Far from perfect


Tousled whisper thin golden hair fell softly around my face as I pulled a stuffed animal from beneath a toddler-sized shirt. Cradling the stuffed creature delicately in my arms, I leaned down to whisper a promise:

“I’m your Mommy. I’ll love you forever. You’ll see.”

In toddler years? Forever lasts two minutes. If that. I repeated this action over and over again as a child. Motherhood, you see, was my dream. My aspiration. My definition of self.

20 something years later, I grew three real babies over the course of four years under an assortment of plus-sized maternity shirts.

I learned birthing a baby was nowhere near as easy as yanking a stuffed animal from beneath a shirt. It was hard work. It hurt. It was traumatizing. And that love? It’s not always there immediately. Sometimes, it’s confusion. Frustration. Anger. Doubt. Guilt. Apologies. Tears. Overwhelming sense of failure. Depression. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Anxiety. Post-Traumatic Mood Disorder.

In short, birth and the aftermath is MESSY.

You can’t turn your back on the aftermath. There’s a creature there requiring attention when you want to sleep. Needing to nurse or feed when all you want to do is cry. Wanting to play when you want to sit. Asking questions when you long for silence. There’s this intrusion on your life, this thing to which you may not know how to relate.

What do you do?

Some rush forward, headlong into the fray, successfully.

Then there are those of us who hate those who rush headlong into the fray successfully. Because we don’t know what the hell we’re doing. We’re frozen by fear. Frozen by anticipated judgment of our decisions. Frozen by the potential for failure. The potential of screwing up our kids. Frozen by selfishness. By not knowing what to do – by not wanting to be a parent. By the loss of ourselves. The loss of our lives. Failing to integrate our lives with the needs of this new intrusion, this tiny helpless being imposed upon us. We retreat. We fall back and wonder what’s wrong with us. We wonder why we’re flawed.

But are we flawed? Is there really something wrong with us deep down? Should we be afraid of these “flaws” or should we embrace them?

Yes, there are parents who suffer from Mental Disorders after the birth of a child. I know, I was one of them after the birth of both my daughters. I apologized to my first daughter when she was 7 days old for not knowing how to talk to her. As if she had already memorized Merriam Webster’s entire dictionary, Mother Goose, and Hans Christian Anderson. I refused to leave the house unless I had to because EVERYONE judged me with just a glance. (They didn’t, but inside my fishbowl head, they absolutely did.) I cried. I screamed. Horrible thoughts zoomed in and out of my head.

But I learned.

When my second daughter arrived, we recognized symptoms sooner. Help arrived quicker. Yes, I was hospitalized but it was necessary. I recovered much faster despite the additional complications of her special needs and NICU stay. I started to heal.

Then her brother dropped in as a surprise. I quickly worked on advocacy and care for myself. I was the complication, not the baby. Already experienced in advocacy for others, advocacy for self came naturally. My doctor worked with me, not against me. He treated me as a trusted partner instead of a subordinate. I developed a Postpartum Plan for myself. Handed it to my everyone involved in my life and in my care. I thrived and had a successful Postpartum experience until three months after his birth when all hell broke loose in another area of my life. But because of my careful planning with my postpartum experience, thankfully, I had everything in place I needed in order to deal with this dam break.

I still failed with the hell which slid my way after his birth though, because instead of diving in to advocate for my own care, I waited for someone to dive in and help me. I didn’t ask for help. I waited. Like a fool. I focused on daily living while I waited. Only the necessary – just enough to get by. I buried my issues with the situation at hand and moved forward without dealing with it. I failed to reach for my scalpel and explore the problem. I didn’t dig around to figure out the landscape. So it festered until it exploded, my marriage along with it.

Instead of accepting responsibility for this explosion, I shifted it to everyone else when in reality, I failed to deal with the issues appropriately. Yes, the source rooted elsewhere, but my failure to deal with the aftermath appropriately is ultimately what caused the explosion. No one is responsible for my actions but myself.

Life is messy. It’s not some neatly wrapped package to be displayed in a store window during the holidays like a Norman Rockwell painting. It’s more like a Jackson Pollock piece in progress. Somewhere, eventually, someone will think it’s fabulous and want to buy it. But most will simply see the mess instead of the passionate art deep within.

Bernard Baruch once stated, “The art of living lies less in eliminating our troubles than in growing with them.” Life is art if you just let go of expectations, of definitions, and learn to LIVE instead of satiate the constant needs of others. Selfish? Yes. But ultimately selfless. How? By letting go and living for YOU, you give more of yourself. You learn what brings you passion, you learn your flaws, you recognize them as beautiful, you recognize that yes, even your weakness is beautiful and not something to be hidden away.

For a very long time, I’ve wrapped my problems in wrapping paper, placed them gently and neatly on a shelf inside my head, then walked away. It worked until the room overflowed and the door burst open, dust, paper, and all my issues flying every which way. I’m sitting in the middle of my brain these days, cleaning house. Step by step. Inch by inch. Face to face with issues I thought I dealt with ages ago.

I don’t know who I am completely these days. I’m not sure where I’m going in life.

But I do know one thing – that room in my head? The one with the shelves? Won’t be rebuilt.

Instead, I’ll be grabbing my scalpels and digging around in my messes in the hopes of understanding them before moving on. Yes, it will be chaotic and unrefined. But it will be resplendent imperfection.

I’m far from perfect. I will make mistakes. I will fail. But I will learn from those mistakes and failures. And that? Makes my life the most beautiful piece of art I will ever have the honour of witnessing.

Go.

Thrive.

Be messy,  imperfect, and blissful.

Make your life Art.

There’s no other way to live.

Suicide inside out


This week is Suicide Prevention week. If you or a loved one are struggling with thoughts of suicide, please visit AFSP for more information regarding suicide, the symptoms, how to help, and how to cope if a loved one has completed the act. Know you are not alone in your struggle and there is hope, there is help, and above all else, you are loved.

 

Yesterday, my Twitter feed burst at the seams with tweets about @TreyPennington. I had no idea who this man was but quickly learned he had quite a following on Twitter and was well-loved.

Trey is no longer with us. According to reports, he took his own life in a church parking lot in Greenville, South Carolina at some point yesterday morning. Despite his connections both online and off, he felt alone.

When depression or severe mental illness strikes it can be hard to do something as simple as “reach out.” Yes, we urge people to think of mental illness as if it were a broken leg in order to encourage them to seek help. Thing is, it’s not that simple when you’re truly lost in the depths of darkness. The dark will swallow you whole before you have a chance to realize what is going on in your mind. For many, the darkness is a good friend. It becomes a safe place, a haven, a comforting world. In the midnight black we are blissfully numb. Nothing hurts. The pain is behind us. But it’s also in front of us because we know all too well how much it will hurt to leave our numb bubble. We convince ourselves, mistakenly, staying in the numb bubble is our only choice. But to stay in the bubble seals our fate. It grants us an audience with Death.

 

Those who survive suicide often speak of the decision to commit the act as one of the most peaceful decisions they ever made. To decide to end one’s life is the ultimate act of letting go. We are letting go of everything inside of us. Of everything around us. Of the very essence of being. We let go. I know this because I have entertained suicidal ideations several times throughout my life. In college after both of my grandfathers died just 19 days apart. After the birth of my first daughter. After the birth of my second daughter and her subsequent NICU stay. I did not have a plan after the birth of my second daughter. But I acted after my grandfathers’ deaths. I waded into a lake in the middle of a thunderstorm. Prayed for a lightning strike. Dunked myself under the water with the intention of drowning myself. After the birth of my first daughter I drove to a nearby lake and sat on a deck willing myself to slip under the water. Kids from a family reunion at the same park kept coming down and standing right next to me. Those kids saved my life.

 

I’ve participated in suicide interventions on Twitter. I’ve seen people hurting and jumped right in, determined to keep them alive. A cousin of mine completed suicide. It’s not something with which I am at all unfamiliar. Suicide hurts. It’s also preventable. But sometimes it’s not. The number one reaction to suicide is “I wish I could have done more.” Sometimes though, you can’t. Sometimes you do all you can do and it’s still not enough. Sometimes you reach out and reach out but unless the person to whom you are reaching is willing to hear you and willing to reach back, there’s nothing left to do.

 

I’m not saying to give up on trying to save people. Don’t ever let that go. Always hold on tightly. Jump into the fray and let them know they are loved. What I’m saying is we need to talk more about suicide. Discuss mental illness without judging. Not fear receiving anything other than the standard “I’m fine” response to “How are you doing today?” Be okay with hearing someone say “You know what? I’m not okay. I hurt and I need to talk about it.” Be selfless enough to stop and listen compassionately. Be brave enough to say “Yes. I hurt. Help me.” Find the strength to survive. Fight the pain. Revel in life, in both the good and the bad. If we all shut down and stop caring the world will become a very cold place.

 

Today, take the time to do as Twitter has been advising in the wake of this tragic loss. Take the time to ask someone how they’re doing. Don’t accept “Fine.” as an answer. Don’t pretend to be okay if you’re not. Open the door to your heart. Let someone in. We may not be able to fix others but we sure as hell can love them.

 

Love someone today. Let someone love you today. Especially if you’re stuck in a dark scary bubble. Let love in and let it free you.

Coping with tragedy while struggling with mental illness


Last night, all bleary eyed, I read a Breaking News Update from Huffington Post about Japan. A 7.9 earthquake had struck. I prayed and stumbled to bed.

I awoke to news of an even higher richter scale quake splashed all over the Internet. It was on my Facebook Page, at Twitter, and everywhere else. There was no escaping the tragedy which had occurred overnight. I felt my own anxieties ramping up a bit and then I worried for my #PPDChat Mamas.

If you need support, please don’t hesitate to find me on Twitter – I’m @unxpctdblessing. You can also email me at mypostpartumvoice (@) gmail (dot) com. If you feel yourself really adrift in anxiety and stress, do not hesitate to call your healthcare provider or therapist.

News and current events can strike fear and confusion in the heart of even the most normal of people. For those of us struggling with mental illness, those feelings are magnified. I stopped watching the news when I realized it was causing my anxiety to increase 100 fold or more.

Increased anxiety is not good for anyone, let alone someone with an anxiety or depression disorder.

While it is important to stay informed, it’s also important to take care of one’s self in the face of the ever increasing instant news society in which we live. One of the biggest things you can do for yourself is to turn off the evening or morning news. When was the last time you heard good news there any way? Read online. Sure, you may see some headlines that might trigger you but you don’t have to click on them. Go elsewhere. Or visit Happy News.

Your friends may post links to triggering news stories at Facebook or on Twitter. Again, ignore them. You can hide the post on Facebook. Twitter moves so fast that any news post may be lost before you even have a chance to click. If you struggle with the urge to click on news stories, then you may want to go find an online game to play – Tetris specifically has been proven to be helpful for those who struggle with PTSD. It distracts the brain and forces it to focus on solving a puzzle.

The APA also has a great page on how to manage during a disaster. While you may not have been directly affected, some of us have very vivid imaginations and have seen video of what happened in Japan. Sometimes this can affect someone almost as much as having been there, especially if they are already struggling with a mental illness. Go read the APA sheet. I strongly urge you to seek help if today has been overwhelming for you. Don’t suffer alone.

 

 

 

Just Talking Tuesday 11.23.10: Husbands, Wives & Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorders, Oh My


"Argue" by jk+too @flickr

“I wish my husband understood that I’m not just trying to get out of Motherhood.”

“How can I admit to struggling when he seems so happy? I’d hate to rain on his parade.”

“He doesn’t believe in mental illness. Neither does his family. So I fake it.”

“I can’t take medication. He won’t let me.”

“My wife won’t admit she is struggling. What can I do?”

“Everything I do is wrong. I’m scared I’ll lose my wife and my child.”

“She’s awesome with the baby. Me? I suck. I’m failing at fatherhood.”

“I’m the Dad. I have to be the rock. I can’t be depressed.”

“I drink/do drugs to hide/numb just how bad I’m feeling from her.”

Every single one of these statements are real things parents who have reached out to me have expressed. These statements are extremely telling. What do they tell, you ask? They tell just how much communication has broken down within the relationship. The breakdown may have occurred before baby. Or it may be a new thing. Until now, everything within their relationship may have been picture perfect. They were the perfect couple. Never had to work hard at their relationship. They may have been “THAT” couple. But now that everything is dashed to hell, smashed to pieces by an innocent new life, their relationship struggles to stay afloat. Everything they thought they knew about each other is also up in the air. They wait with bated breath for it all to crash back down, hopefully back into the right place.

We did just that six years ago.

Things are still falling back into place.

We met at work. Yes, we were like Pam & Jim. We met the weekend after Thanksgiving in 2000 after our Supervisors relocated us to adjoining cubicles. Our first date? A flirtatious invite to a non-existent steak dinner as I bragged to him about my evening. I dashed like a mad woman to the grocery store to turn this imaginary meal into a reality. We’ve been inseparable ever since. In 2002, we got married.

In 2003, we got pregnant.

In 2004, we officially became parents and I went off the deep end.

Suddenly he couldn’t do anything right. I knew everything, he knew nothing. I snapped at him because, well, I could. He got frustrated. We stopped talking. If he did talk or get upset about something, it was automatically my fault. My self-esteem took a nose-dive. I did not think I was verbally abusive, irritable, angry, or crazy. Turns out I was. This continued well into my second pregnancy.

Then our second daughter was born. She spent time in the NICU. I was hospitalized 56 days postpartum after a near-psychotic break. Think we weren’t communicating before? Now we really weren’t on the same page. He had been medicating with marijuana along with the same anti-depressant I ended up on after my hospitalization. We yelled. We screamed, we fought, I cried, I begged him to tell me he wasn’t okay about all of this – that he was hurting too. He lied and said he was fine because that’s what he thought he was supposed to do – he was the man. The rock. He was supposed to be okay.

Turns out he wasn’t okay after all.

After the birth of our third child, I was involved in a car accident at just 3 months postpartum. I went to jail. Why? Because my husband had been spending money on marijuana instead of on important things like vehicle registration and car insurance. Again, failure to communicate.

He’ll be 3 years into recovery this coming March. So will I. Wait – did you say  – I did. I’m no longer a co-dependent. I’m no longer enabling his habit. Believe me, you didn’t want to be in this house the day after my accident. It was not pretty.

Our fallout from PMAD’s and Paternal Postnatal Depression took nearly four years to explode. It’s taken close to seven years to claw our way back to where we are now – a place very closely resembling normal and healthy. Even here though we have our issues. I suspect we always will. To assume perfection is to ignore the flaws in front of you. Flaws are not always a bad thing. Sometimes they are just what we need to learn and move forward.

We have mistakes in our past. We have learned from them. Moved on. Trusting in God and His enduring support as we grow to trust in Him for everything. Our journey has been full of hell. But it’s also been obviously filled with grace and tenacity. On our part and on God’s part.

There are times within the past almost seven years at which I could have walked away and no one would have faulted me. I chose to stay and fight. Certainly not the easiest path but definitely the right path – especially as I sit here in the glow of a Christmas tree, a fireplace, and my husband beside me.

For us, our brush with Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders ripped the band-aids off situations we may not have otherwise faced head-on. We were thrust headlong into trauma, grief, mental illness, and forced to decide how to move forward. I am thankful we clung to each other and made the decision to move forward together. I know many other couples who are not as fortunate for whatever reason. Each situation, each person, each Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder is different. Therefore, the results will be assuredly different as well.

What challenges have you faced as part of your PMAD? Has your husband axed certain avenues of treatment? Has that affected your recovery? Your marriage? Did your PMAD ultimately lead to divorce? Or is your marriage stronger as a result of coming through the fiery storm that is a PMAD?

Let’s get to just talking about Husbands, Wives, and Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorders. Oh My.

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