Tuesday, January 25

yes, a professional can vouch for my mental state

Shortly after reading yesterday's "Coming Out" post by The Bloggess, I had made up my mind that I was going to make my next blog about my mental, um, "health".

Last night I read Lori's blog. Now I am determined to keep that commitment. 

When I first began blogging last summer, I knew this day would eventually come. Every part of my being did. And that's probably why, bright and early this morning, my mind began frantically coming up with wild and crazily detailed creative options for nourishing my artistic hunger, hastily throwing together plans, images, ideas, and colors for what to paint on this wall, or draw on that piece of furniture, or how to arrange these pictures just so to make a statement...

All in an attempt at classic misdirection.

Man, my mind's good at that.

And it almost got me to play along. (giving myself a pat on the back for a nice try.)

But I'm keeping my commitment no matter how much my mind, body, and soul scream "wth?!". I'm blogging this. Today. Now.

Because motherhood is complicated enough in and of itself. And this just makes it chaotic.

So, I am speaking and coming out:

Depression. Post partum. Anxiety. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In the words of The Bloggess: "A part of me. Not all of me."

And none of them define me. I am not depression. I am not post partum, anxiety or ptsd. I am me. Heather.

And that's who I've been my entire life. However, it took years before I was able to separate myself and my worth from the effects of those four mental disorders and realize that they do not define Heather.

And that it wasn't my fault - or anyone else's for that matter (do you hear me, Mom?! nobody's fault) - that these disorders took up residence in my psyche without so much as an invitation, how-do-y'do, or even the courtesy to bring a fucking potted plant to soften the blow.

Prior to the culmination of eight years of bi-monthly "visits" with an exceptional psychotherapist, I can not remember a time in my life when I was consistently without cyclical negative dialogue (you're not good enough, that idea is stupid, you're not a real artist, etc.), demeaning thoughts of everything about myself, irrational thought processes, and/or illogical yet very real emotional and social fears.

Most people in society have heard the terms before. But aside from those either experiencing them or dealing with them, people's understandings are foggy and stereo-typed, at best. I can only share so much of my experiences of them without losing my desparate grip on what little security and separation from them that I have.

So here goes.

Depression isn't just feeling sad, blue, down, whatever. We all have those "I feel like shit" days. Those are normal. Healthy. A part of life. What's not normal but typical of someone with depression is the translation of those feelings into the belief that "I am shit." People who live with depression have to struggle Every Single Day to differentiate between How I Feel and the reality of Who I Am and have to constantly remind themselves that the two often do not equate with one another.

Every day I wake up and assess how I feel. Am I happy? What's my energy level? What are the voices saying? I acknowledge the answers to each of these questions. And then I remind myself who I am - a fact that is - and one that is unchanging. I am an artist. I am a mother. I am a wife. I am a friend, daughter, sister, aunt. I am a caretaker. I am me. I am Heather.

And I am worth more than what depression, ptsd, anxiety, whatever any disorder or any person says I am. I then remind myself of my one other truth and my only piece of security: God knows where I am. And then I go about my day.

In my early stages of therapy, I had to write down a similar version of this mantra. Over and over again. Every day. Until it became an automated response that began looping at the start of any cyclical negative dialogue. Until I no longer had to write it down. Until I no longer even had to - in my mind - finish the whole mantra. Until, finally, the negative voices ceased.

Yes. Ceased.

I said earlier in this blog that my mind started going all ninja with creative ideas to block myself from sitting down and actually discussing this. That ninja is a defense and coping mechanism that I have used my entire life. However, escaping into my inner art world, my creative dreamland, wasn't always a safe haven. Surprising, eh? (Especially to those of you who know me personally and swear I could make shit look artsy.)

You see, when depression and anxiety are life-long residents who are not being treated by a skilled professional, they run rampant. They invade every single cell of one's body. And they mutate, reproduce, cohabitate. I'm certain they even set up their own HOA committee. The untreated afflicted can do nothing but hop on that saturated merry-go-round of negativity, pain, and chaos and hold on for dear life. Because the only other option, without treatment, is to let go. And letting go of the only thought process you have ever known lands you in the sandbox of complete terror and, ultimately, suicide. And so even the inner art world I cherished wasn't safe. Because suicide was there, too.

People with mental disorders are often told that they have "nothing to _____": feel sad about, be sad about, feel anxious about, be afraid of, etc. (How often do we say this to our kids, hm?!) Such people as myself are basically told that their reality is not real, or at least shouldn't be. Or they are spoken to in disbelief and shock. "But you always seem so happy!" Ha! There may be phenomenal (yet delusional) conmen in the world who could "sell sand to an Arab" (as Bubby likes to say) but we depressed come in an amazingly close second place when it comes to lying. We know what our reality is. And we know how to fake what you think our reality should be.

And a lot of the times, before we successfully get a grip on the sword of I'm-taking-my-fucking-mind-back-thank-you, we often cannot acknowledge and/or accept the reality of how bad the depression/anxiety/post partum/ptsd/insert-your-own-disorder-here really is, how much it has permeated our entire being.

Most often, we can't acknowledge it because you can't either. We cannot fight mental disorders on our own. We need unconditional love, support, concern, understanding, and just-being-there from friends and family. We need a safe place where we can say "this is what I'm experiencing, this is how I feel, this is what I believe" and have someone, anyone,  say "okay. you're worth while. and we can get through this. and I won't leave your side, no matter how difficult it gets."

Even if it's just one person who reaches out to us. That person is the world. That person is our hero.

Because, though it is ultimately my own battle, it is one I cannot fight alone. And it is one that I would've lost if it weren't for the angels who were there to help me get up, stand, walk, and eventually valiantly fight by standing beside me, unconditionally believing in my value as a human being, in my potential to be whatever I dreamed of being, and supporting me because they knew that only help given in understanding and love would suffice as a sword and shield against my own personal demons.

After years of hard work, that little creativite sanctuary I mentioned earlier that I once had to scale barbed-wire fences to get into is now an open field that has become a vast part of who I am. For a long time I hammered at the negative voices to vacate my haven premises. Each time I made a positive step forward (a lot of little steps, very rarily any leaps and quite a few stumbles backward) I put it into that sanctuary. Eventually (a long eventually) those little pieces of love began to fill up that sanctuary, knocking down those barbed-wire fences, spilling out until there was no room left for the negative voices, until it became a vast sanctuary - one that wasn't merely a field I could walk into but now is an integral, far-reaching part of who I am, how I cope, how I exist, how I parent and how I love.

Truthfully, I never thought the day would come when I would be able to face my artistic drives without the blaring negative dialogue looping. And, on most days, not only can I face those drives, but I can embrace them as well - without having to sidestep any negative psycho babble, anxiety or paralyzing fears.

Because I now know I'm worth love. I'm worth life. I'm worth being positive.

Please speak. If you suffer from any mental disorders, there is nothing to be ashamed of. You are more than the disorder(s). You are worthy of love. And you are worth taking that one step to get help by confiding in someone you trust or contacting a licensed clinical social worker or psychotherapist. The simplest way to start is by saying "I need help."

And if you know somebody who suffers, it IS your role in this life to speak. Please help us valiantly fight. If you can't be brave, we can't either.

I am speaking:

Depression. Post partum. Anxiety. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
I am so much more than this.

Tuesday, January 18

chaos, life would be so perfect without you

In the past few days I have managed to break two glass dishes. And neither time was I afforded the satisfaction of having thrown them. (Yes. I'm a chucker.)

First came the medium-sized farmer mixing bowl while I was doing dishes and chatting with my daughter.

Sigh. There goes that set.

Next was the large sugar jar that fell from the cupboard while I was attempting to start breakfast and trying to save I-don't-know-what-else from falling out of the cupboard as well.

Sigh. There goes all the sugar.

The bowl at least broke in the sink. The sugar jar - all over the kitchen floor. And the sugar jar shattered first thing in the morning. You can always tell it's going to be a good day when that's what you start with. Pretty sure by that point my whole body was twitching with the "this-is-just-effing-great" motion.

Let's face it. It hasn't just been fragile items that I've broken in the past week, even when one counts the light bulb I screwed in that then burst in my hand. (Really, it's those wicked hand exercises I've been doing.) I've dropped a variety of other things that are nonbreakable and all the less thrilling to throw.

For all this dropping stuff, you'd think I was pregnant - but I'm not. In fact, just the opposite (if there is an opposite... hm, pondering the takes on that...) - my cycles couldn't be more out of whack and my body in less hormonal harmony. I don't recall any desire to board this emotional roller coaster but, somehow, I found myself on it: front row of the front car and, dammit, someone forgot to come around and check my lapbar before the train left the station.

SIGH. Or should I say: AAAAAACK! I just know there's a point where I'm supposed to throw my hands up and scream and heartily enjoy this ride but I'm pretty sure the scream that's eminating from my mind right now makes others question my sanity.

I've been told that every woman has their own version of the emotional thrill ride. I don't know what other women's coasters look like, I only know what mine looks like. Preferably my ride would be Splash Mountain because I actually do love the Zip-a-Dee-Do-Da/Ev'rybody's Got a Laughing Place medley. However, at times like these, hearing Zip-a-Dee-Do-Da over and over again in my head makes me more interested in finding someone to strangle than in finding my laughing place. (Though I am pretty sure I'd be laughing if I found someone to strangle, even if it'd be rather maniacally.)

In reality, on the inside, my roller coaster looks like sheer chaos; from a fleeting moment of bliss to that of fear, paranoia, joy, anger. The list goes on and the cycle continues. None of it rational or logical. But all of it very real and intensely experienced.

On the outside, I can only hope and pray I don't sound to my children like a screaming tea kettle. While inside I am screaming "take me off the f*%king stove already", I don't want that to be what my children hear.

Especially my daughter.

Because I don't want her to think that being a woman is anything less than wonderful or that moments (or, perhaps, days) of fleeting emotional chaos makes her any less than divinely made.

Which brings me to how I'm handling this whole e-ticket scenario. Beating myself up for not being perfectly stable, perfectly in control, perfectly Donna Reed - probably not the most healthy approach. And trying extremely hard to protect my children from my inner turmoil and thus placing undue pressure on myself to be outwardly stoic - probably not the best idea either. Seems more Joan Crawford, wire-hangers-ish and less let's-deal-with-this-and-be-okay.

Yesterday, I took my kids to Calico Basin/Red Springs to hike around a bit again. (It's a place we often visit when it's nice out - but yesterday it was glorious - middle of January and 74 degrees. Woot!) On the short drive out there, I thought about this Great Emotional Coaster and my handling of it. I decided that at that particular point in time, there wasn't much I could do to make it magically shut down or me magically immune to its nauseating effects.

What do I do then? The answer : just be here. Just be in the outdoors. Just be with my lens. Just be with my kids. And just enjoy it all.

And that's what I did. And while I found I wasn't able to turn off the flooding and saturating emotions, I was able to step outside of them and just enjoy what tangible love I had in front of me. My conversations with my daughter were different, positive, encouraging. My dealings with my son were kinder, lighter.

In my mind the sounds of rushing emotional waves did not cease, that's for sure. But that wasn't my goal. My goal was to find a bit of shelter from the storm, to recuperate, to gather myself before traversing that swift river again. Unfortunately, I have to carry my children across that river because it's not a part of me that I can just remove like a prosthesis nor can I remove myself from their lives to "save" them. But I can make healthier choices in how I deal with the chaos. And with that one small choice, this one afternoon, I did just that.

My ultimate goal is to either altogether get off this coaster without having to jump (and hope I make it) or to slow it down to a manageable pace where I can actually enjoy the repeated drumming of Zip-a-Dee-Do-Da. I'm guessing the most realistic option here is the latter.   So tomorrow I'll be discussing and discovering with my doctor how exactly I am chemically unbalanced so that we can create a more healthy approach to the upcoming sharp turns, loops, and dramatic dips that either this coaster or life is going to bring my way.

In the meantime, over the sign inside my coaster car that reminds me to "please keep all hands and arms inside the vehicle at all times" I'll be painting - in big, bold type - the words:
B E  H E R E . B E  G E N T L E . Because, right now, that's my best option for an in-ride barf bag.

Tuesday, January 11

it's only january 12th?! i thought for sure...

What the what?! Why have the first twelve days of January felt more like they've spanned thirty?! Probably not a good sign when come yesterday evening as I perused my Holy Center of Information (read: calendar) I had to convince myself that tomorrow was only Wednesday. Only Wednesday?! It was enough to bring the Big Sigh. (Yeah, that one that sounds like "oh man! whimper, whimper, could you pass the wine please?!")

Monday morning the PBS Parents facebook page asked us parents how often we bathe our kids; every day, every other day, or when we can smell them before we see them? My answer: "when they're lucky. seriously. i aim for at least twice a week." While the answers from other moms varied - some echoing my sentiments, others mentioning they bathe their kids about every two days - there were the moms who flat out lied. Yes, LIED. They're the ones who said they bathed their child(ren) every day, sometimes more than once a day if the kid(s) need it.

Right. Liars. Even I don't get to bathe myself that often. Seriously, these moms lied. On a facebook question. Really. I whisper to you: Do they not realize that on facebook no one really knows who they are so it's okay to answer that question truthfully? And I follow that with a shout: And if they indeed are telling the truth, could they at least lie to make me look not so, um, dirty?!?! Better yet, can they just share the crack they're on to be able to generate that much time and energy to bathe their child(ren) every day?!

Which brings me directly to my 2011 New Year Resolution That I Can Actually Keep #2. (If you missed my blog about Resolution #1, direct yourself here.) And, no, Res #2 isn't a commitment to bathe my children more often than I already do and thus stress less because they smell so fresh. (Sorry, kids. And sorry to whoever smells them.)
Instead, my 2011 New Year Resolution That I Can Actually Keep #2 is five-fold: Prioritize - Plan - Follow Through - Stress Less - Live Life. It is to truly stress less - and to do so by prioritizing what's really important, planning ahead, following through with those priorities and plans and thus stress less and whole-heartedly commit to living life.

Throughout December it became clear to me that I was stressing out - over everything - little things, big things, ridiculous things, unimportant things and the rare important-and-I-should-be-stressing-now things that, by time those came around, my stress level was so high I felt guilty for stressing over yet another thing and thoroughly conflicted as to how to handle it. Not to state the obvious (as my husband so kindly took me to the side to do) but this wasn't healthy for me, especially with my equally unhealthy approach to constantly reacting to stress in a fly-off-the-handle manner. And it wasn't healthy for my kids to watch this on such a recurring basis.

I spent December considering resolutions for 2011 and my thoughts kept returning to this volatile emotional state I'd find myself in by the end of the day. It led me to ask myself: What am I doing wrong that I keep ending up yelling at my kids?

Well, for starters, I was spending every day expending all my energy on the kids and their needs, as well as the requirements of the household - so much so that I wasn't taking even a moment to meet my basic needs. (Which would probably explain why I don't "get" to bathe more often.) Yes, I had "work" to do as a wife, mother, and manager of a household. I was "with" my kids on a daily basis (especially  during those two weeks off for winter break that at one point I had dreamily looked forward to) and I was doing my "work" effectively enough. But not efficiently. By no means.

I wasn't prioritizing. Scratch that, I was prioritizing but in all the wrong ways. In the "I Have to do This Now" category I emphatically (and probably a lot more dramatically than I want to admit) threw everything the kids asked for ("more chocolate milk, heated up please" - for the fifth refill), desired ("I want to watch Strawberry Shortcake again" - for the ga-ba-zillionth time) and demanded ("uuuuhhh!" from my son as he stood before the freezer crying for an ice pop). I had to get that for them, I had to do this for them - and I had to do it all RIGHT NOW.

Because they asked, desired, demanded. And because I'd completely forgotten what a backbone was and graciously invited for an extended stay guilt-for-being-a-bad-mom-if-I-didn't-fulfill-each-and-every-request-RIGHT-NOW. How's that for stupidity?

I'd thrown out all instinctive notions of putting on that oxygen mask first (read "as moms, are we deaf?" explanatory blog) and decided I could miraculously live without oxygen. And valiantly throwing all that out the window of the parental airliner, I placed myself in a position where my priorities were to expend myself addressing whatever my kids' desired, struggle with what little focus and energy I had left to address what they needed, and survive sans oxygen on exhaust fumes to take me down in a spiraling tailspin each night.

Sigh. Way to show off your brilliance, Sweetfart. Oy.

Oh, sure, it's easy to look back now and see the mistakes I made. But in the midst of it all, I couldn't see the forest for the trees - I had allowed my head to become so steeped in stress that I could barely get a grip on myself. Inside, I felt like a screaming tea kettle. Outside, that's probably what my kids heard.

How do I keep myself from getting to this point?

As I pondered this, looking for similar situations with positive outcomes, it dawned on me. A little bit of prioritizing, planning ahead, and following through would do the trick. After all, on the two days I carted the kids off to Winter Break Day Care at school I planned, prioritized my time, planned some more, and followed through - all to afford myself the wild chance to paint the family room and kitchen. When I picked up my kids each day, I felt an overwhelming sense of appreciation for them - not just because I'd missed them, but because I'd utilized my time so well and felt indellibly satisfied - not devoid and exhausted as I had been. And not being run ragged with stress, I could actually be truly "with" my children and enjoy them again.

From that experience I began implementing ways to again attain that level of personal satisfaction. I found that the more I prioritized situations, planned ahead for later events (such as dinner and the inevitable simultaneous melt-downs that occur - I swear they collaborate and choreograph these moments), the more I felt a different kind of void - a good void.

That stress wasn't there anymore. That misguided need to address their "woes" wasn't overwhelming me with constant looping shouts of "Feed me, Seymour!"

And I wasn't reacting to stress. Instead, I was acting, taking preventive measures. And "working" more efficiently than ever at being a wife, mom, manager, and, doggonit, the Queen. Queen Stress had been dethroned and I was back to reigning in my rightful place as dictator, I mean, matriarch of this kingdom. (Sorry. "Dictator" was an honest slip. Scouts honor. That's with one finger, right? The middle one?...)

The answer to maintaining my commitment to 2011 New Year Resolution #2 of living less stress and more life is in no way bathing my children every day. Seriously, that's not going to happen, no matter how much I plan or prioritize. These women that have to bathe their young children every day - they could definitely stand to stress less - or share whatever impeccable agenda they have that allows them to do such things and keep their sanity.

Regardless, kids aren't going to die from not having a daily bath. (Right? That hasn't happened, has it?!) Mind you, even I have my limits, and squishy poop down the pant legs demands a bath. Even if said bath consists of the garden hose and a naked tush out on the backyard grass.

And speaking of naked tush... I've planned, prioritized, and followed through enough for the last thirty, I mean, twelve days that I have earned every bubble in my own royal bath.