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

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

Dear Donald…

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Dear Donald,
This is my 4 year old son, Silas. I’m raising him to respect women and to treat them the way he wants to be treated (crazy, I know). You guys have so much in common. Sometimes I ask him for a bedtime kiss… oh wait, let me just explain that “ask” thing real quick. You see, as humans we get to enjoy this thing called Bodily Autonomy, which basically means that our bodies belong to us and no one can touch or manipulate them without our consent. It’s the reason rape is a definite no-no, and also why I can’t harvest your organs to save the lives of people who need them, and let’s face it, who are probably a lot nicer than you are. Anyways, sometimes I ask my son for a bedtime kiss and he says “Ewwww! Nasty!” Just thought you’d enjoy hearing from someone else who occasionally thinks women are nasty… my 4 year old.

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.

Appreciating A Rainstorm

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Today is a wet day. A rainy, misty, soggy, wet day, and I’m thrilled about it. I am not generally someone who likes rainstorms. Unless it’s night time and then I love them because I sleep like a baby.

Wait. Sidebar, you guys. Whoever came up with that saying “sleep like a baby”? Clearly that person never actually MET a baby, amiright?!

Anyways-rain. Like I was saying, I’m not someone who generally likes the rain, but I am a gardener. This is my second year with a vegetable garden and when you have a vegetable garden planted, a rainstorm is like Mother Nature taking over part of your to-do list. I worked today, so it’s not like the rain was impeding any outdoor activity I had planned or anything like that. Instead, it was simply a favor from Mama Nature. No watering can for me tonight!

This morning, as I walked into the office with a co-worker/friend, he was grumbling about the rain. I explained all of this to him and finished by saying “It’s funny how having a garden changes the way you see a rainstorm.” before promptly entering a full on introspective zone out. You see, as these words were escaping my mouth, it occurred to me that the same principle could be applied to how we feel about our mental health and personal growth.

If your mind is your garden, what then would it mean to appreciate a rainstorm?

Just sit with that for a little bit. I have been sitting with it all day and it’s still unfolding for me.

I honestly don’t have anything else to say today. I’m just going to continue meditating on this idea while I cook dinner and then take my family out to the pet store to buy dog supplies because, oh yeah – we adopted a dog and he comes home on Friday!!! (Pictures, I promise.)

So, there you have it friends. A short little post today with some food for thought. Let’s think about it together. I’d love to hear your thoughts and reflections on this idea. Hit me up either here or over on Facebook!

If your mind is your garden, what then would it mean to appreciate a rainstorm?

Peace and love (and vegetables) to you,

Kelly

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