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!

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December Reflections, Day 17 – My Smile

A short list of things that make me smile (in no particular order) and why I can’t use them for a photo today:

My family- Without a doubt, my family makes me smile the most. However, I decided when I started this blog that I would keep my children’s faces off of it, and that still feels like the right decision.

My garden- Early this past spring, my husband and I built two 8’x 4′ raised beds for our backyard. We bought lumber, y’all! I felt like such an adult. We then hauled an obscene number of cubic yards of soil and compost from a pile in our driveway to the backyard ,which, by the way, is an uphill task. Literally, you have to go up a hill. The dirt moving alone took 6 hours, two wheelbarrows, and so much elbow grease. But at the end of it all, we had a long wished for vegetable garden! We grew beets, radishes, carrots, lettuce, three different kinds of tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, jalapeno peppers, cilantro, basil, and rosemary. For a first time garden, I am thrilled with the way it turned out and I can’t wait to do it again next year. Unfortunately, it’s December in the Midwest and there isn’t much to look at in the garden right now.

Knitting- Knitting always makes me smile. Well, except when I am too lazy to use point protectors on my needles and a bunch of stitches slip off the needles for the first sock in a pair that I am currently knitting for my husband and I have to painstakingly try to pick them all back up while sitting on a commuter train at 6am, still rubbing sleep from my eyes in the pre-dawn darkness… So, I didn’t take a picture of knitting today because sometimes knitting is an asshole.

You- You make me smile!  The fact that you’re here, existing in this community that we’re building together makes me smile until my face hurts!  However, I can’t post a picture of you, because I don’t have a picture of you, a fact that you’re probably pretty happy about because it’d be super weird if I did.

There’s so much else that makes me smile, but unfortunately I can’t go around all day taking pictures of everything that makes me happy (but wouldn’t it be awesome if I could?!), so instead I will just share this one. This is the view from my office, in the morning twilight. I love the work that I do, the people that I work with and the city that I work in. I love being here extra early and having a couple of moments to look outside and watch the sunrise while the city begins to bustle down below. I’m smiling because I’m so very fortunate. I’m fortunate that I have a job to go to, even better that it’s one which I happen to adore. I’m fortunate that I get to live in such a wonderful place, where my family and I get to explore a variety of cultures and cuisines, art, music and nature. All within a reasonable distance to our home. I’m fortunate to have time to enjoy the twilight, and the good health and peace of heart to be conscious of all this beauty. I’m fortunate to have my family, and even though I left the house this morning before anyone else was awake, I peeked in on each of them while they slept, just to silently wish them a lovely day and take a moment to be grateful that they are here.

So smile, my friends, because there is much to smile about.

December Reflections, Day 10 – Shadows

Today will be short and sweet, as I am home nursing a cold.

I caught the light at just the right moment this morning for the above snap. It’s a bit creepy, really. But, in a way, it pretty accurately represents my relationship with knitting. Even when I am not holding my needles, a bit of me is still reaching out for them. I notice the construction of cables on a fellow commuter’s hat. I appreciate the history connected to an Aran sweater, a fact the wearer is often ignorant of.

Knitting is more than just a hobby for me. More than a form of active meditation. It is a reminder to stop, and see.

December Reflections, Day Eight – Five Things About Me

One. I am a mother and wife.

I have 3 children. One kind and intelligent 12 year old step-son. One brilliantly hilarious 3 year old son. And one sweet daughter, my angel baby, who is watching over us all. I love being a mother more than I ever knew I could and I am thankful every day for my little ducklings and their wonderful father, who is my best friend and my soul mate. He is the Cheese to my Mac.

Two. I knit.

This is a gross understatement. It may be more appropriate to say that I knit as though the needles are what keeps me on this plane of existence, and so releasing them would most certainly cause me to spiral out of control into the vast blackness of space. …but yeah, I knit.

Three. I hide.

I have a bit of a hard candy shell, so to say. I am stubbornly independent. I detest vulnerability. This description of myself may sound like a stark contrast to that of someone who blogs, particularly someone who writes about grief, but the key is that, with blogging, I retain control. True vulnerability comes when you relenquish it. My control is a wall that I hide behind, and it’s something that I’m working on taking down.

Four. I write.

You know that already, clearly. Writing, like knitting, keeps me grounded. When I am writing, I am able to observe my thoughts and emotions, as opposed to just feeling them. Seeing myself in this way allows me to contemplate, process and accept my experiences and the resulting emotions more completely. In a nutshell, writing is therapy.

Five. I hope.

I am relentlessly positive. Sure, I have my days, but they are fleeting, and I am usually quick to find my way back to the silver linings in life. I have hope, for all sorts of things. The world. My family. What comes next. Hope is what drives me forward. Hope is what moves my hands as I care for my family. Hope is what opens my eyes each morning after losing Clara.
I will always hope.

 

Crest and Fall and Knit

In the last 10 days I have written nothing. I have had ideas. I always have ideas. No, it is not a lack of substance that has kept me from putting my thoughts down, but rather a lack of motivation. This lack of motivation has not been limited to my writing, either. It has applied itself to nearly every aspect of my life. Chores, cooking, reading, my growing to-do list. Even showering has been too tedious a task (though I have powered through and done it, for my husband’s sake). The only activity which did not completely lose its allure these past 10 days is knitting. My saving grace. I have knitted furiously since losing Clara, and perhaps even more in the last 10 days, when everything else seemed to lose its lustre. As is often the case, it has carried me through.

I believe what I have been experiencing this last week and a half would be considered pretty run-of-the-mill depression. I think my therapist would tell me that this is a perfectly normal side of grief, that it is absolutely acceptable for me to feel this way, and I would agree with her. Unfortunately, an explanation and permission slip does not make the depression any more tolerable. Depression is not my wheelhouse, you see. Anxiety is my nagging shadow. I know how to identify it, I have become fairly practiced at avoiding what triggers it and, when it’s around, it at least feels familiar. Depression is a stranger at my door, and its presence is uncomfortable and unwelcome.

The veil does seem to be lifting, for brief moments at least. It reminds me of the way a stomach ache will fade. What had been near constant discomfort will suddenly begin to come in waves, offering relief in between. Eventually the waves settle and the stomach ache subsides. Since I have no experience with depression, I don’t know if that is what is happening, but I like to tell myself that it is. The thought that the rhythmic troughs of these waves will draw out, leveling the landscape of my emotion and bringing me back to myself, is a hope that I cling to like driftwood. I am weary of the sadness.

Aside from being tired of my own feelings, I worry constantly about their impact on those around me. My loved ones have been so wonderful and supportive. I want to be better, for them. I want them to have the reassurance that I am okay, that I have come out the other side, that I am me again. What scares me is that I know, deep down, that I will never really be me again. Or rather, I am me. This is me. I know that things will get lighter and life will get sunnier, but no matter how much I want to wear my experience like a cape, it only seems to fit like a shroud.

In time, we will see how things fit. In time, we will see how the waves crest and fall. In time, we will see which Me I become. Until then, there’s always knitting.

One Thousand Stitches

For nearly a decade, I have worked wool. I am a knitter. I use needles, wool and my own two hands to create. I find peace in knitting. It is a practice, a meditation. Perhaps the sincerest way that I can gift my love is by knitting for another person. You see, a single knitted piece contains anywhere from hundreds to thousands of individual stitches. Each stitch formed, one by one, with my own hands. When a piece that I am working on is intended for another person, it is impossible to work so many stitches without thinking of that person regularly. With this in mind, a hand knitted piece, say a blanket, can be considered to contain at least a thousand individual thoughts. A thousand wishes. A thousand pieces of my heart.

I knitted such a blanket, for Clara. I chose the yarn because it reminded me of a nebula, all blacks, blues, purples and greens, and we had decided to do a space theme for her nursery. I had begun to affectionately refer to her as “Little Moon”.

I spent weeks agonizing over the pattern choice. Originally I had wanted to do something very dainty – a white lace perhaps. Something regal. However, my logical mind won out and I decided that, with a January birthday, a sensible, worsted weight, wide ribbed blanket would be more suitable. It would keep her warm. It would be… functional.

It seems ironic now that I would spend so much time choosing to knit a functional blanket that would, in the end, serve no function at all.

The blanket was not the only thing that I knitted for Clara. I also knitted a grey bonnet, and a single sock. I never made it to the sock’s mate, before receiving our diagnosis. These pieces of wool, worked into functional items, are pieces of my heart set aside for another. It hurts to put them away, even though that seems the right thing to do. About a week after Clara was gone, I bought a nice little box, covered in burlap fabric. In this box I placed her ultrasound pictures, the bonnet, the sock and the blanket. I also wrote a letter to her, and included it in the box. I thought that putting the items away might soothe the ache, as if giving them a home inside the box would feel the same as gifting them to the individual for whom they were intended.

It does not feel the same.

I believe, that when a knitted item is gifted, an exchange is made. I gift a thousand pieces of my heart, and the joy it brings to the recipient, the comfort it gives them, the way it fills their heart to know that they have been thought of, in turn, fills the void. The bonnet, the blanket and the single sock contain fragments of my heart that I cannot retrieve, and as such, they leave a hole that cannot be filled.

Unfortunately, there is no happy lesson here. Not yet, at least.

I suppose, if anything, I am grateful for the ability to gift a part of myself, and for the knowledge that these will not be the last gifts that I knit for others. I will continue to knit and give bits of my heart to those that I love. Continue this exchange of love. I will do so, however, with a hole in my heart. An emptiness in the shape of one thousand stitches. A blanket, a bonnet, and a single sock.