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!

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.

Whatever Wednesday: A Drive in the Dark


One of the downsides of being a writer/creative type is seeing the world differently. I don’t see a tree. I see the seed, the person who may have planted the seed, the child who once played in its shadow, the mother who called the child in for dinner, that child leaving for a first date, college, or the family moving away and the entire cycle starting over with a new family as the tree stands there, rooted to the ground, subject to the world around it, unable to move or protest any indignity it may witness.

I do not see just a building – it is everything which went into a building – the craftsmanship of the bricks, the glass, the tile, the wood, the placement of the items inside, the heart and soul of the living, breathing walls. I see and hear the echoes of generations past resounding well beyond that which lies before me now.

Ever since I was a young child, I have peered into the other side of life. That which is dark, unexpected, unexplained, and lives in the shadows just around the corner from the main streets filled with a vibrant chatter and soulful lives. It’s the side of life just beyond a living man’s last breath. It is what fills the landscape around us and gives it heart. Sometimes, the heart is a joyous one. Other times, it is not.

When I was in college, my parents moved to a new house. On a visit home, my mother saw fit to drive me to the new house in well after the sun had set. We drove quite a distance through the country side, roads I knew at first, and then roads I had never visited before. We made what seemed like a sudden turn off the paved country road onto a darkened gravel road.

The air changed. The already dark night drifted suddenly into an even darker abyss as the road in front of us disappeared after passing a row of country houses. We then proceeded through a cow gate, down a hill, with a tangled forest to our right. My breath slowed, my legs shifted, hugging the seat beneath me, my hands gripped my thighs as I glanced nervously at my mother.

At the bottom of the hill, there was a white farmhouse glowing through the impossible darkness, as if it were a beacon, and yet, in the upstairs window, shadows danced ever so slightly with the white lace curtains despite no evidence of human inhabitants.

My mother deftly made a right turn. Pavement again, until we hit the split in the road where, of course, she stayed to the side slathered in gravel. The tires spun the rocks, almost growling as they churned forward into the midnight sprawled before us.

An old tobacco barn stood just to the right of the road, barely visible as the headlights splashed across it. The rusted siding glared furiously back at us, as if we had suddenly  roused it from a deep sleep.

She drove on, through a curve or two appropriately tangled in overhanging trees, then up a hill, down a hill. A shadowy house stood in the night in the middle of the forest. The tires slid slightly on the rocks as they convulsed at the abrupt stop at the front of the large home which swelled up from the ground. My mother got out of the car, announcing we had arrived.

Arrived where, exactly?

I sat in the car for a moment, afraid to open the door, fearful of the banjos which would inevitably greet me. Forcing my right hand to move, I gripped the door handle, took a deep breath, and opened the door.

A burbling creek echoed through the night, surrounded by the loud calls of what I would later learn were bullfrogs. By this time, my mother was already on the porch, unlocking the door. “C’mon,”  she called.

I closed the door behind me and scurried to the porch. Light would be inside. Blessed, heavenly, life-saving light.

We walked around the house, a giant house yearning to become a home but standing empty, bereft of life and vibrance. The interior walls echoed every step and sound. I stood in the sun room, surrounded by windows on every side, staring out into the darkness just beyond, shuddering. I ran back to the front of the house and demanded to go back home. This, this was not home. Perhaps it was wonderful during the day but at night? At night there was a horde of creatures in the dark, watching us, intently.

I looked down at my hands in the darkness of the car until we were well away from the house, unable to look outside, afraid of what might peer back at me just beyond the glass.

When I struggled with Postpartum Depression & OCD, one of my biggest triggers was when night fell. I felt the same way – as if something were peering in at me through the windows at night. All the blinds had to be closed so nothing could see in and my children and I would be safe.

Until my current residence, I have continued this tradition. Even here, we had to open the blinds in our room upstairs high enough so the cat would not play with them in an effort to wake us at an ungodly hour. I would leap into bed, covering myself quickly in hopes to ignore the fact that the blinds were open.

Last night, however, was different. Last night, not only did I lift the blinds, I left the slats in the open position with the idea of waking with the sun (that part didn’t work out). For the first time in years, I slept with completely open blinds.

Fear controls you if you allow it to control you. Once you make the decision to move beyond fear, you find freedom.

Know what?

Freedom rocks.

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.