to the land of the living. One of those faces was my own for I had to fight to accept the help I so desperately needed to escape from the deep dark hole under the monster’s house.

As I left the monsters house, I of course, had to follow my feet home. For me, they led me to a new place in life, some of it familiar, some of it brand new. But alas, it was the home where my heart belonged.

In A Knight’s Tale, as Oreck travels to Cheapside, he encounters a little girl to find out where his father lives. She tells him, and he discovers his father is now blind, unable to see. So he goes up to see him, telling him that he is well without identifying himself, and that he has indeed managed to change his stars. Then there is this exchange:

“Has he followed his feet? Has he found his way home at last?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, Oh William! Oh my boy!”

Then, they sit, they talk, they eat, they laugh as if time has never passed. This is how it should be when a prodigal son returns. A celebration of return to self, or return to an improved self, rather.

Then the story goes dour again as the Adhemar, the knight opposing Oreck (William), exposes him as not being of noble birth. This is much like a relapse, as if the monster had hunted us down again and shoved us back in the hole.

But this time, this time he has people willing to fight with him, beside him, and most importantly, someone willing to truly change his stars. This is what I wish for all of us fighting a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder – a warrior willing to tilt full speed ahead with a lance against anything and anyone daring to rip us off our horses as we heal. This is what I work to be for all women who contact me – a fighting spirit who will not only go to bat for them but will do whatever I can to instill the same spirit within themselves.

Prince Edward then dubs Oreck, now William Thatcher, as a knight, asking him if he is fit to compete. He is, of course, and he wins against his enemy, the villainous Adhemar.

This is what those of us who fight against a mental illness want – we not only want to win our battles, but we want to be acknowledged as someone who matters. We are human, longing to be counted among those who surround us.

Every day may be a battle, every day may be exhausting, but we get up the next day, and do it all over again, hoping that today, just maybe, we will change our stars a little bit more than the day before, inching ever so much closer to the person we long to be deep inside our hearts.

Go. Change your stars. Don’t be found weighed, measured, and found wanting. Push yourself toward constantly changing your stars for the better. Defeat your monster, make him look up at you from the flat of his back after you have knocked him off his horse.

If you don’t need to change your stars, help someone else change theirs.

To you, it might just be a random act of kindness. To them? It might just change their entire life.

Whatever Wednesday: Doughnuts at the Carwash

Do you remember when you were a kid? The littlest things made us happy, didn’t they? Like those machines that you put quarters in and get tiny toys that break the instant oxygen hits them? They were fabulous for all of 1.5 seconds, right? Or how about sitting in your room, building things out of Legos or playing with Play-doh? It did not take much to put a smile on our faces. Ahhh, those were the days.

Flash forward to adulthood. Get up at the break of down to drink did coffee, run around like crazy to get ready for work and/or get the kids ready for school and/or both, ultimately forget something, have to go back for it, drop the kids off, go to work, or run errands, then finally get home at the end of the day, dinner, maybe a little time to yourself, and then bam. Bedtime. How the hell bedtime get here so fast? Close your eyes after setting your alarm so you can do it all again the next day.

Did you take any time for joy? Any little things tucked into your day that made you smile and giggle as if you were a 5 year old who just got the toy you wanted out of the quarter machine? No? Well, that’s a damn shame.

The key, as a lot of people will tell you, to staying happy, is to maintain a stranglehold on that childhood innocence and wonder. Pick up just enough common sense and cynicism to function in the grown up world but dear GOD don’t let that childhood innocence and wonder dissipate. Do stupid stuff. Let go. Have fun. Laugh inappropriately and loudly at everything, anything, and nothing at all. Do things that make you smile, often, with people you love.

Stuff like I do with J.

Stuff like what we did tonight at the car wash.

We ran to the grocery store to pick up a few things to finish off dinner. Then, we spotted the doughnuts. Lately we had denied ourselves this guilty pleasure but tonight they were salacious sirens nestled in a forest of sweet treats, begging to be rescued. We reluctantly (okay, not so reluctantly) rescued six of them, planning to take them home and hug them ever so gently with our stomachs after sending them for a ride down the esophagus flume.

After the grocery store, we checked to see if the car wash was open. The past week and a half has covered the car in salt, snow, and other random ick but because of the frigid temperatures, we have been unable to wash it because well, the water would just freeze instantly.

The car wash was open, so we turned in after a horde of cars passed by. Two lanes were open, and we, we chose the one with the idiot. His driver side door was open, his feet on the ground, a cigarette hanging from his lower lip as if it were a man clinging to a cliff waiting for a stiff breeze to come along. He wore a hat, a fedora style hat, and glasses. He slid his card into the slot, tapped the screen, and stared curiously at the screen. One of the employees came over to help him, sliding his card in for him. As we idled behind him, we watched the vehicle in the other lane surge forward.

I evaluated the situation after we sat there for a couple more minutes, put the car in reverse, and headed for the other lane. We pulled up, I activated the screen, made my choices, paid, and moved forward as the winner in the other lane sat there, continuing to struggle with the machine.

An employee directed us onto the auto-fed car wash. As I popped the car into neutral, J grabbed the doughnuts.

“Which one you want? The cruller?”

doughnut in carwash“Sure! Just a minute.” I put my wallet away, then took the doughnut. I squealed like a little kid. Doughnuts. In the car wash. I took out my phone and snapped a pic. There was just something so gleefully delicious about eating a sweet donut whilst hidden in the soapy flaps and rollers of the car wash. It felt so wrong yet so damn good. Best damn cruller ever.

Joy in life is found in the simplest of things, the things we forget how to see when we get past a certain age. Just like Journey advises… don’t stop believing.

And now? I’m gonna have a doughnut at 10pm at night.

Because joy.

What Would Your Trophy Say?

“It’s psychotic. They keep creating new ways to celebrate mediocrity.”

~Mr. Incredible, The Incredibles~

Ah, good old mediocrity. The goal for which everyone aimed, right?

Not really.

In the sixth grade, I completed in the school’s spelling bee. If memory serves correctly (I’m getting old and yes, there is truth to the old adage that brains stop working as well once you hit a certain age), I won the class competition which is what placed me in the school’s bee.

I won the school’s spelling bee.

Don’t ask me what word I spelled to win because I don’t remember.

I remember, however, thinking winning was kick-ass, especially because I was one of the younger kids in the school. I beat the older, (and I thought smarter), kids that day.

I did not make it past the county spelling bee, however, despite studying my ass off. The other kids there were simply better at spelling than I. (I know, completely shocking, right?)

I have the trophy stashed somewhere, probably in a box long gone, to be honest. Who knows. It is a symbol of victory, of not settling for anything but the best.

I also played soccer as a kid. Our team did not win a lot of games, we definitely did not win regionals or go to any sort of championship. At least, I don’t remember us doing so. Know what we all got at the end of the season? A tropy. For mediocrity.

That trophy, while pretty, is completely worthless. Sure, it has my name on it and is a symbol of a lot of physical exertion over a few months, but meh. There is no victory attached to it therefore it means nothing.

We do not need to reward people for mere participation. For just showing up. Awards are meant for people who go above and beyond expectations, who fight like hell to do their very best and dedicate their lives to be the very best they can be at what they do.

Trophies don’t go to people who half-ass it. At least, they shouldn’t.

I think anyone living with a mental illness who battles through their days just to survive, however, should have a damn trophy. Because that? IS HARD WORK. Getting out of bed, doing what needs to be done, making plans, living – that is damn near impossible for someone with a mental illness. Doable, but damn near impossible without an extreme exertion of energy, both physical and mental.

It is a well-practiced tango between mind and body – convincing the brain to properly control the body to do what it needs to in order to accomplish the most base tasks like eating, showering, cleaning, etc. Same days? It’s more like the hokey pokey – you put the left arm in, you take the left foot out, you do the hokey pokey and you shake it all about. If you’re lucky, you fall asleep and start all over again, praying that your mind & body are back in sync the next day.

If you created a trophy for yourself or someone you loved who struggled with a mental illness to inspire/empower them, what would it say?

Tell me down below!

I’m gonna have to give some thought to what mine would say. Stay tuned for that update!

ppdchat-01-27-14

#PPDChat Topic 1.27.14: Making Unsolicited Advice Turn Into Your Swan

ppdchat-01-27-14

On Sunday evening, a post entitled “Finding Life Beyond My Comfort Zone” poured forth from my soul. This morning, a post entitled “Meeting Enemies Undaunted” spilled forth at almost twice the length of last night’s post. Today’s post was a response to an unpublished comment on Finding Life.

Someone saw fit to recommend that I do “more awesome things than take medicine” for my current bout of depression. Instead of staying angry, I used her comment as fodder for a post to explain why such comments do more harm than good and how we, as those who are brave enough to speak up about our battles, should not allow people like her to ruin any progress we may have made toward healing.

We all have different ideas for how to heal and must do what is best for ourselves. In the same vein, we must respect the educated decisions others have made whether they be on their own or with the help of a professional (that is, unless said person is in crisis, then we must urge them to seek help immediately). Recommending a different course of action when someone has settled on one which is working for them is well, rude.

Do you know the story of the ugly duckling? It is one I grew up hearing quite a bit. A young flapper (or cygnet), somehow ended up with a family of ducks. He looked nothing like his brothers and sisters and was teased mercilessly, labeled ugly for not appearing to be the same. Then, he grew older, matured, and turned into a beautiful swan, one of the most graceful birds in the world.

Then there’s Rudolph – who wasn’t allowed to play any reindeer games until Santa asked him to lead his sleigh.

In both situations (yes, yes, fictional, I know), the main characters took something which was negative and let it go. It is difficult to do. But once you learn to flip the negative on its head, a funny thing happens. Less is negative and your outlook on life brightens. Perhaps not overnight, but over time you find yourself able to see even the most negative of things as a lesson from which to learn.

That’s what today’s chat will focus on – turning the negatives in your life into situations from which you learn valuable positive skills.

Make that unsolicited advice your swan, perhaps even your swan song. Bring down the house with it as you rise up toward joy.

Look forward to seeing you tonight at #PPDChat. Be there at 830pm ET sharp!

Here’s the worksheet, “How to Write Your Swan Song“, which goes along with this chat. Feel free to download it and use it. Let me know how it works out for you!

Meeting Enemies Undaunted

Last night, when I took to my keyboard to write “Finding Life at the End of My Comfort Zone”, I did not need to write it to complete my 500 words for the day. It was just time to admit what had gone on in my life for the past year and how I was coping. After I hit publish, I exhaled. Finally. It was all out. For me, part of healing is being open and transparent.

Not more than a couple of minutes after hitting publish, the post received a comment from someone who has never commented here. It was held in moderation, and I will not be publishing it as a comment. I am, however, going to publish it here, addressing why it is a highly inappropriate response to my post yesterday.

The entire comment is as follows:

Hi! I think that it’s great you’re taking medications to help yourself but I am so sure that you can do so much more awesome things than taking medicine. I am one of those who don’t step outside my comfort zone as well and you know stepping outside the first couple of steps are the hardest but gradually you’ll become stronger to keep pushing yourself forward. You should try meditation it’s not religious at all too. It’s a practice to obtain peace and can really reduce stress. I believe you can do it, you just have to tell yourself that you’re strong enough! I wish you good luck of your journey! :)

You ready to analyze it? I am.

Let’s start with the greeting and the first sentence:

Hi! I think that it’s great you’re taking medications to help yourself but I am so sure that you can do so much more awesome things than taking medicine.

Notice the cheery greeting, complete with exclamation point. She’s HAPPY! She thinks it’s awesome that I’m taking medications to help myself BUT.. wait…. what’s this? She’s sure I can do so much more awesome things than taking medication? Really? Based on what sound evidence? Is she a physician? Has she discovered some amazing new way to deal with situational depression brought on by an insane amount of stress in a short period of time?

*GASPS* Wait – I know! I should have stuck with just my HappyLight, regular rest and relaxation, supplements, and prayed harder, right? Right? *smacks forehead* I totally failed that one, right?

She then goes for the “I relate to you” sentiment with this line:

I am one of those who don’t step outside my comfort zone as well and you know stepping outside the first couple of steps are the hardest but gradually you’ll become stronger to keep pushing yourself forward.

Oh really? Preach on, sister, preach on. That’s how it works, huh? After two episode of PP OCD, an episode of antepartum depression, post-divorce depression, I had NO clue that the first couple of steps were the hardest. I’ve been through the “gradually you’ll become stronger” thing and know that it’s a hard process. I also know that pushing yourself forward is necessary for progress. Of course, these are all things I thought I addressed in my post which, clearly she read because she commented, right?

Perhaps there’s a solution of which she’s aware that I haven’t thought of yet?

There is!

You should try meditation it’s not religious at all too. It’s a practice to obtain peace and can really reduce stress.

Aaaaaaand here’s where it gets fun, people.

Never mind the call I made to a medical professional after fighting on my own for months against the beast inside me, a beast egged on by the stress of living with very negative neighbors who attacked us verbally or intimidated almost every time we stepped outside and wild children who screamed and yelled outside our condo until the wee hours of the morning, interfering with any chance of sleep at night in addition to an insane amount of anxiety through the day.

Never mind the discussion I had with her during which I stuttered, nervously spilling all the details of the hell in which I found myself, fighting back the urge to completely lose it as I did so.

Never mind the years of school and practice my Nurse Practitioner has under her belt which allowed her to have a very compassionate discussion with me about my current state of mind and what my options were to fix it while calming me down at the same time.

We discussed the possibility of therapy but we cannot afford a weekly therapy session right now because we are not insured. But meds which have worked before were an option. So after two weeks of working my way up to making the call, I walked into a pharmacy and picked up a bottle of pills, feeling as if I were less than a toddler’s forgotten cheerio stuck in a couch cushion.

Apparently, what I should have done instead was head over to YouTube and find a meditation video. Boom. All better, right?

An article in Forbes earlier this month touts the benefits of meditation as rivaling that of anti-depressants. The study in the article specifically focuses on “mindfulness meditation” as the preferred form. If it works for you, fabulous. Kudos. I am a huge fan of doing whatever works for you.

Here’s the thing about depression and mental health issues, however: there are a myriad of treatments available because we are not all built alike nor do we all arrive at our diagnosis via the same path. We also do not find our road to wellness along the same path.

Don’t even get me started on the entire religious aspect of this comment. Let’s leave that out of it because we wouldn’t want to offend anyone, would we? (Which is clearly why she specified that meditation is not religious, right?)

Since my brush with Postpartum Mood Disorders, my life is increasingly mindful. In fact, over the past year, I am healthier mentally than at any time in my life. How can I make that claim despite being on anti-depressants now? Mental health does not always mean happy. To me, what it means is a deep understanding of why things happen and accepting what you need to do in order to move beyond them. It means the capability to examine events in your life and hold a healthy response even if it does not lead to joy. The path back to joy, motivation, and yourself is a personal road and no one beside your physician has the right to tell you how to get there. It is YOUR road map, not anyone else’s.

Of course, blogging about my mental health opens me up to criticism and suggestions like this. Some might say that I “deserve” to have comments like this. No one deserves to be told what to do, not even if they’re asking for advice and particularly not if they are opening up about their choices they have already made.

Telling someone that they SHOULD do something other than what they have chosen to do with the help of a medical professional is beyond reprehensible. Making the decision to reach out for help  – to admit you are not okay to a medical professional is an absolutely nerve-wracking experience.

I cannot help that someone who would dare to judge someone else’s road has never traveled down a similar road. Because if they had traveled down this road, they would know how detrimental it can be to be judged for their decisions as they fight to get well.

She wraps up her comment with a much better outlook:

I believe you can do it, you just have to tell yourself that you’re strong enough! I wish you good luck of your journey! :)

Yay. Cheerleading! RAH RAH SISK OOM BAH!

Had she skipped the whole rigamarole about “more awesome than medication” and “try meditation instead” this would have been a perfectly awesome comment. THIS is a perfectly acceptable response to someone admitting they’ve settled on a method of treatment for a mental health issue. It empowers, supports, and encourages without judging the decisions of the person.

So, after all of this – how do you perfectly respond to someone who is struggling and has settled on a method of treatment? It’s hidden in this very comment.

Like this:

“Hi! I believe you can do it, you just have to tell yourself that you’re strong enough! I am one of those who don’t step outside my comfort zone as well and you know stepping outside the first couple of steps are the hardest but gradually you’ll become stronger to keep pushing yourself forward. I wish you good luck of your journey! :)”

Now this is how you support someone!

You support by offering encouragement, compassion, and empowering the person who is fighting like hell to be themselves again.

If someone proffers judgment on your treatment choices, do not let it deter you from your healing. You are in the driver’s seat and decide what exit is yours on this interstate of life, not anyone else, and definitely not a stranger who knows absolutely nothing about why you’re in the car to begin with.

A friend of mine said it best on FB, typos and all:

“Hugs. Love. I Get Its. And no judgement here. Take your meds. Meditate if it helps ON your meds. But fuck everyone else and their well-meaning yet severely judgmental opinions. Just do what’s fight for you.”

That’s what I’m doing – fighting for me, always.

Finding Life at the End of the Comfort Zone

On our refrigerator, there is a simple black square magnet with white words in English sprawled across it. This magnet blends in with our refrigerator, making the words even more noticeable as it rests at the top of the freezer door, right in the center. What are these words?

They say this:

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” ~Neale Donald Walsch~

J purchased it for me on a dreary Sunday last winter during a visit to a local art museum. Of all the colorful things in the gift shop, the simplest thing, devoid of any true colour, caught my eye.

Why?

Because the words spoke to me. They challenged me to push myself further than I was comfortable. For the first time in weeks, I felt hope. When we bought the magnet, it was not too long after Sandy roared through our area, leaving me more traumatized than I wanted to admit.

Over the past year, I have pushed myself past my comfort zone. I auditioned in NYC for Listen to Your Mother (and am auditioning again this year, only for Northern New Jersey), I joined an in-person mom’s group, and I am back to pushing myself again after a setback with former neighbors which left me afraid to set foot outside by myself, even after we moved.

Within the past month, I started going back to the gym, I’ve ventured to various places by myself, and I plan to start walking around the neighborhood once it’s not covered under a ton of snow and the temperature won’t turn me into an instant popsicle. Oh, and I am learning how to drive in the snow. Slowly. Don’t laugh, most of my driving years were spent in the deep south where it does not snow often. Yes, I am a Jersey girl and perfectly capable of tolerating the cold but that doesn’t mean I know how to drive in the snow. It’s not that difficult to do, I’m realizing.

I owe this diving out of myself to the courage in asking for help.

I made a phone call back in December to our nurse practitioner to follow up with her about the situation with the neighbors. I saw her back in August due to extreme anxiety because of the situation – anxiety which left me afraid to open the blinds, turn on lights, or do anything beyond sit on the couch and watch TV for nearly 5 days straight. My sleep even suffered and my appetite vanished. I refused to leave the condo, in fact, unless J was with me. I needed help. In August, she prescribed something for anxiety. It worked and got me through the remainder of our time there as well as through our move.

But my prescription ran out.

We were happier at our new place. It was quiet, no screaming children at 11pm, no neighbors calling us names, no trapped in a dark condo. Instead, there was peace, quiet, and a lot of sunshine as all the blinds were opened and the light poured in from every possibly window. I still found myself triggered by certain situations and sounds despite the new tranquil environment. Shell-shocked from the former residence.

Then J was suddenly let go from his job and we faced losing our brand new place. With some careful maneuvering and help from family and a few wonderful friends, as well as some well-timed freelance work,  we managed to hang on. He found a job, and has been working steadily. I am still trying to  get freelance work going but haven’t lost hope.

While he was unemployed, I was the rock. I did not panic, I held fast and trusted that he would get a job. Once he did, I unraveled – fast. I was wildly unprepared for the roller coaster exit.

J sat me down one night and quietly shared his observances – that he was worried about me, I wasn’t myself. He suggested I call our NP. I struggled with the suggestion. I made it so far without medication. So far. Through a divorce, through the struggle of job-hunting and never hearing anything back, then through Sandy. All of this by myself. I was not sure I wanted to take a pill to get by again. I couldn’t. Could I?

Finally, after realizing every possible option but taking medication had been explored yet I  was still struggling, I made that call in December. We talked about SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), situational issues, and what medications had worked for me before. I talked quickly, fighting the urge to just hang up. She was wonderful and very non-threatening, telling me that she would call in the script and I could pick it up if I chose to but did not need to feel beholden to it.

I picked it up the next day.

It has been almost 6 weeks and I have picked up a refill.

The medication is helping quite a bit. I am focusing, I am laughing, and I feel more like me.

Going back on a medication felt like defeat. It felt as if I was calling it in, giving up. But I know that I tried everything I possibly could before making that call. Making that call? WAY outside my comfort zone. It is the most uncomfortable thing possible to call your doctor to tell him/her that you are not emotionally stable. Yet, if it were a broken bone, I would have rushed to the ER. Stigma is a pervasive bastard – I hate it.

Every morning now, I swallow hope, in the form of a small white pill.

One day, perhaps I will get to a point where I will simply hold hope in my heart and mind, not in my stomach or blood stream.

But for now, that is where my hope lies, intermingling with my stomach acid and my blood cells flowing through my veins.

I’m okay with that because I know it is without a doubt, what I need to be the best me I can be right now.

In the Spirit of Temba, His Arms Wide

The past week or so, the Star Trek Next Generation episode, “Darmok”, has weighed heavily on my mind. In this episode, Picard heads to the planet of El-Adrel IV to connect with an alien species known as the Tamarians.

The problem?

The Tamarians only communicate in metaphor. Picard and the captain of the Tamarian ship, Dathon, beam to the surface of El-Adrel IV to face a large beast. The Tamarians beam Picard against his will. According to Tamarian metaphor, this action rooted in a significant situation in their past – “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.”

Darmok arrived at Tanagra alone as did Jalad. On Tanagra, there was a beast which threatened them both. Working together, Darmok and Jalad defeated the beast and left Tanagra together, friends instead of enemies.

Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra could also be a metaphor for parenthood, could it not?

Darmok is a parent. Jalad is a child. Tanagra – life.

Darmok speaks one language, Jalad another all together, one which is not understood by Darmok at all sometimes. The same is true for Darmok – Jalad does not always understand the words he hears or the meaning of the sounds uttered by Darmok as Jalad is still learning the vast meaning of language.

Darmok and Jalad, however, must work together, even in the simplest of ways, to survive Tanagra. The goal is to thrive in Tanagra, to create happiness and joy.

But what happens when the beast of Tanagra is a Perinatal Mood Disorder? Jalad cannot help fight this beast at the start, but as time goes on, Darmok may find a successful source of joy within the simple moments with Jalad.

If the beast of Tanagra is a PMAD, it is a fierce beast with an insatiable appetite for chaos for that is what PMAD wreaks upon Tanagra, particularly with Darmok & Jalad.

“Shaka, when the walls fell” is a phrase used in the episode to admit defeat. There are days when Darmok will scream this with every fiber of her being. Perhaps Jalad is uncooperative, or maybe the beast is ravenous, having not fed in a while. When you feel the urge to scream “Shaka, when the walls fell”, do it. Let it loose, let it escape the depths of your soul, let it run free instead of bottling it up.

Tomorrow is a new day. Start it anew, with the philosophy of finding “Temba, his arms wide” in your life. Open your heart to receiving help and fill your life with people willing to provide it. Start little if you need – someone to help with meals or childcare. Perhaps you need a break from Jalad to recoup and draw up new battle plans. Whatever it is you need, keep the attitude of Temba close to your heart, ready to accept help as you need it.

At the end of the episode, after Dathon succumbs to the wounds levied upon him by the beast of El-Adrel IV, Picard’s crew beams him back to the Enterprise. The Tamarians fire on the ship until Picard hails them and speaks to them in their metaphorical language, explaining the breakthrough to them. The ships then part, no longer enemies. Not quite friends, but no longer enemies.

This is exactly how I feel about my experience with my Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder episodes. We have long parted ways but I now speak the language. We are neither friend nor foes as it taught me plenty, some of which I learned specifically through my experiences with my Jalads on the island of Tanagra (motherhood/life).

Through my experiences at Tanagra, I now am able to carry my wisdom to those around the world with my words, sometimes metaphorical ones. For this, I will always be grateful, particularly as I travel the sea of life together with others who have fought the same beast as I did on Tanagra.

(If you’d like to read a fabulous summary of the Star Trek episode on which this post is based, you can do so here.)

Be Well – Your WAY

I want to talk about an old childhood game tonight.

Go get your pillow, a sleeping bag, chocolate, popcorn, a stuffed animal or a doll, and slip into some cozy PJ’s. I’ll wait.

Seriously. I will.

*hums Jeopardy theme a few times*

Do you remember playing the telephone game when you were a kid?

Whispering something ridiculous into the ear of the person next to you who would then repeat it to the person next to them and so on until it got to the last person who would say it out loud?

It was never the same thing that it started as, was it?

(If it was, your friends had amazing hearing or no sense of humour).

The goal of this game is to show you how something you say can be twisted by others. It is a practice in watching what you say – thinking before you speak.

In this electronic age, it is still important to watch what you say but even more important to keep that filter in place when the keyboard and therefore the Internet is your outlet. It is easier, when you are behind a keyboard, to judge, to proffer advice, and to act as an expert.

Here’s the thing – we are all still human. We have hearts, we have brains, and we live and breath. It is difficult to remember that the personas we talk to on a daily basis through our keyboards are PEOPLE.

I have said this time and again on this blog, in my chat, in my groups, on my blog’s FB page – but I believe in treating people as adults regardless of their situation or condition. I am part of a community. I am not a dictator, I am not a medical professional, I am not at all capable of making a care decision for anyone other than myself. I find it heartbreaking when some people behave as if they are capable of making decisions for others.

Mental health is just as subjective as physical health. We all have our own baggage. However, our baggage is not a road sign for anyone but us. It does not grant us carte blanche permission to tell someone else who has articulated their own issues to a professional care giver they may want to give it a second thought. Ever.

One of the things I adore most about the #PPDChat community is their ability to function in a way that is uplifting and supportive without being judgmental regarding the treatment choices another mama needs to make for her own sanity. Not all communities are like this. I am beyond grateful the #PPDChat community embraces this concept.

The road into Perinatal Mood Valley is a steep one. The road out is curvy with plenty of blind turns and potholes. There are multiple ways out, not just one path. It is important to listen to your internal GPS as you navigate your way out of your personal darkness. Listening to someone else’s GPS will result in driving in circles as you attempt to free yourself from the mind-boggling vortex.

You can do this. You are not alone. You will be well.

Your way.

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to the Keyboard

You see, what happened was this:

Fallen snowflakes drifted too and fro just beyond the window. They danced around the evergreens and over the pavement into the field. They swirled, dipped, and whooshed as the frozen air gripped them in a frigid dance as we snuggled deep beneath our covers, ensconced safely behind warm walls. We sighed as our bodies shifted in the night, exhaling once our forms readjusted and settled in for a few more moments of rest.

A feline form crept up the stairs, devious behaviour on her mind. She rounded the corner into our room as we slept, as she does every morning about this time. Her shadowy figure slid along the wall, searching for something, anything, which with to play. Foiled, she turned toward the bed, slithering deftly under it. She then flipped to her back, extended her claws, and “SCRAAAAAAATCH!” No movement. “SCRAAAAAAAAAAAAAATTTTCCCHHHH!” Slight rustling. “SCRATCH SCRATCH SCRATCH SCRATCH!” More rustling. “SCRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATTTTTCHHHHHHHH!”

Squeak. Feet hitting the floor. She scurried out into the open, joyous to see a standing human in the dark room. He stumbled toward her, she ran toward him. Just as she reached him, his arms extended to scoop her up. He carried her toward the door, tossed her unceremoniously into the hallway, closing the door behind her. She heard his footsteps as he went back to bed.

She sat there, in the hallway, staring at the closed door. Then she looked down at the worn carpet on the left side, where the door opened in to the bedroom. She walked closer, and started pawing at the carpet, pushing against the door and rattling it as she did so. Scratch, rattle, rattle, rattle. SCRAAAATTTCH. RATTTTLLLLLLEEEEEE.

Loud sighs. “KITTTTY! NO!”

SCRAATTTCCCHHHHHH.

Rustled covers, feet hitting the floor. Toward the door? She stopped, briefly, listening. Footsteps in the wrong direction. SCRAAATTTCHHHH. Door opened. Cat wins.

I looked at the clock – 530am.

Wide awake, I started talking, I think I babbled about the weather. We snuggled, he fell back asleep briefly, until the cat started to claw at the bottom of the bed again. Clearly, waking us up wasn’t enough. No, she needed prompt attention. I sighed, and got up to stumble downstairs for coffee. The cat hid behind the wall along the staircase, ready to pounce on me as I made my way down the stairs. She ran quickly ahead of me, nearly tangling herself in between my feet as I navigated the steps. I muttered a curse or two at her.

Once downstairs, I turned into the kitchen, my goal destination, the Keurig. Instead, I turned toward the refrigerator and grabbed an English muffin. Sustenance. Then coffee. I threw the first one away and nearly tore the second one in half but saving it at the last minute. As the muffin basked in the red glow of the electrified wires, I grabbed a k-cup and a coffee cup. I stared at the Keurig’s water reservoir and turned to the bottled water on our counter, opening the cabinet and staring at the glasses instead.

Just then, J came downstairs and rescued me, grabbing the water and pouring it in the reservoir. I drowsily thanked him and hit the brew button once he was finished. I took my medicine, then buttered the muffin after it was ejected from the warm toaster, grabbed my coffee, and somehow made it to the couch.

Then, time was a blur. We talked a little more, decided to run errands after taking the little one to school, and once we arrived home from errands, I dove into research for my book. At some point, either before or after my first coffee (I honestly don’t remember), I watched the remainder of a documentary I started the night before, taking notes, which led to my research this afternoon. I fell down quite the rabbit hole, linking this to that from this and then heading over here and then over there and then suddenly, my head hurt so I stepped away and made a cheesecake.

Doesn’t everyone make cheesecake once they’ve researched too much? Don’t they? If they don’t, clearly they are not fans of the Golden Girls. One of the most important lessons I learned from dear Dorothy, Sophia, Blanche, and Rose was that cheesecake fixes EVERYTHING, particularly when shared with friends. I pity the poor souls who are not aware of this universal rule.

And now, I am watching Big Bang Theory, trying to unwind. I may go get another piece of cheesecake.

It has been so freeing to write about just…anything here. For far too long, I had convinced myself  that I could only write about Perinatal Mood Disorders. Writing about a full day like this reminds me that I am human and not just some thing meant to spout stuff about Perinatal Mood Disorders. I hope that it’s been enjoyable for you as well as I have blathered on about my days here – they’re relatively nondescript, I know. But they are days, nonetheless. Days after a long, embroiled battle through hell which taught me the hard way to not take anything for granted.

My goal is to eventually return to writing about Perinatal Mood Disorders again but for now, daily writing is a step in the right direction.

Mindful, simple steps in the right direction are better than no steps at all.

Also?

Cheesecake.