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 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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The New Family – When Your Mom Comes Out

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I had the GREAT pleasure to spend some time chatting with Brandie Weikle over at The New Family, and my episode went live today! Have a listen on your commute home tonight and remember

YOU ARE ENOUGH.

Listen to the podcast directly on the site, or find them on iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher, and various other platforms!

Dear Mamas…

Dear Mamas,
You are not alone. Ever.
Love,
Me, and all of Us
PostpartumProgress.org

The Anniversary, An Unexpected Adventure

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Dear Clara,

One year ago today, you were taken from my body.

One year ago today, I said the first of many goodbyes to you. I just can’t seem to stop saying goodbye to you, so often are you on my mind.

The last two weeks have been really hard. Like, trudging through quicksand, next level hard. And it’s no wonder. After all, last Labor Day weekend, we found out that you were a girl. Our first daughter, our sweet Clara. Three days later, we got the call that something appeared to be amiss. One week after that, we found ourselves in the office of a specialist, listening to a diagnosis that felt like it must surely be meant for someone else.

Five days later, you were gone.

It all happened so fast.

A fellow Warrior Mom has been reading a book called The Body Keeps the Score, by Dr.Bessel van der Kolk, which discusses the way that traumatic experiences literally reshape our brain, creating a physical record and replay function of the trauma, over which we have little control. It’s a book I intend to read very soon, but even without having read it, I am able to see just why the last couple of weeks have been so hard.

My body remembers.

My body remembers so well, that I spent the last two weeks fretting myself right into a case of bronchitis which landed me in the ER receiving a breathing treatment and a bag of fluids.

I made it to this day, though, and out of respect for the pain and my own grieving process, I decided to take today off of work. I’d be alone, well except for Milo Dog, and would be able to feel my feelings and let my heart guide me towards what activities would serve me best. Perhaps I would knit and send up a heartbeat for you with every turn of the needles. Perhaps I would take a walk in the woods and listen for you in the leaves, rustling crisply as they give over their supple green to the slowly encroaching Autumn hues and textures. Perhaps I would work on clearing the garden for Fall, pushing my hands into the earth and reminding myself of the oneness of it all, you included.

Parenthood had other ideas.

Silas was up half the night complaining of an earache and a headache. Milo needed to have a behavioral evaluation at a local boarder, so that we can board him for a wedding this weekend, and so my “Self-care Day” slowly turned into something else entirely.

First, I took Silas to the doctor this morning. Thankfully the ear ache is not an infection. Just fluid, likely caused by allergies. So we’re going to stick to the Children’s Claritin and try to make it through the rest of ragweed season without anything turning infected.

Milo’s behavioral visit was fine. We’re going to set him up to spend a full day there sometime this week, just so he can really get acquainted with the place before we leave him for an overnight.

By the time Silas and I left the dog boarder, it was lunch time. Since we had Milo with us, I decided to drive over to St. Charles (a little town on the Fox River that Daddy and I both love) and grab some lunch on a dog-friendly patio.

I ordered a beer. +5 self care points?

While we were waiting for our food, Silas informed me that he needed to pee. Just to recap, Silas is 4, cannot take himself to the bathroom, and we were on a patio with a 70lb velcro dog who does not enjoy being left alone.

I told Silas he needed to hold it. He said he could not.

I texted Daddy to see if he had any ideas. He did not.

Then Silas asked me, in the sweetest voice possible, if he could just pee in his pants.

I picked my heart back up off the pavement, slammed it back into my chest and mustered up the courage to ask our waitress if she would mind sitting with our dog for a few minutes while I took Silas to the bathroom. She very sweetly agreed, so I gave her a handful of treats for him and raced off to the bathroom, grateful for her kindness.

We returned to the table and as we waited for our order, I reflected on the way my day was turning out. Not bad, of course. It hasn’t been a bad day by any means. It’s just been so opposite the somber, introspective, grief stricken day that I had imagined it would be. By contrast, it’s been a day filled with so much life. From lingering bronchitis, to thankfully uneventful pediatrician visits, to dog boarders.  From inconvenient potty requests, to kind strangers, to a craft beer enjoyed under the shade of a towering oak tree, a dog snoozing at my feet and Silas zooming cars around the table top. It has been a wonderful, lively day.

There is, of course, a part of me who hurts immeasurably because you aren’t here to enjoy these days. However, as I sat on that patio, watching the dappled sunlight dance through the oak tree and smelling the first hint of dried leaves on the breeze, it felt as though you were telling me something about what today was really for.

Today wasn’t a day for grief. Today was a day for life. Crazy, messy, silly, happy, LIFE.

I left the waitress a hefty tip, along with a note, explaining how her small kindness had meant the world to a random Mom on a sad day. I then threw nap time windows to the wind, and we decided to visit Daddy at work, since it was just down the street. Why the heck not. Silas is napping now (late, and probably not for very long), and I’m sitting in the library, the room that was to be yours. Really, it is yours, I think it might always be. I’m overcome with the kind of peace and relaxation that only seems to find me in this room, and I’m finally doing something I had planned to do today. I’m writing. The words are just very different than what I expected them to be.

On a day which I expected to think only of death, you filled my heart and mind with appreciation for life, be it mundane or exemplary, or some spectacular mix of both.

Thank you for still teaching me, my Little Moon. I hope you always will.

We are all thinking of you, today and every day, and Mommy loves you, my darling girl.

I love you so very, very much.

Mommy

Invisible Warrior

Every single day of my son’s life, I have thought about him dying. Sometimes, when I wake up in the morning, I wonder if I will find him in his room, the life already gone from his body. Other times, my mind will be free for a while, until I put face lotion in my hands and notice that the blob of moisturizer resembles a number. In an instant, a little voice inside my head tells me that number is representative of the age at which my son will die. Sometimes I rummage around in the kitchen cabinets, searching for a specific coffee mug, because that same little voice has told me if I don’t use it, my son will die. Other times we will be eating at a restaurant, and I will imagine him choking on whatever morsel he has ordered for himself to enjoy. I can see his face turning blue in my mind’s eye. I push food around my plate and try to will the thought away.

Some days are better than others. Some days I only experience one instance of this type of horrifying intrusive thinking. Other times my days are fraught with them. My mind is under siege by an onslaught of terrifying images, fit for a tear-jerking Lifetime movie, or sometimes a horror film.

I have Anxiety & Obsessive Compulsive disorders, and intrusive thinking is symptomatic of both. There are a couple of things to note about Intrusive Thinking, that may not be apparent for someone who has never experienced them.

The first is that they are completely out of my control. I don’t choose these thoughts any more than you chose your eye color. I didn’t ask for them, and I don’t indulge them. I have a variety of techniques that I’ve learned in therapy which help me to clear them, but they (so far) have never disappeared entirely.

The second thing is that they are every bit as horrific as they sound. I love my son deeply, and my anxiety disorder is centered squarely on the debilitating fear that I will lose him. These intrusive thoughts are representative of my mind obsessing over all the ways that it could happen, in a terribly misguided effort toprevent it. The Intrusive Thoughts are the “Obsessive” part of my OCD. The things they drive me to do (use certain coffee mugs, rewrite lotion numbers on my hand) are the “Compulsions”. The brain is sometimes the most inelegant of organs, and OCD isn’t all flicking light switches and counting things. It can look very different.

The third, and final thing, to point out about Intrusive Thoughts, is that they are invisible. If you saw me at a restaurant, I appear to be just a lady sitting at a table with her beautiful family, enjoying a meal. You might judge me for seeming uptight. You might overhear some of our conversation and think I sound like a real paranoid control freak. You might say something to your friends along the lines of “Oh, great, she’s one of those moms.” You might label me as intense, paranoid, controlling. You might identify me as strict, or overbearing, or bitchy. The label you most likely would not give me, however, is the one that would be the most accurate… ill.

My mental illness isn’t something you can see. Aside from the medication I take every day, the mental work I do to battle my illness is also invisible to you. You might not realize that I had to wage war on my own mind, just to be able to leave the house today, just to get this meal with my family.

So, be careful with the labels you attach to people, or the assumptions you might make about them. So many illnesses are invisible to the majority of us. You never know who might secretly be a Warrior, fighting battles on the inside, while living life on the outside.

Warrior Mom Conference, 2016 – Atlanta, Georgia

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Alrighty, it’s been made public by Postpartum Progress now, so I am finally free to announce what I have been positively giddy to announce to you guys – I AM SPEAKING AT THE WARRIOR MOM CONFERENCE!!!!!!!

Remember waaaayyyy back in December when I announced my not-so-secret Secret Wish for 2016? It was then that I shared that I was applying for a speaker slot at Postpartum Progress’ 2nd Annual Warrior Mom Conference. It was a total whim, to be honest. It’s no secret that I am a total Postpartum Progress fan-girl, and I wanted to attend the conference no matter what, but I love speaking to moms. I really do. That might sound strange coming from someone who battles an anxiety disorder, but I feel at home on a stage talking to my tribe, and Mothers, well… they are my tribe. Especially Warrior Moms. I had an idea to explore and give a talk about the unique way that Mothers experience the Impostor Phenomenon (something I’m calling being a Mompostor), and I’m thrilled to be getting to do just that. I’ll be discussing what it feels like to be a Mompostor, what contributes to and perpetuates the phenomenon, and how to stop questioning your authenticity and worth, both as a mother and as a person.

So, my not-so-secret Secret Wish for 2016, is happening and I am beyond excited for the opportunity!

The conference is already sold out, BUT there is a waiting list if you’re interested in attending! If you’ve already snagged a ticket and you’re going, let me know! I’d love to look out for you there!

As we march towards the second half of 2016, I hope that your own secret wishes are being fulfilled, but most of all I just hope that you are wishing, because dreams and wishes are the ether into which our lives take flight.

Love to you all.

Why I Climb

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Next Saturday, June 18th, I will join over 3,000 people across the world (for real, y’all, there’s even a climb in Israel!) to shed light on Maternal Mental Illness by Climbing Out of the Darkness. The majority of these people are women, many joined by their families and loved ones, and they are survivors. They are Warriors. They are My Tribe. We may come from different backgrounds and different places, and many of us speak different languages, but there is one tongue with which we are all familiar, and it is the devastating fear and isolation of Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders. We have all experienced Maternal Mental Illness, and while our personal stories, diagnosis and recoveries look different, a single thread knits us together. We are forever woven into each others lives.

We each have our own reasons for climbing, and I thought I’d take a moment to share with you what will be driving each step I take on June 18, and indeed what drives many of the steps I take every single day of the year.

I climb because Postpartum Progress saved my life. Helping them continue their work is the least that I can do.

I climb because my fellow Warrior Moms need for me to squeeze their hand and know that I am here with them, still.

I climb because my children need to know how strong their Mama really is. They need to know that I fought for them. They need to know that Mama doesn’t go down without a fight. They need to know that my battle with mental illness is neither their fault, nor is it representative of my feelings for them, or my worth as a mother.

I climb because my husband needs to know that there is fight left in me. He, who has seen me in my worst, most desperate state, needs to be reminded that the woman he married is still here, still vibrant, still ferociously living.

I climb because the public needs to know that we exist. Women, across the world, need better access to mental health care. They need legislators on their side. They need doctors on their side. They need humans on their side. Women need to be warned about PPMDs. They need to be screened, every single one of them. They need to be prepared. They need support from the people and representatives who are responsible for putting healthcare systems in place, and those representatives need to hear us demand that support.

I climb because there are women who have lost their lives to Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders. I climb to remember them. I climb to honor them. I climb to grieve them.

I climb because there are women who need our help. There are women out there, right now, who are battling Maternal Mental Illness and have not yet been diagnosed. Or perhaps they know or suspect what they’re dealing with, but are too afraid or stigmatized to receive the proper treatment. They need us. They need us to climb out of the darkness and shout from the highest peaks that we see them, we can help them, and they are not alone. They need us to reach down into the darkness, and pull them out.

For these reasons and more, I Climb.

If you’re interested in joining a climb near you, head over here to see where the closest one is. If there isn’t one nearby, why not host one yourself?! You CAN do it!

If you can’t climb, but you still want to help, I’d be eternally grateful if you’d donate to my fundraiser.

However you choose to show your support, know that I am grateful to you for it. I say all the time that Postpartum Progress saved my life, and they did, but so did you, and anyone else in the history of forever who has supported their mission. I owe my life to you. Thank you.

Now, let’s go save some more lives.

April Love – Day 30, Dear [Yourself]

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This April, I am participating in Susannah Conway’s April Love, a month of love letters. Using her predetermined prompts, I’ll be writing a love letter to an aspect of my life every day (well, maybe) in the month of April. Thanks for tagging along!

Dear Kelly,

Of all the things you might benefit from hearing, one thing stands out the most.

Everything will be okay.

Anxiety makes you crave reassurance. Even impossible reassurances that no one could possibly give. You know who CAN offer a standing reassurance though? You. You can choose it. I’m not saying that things will always be perfectly fine. Sometimes they will be less than great. Shit happens of course, but when it does…

Everything will be okay. 

You are strong. You are resilient. You have been through terrible stuff and come out better than when you went in. You are working every day at getting better. Recovery from mental illness is not a straight line. You will have down days.

Everything will be okay.

Take each day at a time. Use your metaphorical tool box. Admit when you need help. Ask for help. Ask for hugs. Ask for chocolate.

Everything will be okay.

Everything will be great.

I love you.

Kelly