Mommy Has A Mental Illness

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Good Morning everyone!

I have been down and out with the flu for several days, but I wanted to pop by for a moment to let you know that I’m still here, I have several posts in the works and I wanted to share with you a piece that I recently had published on The Mighty.  I hope you’re all doing well!

http://themighty.com/2016/03/dear-son-mommy-has-a-mental-illness/

Peace and love to you!

Bleach It, Bleach It Good

My youngest son has been sick with one thing or another every 1-2 weeks for the last month.

It started with Strep throat, which he apparently had for almost a week before anyone noticed. I swear we aren’t terrible parents. We thought he just had a cold because he wasn’t complaining of a sore throat. He was eating and drinking like normal. It wasn’t until he got a fine, red rash (known as Scarlet Fever), that I decided to take him to the doctor, and he tested positive for Strep. Oops.

Next, less than a week after the Strep diagnosis, he got very congested and started coughing. Cough and congestion are not typical Strep symptoms, so we took him back to the doctor, where they did a Complete Blood Count (CBC) test, to confirm that his immune system was functioning properly, and diagnosed a simple cold virus.

As our doctor was explaining the CBC test to me, and confirming that our son’s immune response looked completely normal, my son was crawling around on the floor of the doctor’s office. Before you judge, we’d been there for a long time, he was restless, and I was trying to be patient and choose my battles. Anyways, our doctor was explaining that viruses are opportunistic and that, since his immune system was down from battling strep, he probably just came into contact with something else and picked it up, too.

As these words departed the mouth of our family pediatrician, we, the doctor and I, looked over at my son and simultaneously witnessed him stand up from the tile floor, and lick his hand. While I stared on, frozen in horror and contemplating the myriad of germs that must exist on the floor of a pediatrician’s office, our doctor chuckled and said “Yep, that’ll do it.”

A week and a half later, on a Sunday afternoon, he woke up from his nap crying hysterically, complaining of a stomach ache and with a fever that read 106.2 on our temporal thermometer. The temporal thermometer almost always reads high, so his fever was more likely at 104 or 105. Still, very high. Since he was upset and we could not seem to calm him down or tell what was going on, we packed off to the ER. They could not find anything wrong with him. After a dose of Motrin and a couple hours, his fever retreated and we went home. The next day, his stomach pain gone, he was lethargic, had chills and was holding himself stiff, as though his muscles hurt. I took him back to the pediatrician where they ran another CBC test (results were normal), diagnosed the Flu and prescribed Tamiflu.

Within 48 hours he was a new kid, healthy and happy and symptom free. This sounds strange to say, but I felt a little better when, a week later, my husband caught the Flu and it looked just the same as it had when our son had it (stomach pain followed by fever, chills and body aches). Seeing him get it, reinforced our pediatrician’s words which had explained that our son isn’t catching or contracting strange mystery illnesses, he is just catching run of the mill viruses back to back, while his immune system is too over-worked to wage a battle. Sorry honey, but thanks for getting the Flu.

Just this past weekend, about 2 weeks after our Flu diagnosis, his nose started running and he started coughing. No fever this time, so it seems to just be another mild cold virus or, with the weather doing crazy Midwestern things, it could even be allergies. Either way, it looks like we’re not done with our run of winter maladies. He was in good spirits all weekend though, and the weather was nice, so we spent some time playing in the driveway with a sensory box full of colored rice. When play time was over, we came inside to wash our hands. I was tidying up in the bathroom as my son stepped up onto his step stool, but I looked over just in time for him to lock eyes with me… and lick his hand.

Send help. And Lysol.

 

Capture Your Grief, Day 30 – Reflection

You might have noticed that I’ve been skipping CYG here and there.  I’d apologize, but I’m not really sorry.  My youngest son has been sick on and off for the last 3 weeks and, in addition to  being busy taking care of him, my anxiety has been nearly unbearable. I’ve been taking it one day at a time, and haven’t had a lot of space in my heart for the vulnerability that comes with writing. It’s temporary, though, as you can see. After all, here I am.

We are finishing up the Capture Your Grief writing prompts. Tomorrow’s will be the last one. I’d like to say that I’ve enjoyed them, but the truth is that I sort of, well… didn’t. However, I do think that this series has been important for me. I’m terrible at feeling my feelings, and grief is an especially icky thing to force oneself to examine, but it is for this reason especially, that I have grown from doing this work. I haven’t had any huge breakthroughs, but these prompts have provided a platform for some small, but important revelations, and it is one of those revelations that I want to talk about today.

Last week, or maybe it was the week before… Hell, it could have been yesterday. When your child is sick, all the days just sort of run together. Anyways, at some point in the recent past, I was reflecting on the Capture Your Grief prompts, and how I spent a lot of them actually writing about anxiety. I felt a little like I messed them up, in that respect. I spent too much time thinking about anxiety, and not enough time thinking about grief. Then, it hit me -my anxiety and my grief are so tightly bound that it would be impossible to explore one, without exploring the other.

For example, I’ve recently been telling my therapist how I have had a hard time planning my youngest son’s 4th birthday party and the two reasons that I can come up with are, in a nutshell, Anxiety and Grief.

The first reason, is that both the intrusive and magical thinking which I experience as symptoms of my anxiety are trying to scare me into thinking that we aren’t going to make it to 4. For those of you who do not have anxiety, I just want you to think about that last sentence for a moment, because for a lot of mothers with PPA, this is a common issue/fear. My (perfectly healthy and strong) son’s 4th birthday is not just a given. I have trouble keeping faith that we will make it. In the words I used with my therapist, it feels cocky to believe that we will make it there. It feels arrogant and naive to believe that my son will do what humans do – that he will grow up. This is not me being “grateful for every day”, or “not taking life for granted”. No, no. Those things are great. This is not great. I am full-on paranoid about planning a party, or buying a larger bed, or buying 1 size up in clothing, because I am terrified that it won’t happen, or that it won’t be necessary. As I understand it, this is a pretty textbook example of intrusive thinking and magical thinking combined. Both are classic anxiety symptoms. Either way, it is every bit as awful as it sounds.

The second reason is related to the first, but has a deeper connection to grief. To put it simply, I am afraid to get my hopes up, because I don’t want to be disappointed. My therapist is the one who connected this to grief, and it was not until she discovered this link that I began to see just how intrinsically connected my anxiety and grief are.

You see, when we got pregnant with Clara, I was recovered from my first bout of PPA. I knew that having another baby meant risking another battle with anxiety, but I felt well supported and prepared. Getting pregnant took a lot of courage, and it also meant that I believed it was safe. I believed that it was safe to have another baby. I believed, truly believed, that things would be fine. I had learned to ignore the anxious voice in my brain until it was no more than a breath of a whisper. Being brave in the face of PPA and pregnant again was like hoisting a trophy over my head. I was radiant with victory.

And then we lost her.

It felt like the Universe was putting me back in my place. The disappointment was all-consuming. I felt ashamed for having hoped. I didn’t know it then, but I had begun to associate hope and planning for the future, with loss and disappointment. I had inadvertently connected hope with pain.

So, thanks to my brilliant goddess of a therapist, when I think about planning my son’s birthday party and feel that deep and guttural fear, I understand why. It hasn’t made the fear stop, but understanding why it is happening is the first step in the process of unraveling that connection. This is a perfect example of why I am such a huge proponent of therapy. I don’t think I ever would have made that connection on my own, but when she pointed it out, I felt a shift happen inside of me. I knew that she was uncovering something important. It wasn’t quite an ah-ha moment, but it was something, for sure.

If you are currently suffering from what you suspect might be anxiety or depression, please, please, see my Resources page (you can navigate to it from the teal colored menu, right under the header), and get started on finding a therapist in your area. Therapy saved me from Postpartum Anxiety once before, and it is, one day at a time, giving me my life back.

I’m looking forward to being able to plan for the future again. I know someday I will not be afraid to hope, and I can’t wait for that day to come.

Peace and love to you, friends.

Resources Super Post!

Hi, friends. I hope you’re doing super excellent today. But in case you’re not, I wanted to compile some resources that you might find helpful. I am initially writing this as a blog post, but a less wordy version of this list will have a permanent home on the blog, in the main navigation menu (the teal bar under the header). So, you can come back to it anytime.

Postpartum Mood Disorders/Maternal Mental Illness

Here is a very comprehensive list of Postpartum Depression, Anxiety & OCD Symptoms, brought to you by the AMAZING people at Postpartum Progress.

I want to just take a moment to talk to you about that link, and what it means to me. I owe my life to the people at Postpartum Progress, because of that list. No joke. There were moments, before I entered therapy for PPA, when I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have the words to express what I was experiencing. I was ashamed. I was terrified. I thought I was alone. All I knew was that I could not go on living like that. In the worst of it, I was barely sleeping, having panic attacks regularly, and only barely functioning as a real life adult woman. I was sure that I was a burden to my husband. I was sure that I was a terrible mother. I was sure that I would somehow lose my youngest son, and I was so afraid of experiencing that loss, and exhausted from living in (and carefully hiding) a constant state of terror, that I thought it might be easier if I just ended my own life. It was that bad.

One day, in a desperate attempt to find an explanation, I stumbled across that link, and it was like it was written about me. A sampling of the symptoms that I experienced, which are also on the Postpartum Progress list:

  • Racing mind. Unable to relax.
  • Always have to be doing something. Cleaning, knitting, washing, working. Doing. Doing. Doing.
  • Always worried. Will the baby wake up? Will the baby grow up? Will the baby get sick? Will the baby be safe?
  • Disturbing thoughts.  I started crying when I read that one. I had been struggling so hard with the horror movies that played in my head every time I walked my baby over a concrete surface, reading that this was a symptom of anxiety was life changing.
  • Pacing. I used to pace in the living room in the middle of the night, like a caged animal, while trying to stave off a panic attack.
  • Insomnia
  • Dread. The constant feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop. The nonstop sensation that something horrible is just around the bend.
  • Having to do or say certain things, for fear that if I don’t, something bad will happen.

I had been screened for PPD at our Well Baby check ups, and had passed the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression scale every single time, because I didn’t have PPD. I had PPA, and they can look very different. Consistently passing the PPD screenings only reinforced the notion that I was alone, and just sucking at being a mom, rather than experiencing a nearly textbook manifestation of a widely documented mental illness.

That link saved my life. After finding it, I immediately used Postpartum Progress’ list of therapists who specialize in the treatment of postpartum mood disorders, to connect with the therapists that I have now been seeing for the past 2 years. So, when I say that I owe Postpartum Progress my life, I mean it. They made it possible for me to not only understand that my symptoms meant something, but they connected me with the women who have brought me back from the brink. Thank you will never be enough, but it will have to do.

Also from Postpartum Progress, an equally comprehensive description of the symptoms of Postpartum Psychosis.

Please keep in mind that you may not experience all of the symptoms on any of these lists, or you may experience some from each of them. Anxiety and Depression look different for everyone. Also, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms while pregnant, you may have antenatal/pregnancy depression or anxiety. This is also common, and also treatable!

General Depression and Anxiety 

If you are experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety and are not a parent, or you just do not feel like the PPD or PPA symptoms resonate with you quite accurately, you may have a more generalized depression or anxiety disorder. There are a ton of resources out there for you to also connect with a therapist.

Does your employer offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)? An EAP is not related to medical insurance, and if it is a part of your benefits package, you might be eligible for some free counseling through that program. Most EAPs don’t offer unlimited sessions, but this is a great way to try out therapists for free, while you try to find someone who will be a good long-term fit. Talk with your Human Resources department to ask if this is available to you. If it is, I recommend getting a list of therapists from your EAP and then cross-referencing it with In-Network providers on your health insurance plan (you can get this list from your health insurance company). Use your free EAP appointments only for therapists who are also covered under your medical plan, guaranteeing that if you find someone you like, you’ll be able to stick with them after your EAP benefits run out.

Lastly, there are a ton of resources online that can help you connect with therapists in your area. Spend some time searching and meeting with therapists until you find the right fit for you!

Self-Care

Here are some of my favorite resources for self-care ideas and tips. I will add to this list as I find new things to share, and feel free to share your favorites, too, either in the comments or by sending me a note!

Ellen Bard’s Super Comprehensive Compilation of Self Care Wonderfulness (that’s not her title, but it’s what I have come to call this mammoth piece in my head) I keep coming back to this, and find something new every time.

Mindful.org Learn the ins and outs of Mindfulness and begin a journey towards a more present You.

Stop, Breathe & Think I use this app on my phone almost every day.

Susannah Conway Susannah has a variety of e-courses and workshops that I love. She has such a knack for opening up the connection with oneself through her writing and thoughtful photography. So, rather than link to any of her specific offerings, I’ll just send you right to her homepage – enjoy!

ASMR I’ve talked about ASMR before, so I’m not going to go into a ton of detail explaining just what it is. But I am including it here, because it is a big part of my self-care.  I’m just linking to my favorite ASMR content creator, but a quick YouTube search for ASMR will open up a strange corner of the internet that you never knew existed! Enjoy!

Community

Besides therapy, one of the most helpful things that I have done is to seek out community. Surrounding myself with people who understand maternal mental illness, or who simply share interests similar to my own, has been pivotal in erasing the isolation of Motherhood. Because if we’re all Misfits, no one is. With that in mind, here are a few of the communities of which I am a part. I recommend you seek out Facebook groups which mirror your own interests and hobbies, as well as seek out support groups for people experiencing PPD, PPA, grief, or generalized depression and anxiety disorders.

Motherhood Misfit on Facebook

Postpartum Progress Warrior Moms

The Offbeat Empire

Failure:Lab See the Failure:Lab talk I did here!

Ravelry All my fellow knitters and crocheters – If you’re not already on Ravelry, get signed up, post haste!  Then add me so I can creep on your projects!

You may notice that there are no grief support or parental bereavement communities listed here. I think they can be a wonderful source of comfort for many, but my anxiety disorder and the fact that I am intensely triggered by the loss of children, means that those communities tend to be more upsetting for me than they are helpful. So, I know there are some great resources out there for parents who have experienced loss, but my own anxiety boundaries keep me from being a part of them.

Okay, friends, that’s it for now. Thanks for sticking with me if you made it this far!  As I mentioned 10 years ago, when you started reading this post, a condensed version of it will have a permanent home in the main navigation menu (right below the header), which I will add to as I find new and helpful resources to share!

Capture Your Grief, Day 27 – Self Portrait

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Life is a series of moments, and this is one of mine.

When I look at this photo, I see an invisible battle being waged.

I am living with an anxiety disorder, and every day, in almost every moment, I am fighting. I am fighting my anxious brain with my intellectual brain. I am fighting the terrifying voice which tells me that I have to use a certain coffee mug every morning, or say a certain phrase at bedtime, or else my child will die. The voice which somehow turns the most benign of tasks into life-altering decisions.

I see a woman falling through life, somehow managing to look like she generally has her shit together. On closer inspection, though, I see the chipped nail polish. I see the breakouts on her skin. I see the bags under her eyes. I know the larger stories these small details tell.

I see eyes which have known great loss, and great fear.

But, I see something else, too.

I see a woman who, despite the daily battle, works hard to advocate for women’s health issues, both mental and reproductive. I see a woman who has decided to own her story, rather than hide from it, because there is a chance that it could help someone. I see a woman who went to work today, who went to therapy today, who adulted pretty damn well on all fronts, despite the endless barrage of triggers that she has experienced in the last 3 weeks. I see a woman who swallowed her pride, and then swallowed her meds, and did her best to get back to the business of living.

I see a mother and wife who loves deeply. A love so deep that, in the darkest moments, it was the only thing that kept her here.

I see the battle. I see the pain. But, one thing I do not see, is shame.

Keep fighting, friends, because every day you are a freakin’ hero.

Capture Your Grief, Day 22 – Dreams + Rituals

As I have mentioned before, I have a difficult time dreaming about the future. What you may not realize, is that when you dream about the future, you are doing so with an understanding that certain things will unfold the way that you expect them to. Certain people will still be in your life, everyone’s health will be in order and you will not be living alone in a refrigerator box under the interstate. You are able to dream about the future because you are confident that your future will unfold in a certain, desirable way. Some of you are nodding and see no reason why this simple understanding about the future would be a problem, but the anxious among you know. You see, anxiety is an expert in the art of taking the confidence you possess for the future, and taking a big old doody on it. Eloquent, I know.

Seriously though, my experience with anxiety has been such that, dreaming of the future is scary because I often have difficulty with the base of confidence that is required. I struggled with this during my first battle with PPA, and it has been even worse after losing Clara.

We put a lot of thought into becoming pregnant again, after my first battle with PPA. Obviously, I was afraid of my illness resurfacing. Ultimately though, our desire for another child was stronger than our fear of another anxiety battle. I felt well-supported by my husband and therapist and knew that, should PPA rear its head again, I had the resources I would need to heal. I had confidence in the future.

Receiving our diagnosis and subsequently losing our daughter was like winning the World Series and then having the title unfairly stripped away. I had been victorious! I had worked so hard towards my recovery and had been brave enough to risk PPA again in order to fulfill our dreams of another child. I was there!

And then it was all gone.

Clara was, in a symbolic way, the proof of my recovery. Losing her meant that terrible and tragic things can and do happen. The future is uncertain. Impermanence is the only guarantee.

So, how does one get the nerve to dream about the future, when you know all too well, what tragedies can befall? I’m learning that the answer is this, right here:

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Me.

I have experienced an awful tragedy. My family has been visited by grief and loss. After a victory against anxiety, I am back here, in the trenches. And yet, I am still standing. I am still living (and thoroughly enjoying) my life and doing my best to share my journey, in hopes that it helps others. My visibility of the future may, for the time being, be obscured by my anxiety disorder, but there is no doubt about my continued existence. I am definitely still here. My marriage survived the hellscape of loss and we are closer than we have ever been. My children are healthy and happy. They laugh and play and excel at school and preschool.

The future is uncertain, that is an undeniable fact, but experiencing loss does not guarantee that your future will be a bleak and painful one. Anxiety is an illness of the mind, and the intrusive thoughts and spiraling fear does not herald a future wrought with nightmare.

Capture Your Grief, Day 20 – Forgiveness + Humanity

What a perfect prompt for the day that registration opens for the 2016 Climb Out Of The Darkness!  Today’s prompt is all about forgiving and finding the best in humanity. I can think of no better way to honor it than this:

Forgiveness

Dear Kelly,

I forgive you.

I forgive you for all the nights spent pacing the living room in tears for no reason other than that you were terrified for, well… no reason.

I forgive you for the times that you resented that sweet baby boy because he was hungry, and you were tired. SO TIRED.

I forgive you for being afraid of walking over concrete surfaces. I’m so sorry that you had to live with the tiny horror movies that played in your mind which caused that fear in the first place. It sucks, but I’m sure glad we can go on sidewalks again.

I forgive you for hiding the fear. I understand that it was a scary thing to experience and an even harder thing to own up to. I know why you hid it for so long. It’s okay.

I forgive you for letting the anxiety build to a point where you were impossible to be around. The tension that seemed to emanate from you was probably the vibe equivalent of smelly lines on a drawing of feet. People weren’t very keen on being around that, and I forgive you for it.

I forgive you for having trouble imagining the future. Anxiety is a thieving scumbag and the first thing it steals from you is hope. We’re going to get there, but it’s okay if the future is kind of scary right now.

I forgive you for sometimes being overprotective with the kids. You have an anxiety disorder, girl, it’s understandable. You usually find a pretty good balance and they are certainly living full and awesome lives. You don’t stifle them, so what if you’re not the parent who can handle them doing physically risky things. Let’s just hope they don’t grow up to be stuntmen.

I forgive you for the OCD ticks you developed. I know it’s embarrassing, but it’s not altogether surprising. Plus, I’m super proud that you didn’t hide that stuff when it started cropping up. The second you realized what was happening, you brought it up in therapy. That took guts, girl. Good for you.

I forgive you for the times you have anxiety about taking anxiety medication. It’s kind of funny if you think about it… but usually only after you’ve taken your medication.

While we’re on that topic, I forgive you for having anxiety about having anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle, but you are putting in the work and I know you can get through this. Hell, you are going way beyond putting in the work, you are straight up noisy about this stuff, and I’m proud of you for it!

I forgive you, for all of it.

Keep climbing.

Kelly

Humanity

To all you Mamas out there who have or have been through a postpartum mood disorder, I’m talking to you.

I see you, and it’s okay.

But don’t take my word for it, take a moment to forgive yourself today. See what comes out.

Once you’ve done that, head on over to Postpartum Progress’ Climb Out of the Darkness page and find a climb near you. On June 18, the longest day of 2016, we will join together to shine light on maternal mental illness. Come out and meet other moms who have walked in your shoes. Let’s continue to drive momentum towards better, more accessible mental health screening and mental healthcare for mothers everywhere. Let’s Climb Out of the Darkness.

If you are in the Chicago area, I will be at my local climb with my family, and I would love to meet you!  I’ll be wearing a Motherhood Misfit t-shirt and would be delighted if you stopped me to say hello!! If you can’t join a hike, but still want to donate to the cause, please use this link to make a donation.

Here’s to you, Mama!  Here’s to Us!

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Capture Your Grief, Day 17 – Secondary Losses

In the United States, Spina Bifida affects approximately 1 in 1000 pregnancies. This incidence doesn’t sound as rare as one might think, but it is important to note that in many of these cases, the baby will have Spina Bifida Occulta, which is the least severe form of Spina Bifida, and generally causes no complications or symptoms. So, of that number, incidence of Spina Bifida Myelomeningocele, which is the most severe form of Spina Bifida and the one that Clara was diagnosed with, rates are lower. Furthermore, many cases of Spina Bifida are related to larger genetic disorders, such as Trisomy 18 (Edwards Syndrome). In our case, blood work showed no such genetic disorders, meaning that our specific case of Spina Bifida was likely just a simple physical mutation. A fluke.

You might say we were just unlucky.

To that, I would reply “No shit.”

What this unluckiness means, however, is that something terrible, rather unlikely and somewhat rare happened to one of my children. This sentence is important because it is comprised of all of my worst, most anxious nightmares.

Before we lost Clara, my anxiety disorder was under control. After going undiagnosed for 2.5 years, I had finally gotten myself to a great therapist and had been working hard, using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, to get back to living my life without the shadow of paralyzing fear.

Losing Clara, and the reality of it being to a generally unlikely cause, was like rolling out a red carpet for my anxiety to return. Most of the work that I had been doing in therapy was reinforcing the improbability of my fears. I was convincing myself of the irrationality of it all. The problem is that when you conquer anxiety by convincing yourself that your fears are unlikely, and are then confronted by an unlikely nightmare coming true, well, it’s easy to see how I very quickly lost control of my mood disorder.

The way that my anxiety works, is that I am, and have been since the day he was born, absolutely terrified of losing my youngest son. Every cough, every fever, every bumped head is enough to set me into a tail spin of fear about what might be happening that I cannot see, and cannot control. I am terrified of lurking, undiagnosed illness. I am paralyzed by thoughts of the unknown future. In fact, I have a very difficult time dreaming of my son’s future, because I have trouble trusting that it will be full of wonderful things and not certain doom. I know. It’s awful. One of the techniques I am using to combat this fear of the unknown future, was given to me by my mother, who had the exact same problem when I was a child.

SCIENCE BREAKMood disorders such as Anxiety and Depression are generally thought to have a hereditary link, and people with parents or siblings who suffer from them have a much higher likelihood of experiencing Anxiety and Depression themselves. What’s more, researchers at Johns Hopkins conducted a small study a few years ago which uncovered that when specific alterations are present during pregnancy within two particular genes, they were able to reliably predict that a woman would develop postpartum depression. We still have a lot to learn, but one thing that this does tell us is that if your mother experienced a postpartum mood disorder, such as PPD or PPA, you are more likely to develop one yourself. This isn’t a doom and gloom message, though, because what this knowledge does is empower you and your doctors to be on the lookout for symptoms of postpartum mood disorders. When you are aware of a possible genetic pre-disposition, you can catch the signs faster and begin treatment sooner! Knowledge is power!

Back to our regularly scheduled blog post…

Anyways, my mother told me that she used to practice a specific meditation when I was young, which helped her to cope with the fear of losing me. She simply imagined me as an old woman. She would close her eyes and imagine what I might look like as a grandmother. She imagined what I might sound like, and what things I might like to do. It sounds simple, but it’s not!  So far, I have only been able to imagine my youngest son as a middle aged man. I have been slowly aging him in my mind, however, and eventually I am sure that I will be able to picture every wrinkle on his face. For the time being, I imagine him as a 30 something, with 2 kids and a loving partner. My son is obsessed with baseball and does seem to have a bit of natural talent, so I like to imagine him as a professional baseball player. A pitcher, specifically. Sometimes, I close my eyes and imagine that my husband and I are at one of his games, sitting down the 3rd base line, with both of his children, our grandchildren, in tow. His children have white-blonde hair, just like my son, and in my mind we are joined by his wife (though I’d be delighted with a Son-in-Law, too and don’t mean to assign a sexual orientation to him, I just keep seeing a female partner), whom I love and get along with grandly. Sitting just above the dugout, we are, the five of us, cheering him on as he approaches the mound, fit and strong and gorgeous as the day he was born.

I can picture this so easily, and the more I practice, the closer I get at being able to imagine him as an old man. This technique helps more than simply working to convince myself that my fears are unlikely. That argument has rather lost its potency after our experience with Spina Bifida. Instead, I am teaching myself to trust that the future holds wonderful things for this child, my beautiful youngest son.

So, while I may have lost control of my anxiety after losing Clara to Spina Bifida, I am working hard to regain the upper hand.

Play ball!

Capture Your Grief, Day 13 – Regrets + Triggers

I have spoken before about triggers on this blog, and about how I believe that, ultimately, my triggers are my responsibility. A goal that I have for myself is to reach a point in my grief, and especially in the management of my anxiety, where being exposed to one of my triggers does not cause a week-long downward spiral and recovery backslide. I do not want to live in a world where conversations are policed by trigger warnings, and people walk on eggshells during conversations with me. I want to be equipped with the kind of coping mechanisms that allow me to face my triggers and forge ahead. This is especially important considering that one of my biggest anxiety triggers is my youngest son being sick or injured. Clearly, I cannot navigate life as the Mother of this beautiful, rambunctious human without being faced with him catching the odd cold or without the occasional bump or scrape. Even as I write this, right now, I can feel my heart rate beginning to pick up pace. I detect a slight tremor in my hands on the keyboard. My intellectual mind is working hard to push away thoughts like:

“You are talking about him and illness. Now he is going to become terminally ill.”
“Just the very mention of him and illness virtually guarantees that he will become ill.”
“You know he will. You know it”

You guys, seriously. My brain is an asshole sometimes. The truth is that my youngest son is going to get sick from time to time. He is, at this very moment, battling strep throat (and on antibiotics) and a cold or virus of some sort (which we are heading back to the doctor in the morning for). I have to be able to function when things like this happen. I have to be able to take a deep breath and Mom. So, yes, I have triggers. I have anxiety triggers, I have grief triggers and they are often very different. My therapist and I have spent some time addressing some of the ones which I am aware of, in an effort to inform my intellectual brain, so that it has ammo when anxiety comes-a-knockin’. As new ones crop up, as I am sure they will, we will continue this process of recognizing, examining, understanding and undermining.

As for regrets, while I am certainly not perfect at living a life free of regret, my honest opinion is that they serve little purpose in your life and so I will let Edith Piaf answer that one for me.

Peace and love to you, friends.

Medicated and Mighty

12647337_10205898464556288_514598743923290892_nHi. How are you? Well, I hope.

I know I’m posting Capture Your Grief stuff every day, and there will be a post later today for that, too. (Double post day!  Yay? Hopefully not too spammy?) But I wanted to pop by to share something important. So important.

Apparently this was a viral thing last fall and I missed it (in my defense, I was losing a baby and mega-grieving right when this thing hit), so I am very late jumping on this train, but I am jumping on it so hard.

See that gal up there? The one holding the pill bottle?  That’s me. That’s little ‘ol me, and my Alprazolam, better known as Xanax. That’s the medication that I currently use to manage my anxiety disorder. It works for me and I am not ashamed. I am not going to make excuses. I take Xanax on an as-needed basis because it is what works for me when anxiety takes control. It is one tool in my toolbox. It is one part of my treatment and recovery plan. I will not apologize for that.

For a long time I was very hesitant to take medication for anxiety. I brushed it aside whenever my therapist would bring it up. I had heard horror stories about certain medications intensifying symptoms. Or people becoming addicted to them. Medication didn’t seem to fit in with my lifestyle, which trends towards the very natural. I wanted to heal myself “naturally”. You know, like you do when you have appendicitis. Or an infection. Or cancer. Oh… right.

Mood disorders and other mental illness affect the brain, which just so happens to be an organ. Meaning it is a part of your physical body. In other words, mood disorders are a physical illness, like appendicitis, like an infection, like cancer. That last one may sound shocking or sensational but it is not a stretch. Mental illness kills people, just like cancer. It is not always that bad, but it can be. Yes, many people do choose to to treat illness and disease naturally, and I do not mean any disrespect. However, I believe that modern medicine has a place in modern life, even a natural, mostly organic one. It took this realization, plus a trip to the ER during a panic attack that was so bad that I didn’t know it was a panic attack, for me to see that maybe, just maybe, medication had a place in my life. The way that anxiety manifests in my life right now, means that Xanax is a good choice for me. I don’t believe that I will be on it long term. It is not an ideal long term medication after all, and so if I need to stay on something for a longer period of time, my doctors and I will explore some other options. I am lucky to have these informed doctors and therapists who have my best interests at heart.

My medication allows me to remain present for my family, when anxiety tries to rip me away from them. My medication (plus a side of mediTation) quiets my mind when it becomes filled with horrific thoughts of bad things happening to my children (yes, this is an anxiety symptom, and it is as awful as it sounds). Medication is but one of many tools that I use to manage my anxiety disorder. My medication represents my courage, because I had to be strong enough to recognize when I needed help, and then brave enough to ask for it. My medication represents the love I bear for my family, and for myself, because I work hard every day, using this tool and others, to be stronger and healthier for them, and for me.

I am Medicated and Mighty.