April Love, Day 14 – Courage

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 Courage,

I don’t allow myself enough credit for knowing you. In fact, someone told me just a few weeks ago, that she thought I was the most courageous person she had ever met, but it felt like she was talking to someone else. I felt thin. It felt as though someone stronger and more deserving must surely be standing behind me, and I was just the veil through which her compliment was passing.

I think it’s normal for people to not give themselves enough credit for feats of courage and strength. After all, when you are living through terrible things, nothing you do feels particularly impressive. You are just doing what needs to be done.

However, when I spend some time thinking about it, I realize that I know you quite well. Don’t I? I’ve called upon you many times. You were at my side, decades ago, when I shut a toxic family member out of my life, choosing instead to live with a smaller family circle, but one that was consistently loving and supportive. You were by my side when I finally, after years of silence, opened up about having been raped. You were with me when I battled a health scare. When I stepped into my role as Stepmom. When I delivered my first baby.

I called on you as I battled Postpartum Anxiety and OCD. It was you, courage, who kept me searching for answers when I knew something was wrong. It was you who gave me the strength needed to dial the number of a therapist. You moved my body to her office, one step at a time. You pushed my voice out of my mouth and shaped the words which formed a confession, revealing the truth of my emotional and mental state. You paved the path to healing.

I felt you again, when we learned about Clara. I felt you squeezed between the palm of my hand and that of my husband. We called on you together then, our hands grasped tightly, clinging to each other as we clung to you. We shared you. You helped us through the days.

I feel you now. It seems silly to say, but when you are grieving and battling mental illness, even the most mundane things require an element of courage. Things like going to bed, or waking up and starting a new day. Nothing is a given, and I need you every day.

Courage, thank you. Thank you for being here when I need you. Thank you for never leaving. Thank you for making me the kind of person that someone else finds encouraging.  Thank you for making me the kind of person that someone feels compelled to call courageous. I still feel wildly undeserving of that honor… but I’m working on it.

 

Love,

Kelly

 

April Love, Day 6 – Books

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 Books,

GAH. I love you. You have made possible the exploration of time and the redefinition of reality. You make me smarter. You make me wiser. You entertain. On top of it all, you very often provide a metaphorical refuge, a safe place, when things in life are hard. You let my mind escape the every day.

You provided a literal safe place, after we lost Clara. In those long and empty days, after we said goodbye, my heart broke every single time I passed the room that was to be hers. One day, however, things changed. One day, I looked into that room and didn’t see an unfinished nursery. I looked into that room and I didn’t see my own empty womb. Instead, I saw a library, waiting to be filled. I noticed the perfect way that the morning sun came in through the window, and I thought how sweet a little chair would look tucked into that corner, a place to sit and feel the breeze. My eyes wandered over the wooden floors and trim, across to the solid wooden door and realized that bookshelves, wrapping around the room in a similar tone of wood, would be absolutely intoxicating to my eyes, which so prefer natural, untouched finishes. I imagined filling the room with stories, true and untrue; with history, remembered and revered. I imagined all of my favorite characters coming together in one space, wizards and ladies in waiting, Queens and adventurers. I imagined all of the life that could be poured into that sad little room, by simply filling it with books.

It did not take long before we did just that. A lifelong hoarder of books, I filled the shelves easily after the furniture was purchased. However, the library is not just for me, and so we all brought in our books. Residents of the library are not just the likes of Elizabeth Bennett, Aragorn and Harry Potter, but the Cat in the Hat and Greg Heffley. We’ve got construction truck counting primers, hungry caterpillars and anthropomorphic warrior cats. We have comic books and compendiums, covering everything from The Beatles to Batman.

It is a lively room, indeed.

So, thank you, books. Thank you for being my teacher. Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for giving my mind a place to go, while challenging it to be more, do more, see more, and say more. Thank you for bringing life back into a room where I once only saw death.

I will be forever grateful,

Kelly

Capture Your Grief, Day 30 – Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then we lost her.

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

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

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

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

Peace and love to you, friends.

Resources Super Post!

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

Postpartum Mood Disorders/Maternal Mental Illness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General Depression and Anxiety 

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

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

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

Self-Care

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community

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

Motherhood Misfit on Facebook

Postpartum Progress Warrior Moms

The Offbeat Empire

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

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

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

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

Capture Your Grief, Day 27 – Self Portrait

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

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

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

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

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

But, I see something else, too.

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

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

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

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

Capture Your Grief, Day 23 – Love Letter

sun-heart-autumn-leaf-39379.jpegAn Open Letter to All Parents Who Chose To Terminate a Pregnancy For Medical Reasons:

Since losing Clara, I have often been lumped into support groups or bloggers whose focus is Pregnancy and Infant Loss. This association is one that almost always makes me uncomfortable. I am hesitant because our loss was voluntary… sort of. I mean, our diagnosis meant that Clara would have been very unlikely to survive outside my womb, but still. I sometimes don’t feel comfortable being included among women who have spontaneously lost pregnancies, or who have had stillborn babies. I am often afraid that my presence must be insulting in some way. I am honestly not sure if I am welcome, and I feel like a fraud in their company.

Occasionally, this sensation is so consuming that I find myself being vague about how we lost Clara. Not wanting to offend, I sometimes leave out just enough information for our story to sound like a pregnancy loss, rather than an abortion for medical reasons. Some days I just don’t have the courage to weather the potential judgement. Some days my heart is just too sore.

So, I see you. I know. I know how hard it is. I know how much it sucks. I know the isolation. Among bereaved parents, we are a sort of sub-group, and one that does not get a lot of time in the spotlight. Sometimes, it feels as though we are the murky underbelly of pregnancy loss and parental bereavement. No one really knows where, or if, we belong.

The decision to end a pregnancy, for any reason, is a painful and heavy decision to make. Choosing to end a pregnancy when that baby is wanted, so, so wanted, is a waking nightmare. It is every bit as traumatic as unexpectedly losing a pregnancy or child, but it is different.

Do not let the isolation make you despondent. While we may not have an official awareness month and we might not feel as though we always belong among those Walking to Remember, we still have each other. We are not alone. You are not alone.

I don’t need to know why you ended your pregnancy. You don’t need to justify it to me, or to anyone. I know that, whatever your reason, it was hard, and I am so sorry you were ever in that position. I know that belonging to this particular group is sometimes scary, because it can bring judgement from people who really, truly, do not understand. It can bring angry words and vitriol. Hate and condemnation.

I will do my best to bring balance by telling you this:

I love you. I love you for being brave. I love you for making what felt like an impossible decision because you had the presence of mind to know what was best for you and your family, and then the courage to follow through. I love you for being here, for searching for your community. I love you, because you have found us. We are here. We are not the murky underbelly of pregnancy loss. We are Mothers and Fathers, bereaved. We are humans who, when faced with devastating circumstances, had the courage to make a difficult decision. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, you are still here to tell the tale. You survived. Every new day is a victory. Every new day is an opportunity for more healing, and for more growth. I love you because you are still moving forward. I love you because you inspire me to do the same. I love you because when I feel like I am on an isolated island of loss and pain, you remind me that this place, our little island, is far from empty.

I love you, because you are here.

Stay strong,

Kelly

 

 

Capture Your Grief, Day 22 – Dreams + Rituals

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

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

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

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

And then it was all gone.

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

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

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Me.

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

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