Category Archives: strong woman

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!

On Helping Others

“How do you help all the women you do and not carry their pain with you?” asked my therapist as we sat in her office a little over two years ago.

“I don’t know. I just do.” I fidgeted slightly as I readjusted in the chair, popping my neck and a few vertebrae as I did so.

“But day in and day out, you are seeing people at their worst and helping them solve their problems. How do you manage to do that without internalizing it?” she rephrased, pushing me to answer.

“How do you do it?” I answered her push with a question.

“Nice try. You’re good at deflecting, aren’t you?”

I smiled and recrossed my legs, staring back at her.

“It’s an art, really. As for how I don’t carry their pain and issues with me, I just don’t. Their issues are not mine. I have fought my battles, I am fighting my battles, and I leave their battles to them. I learned, from fighting my own battles, that I cannot fight anyone else’s battles for them. They have to fight them. All I can do is point them in the right direction and hand them the right tools. That’s my job. That’s where it ends.”

“So you have never had a situation that shook you?”

“Of course. Haven’t you?”

“Yes. The difference is that….”

“You’re a trained professional and I am not?”

“Well, no. Perhaps. It is just that it takes a lot to be able to listen to issues day in and day out and not get worn down by that. Given that you are here and still helping other people, it is my job to make sure you are taking care of yourself.”

“I am. I know when to step away. I have people I can hand things off to if they get too intense and I know that I am not equipped to handle crises. I also have people I debrief with after any situation which involves a crisis – people check on me which is wonderful. I am peer support only, something I make very clear to anyone who reaches out to me.”

We wrapped things up shortly thereafter, this particular session not nearly as rough as the one where she pushed me to consider whether or not I had ever shown my true self to anyone at all including myself. But this session left me deep in thought too, which is what a therapy session is supposed to leave you doing – thinking about your issues in a constructive manner instead of just wallowing & ruminating.

Sometimes I would go hiking after my sessions. Other times, I would go for a long drive, music blasting, the windows down. I wish I could say I remembered what I did after this session but I don’t because frankly, the after sessions blurred together.

The discussion in this session though, is one that we can all learn from. While not everyone is actively helping stranger after stranger through what some consider to be the worst time of their lives (most of us who have been through a Perinatal Mood Disorder kindly call it hell), it is important to remember that when we are helping others to not allow their pain to become our own. It is possible to be compassionate without tucking someone else’s pain into a pocket in your own heart. Difficult, but possible. It is also important to know your own emotional limits. Do not ever sacrifice your own emotional well-being for someone else if you can help it. (Remember the whole your glass must be full in order to give to others rule here.)

My goal, when someone reaches out to me for help, is to empower them to deal with their issues on their own with help that is much closer (and far more professional). This should be your goal as well if you are a fellow advocate or a non-professional. Educate, empower, release. I follow up, of course, and some of the folks end up being pretty good friends, but most of the time, it is a catch and release sort of contact. It’s something I’ve grown to expect.

With each person I help, my own personal hell loses just a little more of its darkness, shoving me further into the light, allowing me to help even more people.

No woman or family should ever have to struggle through a Perinatal Mood Disorder alone. This is why I do what I do and why I will never stop.

Because every single one of us matters to someone out there.

Tossing the Emotional Baggage from Your Train

Many of us stand frozen in our paths because we are afraid of disappointing someone or being called out as a hypocrite when what we do does not back up what we say. Here’s the thing – how people react to you is not your gig. It’s theirs. They choose how to judge you and nothing you do or say will change how their judgement of you. You cannot repack or carry their emotional baggage. The only baggage you are responsible for is yours.

I read a great post today about a minimalistic approach to life. Of course, it focused on the minimalistic approach to material things but what if we took this approach and applied to to our emotional life as well and set free all the baggage from the past and refused to carry it for one second longer?

One of my earliest favourite movies is The Mission with Jeremy Irons and Robert DeNiro. Irons plays a Jesuit Priest in the Amazon. DeNiro is a plantation owner who has some society debts to pay. He appeals to Irons and follows him into the wilderness, carrying a large load of items on his back as they trek through the jungle. Despite falling multiple times as they struggle up a particularly steep hill, DeNiro refuses to cut the load off. Finally, after a fall when DeNiro is almost at the top, Irons cuts the load from DeNiro’s back. DeNiro looks at Irons in disbelief, almost angry that he has taken his penance from him. Then, DeNiro sits down and cries in the jungle, mourning the loss of the load and, it seemed, his gratefulness for having been relieved of by a priest. (Disclaimer – it has been quite some time since I have seen the movie and this is how I remember the basic scene/storyline of this aspect of the movie. Please feel free to correct me if I am wrong)

What if we were able to do that for someone? For ourselves? Lighten the load a little by refusing to carry emotional baggage with us? Imagine if we could truly start each day anew with no baggage whatsoever on our hearts or our minds? A sort of blank slate, if you will.

But wouldn’t you have to be emotionally frigid to do that?

No. What you need to be is mindful of how you allow things to ebb and flow into and out of your life, ensuring a balance of positive and negative – not allowing either to outdo the other. (For I believe that if we do not know sorrow and pain we cannot be truly grateful for the wonderful and amazing).

So how does one achieve this minimalistic state of a baggage free emotional life?

Well, for starters, you could complete the ritual of Kolinahr – I kid, I kid. Being Vulcan is not logical, Captain.

Here are a few steps I have discovered to living a (mostly) baggage free emotional life:

1) Deal with things as they happen – Don’t hold things in. Process events as they occur. Talk about them, write about them, get it out of your system. The longer things sit, the more they fester and you don’t want that creepy Uncle from The Adams Family perched on your back, do you? No. Of course you don’t. So before your problems sprout arms, legs, start wearing a holocaust cloak and go bald, deal with them before you turn into the Hunchback of Notre Dame because Uncle Fester is camped out on your back.

2) Do not let experiences jade you - Just because one situation with one person turned out a particular way one time, do not let that be the standard by which you judge similar situations with different people in the future. People are all different and sometimes, they might surprise you with their reactions. We all know what “assume” breaks down into, right? And we are not asses. Well, not all of us.

3) Listen to what the other party is saying – Don’t sit there hearing them as if they were the teacher on Charlie Brown while you formulate what you want to say to defend yourself. Actually listen to their concerns. When they are done, take a few minutes to respond, beginning your response with a rephrasing of what they said so they know you heard them. Validation goes a long way and repeating what they said helps you better understand what they’re feeling as well because you’re saying it in your voice.

4) Do not have conversations about important situations when you are angry – Trust me on this one. Wait until you have calmed down and then talk. Discussing things when you are both angry never ends well. It is wiser to wait until you have both calmed down and are capable of having a rational discussion. Otherwise, you just end up having a talk that looks like this (I don’t really like the parenting in this video as they delay dealing with the child’s outburst but it is a perfect example of what an angry conversation will accomplish – nothing):

5) Be brave enough to admit when you are wrong. We are not always on the side of right in a discussion, behaviour, or life. We screw up because we are human. (To be human is to err, correct?) It takes a lot of chutzpah to admit you are wrong. Don’t admit you’re wrong if you know you’re not – that’s not cool either. But when you are wrong, admit it, and ask at the same time how you can fix the damage that has been done. Accountability goes a LONG way.

6) When you feel wronged, say something. Staying silent harms everyone, especially you. This is reminiscent of the first step, yes. But I also want to encourage you to phrase things like this, “When X happened, it made me feel like Y. How can we work to improve how we do this so no one has to feel like Y again?” This way, you are not being accusatory and offering to form a partnership to improve how things are managed in the future. (There are certain situations in which it is best, of course, to say something to someone other than the person who wronged you such as cases of abuse, etc, but still – say something to someone who can help you work through it or escape the situation. Do not continue to suffer in silence.)

7) Remember that how people react to you is absolutely not your gig – it is theirs. This is the best piece of advice a therapist ever gave me. Living by it is difficult at first but once you start to do so, you realize that as long as you do your very best to resolve a situation or to share how you feel, how people choose to react to that is their gig. You absolutely positively do not own how anyone chooses to react to you. That’s all them. End of story.

Do I guarantee these steps will lead to a minimalistic emotional lifestyle free of all that baggage you have been lugging around? No.

But it’s a damn good start.

What changes will you make in your life this week to move toward a more minimalistic emotional lifestyle? What do you think would be the most difficult thing for you to let go of emotionally? Share below!

 

 

The Trouble with Beauty and Happiness

This post is the result of a few conversations I’ve participated in on Social Media over the past couple of days. The discussions centered on beauty, self-awareness, happiness, and one even focused on the gender battle of stereotypes and how body image is presented differently to men and women. These are my general thoughts on the matter. Feel free to dive in with any thoughts you may have as well. Just an FYI, if you’re new here, all new comments must be approved before publication.
People often say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I say that the most liberating thing about beauty is realizing you are the beholder.
~Salma Hayek~
For most of us, we wake up in the morning, stumble to the bathroom, and take care of business before we even bother looking in the mirror. Once we do, however, we judge ourselves for what sleep has done to us. Did we get enough? Do we still have circles under our eyes? What’s that crusty stuff at the corner? Dry lips? Wrinkles? Some of us may have time to do something about it, others may have a scant moment to splash water on our faces before we are overrun with children who need our every waking second.
Our vision of ourselves fades throughout the day as we tend to life at hand. Eventually we know we should shower and maybe do something beyond a messy bun with our hair but we don’t have the time or the energy. Some may go overboard, like Decoy Mom.
I am not saying that there is anything wrong with a natural approach to appearances. Nor am I saying there is anything wrong with wanting to wear make up. Both are perfectly fine as long as you are doing it for yourself and not to please some impossible unattainable standard or to buck said unattainable standard.
Beauty is not some physical state of being. It is a mental state of being. Until we, both men and women, truly believe this and begin to live by it instead of allowing companies and others to define what is perfect, we will live in a state of “faux beauty.”
Beauty is, as Salma stated, in the eye of the beholder. It truly is freeing to realize that YOU are your own beholder. We are of course, our own worst critics. Instead of tearing yourself down about baby weight or big boobs or the size of your behind, see them as how you were meant to be formed.
We are works of art, all of us. Each of us are individual paintings, all perfect in our own ways, curves, no curves, long hair, short hair, red, blonde, brown, black hair, light skin, dark skin, brown skin… we are made the way we were meant to be made. Nothing more, nothing less.
I am full figured, have long brown hair, and while I do get frustrated with what my body can do, I have no one to blame for that beyond myself for not using it for what it was made to be used for – exercise and movement. Lazy. But you know what? I am still happy with my body because I know that it is capable of moving the way it was meant to. I just need to get my head in the right place, something I want to do for ME, not in order to become the next goddess to be worshiped. It is about being healthy not about reaching a number.
The trouble with beauty is that we allow others to define it and have allowed others to define it for far too long. Women are where life grows. Life flows from man into woman. We, all of us, are where we start. We should respect this and allow ourselves slack when it comes to judging the size of the package in which we reside.
Know what I find sexy in a partner? Intelligence, compassion, a sense of humour, a love of geeky things and sporty things. Our minds are the ones that fall in love, not our bodies. Of course physical attraction helps and it is a factor for me (and for most of us) but it is not at the top of my list. Physical beauty fades. Personality, however, is what’s under the surface and THAT’S what you’ll spend your life with….your partner’s personality. I think this is one of the reasons mental health is a struggle for people in love – because it changes your soul. If you keep communication up though, the two of you can work through anything – remembering, of course, that communication is a two way street.
“If I could just be beautiful, I would be happy….”
Beauty starts with acceptance of what we have been given. It starts on the inside, this acceptance. Helen Keller believed that “Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”
Helen Keller felt beauty with hear heart and soul, experienced beauty through touch, she did not see it or even hear it. She did not work to gratify her inner soul with an outer appearance, rather, she worked to achieve beauty through her works with others.
Today, take the Helen Keller approach to beauty and happiness. Choose a cause dear to your heart and do something to make a difference. Then do something else to make a difference tomorrow as well. And the next. Let your love, joy, and heart be the source of your beauty instead of a jar, a treadmill, or a scalpel. (The treadmill and scalpel, of course do not apply in cases of medical necessity – I want to make that absolutely clear. Surgery or exercise are perfectly acceptable when they are for healthy reasons.)
Go. Be beautiful. Let that light inside of you shine and allow others to see just how awesome and brightly your patina radiates. As you do so, remember these wise words: No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. (Eleanor Roosevelt).
Carry these words as well, by the great Ralph Waldo Emerson:
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
Do not, by any means, consent to allow others to define your beauty or your happiness for they are yours and yours alone to define and achieve.

Lessons Learned

On December 31, I promised a more intimate peek into my life these days. Over the past few years, I have intensely valued my privacy with all things personal. But you’re a blogger. You’re supposed to spill your guts, right?

Not exactly, Einstein.

The beauty of having my own space here on the Internet is that I have final say regarding what I share or do not share. For instance, I wrote an intensely personal post about this past Saturday but chose not to post it because I don’t want to ruin the beauty that was Saturday.

However, I do have something rather personal to share today: I have learned a few lessons over the past few years as I have moved from marriage to divorce to living with my parents again to girlfriend and co-step parent.

Those lessons, in no particular order, follow:

1. Focus on the act, not the response. I am happiest when I am doing for others, particularly when it makes them happy. Service is my language. I realized that for quite some time, instead of focusing on the act of giving/doing, I was focused on the response. When the response was not what I expected, I would become disappointed. Now, however, I work to focus on the actual act of doing/giving. It doesn’t matter what the response is as long as you have done your best with a full and giving heart.

2. It is okay to have emotions. You are human, yes? Not Vulcan or Android. We have emotions and they are all over the place. It is okay to own your emotions. Now, if your emotions are interfering with day-to-day living and causing rifts with others in your life, then they may be worth exploring with a professional. But do not ever let someone make you constantly second guess your emotions and reactions.

3. Take time for yourself. You matter. As I said in a post the other day, it is impossible to fill an empty glass with water from an empty glass. Time for yourself does not have to cost a thing, it is not something which is out of reach unless you make it out of reach. It can be as little as making a favourite tea or coffee. Or watching a favourite show, reading, singing, exercise, sewing, knitting, etc. It’s about doing something that sparks your soul and is an essence of you. Yes, you are a mother, a wife/girlfriend, sister, daughter, cousin, whatever.. but you are also YOU. Remember that and don’t lose yourself in what everyone else requires of you.

4. It is okay to need help. For some reason, we, as women, have been conditioned to not ask for help. In days gone by, women had plenty of help nearby. But with the destruction of the extended family and increased reliance on self, that help has faded into the past. Now, we go online and ask for advice from friends who are nowhere near us geographically. Some of us are fortunate to have friends and family nearby but others are not. Research your area – find the Mom’s group, maybe look into a daycare. Accept help when it is offered. There is no shame in saying yes or giving yourself a little bit of breathing room. If you were in need of oxygen, you’d put on an oxygen mask pretty darn quickly, right? THIS IS JUST LIKE THAT.

5. Laugh loudly, deeply, and often. When things get bad, don’t forget to laugh. Laugh at the inappropriate. Giggle at the ridiculous. Find people who appreciate sarcasm and humour. Befriend them. They will be your light when everything else is pitch dark. Laughter is the best medicine (unless, of course, you have a cracked rib or a weak bladder….then it’s just painful or messy). This, more than any of the other lessons, is what has kept me afloat through all the dark. Laughter. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to be friends with someone who was incapable of laughing at themselves or at life. We’re just not here long enough to be serious all the time.

6. Find the beauty in the smallest of things. Take nothing for granted. The smallest moments, the sparkle of snow on a sunny day or a smile from a child – these are the things that stay with you. The best moments don’t happen on Instagram. They happen when we’re simply living. I have learned to unplug and leave the Internet behind because while I adore the friends I have made in the land of the World Wide Web, I love the real people in my life even more and do not want them to ever feel I take them for granted or that they are less important than the people who live inside my computer/phone. A funny thing happens when you take the time to see the beauty in everything – everything becomes beautiful whether it really is or not because it really IS in the eye of the beholder.

7. Be spontaneous. Sometimes, life requires planning. But the best life is lived spontaneously. It’s about saying yes to opportunities in the heat of the moment and following through. It’s about living outside your comfort zone. Life is meant to be lived. I am still working on this one myself but it’s one I really hope to dive fully into this year. It doesn’t have to be anything huge, mind you. It may end up just being a quick trip somewhere to run an errand for the heck of it. Or it may end up being a surprise weekend away. Regardless, spontaneity is about telling the rigors of your daily schedule to go to hell and running with opportunity.

8. Throw yourself into a hobby. For me, my hobby is cooking. Cooking was formerly my escape but now, it’s something I truly adore doing. I love finding new recipes and trying them out. I have cooked more in the past 18 months than I have ever before. Breads, Asian soups, bacon wrapped meatloaf (YUM!) and other various recipes that I’ve discovered or even just made up completely. Picking a new hobby is challenging and gets your creative juices flowing. The bonus to cooking? You get to EAT your creation…and make other people drool over them.

9. Let yourself cry. You would think being okay to cry would belong with “it’s okay to have emotions” but I am separating this one for a reason. As a divorced mom, there are times when I just need to bawl my eyes out because well, there are a LOT of emotions you go through during a divorce. I have found that crying is the one thing that I deny myself. Not just during my divorce, but overall. I have never been much of a crier. But sometimes, you just need to cry to release all the emotions inside. Give yourself permission to do so. I have a few movies which will trigger crying and I am not afraid to use them. (Simon Birch, My Dog Skip, and Hachi are total tearjerkers. I also bawl at Rudy.)

10. Do not compare yourself to anyone else. You are you. Everyone else is not you. Just because someone else who started the process at the same time as you is doing better than you at the same point that you feel everything is falling apart does not mean that you are failing and they are succeeding. All that means is that you are processing things at your speed and they are processing things at their speed. It’s okay to go slower. It’s okay to go faster. Be the best you that you can be and you’ll be just fine.

11. Steep yourself in your faith. Regardless of what your beliefs are, find and connect with like-minded people. For me, this is the Christian faith. People who are members of your faith will know how to respond to any faith-based challenges which may crop up. Sometimes they may be a bit heavy-handed, but if it weren’t for prayer and the faith-strong in my life over the past few years, I honestly do not know if I would have survived. I am eternally grateful.

On Loving Motherhood

One of the phrases I hear a lot from parents who struggle with mental health issues after the birth of a child is that they didn’t feel an instant bond with their child. Or that they did but it was to the nth degree and they obsessed over every little thing that happened to their child, to the point of it interfering with day to day living. Instead of being the parent society leads us to believe every parent should be, they were either detached or over-attached. It’s the Goldilocks syndrome with none of us feeling that “just-right” level of attachment.

One of the most difficult aspects of experiencing a mental health issue after the birth of a child is that in addition to healing ourselves, we must develop a bond with a new person we hardly know and cannot communicate with in the normal manner because they are not yet capable of deep thought and expressive language.

Imagine that you’ve just met an amazing person. You want to get to know them, to give them all you have inside you, but you can’t. You don’t have the energy. So you worry about the effect this will have on the relationship -if they’ll end up hating you because you can’t quite reach out the way they need you too. You wonder how much emphasis they’ll put on the lack of affection from your end. Somehow, though, you manage to muddle through and they miraculously stay. They love you simply because you’re you, something you struggle to comprehend. Then you feel guilty because you haven’t put as much into it as they have (or perceive that you haven’t) and so you overcompensate, which fills you with intense guilt as the days go by. So you read books about what you should be doing. After awhile, it becomes habit but somewhere, deep inside, you always wonder if you’ve done enough. Or if they’ll bring it back up some day when you falter the least bit.

Or you remain detached, thinking that it’s just not worth the work, the stress, the anxiety. Things are the way they are for a reason, right? Why bother? They’ll either stay or go. The choice is theirs in the end.

Parenting can be hell.

It’s the toughest job on the planet, and no matter how much preparation we put into it while expecting a new little one, we’re all thrust into it, suddenly. It’s on-the-job training. When you add a mental health issue, it’s like on-the-job training at the Hoover Dam on a day when it’s sprung a leak. SO much is flung at you.

Every little thing means more than it should.

Bed seems really lovely.

Giving up seems like a fantastic idea.

Walking away – sheer brilliance.

In the past, I envied parents who seem to know exactly what they’re doing or really enjoy their kids. As a survivor of multiple PMAD episodes and issues and a relative introvert, it’s extremely difficult for me to relate to others who want to spend every waking minute with their children. It’s not that I don’t love my kids, I absolutely do. But for me, parenting is traumatic. My start was more of a train wreck with a hurricane thrown in for good measure. I fight for every second of what appears to be “normal” parenting.

What I forget in my battle to be “normal” is that no one is normal. We are all fighting our own battles, they are just a bit different from the battles of those around us. As I have moved toward healing, parenting has become more like breathing for me. Sometimes I still have to fight for breath but most of the time due to the necessity of mindfulness in my own survival, parenting has become easier as the years have gone by. The wounds have healed enough to not feel as if they are torn off with every single negative instance.

To those who are still in the trenches and still fighting for breath as they fight to parent their children and remain sane, (with or without a PMAD), my hat tips to you. To those fighting through a PMAD specifically as you parent your new one (and possibly even older children), I know how it feels to be where you are and I want to tell you that it won’t always be this way.

One day, things will just work. There will always be potholes and bumps as you navigate the road, but if you take the time to just breathe, ask yourself if what you’re about to explode over is really worth it, and then address the issue at hand (or not, depending on the answer to the second step), things will improve. Take time for yourself. See your child as just that – a child – take the time to see the world through their eyes, marvel at the little things right along with them, and let the world hold you close instead of crawling away into a cave. Baby steps.

You may remember all your faults but your baby will not. All your baby needs is you. They are not mini-adults, judging you for not knowing what to do. They aren’t the ones behind the myriad of research which blames parents for all that is wrong with adults. Let it go. We are our own worst critics. If we take the time to just be as humans instead of critiquing every single choice life flows so much better.

Stop judging.

Stop worrying.

Just be. Drink in life, drink in your child. Drink in the sunshine and the joy when you can. Store it up for the days short on both.

You can do this. Even Goldilocks found the right one eventually, didn’t she?

Your just right is out there, I promise. It’s just a bitch to find in the fog.

You are not alone, you will be okay, and your baby will be okay too.

In the interest of all honesty, recovery is not as easy as sitting out in the sunshine and drinking in life. For many, it takes a multitude of visits to a therapist, maybe a few medication changes, and a hell of an effort to reach the point where you CAN sit in the sun and drink in life. It certainly took all of that for me, and more. But the fight is worth it in the end and that fight will make the sunshine even brighter once you’ve evicted the fog.

If you find yourself struggling with a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder, you can find hope and help through Postpartum Support International or over at Postpartum Progress. If you are feeling down and struggling with suicidal thoughts, reach out to Lifeline, the National Suicide Hotline here in the United States.

The Scorpion Tale of Perinatal Mood Disorders

Last night, I had a rather in-depth discussion with Addye over at Butterfly Confessions. We’ve discussed the same topic before and we’re finally doing something about it because we both think there’s not enough out there about this subject. Her blog post went up last night, discussing the role her antenatal depression, postpartum mood disorders, and other mental health struggles have played in her son’s recent diagnosis of being on the autism spectrum. While our children’s diagnoses are different, our story is the same, and it begins with a long hard look at the stinging guilt with which we now carry along our paths of Motherhood.

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It’s taboo, really, more so than admitting you struggled with a Postpartum Mood Disorder. It’s a secret locked in a trunk hidden in a house deep in the woods where no one will find it. It’s the poison-tipped tail of a scorpion, the thing that gets you after the initial reaction of having a scorpion land in front of you. It’s the nagging feeling you get in your throat every damn time you look at your kid and think, even for a brief second, that you did that to them. It’s YOUR fault.

I’ve been there. I still am, sometimes. Not as much as before, but it’s something that I will always carry with me. A small part of my heart will always be tinged with guilt and a depth of sadness I’ll never shake. I’ve learned to accept it instead of fight it, to give it space to just breathe, knowing I’ll never get rid of it as long as I live. Right next to it though, now, is a space that is filled with a peace I’ve worked very hard to achieve – a peace that cancels out that guilt and sadness…as long as the see-saw is working that day, that is.

I struggled with Postpartum OCD after the birth of my first daughter. I’ve made no secret of that. I sought help but was shot down by my OB, an integral part of this story. I had to fight on my own to heal. Looking back, I didn’t do a great job at healing. What I excelled at was shoving all of the darkness down and faking it until I felt like I made it. Only by the time I got there, I was pregnant again and my hormones became the scorpion.

They flowed into my pregnancy, along with severe morning sickness. There were days I had to choose between eating or my prenatal vitamin. I often chose eating because I knew the vitamin would make me vomit whereas I might be able to keep the food down. One day, I lived on just one powdered donut. Other days, less. I couldn’t tolerate food for almost four months, if memory serves correctly.

I remember thinking I didn’t need the prenatal vitamin. I’d be okay, baby would be fine. Or so my hormone rattled brain said so. I didn’t want to get up, I would lay on the couch as our oldest, just a little under a year and a half, begged me to play with her. I couldn’t move or I’d vomit. So she learned to play by herself.

The pregnancy progressed, everything seemed fine, I didn’t have Gestational Diabetes again, the baby measured fine, all was good.

Until my baby shower. I went into labor that evening. I was 35wks and 6 days pregnant. (Women with untreated antenatal depression are more likely to go into labor early….or so says the research). At the time, I didn’t relate the two. I just knew I wasn’t full term and contracting. I labored at home until the next morning when we finally saw the doctor. I was dilated enough for them to send me to the hospital. Baby was on her way. Instead of happy, I was nervous. What was wrong? Why was she coming early? We were close enough to full term, really, less than a week away. But still, she was early.

After 42 hours of grueling labor, my daughter was born. She looked perfect. 10 fingers. 10 toes, screaming, a perfect squishable pink human all mine. I made her. As I tried to latch her to nurse, she wouldn’t latch. Just kept screaming. I didn’t know why. I tried for 30 minutes. Then we called the Lactation Consultant. I knew what I was doing, damn it, I had nursed our first for 16 months. Why wouldn’t she latch?

The Lactation Consultant swept her mouth as soon as she got to our room.

That’s when shit got real.

My darling perfect little squishable baby was rushed away from me, the word “cleft palate” left hanging in the air.

There I lay, in a hospital room, epidural still wearing off, all alone, no staff, no husband, nothing to show for almost 2 full days of labor except for the echoing of my heart shattering, insidious voices flooding my head with the phrase, “It’s your fault.”

I did that to her. She grew inside of me, imperfectly.

I lost it that night, brushed my hair for 10 minutes in front of the mirror. Ugly cried on the phone a lot that week, so much so that my ex-husband couldn’t even understand me at several points. In front of nurses. I cried a LOT. This? Wasn’t the way things were supposed to go. Why had I failed?

She was in the NICU for 21 days, undergoing one major surgery for her jaw at just 9 days old. Seeing your 9 day old infant on apparatus breathing FOR her… yeah.. um… yeah. “I did that to her.”

The kicker? The geneticist at the hospital asked me if I took my prenatal vitamins. I lied. I didn’t need any more guilt. I really didn’t. In my fog, I failed a lot.

People told us if we made it through the first year….we’d be scot-free.

They lied.

She’s seven now. Is one of the bubbliest personalities you could ever hope to meet. She’s perfect in every possible way. But she’s struggled so much and her struggles are far from over. Because of me.

She fights for every word she says. It could be worse, I tell myself. She could have so many other issues kids with her same condition have – texture issues, an additional syndrome, etc. Aside from her Pierre Robin Sequence at birth, she’s fine. She has speech therapy, and has had additional surgeries to help with her speech. Before she was 2, she’d been through three times as many surgeries as I have in my entire life.

I did that to her.

What if I’d taken my prenatals? Would she have been born this way? What if I’d fought harder for myself in seeking help for my depression after the birth of her sister?

Intellectually, I KNOW it’s not my fault. But still, the sting is there, long after the scorpion has faded out of sight.

It’s there, just a tinge of it, every time we talk. Every time I have to decipher what she’s said to me based on the context of the words I am able to understand because I still can’t understand every single thing she says. I recently won $200 headphones. They help me immensely in understanding her when we Skype. The ear-buds I had before just weren’t high enough quality to do so. Even now, I have to make her slow down and repeat what she’s said because she’s seven and well, seven year olds get excited.

She will need a lot of orthodontic work. She has the risk of giving birth to a child with similar issues. Kids will tease her because of the way she talks. She was born a fighter without having a say in the matter. While I know this will serve her well later in life, it is something with which I struggle.

Some mothers have Postpartum Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, etc, and they heal, with no adverse affect on their children. But there are those out there who experience issues with their children. And because of what we’ve been through, we draw that line from point PPD to point whatever Alphabet Soup DX with our kids. There’s research to back most of it up. There isn’t research (that I’ve found) to back up PPD related to cleft palate but a “Friend” of mine once tried to draw a line to the type of med I may have taken to my daughter’s cleft palate. Punch.IN.THE.GUT.

Moms like me need a gentle hand. We need to be heard, not dismissed. We don’t need to hear that “It’s not your fault” because in our heads? It is. It always will be no matter how much you tell us that it’s not. It just will be. We need you to stand with us, to be there when we need to scream, cry, vent, and shake our fists at the sky. To understand that our truth is a hard truth and sometimes it will break us but we will rebuild, a constant practice in our lives shattered by this spike of unexpected blow-back from our already complex, shame, and stigma-riddled experiences.

We are women made of glass. Under that glass, yes, we are steel, because we have to be, but on the outside, we are glass and we shatter. We need you to be someone who lets us shatter, someone who helps put us back together and take another step forward as we walk toward processing our new truth.

It’s time for us to come out of the darkness and speak up, to be honest about the role we feel we played in the issues affecting our kids, and to find support, REAL support, not dismissive attitudes, in our search for the light both we and our children need to thrive. We seek out the research drawing the lines from Mom to our kid’s issues, whatever they may be. Sometimes, the line tracing back to Mom is real, worth exploring, and worth understanding. Without it, we’re just left wondering why. I, for one, don’t like hanging out in the middle of nowhere with no answers.

Any answer, even a horrible one, is better than no answer at all.

It’s something. A direction in which we can begin to move forward from, a new beginning from which we can start to walk toward solace. Even if we never reach it, walking toward it is often enough. It has to be, right?

 

 

 

Guest post over on Mama’s Comfort Camp

Today, I’m thrilled to have a guest post over on Mama’s Comfort Camp. Yael is an amazing woman, one I am honoured to call friend. When she asked me to write a post to help celebrate the birthday of Mama’s Comfort Camp, I immediately said yes. After a couple of scheduling snafus, the day is finally here.

You can read “The New Village” here.

Go. Read. And discover yet another amazing community of supportive Mamas on the Internet. We’re growing – and you are not alone in your journey along the path of Motherhood. Join us.

About Yael: Yael Saar is a mama on a mission to remove guilt and shame from parenting in order to make room for joy and love. She is the Founder and Keeper of the Mama’s Comfort Camp, a Facebook community that functions as a safe haven and refueling station for hundreds of moms from around the world. This community is free and open to moms of kids of any age, and we share our laughter, tears, and triumphs, all the while normalizing our motherhood struggles and bridging the gap between expectations and reality in a uniquely judgment-free environment.

www.mamascomfortcamp.com

Mawwiage, Mawwiage is what bwings us twogether twoday

This post is part of a week-long celebration of the wedding of a dear friend of mine. I hope you’ll go check out the other celebratory posts too!

“Mawwiage. Mawwiage is what bwings us twogether twoday…”

This weekend, a dear friend of mine is getting married. A’Driane will tie the knot with her beloved Bert. I’m honoured to call A’Driane friend. She is a force with which to be reckoned. She is passionate, dedicated, and tenacious. She is fierce.

Like me, Addye has faced her own challenges and is vocal about them. She also knows when to pull away and take time for herself. Getting to know Addye has been a blessing. I am truly excited for her this weekend and am wishing both her and Bert all the best. I will be there in spirit.

Marriage is a blessing, a continuance of the journey of two hearts who have found each other and decided to cling to the other as they go through life. It’s not an easy thing, it’s not a simple thing, but when you find the right person, as Addye and Bert have, it is a spectacular thing. It is worth fighting for, worth aching for, worth rejoicing for, and worth celebrating. That’s where the wedding comes in – the ceremony celebrates love and the joining of their hearts.

As you join your hearts together for eternity tomorrow, may both of you be blessed with all the happiness and tenacity the world has to give. May you lose yourselves in the passion you hold for each other and never forget what it was that brought you together in the first place. May you always love as if you are in a state of perpetual youth. May you always face whatever life throws at you with hands held, looking forward and never back. May you both be filled with continuous awe of the precious love you hold for one another.

May you always hold hands, laugh loudly, love deeply, and above all else, cling to each other fiercely even when times get tough – and cling to each other just as fiercely even when times are not so tough.

Congratulations to you both.

Addye Heart

Being Me

Growing up female is tricky business. There’s so much we’re expected to do, expected to say, nod, smile, grin, hide the negative, put on your happy face, kiss ass, kick ass, love this because everyone else does and OH MY GOD don’t do that because it’s not lady like.

I’d like to take a second to thank my parents for not raising me to bow down to those around me but instead taking the time to encourage me to question everything, dig deeper, be strong, to foster my desire and passion for writing, and above all else, raising me to be HAPPY.

Sure there are things they wish I was doing instead of what I am doing right now, a vision they probably had for my life but they have always supported me…or at least made me feel supported in whatever I chose as my path.

So for me, when I’m not happy, I have failed. When I’m not myself, I have failed. I haven’t failed when I don’t kiss someone’s ass just because I should. I haven’t failed because I haven’t achieved some sort of materialistic goal. I haven’t failed because things aren’t in some sort of perfect magical sublime order (although my OCD disagrees vehemently with that statement).

Things could be better, sure. I’d really love to be employed. That would rock. But I’m not. What I am is fulfilled. There’s not a paycheck with that, no, but there is peace, happiness, and a strong sense of self. I am doing, right now, exactly what I am meant to be doing.

What anyone happens to think of that does not matter to me.

It doesn’t matter to me that someone thinks I *should* be getting paid. Or that I *should* be doing this or I should have tried harder at that. Wanna know why? That worry is theirs to bear, not mine. That worry is not on my back.

I’ve survived hell more than a few times. Yes, others have gone through worse hells but this one, this one is mine. Filled with potholes of chronic pain, Postpartum Mood Disorders, loss to cancer, addiction of a spouse, a special needs baby, divorce, and the struggle to redefine myself after living an a hostile environment for so very long – an environment which I allowed to completely turn my sense of self inside out.

I’m writing this in response to a post over at Schmutzie’s place entitled “We Can Become Known”. Go read it. I guarantee you’ll be empowered to write a post of your own. If not, it’ll give you something to think about for a bit.

When I was in therapy, one of the TOUGHEST things my therapist asked me was “Do you know who you are? Really know who you are?” Then she challenged me with this beauty…”I don’t think you’ve ever truly shown your true self to anyone, not even to yourself.”

Wow.

You try sitting across from someone who has just said this to you and stay tear-free as you realize, “Fuck. No. I haven’t. FUCK. Who the hell am I???” Yeah. That session rocked my world.

Do I know who I am now?

Yeah, sorta, kinda, okay, maybe not but sorta…um… what was the question? I’ll be figuring out who I am until the second I take my last breath because I believe every experience, every exchange, changes us to a certain extent. Maybe not to our core (although there are those type of experiences out there – trust me – I’ve had a few) but they change us ever so slightly.

For the first time in years, and I do mean, in YEARS, I am comfortable in my own skin. I am comfortable in my own head, in my own soul. I’ve hit the trifecta and baby, can’t nobody stop the trifecta.

The best part of all of this? I’m with someone now who loves me for ME, supports me, and is happy to just BE himself with me. Seriously, y’all.. this is the hollywood ending. I’m not gonna lie and say it’s not work, because it is – but when it’s honest, compassionate, filled with trust, and adorned with love – it’s a hollywood ending even if there is a lot of behind the scenes work.

All that hell I’ve been through makes it worth that much more.

I’m growing bolder in lifting the veil off the person I’ve become over the past two years, figuring out how to translate it all into words which sit on a page (or the Interwebz). Like a giant glacier, I am thawing in the ever-warming world, water oozing into a waiting and welcoming ocean.

I may not be perfect, but I’m me.

And in the words of Amy Poehler (via Tina Fey via Schmutzie’s blog):

“I don’t fucking care if you don’t like it.”
Because I’m done bending over and making people happy just because that’s what the world expects me to do – I’ve never been very good at it anyway.
Besides.
As Laura Thatcher Ulrich once stated, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”