Through the Door and Down the Hall

I’m not really sure when the thoughts began, or the headache either, for that matter. All I know is that by January 3rd, 2017 I had an appointment with my primary care doctor, because I was convinced that the headache, which had been lingering for a few days, was symptomatic of a brain tumor. I just knew it, and I had already been revolving the idea in my brain for days.

Zero to sixty, I know. The best way I can describe my experience with health related Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is like opening a door which leads to a hallway and feeling as if the only way to go is forward. When I stand at the threshold of an obsessive episode, it never seems possible to simply step back and close the door.

After examining me, my excellent doctor did her best to reassure me that I was not in danger. She is infinitely patient with me, and this is not the first time she has had cause to show it. I left her office with a prescription for a medicine commonly used to treat migraines. A condition which I have never had with any sort of regularity in the past.

That. Right there.

Do you see what I did? ” A condition which I have never had with any sort of regularity in the past.” That, my friends, is OCD talking. It seeks to disprove anything a doctor tells me, and it told me exactly those words when I left my doctor’s office on January 3rd, clutching my prescription like it was some sort of holy text.

OCD whispered to me- You’ve never had a migraine like this before. This is different. This is something else. You know it. You can feel it in your gut. Trust your instincts.

I listened. I walked through the door and down the hall. And I spiraled.

By Thursday, January 5th, just two days later, I was lying in an MRI tube receiving a brain scan from a very kind technician who asked me to tell him a band I liked (I said The Head and The Heart) and played it loudly in the room, in an attempt to drown out the panic-inducing sound of the MRI machine whirring around my head.

How, you might ask, was I able to get an MRI when my doctor clearly did not think it necessary?

OCD. That’s how.

OCD, in some ways, is like a super power. It affords me razor sharp focus. When OCD decides that something needs to be done, I will exhaust an alarming amount of physical and mental energy to make it possible. I made phone calls. I researched. I put pressure on people. I hounded doctors and insurance, nurses and imagining centers. I was relentless. This super power, however, comes at a cost. When the OCD focus is on, everything else is off. My children, my husband, my hobbies, my friends, my family, my passions, my home, my dog, my job, my writing, my life. OCD brushes it all to the side, in pursuit of the object I am obsessing over.

The only silver lining to this entire situation was that, by the time I was pursing an MRI, I knew it was OCD. In between seeing my doctor and getting the scan, I saw my therapist. I have not yet perhaps conveyed how, during this entire episode, I was distraught. I didn’t worry that I had a brain tumor. I knew I had a brain tumor, and I reacted accordingly. Panicking,  I was crying more often than I was not, and even though I was legitimately terrified for my life, I also recognized the likelihood that this entire situation was being driven by my mental illness. My therapist agreed, and we worked hard to stop the episode in its tracks, but we both recognized a raging inferno when we saw one, and our little buckets of water were simply not cutting it.

So, I made her a promise. I would get the MRI, because I didn’t know how to say no to the OCD which commanded it, but afterwards I would check myself in to my local behavioral hospital for evaluation. I did this knowing that there was a chance I would be admitted, because I knew that I was in far too deep and alarmingly over my head. I have never been so controlled by OCD as I was that first week of 2017.

I kept my word to my therapist, and immediately after leaving the imaging center, before even receiving the results of my MRI (all normal, in case you were wondering), I drove directly to my local behavioral health hospital.

I am fortunate, in that my local hospital has an excellent Behavioral Health facility, with a nationally recognized Anxiety and OCD Program. They have an intake evaluation process which determines an approximate diagnosis and plan of action. I was referred by the intake eval for a Partial Hospitalization Program, but elected to participate in the Intensive Outpatient Program instead. The IOP only met from M-Th weekly and since my eval was on a Thursday evening, I did not begin the program until the following week.

To be continued…

I’ll be back next week to pick up where we left off, with the beginning of the IOP.

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Forward

The last few days have rocked the Maternal Mental Health community. The dissolution of Postpartum Progress came as a shock, even to many of us who were calling for change. I’m not going to get into the story behind what happened. If you do not already know, it is all there, mostly in public forums of Facebook, for you to piece together.

That said, I want to make sure my position on the matter is clear.

I stand with people of color. I stand behind them when they say they have been harmed. I stand behind them when they tell me what they need, and I add the volume of my voice to their own. I am learning every day about the ways in which my own whiteness,  privilege and utilization of systems of oppression, even when done so unintentionally, harms people of color. I am learning because I am listening and researching and being curious. We are not perfect. I am certainly not perfect, but if I screw up the roof when I’m building a house, I fix the roof… not burn the whole thing down.

It was not my house, though.

So, now we are here and the best thing we can do is look forward. Many of us used PPI as our primary resource, both in our own battles with PPMDs and in the support we offered to people who crossed our paths. As I understand it, the blog and resources online will remain. The online peer support forum Facebook groups are being retained, but will be re-named/re-branded. Really, the community under the PPI name is what has been dissolved.

What I want you to know, more than anything, is this-

WE are not going anywhere.

WE, the advocates, the survivors, the volunteers, the fighters, WE are still here. WE are more than our formal affiliations. WE are more than a name, a brand, an umbrella. WE were here before PPI and WE are going no where.

I am still here for you, Mamas. I am still a resource, a source of support, an advocate, a safe place. I am still loving on you and cheering for you. Do not flee back into the darkness simply because an organization is bowing out. The light is still here, and we are all still in it.

I have been working hard the last few days to determine where to align my work and volunteerism so that it can best support you and the Mamas who haven’t found us yet. Several of us, who met through PPI, have been putting our heads together on this. We are working while we grieve. We are working hard.

On a personal level, I am ramping up my live storytelling. Many of you first connected with me through that space, and so, as I sit here thinking about how I can be of service to a community who now feels abandoned, I hear that call once again. I will tell you when/where as shows are scheduled. My plan is to get back on stage as soon and as frequently as possible in order to continue the stigma smashing, encouragement giving and community creating work that I love. A work which I do best by standing in front of a room full of strangers, baring my soul and giving them space to say, “Me Too.”

WE are going to be just fine.

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The Gift of Protest

This Saturday, January 21st, I will join hundreds of thousands of women marching all over the country in protest of our soon-to-be president, Donald Trump.

Like everyone else, I have my own reasons for marching.

It is interesting that the march should fall on the date that it does, because January 21st has very special meaning to me. January 21 was Clara’s due date. Of course, babies can be born many days before or after their due date, but since Clara was not born, I have come to think of January 21st as her birthday.

This year, on January 21st, my daughter would be one year old.

My daughter who died.

My wonderful daughter who died because she was diagnosed with a lethal fetal anomaly.

My loved and wanted daughter who died because her diagnosis gave us only two options:

Birth her and watch her die

-or-

Undergo a medical procedure known as abortion in order to end the pregnancy (and pain).

We chose the medical procedure.

Trump’s campaign, administration and mere presence in the public spotlight is a threat to women.

Just the other day a man who holds political office, claimed he was “inspired by Trump” and sexually assaulted a woman, grabbing her by the vagina and telling her no one would believe her. Fortunately for the victim, the assault was caught on surveillance video.

Trump, and everything he stands for, is a threat to the rights and well-being of women.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE.

Trump, and everything he stands for, is a threat to many more than just women. He and his cronies are a threat to people of color, to immigrants, to the LGBTQ community, to our economy, our national security, our healthcare, our rights… you get the idea.

I’m marching on Saturday because Donald Trump is

NOT

MY

PRESIDENT

I do not acknowledge him. I do not hold an ounce of respect for the office while he is in it.

I will resist.

I march because if Donald Trump and his cronies had their way, I would have been forced into a healthcare situation that not only held dangers for me, but which could easily be classified as cruel and unusual punishment.

I march because I will not go quietly back to “when America was great”.

I march because I, the daughter of lesbians, will fight for the right to love.

I march because I have educated myself on our country’s history, I am listening to people of color and I will resist, with my dying breath, the politics and employment of white supremacy that continues to degrade, defile and dispatch the lives of black people.

I march for her.

For Clara.

Happy Day, my darling girl.

Mommy loves you so, so much.

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What We Keep In The Corners

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Tonight my oldest son and my husband went to the Bull’s game, so I did what any person with an ill-formed sense of judgment would do, and took my four-year-old to Chuck E Cheese’s.

In all seriousness, we had a lovely time. I watched Silas kick a much older child’s ass at a snowmobile racing game. The older boy spent the first half of the race taunting my sweet-hearted 4-year-old… and the second half of the game chewing through his bottom lip as my angel formed the older child’s taunts into a laser beam of drive and ambition with which he would calmly destroy all that the older child had ever held dear.

When he emerged, victorious, he simply looked at his nemesis the older child, pure innocence beaming from his little aura, and said “Fanks! That was fun!

Oh yes, he is my child. *evil grin*

ANYWAYS. Before we went to Chuck E Cheese, I took my little date out for dinner to Noodles and Company (his fave). Over pasta, we discussed the various ways that apples can be sliced and the way we like them best (thin slices, but not too thin). We discussed the many merits of Chapstick. We talked about Super Why and Eye of the Tiger. It was during a short discourse on Survivor that he, rather loudly and distinctly, interrupted me by saying, “Mom, it’s sad that my baby sister died.”

You could have heard a noodle drop.

I recovered myself from the land of montage music and replied that yes, it was sad and that it’s okay to feel sad about it. I wasn’t sure what else to say. It isn’t the first time that he has randomly brought up Clara, and it’s evident to me that he’s still working it all out. What struck me, though, was his okayness with the topic. Of course, he is simply too young to know that it is taboo. Too young to consider that talking about it might upset me, but I don’t see this as problematic. Instead, I am in awe of the way he lives his life completely out in the open. There are no dark corners where he hides things deemed too painful to discuss.

I love this about him. I am certainly not known for my lack of candor, but even I have a tendency to hold things close when I think they’re too messy for the world to see. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this and people should never disclose more than makes them comfortable, but I’ve always found comfort in communicating pretty much all. Once you learn to live with the vulnerability which is inevitable with this way of being, it’s pretty damn freeing.

What’s more, I’m proud AF of the fact that we have handled Clara’s loss in a way that Silas feels comfortable bringing it up over buttered noodles in a very public forum. That tells me that despite our unimaginable grief, we have kept our experience with losing Clara from being pushed into the corners. It is not a taboo subject in our home. This not only feels like the healthiest way to handle it with our children, but it feels like the best way to honor her.

We will talk about her. She is part of our family. And, just like I told Silas tonight, it’s totally normal to feel sad about her not being here.

I feel sad about it every day.

But, I also feel happy every single day about having him, and Daddy, and Caiden in my life.

Life is dark and light. It is gains and losses, gratitude and regret.

And while tact and timing are social lessons that he will need to learn, I hope that he can continue to live a life with no dark and dusty corners.

…I also hope he continues to sweetly destroy anyone who tries to knock him down.

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December Reflections, Day 19 – Something I Love

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Shortly after we lost Clara, a dear friend gifted me with Affirmators! Cards. These positive cards are PERFECT for people like me, who enjoy prompt-driven self-reflection but whose anxiety disorders make the usual Tarot deck a little scarier than I feel the practice is worth.

On this past Saturday, I went for a CT scan, ordered by my ENT, so that he can look at my sinuses to determine what has been causing some intermittent ear pain for the last several months. He is suspecting Eustachian tube dysfunction or TMJ, but my symptoms make it difficult to tell which, so he hopes a CT scan will shed some light on things for us. I had been relatively calm about the whole thing, until I set foot into the imaging center on Saturday morning.

This same imaging center is where we found out that Clara was a girl. This same imaging center is the one which alerted my doctor to the fact that something seemed amiss with my darling daughter. It occurred to me, as I lay back on the CT scan table, that the last time one of my doctors received results from this place, it was the beginning of a nightmare. Results from this particular imaging center heralded some of the hardest, most painful days of my life.

My scan was relatively uneventful. The tech was friendly, if reserved and as I was heading out she mentioned to me that the doctor would have my results on Monday. I told her that my follow up appointment would not be until Friday. She said that if something was found that needed to be seen more urgently than that, she had no doubt my doctor would call me. This is probably a very routine and reasonable comment to make, but it immediately set my anxiety tingling. That coupled with my personal history with this imaging center, and it did not take long for my OCD and anxiety to wrap their tentacles around what was turning out to be a very triggering morning. As I drove home from the imaging center, my arms began to tingle. As I entered my house, my chest began to feel tight. I indicated to my husband that, while the scan went without incident, I was beginning to spiral into that familiar territory of fear.

I spent the weekend wresting intrusive thoughts. Doing my best to not follow through the horror filled doors that they incessantly opened for me. I CBTed myself. I CBTed HARD. I weighed the rationality behind my fears, I considered the statistical likelihood of something being seriously wrong. I reminded myself that just because I have been through something rare and tragic, I am not a magnet for such things. In fact, subscribing to the lightening doesn’t strike twice theory, I’m LESS likely to experience something rare and tragic, now that I’ve already been through one such strike.

Finally, today, recognizing the heavy way in which my past experience was directing my current emotional state, I contacted my therapist, who blessedly squeezed me in. I have learned, through doing EMDR with my therapist, to identify when I am connecting my trauma to something generally unrelated or innocuous. I may not always identify it, but today, it was very clear that my fear about what will come from the sinus CT scan was being directly influenced by having received tragic news from a completely unrelated imaging test in the past.

My therapist fit me in and we went straight for EMDR.

During the session, in addition to processing my feelings about that I found myself feeling a lot of negative emotions about myself. At one point I referred to myself as a “stupid little girl” who should have known better than to expect for things to work out well with my pregnancy (yeah, grief does some pretty crazy things to you). I realized that I was holding a lot of anger towards myself that was completely unwarranted. I was, in some ways, blaming myself for having been through tragedy with Clara, and angry with myself for not being able to get control of my mental health now. In short, I was beating up on me.

I came home feeling tired and raw, which is normal for an EMDR session. And, determined to get through the next 3 days of waiting, I went to my Affirmator Cards to find something to focus on. I always shuffle and pull cards at random, and as I flipped over the Beauty card, I grinned. It’s the second time in only 3 weeks that I have pulled this card. Both times after shuffling thoroughly, and both times when going through periods of self doubt and/or melancholy. Clearly a lesson is being gently pushed my way.

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In my case, I don’t read this card as having anything to do with physical beauty. Instead, I’m focusing on the beauty of who I am. Mental illness included. I’m not perfect. I have good days and bad days. I have personality strengths, as well as weaknesses. I have flaws and faults. I have skills and merits. I have happy moments in my past, and sad ones, too. All of this adds up to a life that is rich in experience and beautiful for the variance it displays.

I’m going to do my best to focus on that for the next few days. Or maybe I’ll pull a new card each day this week, and dedicate each day to contemplating a new affirmation.

Needless to say, the Affirmators! cards are something I have very much loved this year, and definitely recommend to anyone some prompts for their self-care or self-reflection.

Not to mention that they’d make an AWESOME stocking stuffer!

Sending love to you all,

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**Full disclosure: I am an Amazon Associate and the links in this post are affiliate links. HOWEVER, I would never recommend a product to you that I have not used myself and which I do not totally love.

December Reflections Day 17 – Five Years Ago

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Silas,

Five years ago you were just where you are this morning, albeit a good deal smaller, and on the inside of me, instead of the outside.
As we approach your 5th birthday, only 4 months away, with your first year of school following quickly behind, I have been doing a lot of reflecting lately on just how much you’ve grown. I am proud of you every day. Proud of your inquisitive spirit and your kind and thoughtful heart. Proud of your impeccable sense of humor and your willingness to learn when you make a mistake.

I know that you won’t always want to snuggle in my lap, occupying that same space, relative to my body, that I will always identify as belonging to you. So, I do my best to soak in these moments, and mark them on my heart. I love you, my precious boy. ❤
Love,
Mommy

December Reflections, Day 5 – The Best Book of 2016

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To anyone who has been reading in this space for any length of time, it will come as no surprise for me to say that I am a voracious reader. I convinced my husband to turn an entire bedroom of our house into a library, for goodness sake! In books, I have made friends, I have fallen in love, I have slain beasts, solved mysteries, and saved kingdoms. I read a pretty wide variety of books, but I am a die-hard Janeite and have loved Jane Austen novels since I first picked up Pride and Prejudice as a teenage girl. I have, of course, read and re-read all of her works many times over. Late last year, I was reading  Jane Austen’s World (an excellent blog for Janeites and Regency era fans) when I came across mention of the works of Stephanie Barron.

Stephanie Barron is the author of the Jane Austen Mysteries, a series of Regency-era capers, presented as diary entries by Jane herself and starring Jane and her penetrating wit, as the super sleuth. Barron channels Jane’s voice so well that I often forget that I am not reading Jane herself.

Though I am late to the Stephanie Barron party (the first book in the series came out in 1996), I am making up for lost time, since the series comprises most of what I’ve read in all of 2016! I began reading the first book in the collection, Jane Austen and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor, in January of this year, and am currently reading Jane Austen and His Lordship’s Legacy, the 8th book in the series (which is now comprised of 13 books).

I am naming Jane Austen and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor as the best book I read in 2016, not only because I enjoyed the book immensely, but also because Stephanie Barron has thrown open the gates to a new corner of Jane’s world. A world which I previously believed to have quite thoroughly explored.

What was the best book that you read in 2016, and why?

Happy reading, friends!

December Reflections, Day 2 – Lights

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No post today because I’m in Milwaukee seeing The Head and The Heart (and Jimmy Eat World and Fitz and the Tantrums, but mostly The Head and The Heart).  But here is a “Lights” picture for you from the show!

Love ya!

Kelly

December Reflections, Day One – On The Table

Good Evening Friends! I hope this 1st day of December has been a good one for you. Just like last year, I have decided to participate in Susannah Conway’s December Reflections. Each day (or at least the days I can make it happen), I will be posting a picture, some writing, or both, all centered around the prompt of the day (the full prompt list can be found on Susannah’s blog).

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Today’s prompt is On The Table, and I cheated a bit by instead posting a photo of the little altar I’ve made on a bookshelf in the library. This little collection of things is a positive reminder or boost for me whenever I see it. I keep some positive mantra cards nearby and will occasionally pull one out for contemplation. The last 3 days have been rough for me, as I’ve been going through a bit of a cyclical peak in anxiety. This peak has come after a relatively calm and well-managed time in my mental health. As such, I’ve been a little hard on myself and feeling pretty crummy about the whole thing.

In therapy tonight, my therapist honed in on a really great cognitive distortion that I have been repeatedly doing, in which I cast my own intelligence in a negative light, while ignoring my mental health issues as just “part of who I am”. She very wisely pointed out that intelligence is a good thing, and does not inherently cause anxiety. Additionally, anxiety is not “who I am”. It is a mental illness, and one that can be sent into remission.

When I got home from therapy tonight, I decided to head over to my altar for a bit, and I pulled a mantra card while I was there. I smiled when I turned the Beauty card over, because it felt like a very appropriate reminder to be gentle with myself as I navigate this latest upswing in anxiety. And so, that is just what I plan to do.

See you tomorrow, friends.

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Once Upon A Time, A Mental Health Tale

Good Morning friends!

I’m not sure about you, but this time of year often leaves me feeling spread very thin. To make matters worse, I’m insufferably independent and introspective and will all too often leave my support network (for me, this is people like my therapist and my husband) in the dark about exactly where I’m at or what I need. This leads to mid-winter burnout or a full on nervous breakdown shortly after Christmas – sometimes both.

It seems overly simple, especially as it has taken me years to figure out, but I’ve finally discovered that one of the best ways to combat my winter burnout is to take time to assess where I’m at, emotionally and mentally, and then ensure my support network knows exactly that. Seems simple, right? Well, it IS simple, as long as you do it, but making sure you do it tends to be the tricky part.

With that in mind, today I bring to you a fable which I shared as part of my Mompostors talk at Warrior Mom Con back in October. After you read it, I invite you to take stock of where you are at and ensure that the people within your support network have the relevant information which they need to help you best. Check in with yourself, then check in with your people.

And now, on to our tale…

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Once upon a time there was a kingdom, not lavish by any means, but what it lacked in gold, it made up for with a richness of natural beauty. Nowhere was this better represented than at the castle itself, for though it was modest in its size and build, it was situated in such a way as to be surrounded by a grove of the largest and most majestic trees that any eye had ever beheld. These proud and stately trees were the very essence of the kingdom. They were the pride and joy of all its subjects, and the center of the royal crest itself. They were called Sentinels and were not known to be anywhere else in the world.

The kingdom itself was so vast that the furthest reaches of its borders were yet unmapped, and so it had become an annual tradition for the King to set out with the strongest, most able men and women, and of course the Royal Cartographer, to explore and map new areas of his land. Each year they pressed further on, until this year, when their journey was expected to take some months. With such a protracted absence, the King, and the Royal Steward who would rule in his stead, thought it wise that the King should bring with him his hawk, a brilliant animal with the extraordinary ability to find both the King and his castle, no matter where he may be in the land.

And so, thus assembled, the King and his party set off. Many weeks into their journey, and well into territory that was previously uncharted, they were passing a shoddy looking dam and its resultant trickling stream, when astonished cries alerted the King to a most incredible sight. For, just beyond the stream lie a grove of Sentinel saplings. The trees, still very young, were a century away from being the grand and mighty trees that stood stalwart at the castle, but they were Sentinels indeed. The King, overjoyed with the discovery, commanded that the party set up camp, to explore the area and give the royal cartographer ample time to accurately and adequately chart their precise location, and threw a feast to celebrate the find. And so they did, and that evening all the party went to sleep with full bellies, still smiling with satisfaction in their discovery.

The next morning, however, they awoke to an alarming sight. A night of torrential rain had evidently broken the dam and swelled the stream to a raging river on all sides. The Sentinel saplings, and the King’s party, now found themselves trapped on an island, with no plausible means of escape. While there were food stores and wild game enough to sustain the party for a very long time, they would not last forever, and so the King quickly dispatched a letter to the Royal Steward, explaining the predicament. In his missive, he ordered that the Sentinel trees on the castle grounds be cut down for the purpose of building a bridge whose size and strength might suffice to cross the now raging river.

The hawk arrived, and the Steward was both delighted with the news of the new Grove’s discovery and alarmed to read about the predicament of the King and his party. With only a moment’s pause for sadness at the loss, he ordered the Sentinel trees be cut down, the bridge be hastily assembled and sent the hawk back to the King with word that his orders would be swiftly carried out.

Several days later, the bridge was done and loaded in pieces onto ox carts for the journey to the river. The Steward was making the final preparations for the rescue mission when he discovered, to his horror, that the King in haste to request aid, had failed to include any instruction as to WHERE in uncharted territory he and the party were. The hawk, with his ability to locate the King, had already been dispatched with the Steward’s affirmative reply.

The Steward was stuck, with the strongest bridge ever built by men, but no knowledge of the river that it needed to cross. And the King was stuck, with a hopeful discovery and no way to share it with the world.

I share this story with you because, when it comes to both utilizing our support networks and maintaining our own mental health, recognizing and sharing all the relevant information is key to building successful recovery or mental health maintenance plans.

This week, I invite you to check in with yourself. Where are you right now? What do you need?

Then, tell your support network where the river is, let them come with the bridge.

Love to you all,

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